Friday, December 3, 2010

Thoughts on the Semester

I think everyone knows by now that I had to take some extra classes this semester due to an instructor canceling on me right before the semester began.  Well the hellacious semester is over.  Still have some grading to catch up on but the teaching is done.  Never again.  Yah, I have a pretty easy job otherwise and love its flexibility, but I think that was overcompensated this semester.  After it is all done, it'll be worth it because of the things I was able to do with the extra income (i.e. backyard project, new Mac).  It was also, without a doubt, the fastest semester I've experienced.

Well along the way, there are always ups and downs.  And the downs this time were REALLY down.  For example, I had to withdraw several students for non-attendance and in return was accused of discrimination and prejudice and was called (and I quote) cold, callous, unapproachable, and arrogant.  Some of the decisions were admittedly tough to make, but a policy is a policy and I can't judge who it will apply to and who is excused.  But why does one student respond that way and another come and say "thank you; I've made the changes needed and it won't happen again"?  That was a really low point in my career.  There's always those few students, too, who make it interesting.  They just don't seem to get it and you wonder what in the world they are doing--and how they got--there.

Take my A&P I online class. I started out with 10 and I'm going to end up with 4. FOUR! And when we met in person for lab, I just felt like we had this huge disconnect. It was a zombie room. I'd go in and give instructions, ask for questions (there'd be none), and the students would work in silence. No interaction online either.  Never had quite such a disconnected group before.  And it bothered me.

My A&P II online class was refreshingly one of the best groups I've ever had. For the most part, they worked steadily and showed up! I probably had the best connection with them out of the five sections of classes I taught this semester.

My Chemistry online class was pretty typical. This is a tough course to do online. I typically see about a 50% retention and that was the case this time as well. I struggle to get students to interact with me online. It wasn't just this group; that's been pretty typical and I'm trying to figure out what to do about it. To encourage questions BEFORE homework is due and as they study.

Those classes are what I typically teach. The two extra sections I had to take were classroom chemistry sections. Haven't been in a classroom in a few years. I started out with 30 and ended up with 18. The reasons for the drop rate ranged from absences to personal reasons. These sections were a lot of work. I think for the most part we all got along, even though we got off to a shaky start. (I remember saying something the first day I later regretted and apologized for the next class, but it apparently stuck with some of the students.)  So no real complaints here.

But I guess the biggest thing that bothers me is the reputation I apparently have among students. And it is a negative one. I think there are two reasons for it. 1. I'm tough. Won't apologize for that. 2. I need to work on my sarcastic humor and empathy.

To speak to #1: I'm pretty easy to get along with. I balance that with high expectations of hard work and timeliness. When those expectations aren't met, then I have a no tolerance policy. I will come down hard. I do so out of the desire to make the most disciplined and dedicated life-long learners. If someone wants to cast me in a negative light because of that, then so be it. I want to make the best health care providers possible and I'm unapologetic and won't compromise in that regard. I do get it, believe it or not, that life happens sometime. Yes I believe I can work on my empathy and will but we have to push on and sometimes tough decisions must be made on my part or the student's. If they can't get childcare or are ill or have family issues...well enough of those happen and the student just needs to consider trying the semester again later when things calm down for them. As I said, I can't be the judge of what is excusable or not.  An absence is an absence.

To #2: I've been told I have a pretty dry sense of humor. (I know, you are saying right about now "you think?")  Those students who I have the best relationships with say that people just have to understand me. What *I* need to understand is that everyone isn't going to get me. I admittedly can become quickly sarcastic when students ask questions about matters that I have already given instructions. While I do maintain a high level of expectation (see point #1), I think I can respond in a better tone. I also teach Socratically, so the manner in which I respond in that pedagogy can use some adjusting so as not to come off so sarcastically.  I also know that when students come with an excuse of absence, I could be more empathetic in that moment while holding to the school's policies.

