Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Unprecedented Movies of the 2000's

I loooooove movies. I've invested quite a bit in my home theater and enjoy a good experience in the theater (of which I'm quite picky about.) I guess I'm an escapist at heart; I love to get involved in a good story. So I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the game-changers in movies from the last decade. I probably won't remember all of them, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind and why. Random order.

1. Batman Begins/Dark Knight - I put these movies together because they spawned the "reboot" era of movies and added that word to our movie lingo, once it was shown to be a success. Thus we get such successful franchises like "Star Trek" once again. "Dark Knight" is there because it was one of the first--if not THE first--feature films to be shot with IMAX film, albeit just parts. But it was those parts that made going to see a movie in "IMAX" cool...even though nothing has really be shot in IMAX since. The actual cameras to do so cost several hundred thousand dollars and only 4-5 are in existence. (They accidentally destroyed one in the making of "Dark Knight".)

2. Lord of the Rings trilogy - this was the first time a studio foot the bill for THREE movies to be filmed at once. It was a massive undertaking. I believe the typical movie can shoot in a period of 3-4 months. These guys filmed on-location and in studio for about a year. Not to mention the 7 or so years it took to plan the movie, then do post-production work. There hasn't been anything quite like it since, though some successful first outing movies have filmed two sequels together. Also, their revolutionary detail of a complete CGI character in Gollum spurred the technology to make movies like "Chronicles of Narnia" possible. (We won't give that credit to JarJar Binks, okay?)

3. Harry Potter franchise - it is unprecedented for one main reason, in my opinion: they kept the same actors for all 8 films. Okay, well Dumbledore's actor changed but that was because the actor passed away. But this is seriously unheard of...actors don't like to be type-cast or nailed down to one project for so long, typically. (Of course, Daniel Radcliffe is doing his best not to be type-cast by appearing in the play Equus between filming.) But not only is this fact unprecedented, but the turn-around time for such a special-effect driven film pretty remarkable. They were turning them out about once a year in the beginning, then lengthened it to once every 18-months. And now the last film (due Nov. 2010) is coming out in two-parts (2nd part July 2011). They say it is because they can't get it all in one film. Bah. They did okay with books 4 and 5...they just want to milk that money. Hopefully the Blu-Ray will have them together? (Yah right.)

4. Avatar - Come on, you really didn't think I'd leave this off? The 3D craze was a gimmick to draw in crowds until this movie. But James Cameron just did "something" different here that made 3D viewing the only way to see this movie. That's amazing, but at the same time Hollywood is going to make EVERYTHING in 3D now which is really gonna suck...because without a visionary person like Cameron, it will still be only one thing: a gimmick. But Cameron shot Avatar with this new 3D tech that made you feel like you were there. You seriously can't get any closer than actually going. It is hard to put into words, but I have never visually experienced something like that ever. And it just wasn't about the 3D, it was about the new, innovative motion capture technology. The facial movements for speech and expression is unsurpassed and sets a new, high bar in motion capture. And it begs the question, who should win an award for motion captured roles? The actor; the special effects team? This is new territory.

5. Shrek - I thought of this one late into this post. Actually, I wasn't sure it was from the 2000's, but it is. I think this is the computer animated movie that put computer animated movies on the map. Hardly anything has been hand-drawn since. Pixar and Dreamworks exploded on to the scene after this movie.

If I think of others, I'll add them. But chime in with your own and why you think it changed the movie industry.

Friday, December 18, 2009

LIEmax Rant

My friend Daniel talked me into going to see "Avatar" in IMAX, against my better judgment. Over a year ago, I was so excited to hear we were getting a feature film IMAX (since the Aerospace one doesn't show them). I saw "Dark Knight" on it...and have seen one or two other movies...but I never really loved it. My two biggest rants about the place is the screen size (we'll get to that in a minute) and the film projection.

Local critics cited the film projection as a problem too, so I'm not just complaining about something arbitrary. I simply cannot pay attention to the movie when trash, debris, and dust on the lens are flowing across the screen, blown up to "IMAX" size. It is so distracting. Back before digital projection, that was one of the main reasons I wanted to see a movie as soon as it came out. The film quality dramatically decreases as it is plays more and more. Or is some cases, it is just bad to begin with. I remember going to see the premiere showing of Jurassic Park 2. During a climactic scene where the RVs were hanging off the cliff, the film melted off the reel. It took about 20 minutes to restart and it picked back up after the scene was over. The second time I saw Fellowship of the Ring, the audio track got hung up in the reel and we didn't hear the last 5 minutes of the movie.

It may be bigger than traditional screens (or is it...hold on, we're getting there) and the sound may be 12,000 watts, but the viewing quality was a deal breaker, so I opted for the Rave every time. Besides, very little has actually been shot on IMAX film. You can see the difference here. Only 8 scenes in Dark Knight were...the rest of the movie was not. So when you are going to see an "IMAX" film, that's a bit of a misnomer. Just like watching movies on your TV at home, there will be black bars at the top and bottom of the screens, which may or may not be cleverly hidden by movable currents to frame the screen.

Okay, on to screen size. There is a guy out there who has mapped out
all the IMAX screens in the country and noted if they are true IMAX, Omnimax (domed screen), or LIEmax. It seems a bit superficial to only rely on screen size to determine if you are having a true IMAX experience, but it is the most obvious. Well, I'll let this extreme example speak for itself.



I wrote Dickinson Theaters to find out how big our "IMAX" screen is and they replied that it is 45 x 70 ft wide. The reported true size of an IMAX screen is 76 x 97 ft. The original IMAX, according to Wikipedia, has different dimensions than that. So who knows what a "real" sized IMAX theater is supposed to be. But compared to the image above, ours isn't that bad, but it is still only 75% or so of the "true" size. To me, it's like buying Blu-Ray movies for 20" TV screens. What's the point? Well, okay, there's the sound and the projection style, etc. In fact, one article put it like this:

The company maintains that it's not just the size of the screen that matters, it's their "revolutionary projection system, a powerful digital audio system and customized theatre geometry" that make up "The IMAX Experience."


I'll buy that. And when I went to reluctantly buy our tickets for Avatar, I asked the manager if they were still film-based. He said they are digital now. So that's a HUGE step up for me. So the issue comes down to this: is the added expense worth it? If you like to see regularly-filmed movies shown a little bit bigger and a more power sound system, then yah, maybe it is. I wouldn't have said that when they were projecting film, though. So we'll see how this showing of Avatar goes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 1 with Kitty

Kitty is a little tooter, I'll tell ya that. She is very playful...likes dangly toys more than rolly toys. She skitters across the floor back and forth. Right off the bat, if I would leave the living room, she would hide under the couch. When I'd come back and kneel down and tell her I was here and she would come out! She checked everything out cautiously, including my fireplace, where she got black soot on her nose. Ha ha. She is also quite the purr-er, which I LOVE!

We watched Fellowship of the Ring together, but I could tell sounds were kind of making her nervous, so I had it down more than normal. The heater coming on and just other house sounds still give her a little pause.

We started out the night with bedroom-only access. I moved the food, water, and litter in with me. She slept for about an hour in the crook of my arm. Then it was play time. Suddenly I heard her meow several times, so I turned on the light and she was laying a huge pile of poop down on the floor. Whoops! So even though I didn't really want to, I made her a little pallet in the bathroom, gave her a night light, and moved everything in there. This morning she was sleeping on the little pallet. I was worried that she didn't eat at all yesterday, but food was gone from the bowl this morning. :)

Most of the morning she sat with me and napped while I worked on the computer. She explores but only if I'm in the room. She now meows if she can't find me. Awwwww. I wanted to test being away from home for a short time, so I went out to lunch for about an hour. Nothing was amiss when I got back, but I'm sure she meowed a lot like she does when she can't find me.

As of afternoon, she hadn't used the litterbox yet...there's gotta be a little peepee somewhere. /sigh But I'm happy to say she just poopied in her box before I started typing this. And boy, does she pack a wallop! If she keeps going, maybe she'll earn full house privileges sooner than I hoped.

Thanks to everyone for the encouragement. It's fun and I'm happy, but also have some anxiety. I'll come with a name soon, I hope. I'm terrible at it. No seriously. But I do like to name based on personality and characteristics, so if you have suggestions, feel free to share.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coming Home...Take Two

Original Post:

About three weeks ago, I was meeting with a mentor and friend and the conversation evolved to how life was going. It's been pretty rough, to be honest. I've been in lower point for a season. It really stemmed from losing Scamper this past spring. I got stuck in a rut, tried to start filling what I thought I needed with things that weren't spiritually healthy. And when that is not healthy, nothing else is. I found myself not praying--not even wanting to, my relationships with friends became a little distant, and I could easily find myself trying to get a quick fix to being lonely. Contentment with what I was and had in life was something I had achieved, but when I lost Scamper, it escaped me. I wondered--still do--whether I really ever had it. Seems to me contentment is something that doesn't ebb and flow. It's like joy vs. happiness.

So my friend helped me by sending me some good short studies about how to put a stopper on temptations not by ignoring them, but by replacing them with good things. Long story short, my "assignment" was to get a pet. Have something to come home to. Something to give my attention. Something to build new, happy memories on the old ones that painfully linger. Everything he said made since and I knew it was good, sound advice. And with school wrapping up, it would be a good time for me to be able to stay at home for several days.

So a few weeks went by and the time for me to do this crept up on me. I started to talk myself out of it. Tried telling myself how nice it has been to not have to worry about pet hair/dander, friends who want to come over but are allergic, cleaning poop, and dealing with everything else that comes with a pet. It was beginning to be like my friend never said anything at all.

So today, I decided if I didn't go, I wouldn't. I went to the Little Rock Animal Shelter and viewed the cats, played with them a little, held a few. My only criteria was that I wanted a baby...as baby as I could get it. Optional but preferred things included it being a boy and I was leaning toward a grey color. Playful's a plus. And the volunteer mentioned she likes a purr-er. Me too! :D

The last time I went, I thought too hard and waited too long and got emotional and had to leave. I came to a decision pretty quickly this time and am happy--and yes, a bit anxious; even hesitant--to say this little guy is coming home with me tomorrow. (PICTURE REMOVED)

The shelter gave me a huge gift bag with toys, food samples, and a scratch pad! I was amazed! Tax dollars put to good use! Just kidding...it's all promotional stuff from pet companies, but I still greatly appreciate it.

Name will come soon; I like to name pets based on personality. So with that, he'll be home around 4 pm tomorrow!

NEW POST

So I was out to lunch with my parents and got a call from the vet at the animal shelter. Turned out the little kitten had Feline Immunodeficiency Virus...which is essentially cat AIDS. Unbelievable. I built up the strength and muster to go and this happens. And not only that, I found out they had to euthanize ALL the kittens in that cage (6-8 in all) because it is contagious. As they play, they scratch and bite...and the FIV could spread. Awful!

I went back up there fully expecting to just get a refund. But they encouraged me to go back and look. There were some more that were 6 weeks old...still wobbly and not particularly playful yet. But they were so cute that small. There was also a 12 week old girl who was pretty affectionate and playful. A little older than I was looking for, though. I asked the worker what it is that I would miss out on in getting a 12 week old over a 6 week old. He told me the younger would have to be kept in a bathroom with a litter box for a couple weeks for training. I guess that's a little too young, to be fair. So I ended up getting the 12 week old. She's already spayed and ready to come home.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

This Is Why I Worked in Forensic Chemistry

The following is a true story based on actual events that occurred on Thanksgiving Eve 2009.

Wednesday night is "Glee" night and my friend Kim comes over to watch. We get through another great episode and I mention that I have Star Trek and we agree to watch. But as I pop in the movie, she starts telling me about her downstairs neighbor. She mentioned how she thought it was odd that the door had been opened since she left for work that morning and that her mom remembers seeing the door open at 4 am when she got home from work.

An elderly couple used to live there, but in recent months, both have passed away. Their daughter had moved in with the mom, until the mom passed about a month ago. The daughter was apparently quite the alcoholic and would become very angry and have multiple outbursts. Kim and her mom remembers hearing the daughter yelling at apparently nobody about a week ago.

When Kim's mom went to work Tuesday afternoon around 2 pm, she recalls seeing the neighbor sitting on the floor in the doorway, but when she tried to wave, the woman ducked away. And as I said, when she came home from work, the door was open. This time the woman was reclining in her chair. Though odd the door was open at 4 am, she didn't stop to check because of the way the woman acted earlier. Not to mention the anger episodes she had been having.

Well, Kim goes to work around 8 am and comes home close to 5 pm and the door is still open and the open is still sitting in the chair. Now we are caught up to present and we're about to start Star Trek. I suggest we go check on her in case there is a medical emergency. She said her mom should be getting home right about then, so she calls her and asks if the door is still open, the same lights on, and if she is still sitting in the same chair. She said yes. With us on speaker phone, she goes down and knocks on the door and there's no response. I tell Kim we need to go over there and we do.

We get there and the woman is clearly not breathing. She is also very cold and stiff. 911 was called but it was unfortunately way too late. She was gone. I called one of our pastors because we were all kind of freaked out. The ambulance and fire truck arrive, followed by a lengthy wait for the police. They report multiple empty bottles of alcohol on the counter. She was also known to be diabetic. Yikes. Kim mentions that since the lady's mom passed, the daughter has pretty much been shut up in the apartment. With the door open and her body in view, it is not hard to imagine she wanted to be found. The police couldn't find any next-of-kin information. Detectives and coroners showed up and took statements. It was finally cleared out around midnight.

I'm irrationally creeped out by dead things, so I had my own freak out moment. And when I worked at the crime lab, I was always thankful that I didn't have to deal with that aspect of crime scenes. People would ask me all the time if I had to deal with bodies, but I always thankfully said that I only worked drug crime scenes. Walking up on something like that cannot easily be forgotten. Nor can the tragedy of the situation and the sad existence that came to this end. So today on Thanksgiving, I am thankful that I have a loving God who provides strength and significance, a loving and supportive family, and the best friends that can be had.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's Popping in that Popcorn!

I heard about and read a story this week in the LA Times informing consumers of the healthiness of movie popcorn. If you don't know about this study, you may find it shocking. Read on.

An average medium popcorn and soda is equivalent to eating three Quarter Pounders topped with 12 pats of butter!

One movie chain's medium popcorn contains 1,200 calories, 60 grams of saturated fat, and 980 milligrams of sodium. That does not include the butter. The source? Many theaters pop in coconut oil. Some are switching to canola.

When people complained about the unhealthiness of the movie snacks, one chain tried switching to air-popped popcorn. It didn't take long for sales to plummet because of complaints about taste, and the theater return to their old methods. So what do you do?

On a side note, there is a debate about which is more detrimental when popping popcorn in a microwave at home. The carcinogens in the bag or the unhealthiness of the product...

My opinion? Most people don't visit the movie daily or even regularly...so it is not like it is a constant consumption. Treat yourself when you go!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In Memory of Uncle Orville Sutton

Life has the habit of shifting your relationships. Those high school or college friends who you would never lose contact with are rarely called anymore. Friends who move away and promise you'll always keep in touch....eventually it fizzles out. As a child, I was closer to my extended family than I have been since college. And so most of my fond memories come from that time. My mom and I lived in a Dallas suburb and traveled to Searcy, AR--her hometown--regularly each year to visit relatives. (Funny that all those times crossing over the Arkansas River on I-30 and straining to see the capitol, I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd be living here one day.) The first thing we *always* did upon reaching town was to stop at Uncle Orville's shop in the back of an outdoors store in downtown Searcy. Uncle Orville repaired guns there. Mom and him would chat for a while as I eyed all the grimy tools and machinery he used to do his work. Then we'd make our way to Aunt Mary's (my mom and his sister). Eventually, we would visit Uncle Orville and Aunt Imagene again at their house near Sidon. Sure they didn't have a lot, but he made it enough. His kids, Matt and Aaron, took me on many outdoor adventures...good old country boys through and through. And we'd go running together when our mischief got a little past what he wanted. I'd even stay the night with them on occasion, on those trips.

I guess my greatest thoughts of the ways Uncle Orville lived was that he valued hard work and respect. He took his family to a little church down the road. He'd often be working in his garden out front of his home when we would arrive. And he always had his pipe in hand. His influence stretched across all aspects of our family...his kids, his nephews and nieces, and beyond. He was a good man who lived on great values and left that legacy to everyone he came in contact with.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm Walking on Sunshine?

This is about the most dramatic weather bulletin I've ever seen...concerning rain. I saw a stat that said the longest we've gone this year without rain is 8 days. Wow! Well here is the imminent doom set before us for the next 48 hours. I've bolded my personal favorites that seem particularly ominous and dramatic. You've been warned.

..MAJOR HEAVY RAINFALL EVENT EXPECTED TODAY AND FRIDAY OVER MUCH OF ARKANSAS... ...PREPARATIONS TO PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY SHOULD BE COMPLETED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE... MOISTURE HAS BEGIN INCREASING FROM THE SOUTH THIS MORNING...AS A POTENT STORM SYSTEM HEADS TOWARD THE MID SOUTH FROM THE WEST. WIDESPREAD SHOWERS AND ISOLATED THUNDERSTORMS WILL CONTINUE TO DEVELOP...AND SPREAD NORTHWARD INTO ARKANSAS THIS MORNING.