I'm taking a look at my course policies to make adjustments while still maintaining a proper level of work and attendance for students.  These are going to be our health care workers, after all!  And I don't know if I should have done this or not, but I was personally affected by things this semester, so I posted a personal message in each of my courses.  I said much of what I did above (some parts word-for-word) and asked for feedback.  We'll see what happens...

Unfortunately, a reputation can be annihilated in an instant and take years to recover. It's not so much that I care what students think of me--I'm not there to be friends--but it does matter to me that they feel like they can take my classes and when they do, they can come to me. (If nothing else, I need my classes to make, or I'm screwed financially.)

So that was a long and public expression of what's on my mind. No real point other than for me to get it out and not bottle it up.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


MANY years ago, when I was involved in the student ministry at my church, we would regularly make silly videos.  We spoofed Monty Python and the Matrix at the highlight of our film-making.  I then wrote a silly script based on Lord of the Rings that we were going to do.  But due to circumstances I won't go into here, it never happened.

Well, every year about this time--namely November--National Novel Writing Month occurs.  I've written about it before and have always wanted to participate but never have.  The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in November.  Well I took the script that has been gathering virtual dust and turned it into a book.  I'll be the first to say it really sucks.  Just looking over's awful.  The characterizations are tripe and as superficial as can be.  And in some places, I felt like I got too preachy.  The "battles" are horribly written.  Enough criticism, though.  The point was to write 50,000 words, draft quality. I made it to 51,928. That's something like 95 pages in Word (although I'm using a Mac program called Scrivener.) You can check out how I did over the month.

To be honest, I don't think I'll go back and fix it up.  And I'm so unhappy with it, I don't even know that I'll finish it.  BUT...I did meet the goal and wanted to share that victory.  So yay me!  However awful it is, I wrote my first novel.

Monday, November 22, 2010

TSA: Privacy vs. Security

I'm not exactly what you would call an activist, but these past few weeks, we have been inundated by stories of the TSA's inhumane practices while completing searches to insure we can all travel safely.  I hope all the media attention causes some kind of action.  There's got to be a better way.  The people who work for TSA have got to be more caring.  They cannot have omnipotent powers.  Take these few examples from the last weeks alone:

1.  Full body scanners are becoming more regular as a screening process.  But how invasive are they when they come to your privacy, you know, down there?  Well hundreds of photos were leaked out recently in a completely embarrassing breach of security in the TSA's databases.  Story link

2.  A man who must wear a urine bag under his clothing was selected for pat-down.  He informed the agents about the bag, but they uncaringly patted him down anyway with no regard to his medical condition.  The sensitive equipment attached to his body was damaged and he was forced to board his plane soaked in his own urine.  Story link

3.  A personal friend said he eye-witnessed a veteran with a war injury set off the metal detectors.  He was "treated terribly" by the TSA agent.

4.  A woman who survived breast cancer was made to take off her prosthetic in view of the public.  Story link

5.  A young boy was strip searched in front of the public, even after not setting off the metal detectors.  An on-looker recorded the incident and was subsequently followed by TSA agents in the airport until he boarded his plane.  Story link

A week or so ago, new policies went into effect.  You either get a nude full body-xray scan or you get groped.  President Obama has told the public that these measures are necessary to ensure the public's safety.  Don't get me wrong, I want to travel safely!  But this is an abuse of federally mandated powers by the TSA.  The TSA Chief gave some PR nonsense this morning about their procedures.  I don't fly often and I honestly don't know why this has me so unsettled.  Things like this usually roll off my back.  Heck, I'm probably going to get black-listed for this post.  But it really is a frustrating thing to see such people as those who served our country and those who have battled cancer be treated in such a way by apathetic workers, who at the heart of their duty, are supposed to have the greatest concern for our well-being.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How Puzzling!

Back in January on my trip to Las Vegas, I visited the Coca-Cola store.  I could've bought almost everything there and wanted to, but I restrained myself and left with just a puzzle.  I say "just a puzzle" but it is a doozy.  It's 2000 pieces and measure about 3 feet by 4 feet.  And it is mostly red.  So I knew it was going to be a challenge.  The goal was to add it to my kitchen decor.