SEVERAL UPPER LEVEL SYSTEMS WILL MOVE THROUGH THE REGION OUT AHEAD OF AN APPROACHING SLOW-MOVING FRONTAL BOUNDARY. THE SYSTEMS WILL INTERACT WITH THE SLOW FRONT...AND THIS WILL ALLOW FOR SEVERAL WAVES OF MODERATE TO HEAVY RAINFALL TO OCCUR ACROSS A LARGE PART OF ARKANSAS TODAY THROUGH FRIDAY NIGHT. FOR THIS REASON...A FLASH FLOOD WATCH HAS BEEN ISSUED FOR A LARGE PART OF ARKANSAS THIS AFTERNOON THROUGH SATURDAY MORNING. AS MUCH AS 5 TO 7 INCHES OF RAIN IS EXPECTED IN PORTIONS OF CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN ARKANSAS TODAY THROUGH LATE FRIDAY NIGHT. THE HEAVIEST RAIN WILL OCCUR IN AREAS MAINLY ALONG A LINE FROM SALEM...TO LITTLE ROCK...TO CAMDEN. IN AREAS EAST AND WEST OF THIS LINE...AMOUNTS OF 3 TO 5 INCHES WILL BE COMMON...WITH ISOLATED TOTALS APPROACHING 6 INCHES.

NEAR-RECORD RAIN HAS FALLEN DURING THE MONTH OF OCTOBER IN A LARGE PART OF ARKANSAS. THERE HAS BEEN VERY LITTLE TIME FOR ANY SIGNIFICANT DRYING...WITH THE GROUND SO SATURATED. MANY STREAMS... CREEKS...AND RIVERS ARE ABOVE NORMAL LEVELS FOR LATE OCTOBER...WITH SEVERAL POINTS ALONG THE WHITE...CACHE AND OUACHITA RIVERS ABOVE FLOOD STAGE. THERE WILL SIMPLY BE NOWHERE FOR THE WATER TO GO. WITH ALL THE EXPECTED RAINFALL...AGRICULTURAL IMPACTS WILL BE LIKELY. MANY LOW-LYING ROADS WILL BE FLOODED...AND LOW WATER CROSSINGS WILL BE IMPASSABLE. STREAMS THAT HAVE A TENDENCY TO RISE RAPIDLY DURING PERIODS OF HEAVY RAINFALL WILL TEND TO FLOOD THE QUICKEST.

ANYONE CAMPING ALONG THE BANKS OF A STREAM OR RIVER... PARTICULARLY IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN ARKANSAS SHOULD MAKE PLANS TO LEAVE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE OR AT LEAST MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND. COMMUTERS DURING THE EVENING DRIVE ON TODAY AND THE MORNING DRIVE FRIDAY SHOULD BE ESPECIALLY CAUTIOUS. IF YOU DRIVE ACROSS AREAS NEAR BODIES OF WATER SUSCEPTIBLE TO FLOODING...MAKE PLANS FOR AN ALTERNATE ROUTE. PLEASE STAY INFORMED BY MONITORING THE LATEST FORECASTS AND INFORMATION FROM YOUR LOCAL NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE. BE PREPARED TO TAKE ACTION IF A WARNING IS ISSUED...YOUR LIFE MAY DEPEND ON IT.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Dramatic Week

Friday-Sunday: Looking back, at least the week started out on a high note. My best friends and I went on our 2nd annual camping/float trip in Gilbert, AR.


View Larger Map


We stayed on that white "beach" area just off the road leading to the river. The mild summer and high rain falls had the river up and we were worried the sandbar wouldn't be there, but it was. We went on the longest float this year. It was supposed to take 6-8 hours. The river was so swift, we got done in 4 hours. That was with a few stops to chill, eat, etc. Oh yes, did I mention we came uncomfortably close to stepping on a snake? We saw a cave in the rocks and wanted to climb up to it. Not 10 steps on the shore and Michael goes running the opposite direction, me right behind him. The other guys said they heard it hiss. I didn't, but had I, I might of passed out on the spot. Luckily, I only saw about 1 inch of it and ran. I'm getting nauseous thinking about it, so moving on...

We ended up getting back in time for the other guys to listen to the Razorback game on the radio. It was a beautiful weekend. Couldn't ask for anything better. Well, the country restaurant we got the fabled rooster bullet was closed...that was very disappointing. But overall we had a great time and it was nice to get away. Here's some more photos, taken by my friend Daniel.

Monday: We join a story already in progress. You see, a while back, someone backed into my truck at the school's parking lot. And they didn't leave a note. I finally decided I should get it repaired. The driver side bumper was bent and pushed in the side panel and popped out the light. I was told it would be a two day repair. Monday represented day 7. Apparently the original $800 estimate was off as there was more damage underneath than originally seen. The problem was the supplemental paperwork didn't get transferred and for three days my truck just sat there not getting worked on. In the meantime, I got a car from Enterprise that was chained smoked in, despite their no smoking policy. I got a 2nd car, but my insurance made me give it back since I went out of town for the weekend. The third car I got was nice though. On day 12--that being Friday, Oct. 2--I finally got my truck back.

Tuesday: I recently upgraded to the new operating system on my Mac, Snow Leopard. I also purchased my own license of Final Cut Studio and installed it. After doing these things, and cleaning up some system files, I noticed I was 20 GB of hard drive space down, which was completely unreasonable. I'd been having enough quirks with Snow Leopard that I decided to reinstall it cleanly--meaning a full wipe and start over. So I ran Time Machine to back up my files and took my system to work on Tuesday to let the installers run while I worked. I wiped the HD, installed Snow Leopard, and went to grab my files from the back up. Except the back up folder was not whole. For whatever reason, about 2-3 folders deep into the file tree, Time Machine stopped saving. So, for example, the folder tree for music is: Music > iTunes > [artist folder] > [album name] > [songs]. The back up stopped at the artist folder. No music. Same for documents and photos. Anything saved in a folder was gone. Mildly panicking!

I was on the phone with Apple immediately. He had nothing. He helped me restore my iTunes purchases from my phone, but all music from CDs (when I still used to buy them) could not be transferred. I got on forums and discovered I could retrieve my music and photos (many sentimental ones, particularly of my cats and family) from my AppleTV. Except it is not a simple transfer; you have to break into it--voiding the warranty--and connect the hard drive to the Mac as an external USB device. So I took it up to church and Leslie helped me do just that. I retrieved it all back. In the end I lost documents in folders and some old photos, but they were things I hadn't opened or looked at in years, so I wasn't too upset.

Thursday: Once again, in what seems to occur every semester, I had to face two students cheating on an exam by taking it together. I've become very hardened to this sort of thing. Two years ago, I was so nervous about having to deal with it, my voice would be shaking, my hands trembling, my mouth dry... In fact, funny story...the first time I had to do it, the students came back in tears, apologizing profusely because they could hear the anger in my voice. The thing is, it wasn't anger...it was nervousness! Ha! Well, whatever...it worked. One student fessed up after I presented the evidence. The other was completely flippant and left never really thinking she did anything wrong and saying "it just sucks because everyone does it, but I'm the one that got caught." Greaaaaaat. After fuming for a while and stalking around the building for more potential problems, I just came to the realization that I have as much security in place as I can reasonably put, and if students want to cheat, they are going to. The fact is, it WILL catch up to them one day.

Friday: This is the day I got my truck back. While I was going to pick it up, a friend texted me to apologize for something that happened a couple days ago. A 2-day-later, text apology didn't really sit well with me, so I wrongly sent a terse reply back. That just set things off and we ended up going back and forth and some underlying issues came out. I hate it when this kind of things happen. I wish I was a better person when it comes to dealing with tough things like this. /sigh Oh well, we'll survive.

That catches you up. Today's agenda: Notre Dame football at 2:30 and the Dallas Stars season opener at 7 pm! YESSSSSSS! Hm, may try to sneak some Geocaching in too; too nice of a day to let it waste.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Over My Head

Lost for the words to say
I'm left here in disarray
Waiting for You, waiting on truth
I've thrown reason overboard
Knowing that there's still more
I don't yet believe, I can't even perceive
I can't seem to understand
Can't seem to find my way
It's over my head, it's over my head


Learning this mystery
Trust what I cannot see
It's over my head, it's over my head

The wonder of all You've made
Foundations Your hands have laid
Bringing me back to my knees, to my knees
I'm lost for the words to say
Lost for another way
Bringing me back to my knees, to my knees
I'm lost for the words to say
Lost for another way

Ruined for anything other than Your love
I'm desperate to know You, Lord
Desperate for what's in store
Finding my hope in only You, in only You
Take me beyond this door
Lead me to something more
Open my heart up for more of You, more of You


-Starfield, "Over My Head"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Baseball!

I can honestly say one of the best purchases I made in the past year was the mini-season ticket plan for the Arkansas Travelers. I absolutely LOVE going out to Dickey-Stevens park! I bought a 10-game package with my friends and pastor Larry and Wanda Remington. We had great seats behind home plate. Though the Travs didn't have a spectacular record this year (tied for last at the time of this posting), it is fun to watch. I always take my trusty scorebook--something of a hobby I guess.

I'd say the only thing that really gets on my nerves is the amount of advertising we are subjected to at the park. Between every pitch, it seems, and definitely every inning, everything possible is sponsored by someone. Foul balls that get hit out of the park are sponsored by a windshield repair company, strike-outs by a bank, fly outs by a restaurant at the River Market...I wouldn't be surprised if pitch counts started getting sponsored! "That 2-2 pitch is brought to you by...." Bleh!

Well, I did take advantage of ONE promotion during the season. Every game I entered to try and win a seat upgrade. They have two nice, reclining chairs right behind home plate. I think it was our 6th or 7th game of the season and I finally won!

But I think the highlight of the season was Tuesday. As the promotional announcer guy (named Lance) walked by, I flagged him down and asked if my two friends could play the dizzy bat game. He said they already had a pair picked out, but asked if we wanted to clean the bases. WHAT?!?! Hecks yah! So in the 5th inning, when the field crew sweeps the infield dirt, we got to go out with some HUGE toothbrushes and scrub the bases! I really wanted to try to catch my favorite player and shake his hand, but he had already made it out to center field and I chickened out speaking to an infielder. I don't know why...they were busy warming up and stuff. LOL.

I had my friend video it with my iPhone. No zoom, so I'm a little speck on 2nd base...but it's fun to watch. Click this link: Cleaning the Bases!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Another Rant About Email Etiquette

You've heard me fuss about email before...spam, forwards, reply-to-all...I'm adding another one to the list. CC'ing people into the middle of a one-on-one discussion. OMG, where do I begin.

Before I tell you the present story, let me mention some past occurrences. My first point is that, as the director, I feel like I've been entrusted to make decisions and solve problems. I was hired, so I must have made the impression that I am capable of doing this. And I feel like I do a pretty good job. I'm open, I listen, I gather the facts...then I make a decision. In other words, I like to be able to handle things on my level. I feel like upper management (above me) is generally interested in the fact that the problem got solved to the benefit of the organization. The day-to-day workings and conversations not so much. Simply that it got worked out.

Soon after I was hired, there were many transition snags and fresh methodology. Problems arose; it has to be expected. In one such case, I was emailing with a person back and forth for a while, coming up with a plan when suddenly in the CC field appeared the head of the school's name. Say what? We were handling the situation just fine, but before it reached its conclusion, the big boss was brought into the middle of it. So now we have to bring her up to speed, which takes more time and frankly, wastes time. To me, when the solution is reached, then we can let her know and see if she approves.

Sorry but CC'ing someone in like that is the electronic version of tattling. It's unprofessional, inconsiderate, and certainly not amiable.

So to today's story. A couple weeks ago I had to make an unforeseen schedule change to our curriculum. Unfortunately, the instructor assigned could no longer teach the course so the chairman was then tasked with finding someone else. I was very apologetic and explained why it happened. Fine. Today he emails me to say he has an instructor, that it was very difficult, and he was frustrated by not having any information to give her.

He CC'ed this to the Vice President of Instruction and the President of the college. W...T...F... In both cases, I feel slightly offended personally. By interrupting our conversation to bring in someone else, it makes me feel like they don't think I'm performing adequately and they need to let the bosses know.

I've grown so tired of this petty "look what he made me do; I've got to let the higher ups know" crap, I called him out on it. And yes, I clicked reply-to-all. I made it very clear--again--why it occurred, thanked him for working so hard, and showed my gratitude that everything will work out to the benefit of the students. I also questioned why he felt he needed to bring in the heads of the school to a solved situation and that I'm sure they'll be happy to know we worked it out. I also told him I find it much more amiable (I like that word) to handle our local problems on our level.

So folks, just stop and think before you click that Send button. Seriously...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What's Crack-a-lacking? ME!!!

If you follow me on Twitter, you may recall I was bedridden a couple months back from a pulled neck muscle. The truth is, I've been going to a massage therapist for about a year now, on a regular basis, to try and loosen up that region. It feels great! But I just didn't feel like it was treating the source of the problem. A friend was going to a chiropractor and so I started thinking about it. Won't bore you with the "checking the insurance and information" details...suffice to say I went last Friday.

I really do think I'm getting the right treatment now. I wish I could have videoed what he did to me from my iPhone. He felt around my spine for a bit then took some observations. Then he started describing the symptoms I would be experiencing based on what he was feeling and seeing. He nailed it! I mean the tension headaches, the tight shoulders, the slightly forward way I hold my head...etc etc etc. Apparently my first and second vertebra are turned slightly, but in different directions. My thoracic region is slightly flattened, and my hips aren't level. Geez!

Okay so the treatment starts. If you've never been, let me try to describe it. The doctor has you lay in different positions, places a majority of his weight on you, then without warning, snaps your head around. I was seriously and literally thinking to myself that I had walked for the last time. I just knew I'd be leaving paralyzed. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. But I've never experienced the combination of fear and relief at the same time. The combination is tantalizingly pleasing, like odd food combinations. I was definitely sore the rest of the day, and I have four weeks--at two times a week--to go.

He gave me some pointers about where to position my computer screen (because again, he knew it was sitting too low) and told me to ditch my wallet and go with a front pocket version. That's hard to do because as long as I've had a wallet, it's been in the back right pocket. Guys, you know how it is. Everything has a pocket. Keys and chapstick in the the right; iPhone in the left; wallet in the back. When my hand doesn't feel it there, I'm in immediate panic mode. Still getting used to it.

I'm definitely looking forward to this...these daily tension headaches are the worst! Actually...I haven't had one since Friday!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

How to Turn Around a Bad Day

It's no surprise that August is about the most stressful time of year for me. This year is no exception. Enrollment is in full swing. Couple that with trying to hire a new full-time instructor--a first time experience for me--and it has been a long few weeks.

This year enrollment is BOOMING. I have traditionally scheduled about 120 seats in my classes here. Two days ago, I got final numbers and learned 200 students are coming! For the last two days, I've scrambled and had conversation after conversation with a dozen people to figure out how to create new classes, when they can be held, where they will be held, and who will teach them.

During this fiasco, I also had to finally tell one of my long-term part-time instructors he didn't get the new full-time position. That was pretty rough because he really wanted it. I got home that night and had a letter from the city that parking wouldn't be allowed on my street anymore due to "complaints and emergency vehicle access." Okay, I don't necessarily care about that but it just FELT like bad news after my day. And if it means my neighbors are going to start parking in their lawn more, then that will cause me to be pissy.

After that, I went to the gym, as typical, with Daniel. Pushed myself a little too hard on leg press and started feeling sick. I mean, no color in my face nauseous. I sat in the locker room and knew that the only thing that would make me feel better is, you guessed it, to throw up. So I did. I can't STAND throwing up...but I did it.

Well, the next day was a little better. The schedule started coming together, but was still stressful. It's been a long week. I got home and decided randomly that I wanted to make one of my "signature" things...so I made a chocolate creme brulee pie and took it to the Johnsons down the street. They were so surprised and grateful! It made me smile, which was really needed after two days of hectic stress. When I got home, I realized that was really a God moment. The only way to take the focus off my own troubles and stress was to do something kind for someone else. And it really did work!

Friday, July 10, 2009

My First Geocaching

I was watching a podcast a couple of weeks ago and they had a segment where the hosts went out "geocaching". Geocaching is sort of like a treasure hunt for people with GPS units. Someone has hidden a container (could be small or large) with a logbook in it and most likely some trinkets. The goal is to go to the coordinates and find the cache based on their description. Hints are usually provided, as well, although they are encrypted at first.

Now before you read further, if you have any aspirations of doing this and will be searching in the west Little Rock area, my story will probably contains spoilers to the whereabouts of the caches.

I gathered up a couple of friends (Alex and Joel) and we went out with our trusty iPhone 3GS's. Our first stop was at a cache near Barnes and Noble on Chenal Pkwy. I didn't want to decrypt the hint at first, so we were looking in the bushes and around light poles. The GPS showed it near the road at the end of the parking lot. I gave in and we looked at the clue which said "this should enLIGHTen you". Okay so we start looking at light poles again and even at the traffic light poles. The parking lot poles have plastic covers near the base that I notice can be lifted up. Sure enough, our first cache find! We signed the log feeling rather accomplished already.

Next stop was a cache at Krispy Kreme. We nervously walked around the building as a worker was outside talking on the phone. After a full circuit, we looked at the hint. As we searched the worker looked at us funny, then asked "are yall here for the geocache?" We said yes but not to tell us. Eventually we found it. And it was very cool! In fact, it had what's called a trackable item in it. The idea is to take the object and move it to another cache. Some of them even have destination goals. This one said it wants to end up in a place where music is big. The object was a guitar. So we took it with plans to hide it in another.

Our next stop was a nice community called Woodland's Edge. The difficult rating was 3/5, but having found two caches, we felt ready for the challenge. Well, we weren't. Lupka's hoping it is just not there any more. Defeated, we left. A cemetery cache caught our eye and boy was it in a strange location. Located just behind the Heart Hospital, this very small, fenced area is a family plot of some kind. The stones that could still be read had death dates in the early 1900's.


At this point, Lupka and I both decide to fork out the $10 for the iPhone app. It made things so much easier than switching between the website and Google Earth. The GPS tracking was MUCH better, too.