Didn't exactly have a big enough space to do it, so I cut up some cardboard pieces and tried on my guest bed.  I started out trying to put the edge together.  Took a good couple hours to systematically sort through 2000 pieces.  And let me tell you there are some funky shapes in this thing.

After 6 hours:

And a few more hours after that:

The bed ended up being too low and proved too painful on the back for long periods of time.  I was also frustrated by how slow it was going.  So it sat in that bedroom from January until August, untouched.  I finally decided to get it done and went to Home Depot and found the cheapest wooden panel I could find that would fit the whole thing.  Brought it to my kitchen table and there I worked on it.  But I was edge piece was missing.  I decided to push forward and hope it either turned up in the box or in the room.  And I tore that room apart, believe you me.  For three solid days, I worked.  And I literally mean dawn to dusk.  (The edge piece ended up being in the box.)  These were the days my trees were getting cut down, so it gave me something to do since I wanted to be home while they worked.  I would sort through the box and pick out the pieces for 2-3 different sections of the puzzle at a time.  Put them together, sort again, and so on.

End of Day 1.  What I called the "most obvious" sections were done.

End of Day 2.  The red sections that were different enough for me to pick out were done.

End of Day 3.  The final red sections and their logos came together.  The remaining holes were the solid red pieces.

The red color didn't end up being the biggest challenge.  Each sign was different enough, however subtle, to pick out.  What ended up being the headache was actually the words in the logos: the Coca-Cola.  Each piece had such a small portion of each letter, it was impossible to tell where it belonged at times.  I would stare at the pile and have to get up for a bit, frustrated.  Several times it came down to a matter of just seeing what fit, rather than trying to put it together by mentally seeing the image being pieced together.

Of course, Naomi was a big help during the whole process.  I had to keep the puzzle covered with the cardboard I originally was using underneath.  She also had a fondness for frolicking in the box of pieces.  At one point, she jumped in it and it scooted off the table, dumping the hundreds of pieces all over the floor.  I just knew I'd lose one, but I lucked out.

Got that puppy done and glued together.  Waited for a great framing deal--which was still hard to swallow--but it is done and I'm pretty proud of it.  Looks great on the wall and I was able to spread the rest of my trinkets out along the wall.


So if you are one of those who occasionally or regularly comes to my house, be sure to step into the kitchen and see it in person!

Framed and hanging nicely on my wall.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What's It Take to Get a Friggin' Tree Cut Down?

Last spring, I had my fence repaired and the guys helping me out noticed that a couple of the tall pines in my backyard were growing into my shed.  We started looking around at them and noticed that another was rotting at the base, and yet another was growing into the fence.  (Click the pic above to see bigger panorama.)  Well great.  One of the guys knew a reputable tree cutting service, so I had them come out and give me a bid.  This was Quality Tree Service.  Quality told me for as much it would be to cut down the four, I should just do all eight, and quoted me $2,500.  Ouch.  He actually called back on his own accord and lowered the price to $2000.  I told him I'd have to save for a bit, but that it sounded like a good deal.  Considering that would be $250/tree when they are normally $400-600 each, it was a GREAT deal.  Just a lot to swallow at once.

I ended up with all those extra classes this fall so I knew I could get the job done.  Gave Quality a call and scheduled him to come on a Friday so that I could be home while they did it.  Enter the drama.  He called me that morning to say he was broke down on the highway and wouldn't be able to make it.  So we postponed to the following Friday.  I had already told my neighbors, so I stopped by the older couple (don't really care about the rednecks on the other side) to let them know.  She really didn't like the fact I am cutting them down, but I told her why I had to.  The night before that, I called him to make sure we were good to go, but he told me his wife went into labor so he had to subcontract the job to another company.  He asked me to make a check for $500 to him and $1500 for the company coming out.

The new guys, from Arbor Care, arrive.  They looked like they would do a good job and had quite a bit more equipment to boot.  Not to mention the owner is the four time state tree climbing champion.  Whaaaat?!?  Now it was my understanding at that point that a guy from Quality would be helping them and that's why he was getting $500.  No one showed until 2 pm and that was just to pick up the check.  Which I stupidly gave him.  I asked the Arbor Care guy why Quality gets $500 and he basically said he shouldn't have.  So now I've got a company doing a $2,500 job for $1,500.  That doesn't sound very fair to me.

They bring down 4 trees and start grinding the stumps.  He actually gets a few bids on jobs in my neighborhood while he works.  My neighbor lady came out at one point and was apparently pretty huffy about limbs falling in her yard.  They told her they'd clean it up, but she proceeded to inform them she didn't want them over there and started pitching the limbs over the fence.  she seems so sweet and meek before this!

They work until about 4 pm.  The pile of limbs is enormous out front.  I call the city to schedule a pick up.  They said they'd come Tuesday.  I told them to be sure to bring the dump truck and crane.  You can see why.  The Arbor Care guy said he'd be back on Monday--in fact he said it several times--so even though it was Labor Day, I was thusly expecting him.  Monday rolls around and no one shows.  I try to call both Quality and Arbor Care.  No one is answering.  By 11 am, it is clear no one is coming.  Mildly frustrating.

Tuesday arrives and it begins to rain.  But I'm actually not too sad about it because the city is coming and since there is no more room to put limbs, they can clear it out and make room for more.  Except they never came.  I called them up and asked what was up.  Turns out the crane/dump truck service take 2 weeks to come out!  Good-bye nice lawn.  Glad I wasted $200 on fertilizing service this year just to have you killed.  I seriously have no idea where more limbs will go.

The rain continues today.  So we can't get any work done because their tractor thingy would tear up my yard and my neighbor's side yard.  In the meantime, I still can't get ahold of Quality.  The phone is goes straight to a "this number is not accepting calls" message.  So I had called my bank on Tuesday and had them issue a stop payment on the $500 check.  My intent was to make my message clear...I wanted him to call me.  I finally got through to at least leave a voicemail this morning.  Well lo and behold!  His phone was miraculously working again, because he had called back within 15 minutes.  I had just stepped out of my office so he left a voicemail.  In it, he threatened to take legal action against me which would result in me being evicted from my home.  He said he never intended to supply a worker and that the $500 was what the two companies had agreed to.

I immediately called him back but (surprise!) got a voicemail.  I told him that his threat was baseless and completely out of line.  My purpose in doing the stop payment proved to be very beneficial, because it had the effect I wanted--for him to call me back.  I told him I found his business practices highly questionable and unethical and would be informing the 3-4 people waiting to hear how this job went that his company could not be counted on.  The fact is Quality did not provide one minute of service to me!  I told him I would release the check and the two companies could argue it out; I just wanted the job done.

I feel bad for Arbor Care, but that's all I can do...feel bad.  I tried.  It's not my place to intervene anymore.  I filed a complaint the Better Business Bureau, but who knows what will come of that.  Arbor Care will hopefully be back Friday to finish up.  The yard is looking so much bigger already and I can't wait to have a nice grassy backyard!

Wanna see more pics of the process, including a short video clip of the four time state tree climbing champ doing his thing, go here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I converted to the world of Macintosh back in 2006.  Then I was an aspiring home videographer, just getting into podcasting for my church and having been making some silly little clips for student ministry.  I wanted to up my game a little.  And besides, Windows Vista sucked.  I had also just quit World of Warcraft.  So it was a tumultuous time in my life to say the least.  LOL

All that to say I got my first hardware upgrade from Apple and went the desktop route this time.  The unfortunate need for me to teach 5 courses paved (and paid) the way for this upgrade and I certainly went all out.  I got a 27" iMac, with the 3.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB DDR3 RAM, 256 GB SSD, and 1 TB HD.  /evil grin