Next up was one near Baptist Hospital. The description said "wear long pants because it is pretty overgrown here". Well we were all in shorts and basically bushwacked out way through some thorns and stickers. Not finding it we tried working our way back to the parking lot. Joel stumbled across it, fortunately. We dropped off the guitar in this cache. (Later I would find out that we had to have a tracking number off the guitar to log it as moved on the website. So I gotta go back to this cache pretty soon to get the code off it in order to update its location.)

Our final find of the day was at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Pretty easy find. Again, this had a couple of trackable items in it. Lupka and I each took one. At that point we decided we wanted to make a cache. So we went to Wal-mart and got a water-tight container. We threw some objects in there and a logbook and hid it near the lake by Lupka's house. We're still waiting for approval from the website for it to be active, but we can't wait for people to start finding it and putting objects of their own in there. We dropped off the trackable items from the Game and Fish cache in ours, too.

So we were 5 of 6 on the day and created one. Pretty fun afternoon. I could definitely see doing this regularly....cuz when we pulled up the Little Rock area map, there are HUNDREDS here alone, waiting to be found!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Locked Out

The perfect storm. That's the only thing I can liken to what happened to me today. I'm outside working in my flowerbed, pulling weeds and such, and need to pop back inside for a second for whatever reason it was. Picture it: I pull the storm door open and the suction created by that action pulls the door closed, which I had left barely cracked open. I go to push on the door handle...it doesn't move. That's right, it's locked.

This particular lock is one in which I do not have a key. The seller did not have or leave one. I've never used it. I had changed all the deadbolts and other door handles out. I would have changed this decorative handle except I couldn't find one just like it. Getting something else would leave unpainted holes and such in the door...it was just never worth the trouble. The inside part of the handle's locking mechanism is fairly loose...sometimes just pushing down on the lever on the outside can cause it to turn into the locked position. So I've become rather conscious of making sure it is turned to the unlocked position and/or I just leave the door slightly cracked.

Now review the sentence about the suction created by the storm door. And just like that I was locked out. Now I'm a reasonably smart guy. And cautious in many ways. I have a contingency plan for just such a situation! No, I don't have a hidden key on my property, but rather I gave a friend a key to keep. Except this friend just happens to be in Illinois this week.

It's in the mid-90's as I walk around the house to see if any of my uber-security windows just happens to be unlatched. Of course not. As I said, I'm cautious--nay, even a bit paranoid--about my safety. Garage door is down, but that wouldn't matter because I deadbolt the door inside anyway.

It's a holiday. Locksmiths are charging double their trip rate. My insurance company is closed. So I call a friend and neighbor, Mike. He comes down and tries the credit card trick for a while, but it doesn't work. He takes out some of the weather stripping to get better access. Nothing doing. Starts taking apart the frame of the door for even better access, but the construction is such that it would just take too much.

So I called my mom in Searcy. She can't get away to even meet half-way (in Cabot) at the moment. She said it would be 2-3 hours. Okay, now I'm really nervous because my ticket to the Traveler's game/fireworks is inside and if I have to wait that long, I don't think I'll make it. But she calls back a few minutes later and says she can meet us. My good buddy Daniel drives me there and back, and now I sit back inside my house typing this incredibly lame story.

FAIL!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A WTF kind of day...

The past 16 hours of my life have been completely bizarre. Let me regale you as the rain falls outside in the bright sunshine. (Ahh, summer heat showers...) Around 4 pm yesterday, my friend Daniel made me an energy drink, which I drank. Flash forward to bedtime, around 10 pm. I start to read, as usual, and do so for about 30 minutes before falling asleep. 15 minutes later my eyes pop back open. I toss for a bit, but every time my mind starts to slip off to sleep, something rather like a fail-safe jolts me back awake. I give up, turn the light back on, and continue reading. For 2 hours... Let me tell you that energy drink packed a wallop. I didn't feel sleepy until about 1 am, which is finally when the pages of the book I was reading started to blur. Not to mention that during that time, I had to pee 3 times!

About 4 am I woke up again but this time for a literal jolt...of pain in my neck. From my right shoulder blade to my upper neck, every movement, toss, or turn sent a shock of pain across me. For the rest of my sleep I tried to stay still, but turning happens and I would wake back up from the pain. When it was finally time to get up, I could barely lift my head up the pain in my neck/shoulder muscle (also called the trapezius) hurt so bad. I immediately took ibuprofen and told myself if it didn't get better I was going to the doctor. That's how bad it hurts! I don't go to the doctor. Not because I'm against them, but because I hate my insurance and have to shell out $400 before they even begin to pay anything.

I end up just going to work because sitting at home is doing nothing. No position is comfortable. Tried laying down, but to get back up just made it hurt worse. I call the doctor and get in for an 11 am appointment. In the meantime, the tension is growing in my neck tremendously from having to hold my head up.

I'm at the doctor's office and he's looking over my chart. I've been having neck tension for a while but can usually stretch it out. He said I must have tweaked it in my restless sleep from the energy drink. He suggests a muscle relaxer shot, a prescription, and possibly physical therapy!!!! WHAT?!? OMG, that shot was painful. But wait...there's more. As he skims through my history, he asked why I didn't have a physical last year. Just didn't, I say. He then points out that I have a history of low white blood cell count, also known medically as leukopenia. He asks if he can have it checked again. I'm there...why not. Go in for neck pain; leave with leukopenia. All in a day's work.

So far the shot has given me a little more range of motion. The Flexeril is kicking in...but neither are taking away the throb of holding my head up. So I'm gonna get off here and try to a comfortable position. Not likely....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Movie Trailers

There's nothing like a good movie trailer to get you hyped up for a great story or a visually overwhelming experience on the silver screen. But I've come to realize that trailers are "damned if you do and damned if you don't." (Sorry to those I just made choke with my verbiage.) Seriously. You want to see them to see what the movie is going to be about. Sometimes, that's the only way I even KNOW about the movie.

The problem is trailers also tend to spoil the best parts of the movie, in which the movie ends up being a huge disappointment. You expect more of what you saw in the trailer, but all you get is what you saw in the trailer itself.

Two recent examples that were guilty of this: "Knowing" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". The first movie was about predicting all these disasters that were happening and starred Nicolas Cage. There were like four major things in the trailer that we saw, including an airplane crash and the apparent annihilation of New York City. And guess how many disasters the movie had? Yup...four. As the movie led up to the climactic event--the script told the viewer there was only one left--well we hadn't seen the NYC disaster yet so you immediately knew it was coming. You know they aren't going to stop it. No suspense.

Wolverine was the same way. All those cool mutants we've been dying to see that were never included in the original trilogy? Yah, pretty much what you see of them in the trailer is what you get in the movie. Including the fan-demanded and highly popular character Gambit. That's it. No more. Literally seconds worth of cameo.

That brings me to this simply incredible, spectacular trailer of the upcoming movie "2012". Playing on the myth that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 and thus spells the end of everything, Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow) creates his next big end-of-the-world movie. I hope it doesn't suck like Day After Tomorrow. I also hope these eye-popping shots of this trailer aren't all we get. View at your own risk, I guess.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Life of a Gamer

E3, the biggest video game conference of the year where all major brands present their newest, best, and most innovative products, is in full swing. Been keeping an eye on it, being a pretty big gaming fan. *Glosses over World of Warcraft addiction mentioned heretofore in this blog.*

So to recap things that interested me:

X-Box: Not an owner of one, but their announcement of "Natal", a motion-sensor device, seems to trump anything the Wii has done for motion controllers. This thing can sense your movements and recognize your face to log in to XBox Live, among other things they showed. You hold nothing. They also announced that their game library will eventually become completely downloadable.

Nintendo: Easily the most boring announcements. Whoopee, a device that monitors your pulse! And then more of the same games...Super Mario Galaxy 2, Wii Fit Plus, etc. Okay, Metroid might be okay. But I don't have a Wii and won't be getting one, so /shrug.

Playstation: One of my personally most beloved games and RPGs (role-playing game, for you noobs) is Final Fantasy VII. It was on the original Playstation and they announced it is now available for download on the PS3! When they said that, I wanted to run home that moment and get it! They showed some footage of the newest Final Fantasy, #13. Can't wait for this. But then the shocker came when they announced Final Fantasy 14, which will be an MMO (massively multiplayer online game...again for the noobs out there. In other words, it's like World of Warcraft.) There is a current FF online game, #11, but it was so-so and I didn't play it. Then they announced their version of a...wait for it...motion controller. It looks like a rectangle with a glowing ball on top. But the tracking motion demonstrated is arguably the best of the three major system. So Sony one-ups Microsoft who one-upped Nintendo. Still, ho-hum. I'm not all about flailing around to play games. The new PSP Go looks pretty cool, but I'm not really into hand-held gaming. All games will become downloadable for this platform, too.

Miscellaneous: There was coverage of the new Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic. It will be the first online game to feature totally fully voiced characters and players. The game trailer they showed is simply un-freaking-believable. Watch it right now. Seriously. How I wish the prequel movies had been more like this trailer! I really will want to try this game...though I'm sure my friends will have something to say about that, given my aforementioned WoW addiction. But then there's Final Fantasy 14...gosh...what to c choose! Will have to keep an eye on HOW the game will be played. Don't want to get bogged down in a same-style game as WoW. Of course, if they aren't on a Mac, well forget it. And I will be needing a better video card, but I plan to upgrade next spring anyway. Those games won't be out by then.

One final thought: With games becoming fully downloadable, I would expect some conversation on these gaming sites to be about price, but I haven't seen any chatter. Seems to me if the middle-man is being cut out (Best Buy, Amazon.com, etc), they can lower the price a bit for a direct download. Yah right, like developers will do that!

Okay, well there. Thank you for letting me nerd out for a bit.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Paranoia

Admittedly, I watch my fair share of TV and movies. But I don't think what happened to me today is entertainment-based paranoia. Let me explain.

I'm pulling out of the school's parking lot today and a red SUV is behind me. He (or she) turns left onto Bowman behind me. That's fine. 50/50 shot there. Get to Kanis. I turn left. He turns left. Now my eyebrow is raised in suspicion. Okay stop here. Who really thinks they are being followed just because of these facts I've told so far? I mean, I wasn't fully serious about my consideration of being followed, to be honest. Until...

Going down Kanis, I turn on Point West. Red SUV turns on Point West. Now I'm serious about thinking I'm being followed. So I turn onto Point West Loop and book it around the loop. As I round the curve to get out of sight of the red SUV, they suddenly stop IN THE MIDDLE OF THE INTERSECTION! Who does that? Only people that don't know which way to turn because they've LOST THE PERSON THEY ARE FOLLOWING!

I make it to my street and enter my garage, shutting the door immediately. Peering out the windows I never see the mysterious vehicle.

You may think I'm nuts...but given the couple of students I've had to deal with in the closing weeks of school taken together with the smallest percent chance someone leaving at the exact same time I am lives in the exact same neighborhood, one can never be too careful.

Monday, May 11, 2009

TG(i)F: Trolley Good Friday

This story is funny enough to tell, but I hope it comes across as humorous as having experienced it. So Friday night, my BFF's Johnny and Michael were going to go to a Travs game. We get there and the parking lots are full so we drive down to Main St. and park next to Creegan's Irish Pub. We walk down to the field and it looks packed, but about that time a pilot friend of Johnny's calls and says he's laid-over in town and at the Flying Fish. So Johnny asks if it would be alright to skip the game and go meet up. Michael and I give him crap about it as we walk back to our cars.

We decide to ride the trolley over to the Rivermarket. As it is coming, we notice the sign says that we need correct change. I happen to have a dollar but the other boys don't. So as the trolley is pulling in, Michael hauls it down to his car to get quarters. We get on and the trolley heads in the opposite direction we need. We end up looping around North Little Rock. Along the way, we see our friend John Willis at his job and wave. We arrive back to where we got on the trolley and head across the river to the Rivermarket.

Johnny decides he's not sure if the trolley actually goes down to the Flying Fish, so we get off as soon as we cross the river. As we walk, the trolley passes us, arriving next to the Flying Fish before we do. Nice. Did I mention it is steamy humid out? Arriving to the restaurant, the place is packed with a line out the door. There's no way we can squeeze in to meet his friend. So Johnny calls him up and says we'll meet him next door at the Saucer. But wait! It's closed for a private party. Guy at the door says go down and to the left for the "other door". So we do. It's a dead-end alley with no door. Jerk.

Michael and I decide Johnny is no longer in charge and we decide to head back to Creegan's. Back to the trolley--oh wait, we don't have correct change again. Guess we're hoofing it all the way back to NLR. Michael suggests the new walking bridge (that used to be the old railroad bridge). We get there and it is still under construction. So we have to walk up past the State Convention Center and cross the driving bridge. Michael is complaining the whole way about not liking to sweat, while I'll complain about having hiked across the two cities in flip-flops. Poor Johnny. Well we arrive back to NLR exactly where the evening started out and spend the rest of the evening at Creegan's. And that was pretty much the craziest guy's night we've had to date. But dang, Creegan's has some good appetizers and it has a touch of class the Rivermarket lacks. Too bad we just didn't start and stay there. Ha ha.

Good story.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Apropos

The age of creating mixes for the purposes of wooing a significant other are over, thankfully, but that doesn't mean the perfect song doesn't come along. I guess I'm still in some state of grief over the loss of Scamper. The denial is mostly over but I've moved into a questioning phase. Basically, I take it a day at a time and keep occupied with other things. Trying to find my way back to regular living, if you will. And that's where the lyrics of a song by Red called "Ordinary World" come in.

Barring the fact the artist is talking about a lost love--as in a person--the first verse and chorus still strike me to my core as describing the state I'm pretty much in.

Came in from a rainy Thursday on the avenue,
thought I heard you talking softly.
I turned on the lights, the TV, and the radio,
but still I can't escape the ghost of you.

What is happening to me, crazy, some would say.
Where is the life that I recognize, gone away.

And I won't cry for yesterday--
there's an ordinary world, somehow, I have to find.
And as I try to make my way to the ordinary world,
I will learn to survive.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Coca-Cola

Anyone who has been to my house knows I'm going with a Coca-Cola themed kitchen. Yes, I'm a guy and I have a theme. Let's move past that now.

A while back I went antiquing and got some old replica trays, bottle openers, accessories, and a vintage wooden bottle case. Those products are now proudly displayed on my walls. Well, I decided it is time to add some more so I went to E-bay. Found some pretty cool stuff. First are some nifty potholders:



I held on to that bid for 3 days. Then there were 3 minutes left and I got outbid, so I waited until there was 15 seconds left and upped my bid and won them still at a pretty reasonable price.

What I was really excited about was finding a miniature replica set of Coca-Cola bottles and this cool belt buckle. Well, the sad part is I didn't win either. Both of them got crazy expensive...over $40 I think it was. A little good news is I found the exact same bottle set on the official Coca-Cola store for $25. The belt buckle was a loss though. Maybe one will come up again.




A couple other interesting pieces were some old coaster with the advertising scheme they used in throughout the 30's-50's and a sign to advertise Coke for sale. I won both and they'll nicely supplement the other displays on my wall.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thank You and Update

I wanted to take a second this morning and thank my friends and family. These past couple of weeks have been some of the hardest--if not THE hardest--I've ever faced. I have felt everyone's love and encouragement and prayer in an unexplainable way. God has truly surrounded me with the best relationships and He is truly with me, despite my miserable failings every day.

I know there is not much one can say to help the situation, but I want you to know your presence is enough. I wanted to share a few wonderful examples. Sunday (Easter) I went to church then immediately left for Searcy. The pain was still very fresh. When it was time to come back to Little Rock, I pulled up to my house but could not go in. The silence was deafening in my house. So I walked down to my neighbor (and more importantly...friends) Daniel and Gabe's house. As I finally came to terms with having to go home I walked back and my friend Zak was in the driveway, waiting for me. He was an answered prayer...to walk into my house with me and just hang out. I told Zak later that he is very much my little brother in all but blood and I mean it. What a tremendous, selfless act!

I pretty much took the week off from work, except going in to teach my labs and be there for a few hours when summer registration opened. Each night, my friends from community group were there for me. Monday was community group and as it concluded I found myself in the same state of fear and sadness about going home. Michael and Rebekah were dropping off a car at the airport for a friend and I rode along. Tuesday, they invited me over for dinner and to watch "24" (a mutually favorite show). Wednesday is always "Lost" night. Thursday my friends Jonathan and Lauren took me out. Throughout the week, I get regular phone calls from friends, family, and pastors (pastors are friends too :D).

By this point, I am working through moments of grief that just kind of hit me. Small acts like getting milk out of the fridge or opening the back door...both of which would cause a great deal of meowing from Scamper as milk was his favorite treat and going out back his favorite play time. But what has been the most difficult is the oppressive silence. I've had to have music on constantly and keep my mind occupied with reading or playing video games. Anything...lest my mind immediately wander back to my grief.

Friday I picked up Scamper's ashes from the vet. He sits in a cherry wood urn now on my bookshelf in my bedroom, with a framed picture in front. Needless to say that was a difficult afternoon. Saturday, I spent half the day creating a picture-framed collage of Scamper and Callie. I went through my album and phone pictures. Some of the best shots were on my old and current phone because that's the device I had on me when they were doing something fun or cute. Unfortunately, camera phones aren't the highest quality, but they turned out well enough to frame. It was a very difficult project, especially when I found his baby pictures. It probably took twice as long because I had to stop and cry every time I chose one to include and framed it.