Here's a little photo journalism of the unboxing.  My mouth was hanging open at this thing and when I got it in place I was almost overcome with emotion.  Almost.  /wink

I spent about 6 hours working on it after unboxing.  I immediately wanted to move all my files, music, videos, etc to the secondary HD.  I found a tech article that explained how to do it but it ended up going very wrong.  I called AppleCare and the support guy sounded pretty pissed I would do such a thing.  He said I'd have to erase and install.  Oh well.  Nothing lost but time at that point.  I did want to try again though, so I started a clean install and set up the storage path again.  It worked this time, so there must have been some setting in the pre-installed OS. I proceeded downloading updates, installing software, etc.  At midnight, being a work night and all, I decided to stop for the night.  All that was left was to install Final Cut Studio, which I'm doing as I write this.  :)

Seriously though...this thing is BLAZING.  The SSD upgrade is epic.  Every program opens before an icon even has a chance to bounce in the dock!  LOL  Can't wait to produce some movies to see how that's going to go.

To change the subject just a bit, as I was installing things, I was perusing my RSS feeds and ran across several stories about Apple possibly upgrading their AppleTV.  Rumor is it will run the iOS that is currently on the iPhone and iPad.  Okay wow!  I mean, this could change the face of TV and entertainment.  Think about it.  Here are two scenarios I immediately thought of.  1)  Why subscribe to expensive higher tier cable packages?  Want HBO?  They could just bypass cable providers and create an app for purchase and you've got it through the AppleTV.  2)  How fun would it be to buy, say, the Monopoly or Scrabble app and have the board on the TV screen, then everyone with an iPhone or iPad controls their pieces from their own device?  There's already a model for it can be on the TV.  This is certainly very exciting and if it proves to be true, I hope that the older hardware will be able to support the new iOS.

Monday, August 9, 2010


June is a very peaceful month. July gets hectic. August is downright stressful. Then the school year comes and routine settles in. So here we are in August and the typical stress has set in. Until last week, I was pretty certain one of my evening instructors was going to be able to take an additional two sections of chemistry. That didn't work out in the end. I immediately called the Dean of Sciences and asked for a list of prospects. They just hired a full-time guy, but pretty much relayed that the ones they didn't hire were for a good reason and he didn't really have a pool to choose from. That's the short version to lead to this fact: I have to either take the sections on myself or somehow cancel the class.

The problem is, I am already committed to three classes. Five would be too much. I had to talk my boss into letting me keep the three. And being at night? That means work all day at my regular job, then stay and teach. That prospect leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I would have to do that for 16 weeks. Boo! On the other hand, it would be a really nice paycheck. I could get the trees in my yard cut down like I need to, buy the new iMac I want, have the root canal I'm going to eventually need, and have a little left over! But I just don't have a settled feeling in the bottom of my stomach. I can't positively say it would be worth it. With the commitment of my three and the two extra being on Monday/Wednesday night, I would be teaching from 9:30 am to 8:30 pm on Mondays, with only three 30 minute breaks. That's awful and it really concerns me to do that to Naomi, first and foremost. An option is to see if my other instructor can swap sections and then I could at least come home for a few hours on Tuesday/Thursday before heading back to teach. But still....

I said the other option is just to cancel it. Well that actually may not BE an option. As a part of nursing, many students HAVE to have chemistry this fall. There are a few seats in other sections available, but are there enough? Then if I tell the others that can wait to do so, will they fall below full-time hours needed for financial aid and such? There's just so many variables. It is my priority for work tomorrow to figure it out.

I'm praying for something to work out. I just wish the commitment wasn't so long. To think of having to do that for the rest of the year doesn't sit well with me. I ask for your prayers for discernment and, well practically, an instructor to fill the gap. But if not, then that it will work out for each and every student that will be affected.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How I Was Stalked By My Pastor

There are two things you need to know before I tell you about present-day events.