Saturday night I spent with my best friends, but having done that photo project, I was wrecked emotionally. I got to Michael's a little early and like a true best friend, he could tell I was really missing Scamper. I was able to express to him some of my grief...about the silence. And also about the loss of security I'm feeling. Not that Scamper would have warded off an attacker, but his presence was comforting. And also about my struggle with the fact that I have nothing and no one to go home to anymore. Perhaps my contentment was--at least in part--wrapped up in having Scamper with me, but I have lost that now. It's a feeling of "what or who do I have anymore?" Yes, I have an amazingly loving mother and family and the best friends anyone could ask for...but I guess the realization of how each of them have someone to go home to and I do not weighs heavy on my heart. I hope to find the contentment I once had; the security of knowing it didn't bother me. But right now, I just wonder if I will spend the rest of my life alone.

Some people have asked if I will get another pet sooner or later. The only answer I have right now is "I don't know." Greg Kelley left a kind voicemail yesterday with the best way I can explain it. He had a dog that he had to put to sleep and has not gotten a pet since because of the single fact that one day we have to say good-bye to them and suffer that pain. That's exactly my state of mind right now. The saying "it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" is not a true statement to me right now.

I continue to covet your prayers, your presence, and your love.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Scamper

It was the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years, as best I can recall, when my mom took me to get Scamper. It was shortly after my regular visitations to my dad stopped. We went to the pound that day. I remember a wall of kennels full of kittens. I reached in to one and pulled out a black one. Then, a small, cowering, orange fuzzball caught my eye. I set the black one down and picked up the orange one. He had white paws, chest, and mouth, expect for a little "tobacco stain" on his mouth. He scooted up in my arms and put his head against mine and that was all it took. He was mine. He could fit in the palms of my hands that day.

I remember how he got his name. It was my mom's idea actually. He was playing or searching out things or doing whatever cats do, darting around the place. Mom said, "Look at him scampering about! Scamper!" I loved it. And I have loved him.

The memories flood back in of those early years. Even of silly ones like my 2 year old nephew (who is now in college) throwing Scamper up in the air like a big ball of confetti. He has always been so affectionate. He'd crawl up on me or Mom's stomach and start kneading it. Then the water works started as he drowned us in drool...an apparent sign of deep affection. A couple years after getting Scamper, Mom brought home a calico cat from a woman who's child developed allergies. Her name was Beth, which I promptly changed to a more fitting and unique name of Callie. There's no doubt about it, Scamper was king of the house and they would fight a lot. It didn't help that Callie was so skittish. She never liked to be held all the years I had her. There were many a night when a cat would appear in the backyard and Scamper would get angry and howl and fluff up. Then for some reason he'd fight Callie. After a few spankings, he knew he would get in trouble for fighting with his sister. When I'd come stalking into the room, he'd shoot off. He loved going out back, which I let them do supervised. Scamper never hissed but a handful of times in his life, usually because he was upset by another cat.

Next to leaving Mom when it was time to go to college, leaving Scamper was one of the hardest things I've done. When my mom moved to Searcy my sophomore year, the cats were in an outdoor cage with a dog house while their house was being built. Mom didn't tell me about it until later, but one night a big storm came through and knocked over their cage. She ran out to them deathly afraid they were gone, but they were in the little house snuggled up together. After Mom had a shop built, they were kept in there. The minute I had my own place after OBU, I had them back with me. It's been 3-4 years now since I lost Callie to kidney failure. We buried her on Mom's land.

For more than half my life, I've had this friend who has always been there. My source of comfort; my companion; my baby, really. Going on 18 years. A couple of years ago, Scamper developed a pretty serious problem within his colon. Dozens of special foods and one medication after another, we were only able to ever control it enough to give him a good quality of life and enough time to reach the litter box. And that didn't always happen. His most recent health issues were his kidneys. His eating habits changed and when I took him in, the beginning signs of failure were there. Over the past few months he lost over half his weight. In the past couple weeks, he barely ate, was tired all the time, and just didn't have the quality I wanted for him.

Last night, I cried myself to sleep as he tossed and turned, never able to get comfortable. At some point in the night, I heard him fall off the bed. He stared at it for a while but didn't--or couldn't--jump back up. This morning, I looked at his food bowl...it was the same level it had been for two days. I tried to give him some of his favorite treats and he wouldn't even consider them. He looked so tired and that is when I knew. I couldn't keep him like this just because I wanted to hang on to him. It was the single hardest thing I have ever done. My hand shook so that I could barely sign the authorization forms. My mother shielded my eyes from that which I could not bear to watch as I cried so hard I could barely breathe.

I don't know how it could have been possible to love him more than I did for all these years. But now he is gone and I am at a total loss. It is so surreal to me. I've rarely had to deal with the pain of death in my life especially not as an adult, and I don't know how to do so, other than to try and put it out of my mind. But every place I look, I remember his fun, quirky, loving nature. I just want to hold him again. But I can't. I want him to rub his cheek against mine. But he won't. I want to hear that unique hello-meow when I come through the door. But it won't be there. To have him at the foot of my bed to sleep. But it will just be me tonight. Meowing at the door to go out, walking across my book as I tried to read, not letting me sleep late because he wanted to be fed... With relief, I know he is no longer hurting, that his sicknesses are over...but oh, the pain of losing my best friend is too much.

Please, time, pass quickly and take away the hurt.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kitchen Project Accomplished

When I bought my house in November 2007 (holy crap, has it been that long?), I knew one of my first priorities would be to update the kitchen. The sellers had begun restaining the cabinets and I liked the way they were looking. I asked if they could leave the products they were using so I could continue; they were kind enough to do so.

The counters were probably original to the house. They looked 80's-style and they had multiple places of knife and water damage. I remember taking a brief visit to Home Depot to price new counters and it was a bit out of my range for just having all the moving expenses.

So fast forward to now. I got a nice tax return getting to itemize for the first time and decided now was the time! Or if you'd like a more noble purpose, I felt like doing my part to stimulate the economy.

So my experience shopping for counters was pretty interesting. I'll pause here if you want to go back and read that. ... Okay, back. In the subsequent weeks, I tweeted a lot about my indecisiveness and experiences. Since I have Twitter update my Facebook status, many supportive friends weighed in. Here are a few of my comments:

  • alright twitterati and facebook friends, tile or Formica kitchen counters? weigh in on pros and cons. (Feb 20th)

  • not only was the plumber not scheduled yesterday after my counter install, now he has a flat tire and *maybe* can get to me today. /sigh (Mar 25th)

  • ok so staining isn't so bad. a little messy and long periods of waiting...but pretty easy. (Mar 26th)

  • part 1 of staining project completed. this. is gonna take about 4 more days to finish. (Mar 27th)

  • well, poop. no staining today. too cold to have the windows and doors open. 39...brrrr. (Mar 28th)

  • back on cabinet duty...stripper isn't removing old finish as well today. looks bumpy from the right angle. oh well, not going back now. (Mar 29th)

  • cleaning up from a major project sucks but it's also good b/c it means I'M DONE! pics to follow. (Apr 3rd)

  • why can i only see the imperfections in the work i did on my cabinets? (Apr 4th)


I did end up going with Formica. And when they called to tell me the counters had arrived, I took up an offer from a friend to help me tear the old cabinets out. As I was working daily, I literally went to Home Depot for supplies every day. Just some little something I didn't think of.

My friend and neighbor Daniel had a good suggestion of spray painting the hinges when I was telling him I forgot that those would have to be changed out too after purchasing new handles. Great idea and turned out nice!

Let me tell you using chemical stripper is nasty stuff. A drop of that gunk would get on my arm past my gloves and it would BURN! It was sticky, nasty goop. Almost every day for two weeks that is what I did. Strip, sand, stain. Each of those was about a 20 minute chore followed by 3-4 hours of waiting.

Needless to say, this is pretty much the biggest project I've ever done. Much thanks to everyone who helped me. Leslie for helping me tear out the old cabinets, Michael and Daniel for helping me re-hang my doors, and Larry for letting me borrow his tiling supplies. Oh forgot to mention that part.

Behind the stove was a sheet of the old laminate. So I tiled over it. Pretty simple job, having been taught to do it by Larry when he helped me with my guest bathroom. Well, like an idiot, I accidentally skipped a line on the directions for the grout. After spreading it, I read "let it dry for 3-4 hours before cleaning." I took that to mean, leave the grout alone, then wipe it off later. So I had grout spread all over the place and went to a movie. Came back and it was hard as a rock all over the tile. DUH! I missed the line that said "after spreading, wipe off excess with a damp sponge." So I had to scrape dried grout off and scrub the grout to make it smooth between tiles. /sigh Live and learn.

So here's what it used to look like:

The "Old" Kitchen

And here's the new:

My New Kitchen

Cabinets

Tiling

I have this perfectionist problem of only seeing the imperfections and mistakes in what I did. Like the rough spots where I didn't notice the old finish hadn't come off. Or the variations in the darkness of the stain across all the cabinets. I know that's just something I'll have to get over and hopefully stop focusing on as time goes on. But if I'm really honest with myself, for my first time to do this...it's not too shabby. :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

iPhone 3.0 Thoughts

In case you missed the updates, here they are:

1. In-app purchasing of upgrades

This is a terrible precedent. You buy a game but now you don't really get 100% of it. Want that cool weapon in the shooter game? Cough up a couple more bucks. MMOs are thinking about doing this too, instead of a monthly subscription. I will not buy into this scheme.

2. Peer-to-peer via bluetooth

Play games with each other nearby, share files, etc.


3. Turn-by-turn GPS capability

This isn't native. A developer will have to have his own maps. Be interested to see how much these apps will run and how quality they are. If good and decent priced, may get a car mount for my phone.

4. More hardware accessories that can access the API

Example given: a blood pressure cuff and diabetic monitor. Interesting.

5. Fixed push notification

Rather than run apps in the background, this is their response. Well, this was supposed to work last year and didn't. We'll see...

6. Streaming video and audio capabilities

ESPN demoed a basketball game in an app they developed. Pretty cool.

7. Cut, copy, and paste

Finally! And one cool note: you shake the phone to undo a paste.

8. Landscape mode for all native applications

Never seen the big deal about this. Too much screen real estate is used up by the keyboard.

9. Pictures sent via text messaging (also known as MMS)

Except it won't be available on 1st gen phones. Oh well. Also, we'll be able to forward texts already sent.

10. Voice memos

11. Add calendar subscriptions to iCal

12. Search feature for all native apps and Spotlight app to search them all

13. Sync for Notes

Finally! Always been annoyed that the iphone and my Mac have notes but they can't talk to each other.

14. Miscellaneous: Youtube channels and ratings, stereo bluetooth, shake to shuffle songs, auto fill-in forms.

Okay, but where's my 32 GB iPhone 3G so I can upgrade??? :(

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Me

I would normally Twitter this, but it is so perfect, I had to elevate its status to blog-worthy.

Dilbert.com

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Don't Be THAT Guy (or Girl)

My buddy Alex linked me a website today. It's a list of people who deserve to be punched in the face. I'd like to list the ones I would personally like removed from the gene pool.

#113 - The All Caps Typer

This is one of those annoyances I picked up while playing WoW. Seriously, there's no need for it. It makes people's eyes bleed.

#99 - Uncontrollable Chain Mail Forwarder

I've gone on record about this. I won't again. The funny thing about the post on the site is the old lady in the picture. Seriously people, wisen up.

#96 - Ringtone DJ

When I'm calling students, I can't stand it when--instead of a ring--a voice comes on and says "please enjoy this music while we connect your call." Then the S hits the F. I want to hang up. Sometimes I do.

#89 - Reply-to-All Guy

I've been dealing with this for the past couple weeks at work. An announcement will go out and some shmuck hits reply-to-all for a statement meant just for the original sender. What's worse, when I point out to the offender they shouldn't do this, the response is either "just delete it and mind your own business" or "why?" /sigh

#86 - Movie Theater Text Messenger

I'm getting angry as I read this list. This is one of the biggest reasons I don't go to theaters as much anymore. My system is so good and audiences are so bad, it is not worth the expense. I love it though. I mean, why are these people there if they are just going to text through the whole movie. The screen glare is completely distracting to everyone else.

#58 - Everything's An Emergency Girl

Oh dear god. This one drives me crazy. I deal with so many students who think they are the only one who needs to register for class or has to have such-and-such by a certain time. Well, guess what...EVERYONE DOES. Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.

#34 - Slow Walker Sidewalk Blocker

Not just sidewalks, but hallways. Okay fine, I have a little more bounce in my step. And by the way, this is America, we walk to the RIGHT. No need to do the little dance when heading in the same direction.

Okay, there were some honorable mentions, but these are the ones that fired me up. Check out the site and see if any of them get you going and let us know.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kitchen Counter Shopping

I'm old and domesticated. That's the only excuse I have for changing my plans for my tax return from a big vacation to a little one and new kitchen counters. If you follow my Facebook status (or more importantly my Twitter feed, you saw the experience I had at Home Depot last Friday. To recap, I was standing there waiting to be helped as some workers finished up a project. I was acknowledged only with a glance, but then an older woman and her mother approached the desk and the workers asked if they could help her. She said she'd like to make an appointment to talk counters and the worker said that no one was waiting. I immediately put my samples back up and left.

From there I went to The Countertop Store in Maumelle. Looked at some Silestone samples (97% quartz) and got an estimate. $3000 /choke For my little kitchen...Well, I took the samples back and had a look at them. To be honest, the stone seemed overkill. I'm going to restain the cabinets, but even then, the stone looked TOO fancy for everything else I have.

In the meantime, after I had stewed over the Home Depot issue, I decided to write them. In an economic recession, when someone wants to come spend money, a store best go out of its way to attract a customer...and I wanted to let them know that. So they call me back and at first I'm like "I've already decided to handle my project elsewhere." The guy asked if there was ANY way I would come back in and hear what they had to say. So I agreed and went in this afternoon. I was greeted by the store manager, another managerial fellow, and their top kitchen specialist. Okay, so they are pretty serious about wanting my business. I explained the whole fancy stone theory and we look at laminate. They draw up an estimate that's around $1400. Now we're talking. I never asked for it and didn't come back to the store expecting it, but the managerial guy offered a 10% discount off that should I choose to go with Home Depot. Not one to hold a grudge over one bad visit, I tell them I will consider and call back.

I head back to The Countertop Store and this is where I start becoming frustrated. It's a good 15-20 minute drive. I get there and ask for a new estimate with laminate so that I can compare with Home Depot. I'm out the door in less than 5 minutes because all the guy does is write down the samples and says they'll call me back. Next I want to head to Lowe's. That's another 15-20 minutes thanks to traffic. I get there, am greeted, but the guy says they don't make estimates without coming out to get a "Detail," which by the way costs $35. He ballparks it around $1500. 20 minute drive back to WLR. I've listened to an entire hour long podcast on my iPhone. Total afternoon time spent on this was 90 minutes. That's 30 minutes of in-store time and 60 minutes of driving. /sigh

I got the samples back and actually was pretty pleased with one I hadn't expected. Going to get some second opinions and we'll see what happens. Is it old and domesticated to be excited about new kitchen counters?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Snowboarding

I guess I never really did tell everyone about my first ski/snowboard trip I went on two weeks ago. I have a good buddy who is quite the snowboard enthusiast. We chat almost every day and are in community group together. It was Wednesday and I was talking about taking a little vacation with a small portion of my tax return. I had mentioned a ski trip for the first time. He said he was thinking about taking his yearly trip to Hidden Valley soon. We looked at the calendar and realized if it wasn't that weekend, it wouldn't be for a long time. So I called up some people to cover my church responsibilities and plans were set. This was a few days after the ice storm, but we called the lodge and they said it was all snow.

I'm a planner so this was quietly freaking me out a little. Daniel could sense it some but was very kind about it. He let me borrow snow gear and a board. And off we went Saturday morning. We picked up an old school friend of his named Nick in Memphis, then headed north. It was about a 6.5 hour drive. We got there around 3:00 pm to a packed parking lot and 40-50 degree temperature. I had to rent boots and we had a brief scare when a sign said they were out of my size. But just as we walked in, a pair was available.

The first snowboard lesson wasn't until 5:00. So Daniel and Nick graciously showed me some very beginner stuff, but eventually I told them not to waste all their time on me. The lesson was good...they taught how to turn and lean on your heels and toes. After the lesson, Daniel stopped by and saw my "progress" and gave some pointers. They were spot on because my turns started getting better immediately.

After 10:00 or so, I'm still slowly working up and down the beginner hill. Still can't stop without purposefully falling to do so. I'm going up the tow rope and ahead of me is a skier. They tell you to get out of the way if you fall off the rope, but she doesn't and I have to let go and crash in order to keep from colliding with her. Jacked up my wrist in doing so, which ended my night. My tailbone was pretty dang sore by that point too.

We hit the hotel room and pretty much fell asleep on the spot. Denny's for breakfast the next morning, then hit the park again. At this point, it is taking a lot of mental encouragement to keep struggling through beginner pains. The guys show me (and explain the need for) sliding down the hill with the board perpendicular. This slows the descent and was the first step in learning to stop without having to fall down. Work on that for a few hours (lol) and I'm starting to get okay at it. But falls still occur. Well, I'm scared about my wrist so I'm purposefully falling a different way...which leads to me tweaking my shoulder. Didn't think anything of it because it really didn't hurt that bad. Breaks come more frequently today as every muscle in my body (even ones not used directly in snowboarding) begin to protest. By 3:00 pm, an hour before we needed to leave, I was done. I had started at the top of the beginner slope, came around the area by the lodge, and down another beginner slope (think a big L shape) and stopped without falling. Wanted to end on a good note.

The ride back was pretty uncomfortable and I moved stiffly for two days, but it was all worth it. I'm grateful to Daniel and Nick for the experience and great time. Can't wait to do it again.

P.S. The extent of my shoulder tweak wasn't known to me until I was lifting heavy equipment on Thursday to clear the stage at church and I jacked it up. Still dealing with that, but I say it was and is all worth it. :)