1. I watch too much "24" and other highly dramatized serial shows. I'm not apologizing for it. I love it! However, I am admitting that perhaps it has made me a bit paranoid in real life.

2. The subsequently described events have happened before, but for real. I described the event in a prior blog post, complete with also admitting to point #1 above. The point is, today was Grades Due the fact that the following occurred put me on edge that maybe someone didn't like the grade they got.

Read on...

So I'm pulling off Kanis into my neighborhood and a grey trunk proceeds to turn right behind me. I don't know why (all I can do is refer you to point #1), but I immediately decided to roll through the stop sign and try to get up and around the corner. I turned off the loop into my part of the neighborhood, so did the follower. I turned right, again not stopping at the stop sign. So did he. At that point, I chose not to turn on my street and kept going around. The chances of being stalked would be 100% if the driver took all the same turns at that point. I turn left on to Timber Ridge and book it back to Atkins Dr. I then decide to go back toward Kanis Rd. Looking back in my mirror, the follower finally turned the opposite way, toward Markham Rd. I cleverly thought in my mind that the person knew at that point I was on to them following me.

Two seconds later, I get a phone call from Leslie, my worship pastor. "Hello?" I say. He replies, "You didn't stop at any of those stop signs." Wide-eyed and shocked, I yelled, "That was YOU?!?" I proceeded to tell him how I thought I was being followed and why (points #2). He said he figured that out at the point I turned back out of my neighborhood. We laughed and I returned home. The end.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Burden of Proof

My first week on jury duty and we were called in. Wouldn't you know it. At orientation last month, the bailiff said he only saw two of the three groups a few times each. The pool is selected by drivers license now, not voter registration, and serve for four months. So every Wednesday beginning this week, I have to call to see if we report on Thursday. And week 1 we did.

Can I just say, wow! some people are IDIOTS! Let me share a few stories.

I half-way knew what to expect, having served as a witness when I worked for the crime lab. So I brought a book expecting to wait. A woman sits down beside me and starts complaining immediately about the inconvenience this is. Oh, sorry that your democratic duty "inconvenienced" you today. Get over it. She is wearing a "National Day of Prayer" shirt and tells those around her that she hopes it will get her out of being selected. Then she starts to rail about how Obama's administration is trying to do away with this recognized day. I had enough at the point and closed my book, looked at her, and informed her that in fact, a district judge made that decision and President Obama was the chief signor of the appeal.

A young man on the other side of me, who apparently served in our distinguished military began offering up information--unsolicited--about his tragic past, including his injuries sustained while serving and his stillborn daughter.

We finally get called in and go through the motions of what the defendant is charged with, we meet all the court officials and witnesses. Then we go right back out in the hall for unknown reasons. 30 minutes later we are called back in, only to be recessed a short time later because an interpreter is needed. During these sessions, the judge asks the group such questions like "has a crime like this happened to you", "do you have any immediate family in law enforcement", and "do you know any of the people in the court". Actually, I did! A friend of a friend, who I used to watch Lost with, was the co-prosecutor. I wasn't sure if that was enough, but we made eye contact and she nodded slightly, so I stood.

Finally we get started with the vetting. A box apparently containing all our names is produced and the defense attorney is allowed to stir it. The court official calls out 12 names, then the prosecutor and defense both get to ask questions. This is where the day really drug on forever. Some people talk too much. Like the toothless redneck guy who said he didn't think the system was fair. Or the 6-7 people who had other things to do should the trial go into the next day. Or the veteran who said people who aren't citizens should not be protected by the law. Or the people that didn't understand what "the burden of proof is on the prosecutor" meant.

Two hypothetical scenarios were presented, one from each side. After asking if everyone could be impartial, no matter what, the prosecutor presented a situation where an elderly woman with cancer who could only find relief from the pain by smoking marijuana would be found guilty. The law says marijuana is illegal; there is no medical proviso in Arkansas law. Suddenly, several of the jurors changed their mind. The defense asked the jurors if the prosecutor did not present their case beyond reasonable doubt and the defense called no witnesses, would they have a problem issuing a not-guilty verdict. Oh boy...this one took a while. I wanted to be called on just so I could answer it. I wanted to scream it! People...the definition is that the burden of proof is on the PROSECUTOR. If he didn't make his case, the defense doesn't NEED to call witnesses. They have nothing to prove. Innocent until proven guilty! A not-guilty verdict MUST be rendered. But no....these people kept hanging on to their notion that they wanted more facts; more information. They didn't get the scenario that there were no more facts; the evidence was presented. It wasn't enough. The end. Not guilty. Go home.

Well it was an interesting day to say the least. Suddenly I'm nervous about who exactly this jury of my "peers" are if they are mostly of this similar niche of society. Not that I ever plan on standing trial. And I don't mean that to sound ugly, but dang, it's scary!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

iPad vs. Kindle: Is It Fair to Compare?

I'm very indecisive when it comes to new technology. It took me a long time, for instance, to finally start purchasing my music solely as a digital format simply because I couldn't do without the CD cover. I think the same can be said of books. Can't do without that tactile sensation of lounging back with a book? I've accepted that, given time, I'll get over that and enjoy an ebook reader.

The problem is, the market is so young for e-readers, it is difficult to decide what to buy. The forerunners are the Amazon Kindle and Apple's iPad. But both are so completely different, it almost feels unfair to compare them.

In this corner, we have the Kindle. A device whose sole purpose is to read books. Its display is made of a new technology called e-ink. The screen does not require back-lighting like computer monitors. It reads like paper. It is only currently available in grayscale. This leads many people to think it is antiquated technology, but if you really look into it, it is quite a remarkable screen. The refresh rate is a little sluggish and the contrast is arguably difficult on those with poorer eyesight. The screen is about the size of a paperback book; the bigger version is about the size of a hardback book's page. The Kindle itself is very light. Books are available through only Amazon's store, and in the tumultuous new market, e-book prices are on the rise slightly. Books can be downloaded in seconds at no data cost; an embedded dictionary lets you look up words as you read.

In the other corner is the iPad. A multifunctioning, revolutionary portable device. Its limits are in the hands of developers. It has a backlit screen, just like a computer monitor. Some say this leads to eyestrain. I say staring at ANYTHING too long leads to eyestrain. Brightness and color can be adjusted in the ebook apps available. And that's another "pro": you can shop around...Amazon Kindle app, Barnes and Noble Nook app, and Apple's iBookstore. You get color covers and images. The Kindle app doesn't have the dictionary. It would be difficult to read in sunlight, and the device is heavier than a Kindle, albeit still lighter than most hardback books (which is what I prefer to read). Around 8% of people buying an iPad said they bought it primarily to be an e-reader. That's really not many and makes me wonder why. Seems like the reading aficionados go for the dedicated e-reader.

I guess there is room for them both. The Kindle for heavy reading; the iPad for everything else. But I don't want to carry around two devices. I remember how silly it was to cart my iPod and iPhone until I got enough memory in the latter to sync all my music.

Another side note, a recent article said that reading on an iPad in bed can cause insomnia. Melatonin is a hormone in the brain that influences our biological clock. Its release is induced by light. The light of the iPad's screen could cause melatonin's continued release and thus throw off your sleep cycle. (That also goes to show why it is not good to watch TV right before bed, and why many parents choose to not let their kids do so.)

I go back and forth between the two, but all I know is I do want an e-reader. I've been patiently waiting for the market to resolve into some semblance of order, just like I did back in the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD war days. I know I would want the bigger Kindle, which weighs in at $489....$10 shy of an iPad. And that's why I'm like "why don't I just get an iPad and get multiple functions"? Then I think "will I like reading on a backlit screen?" I don't suppose I'd get that much extra use out of an iPad having an iPhone. I don't watch TV/movies on computers; my phone can check email just fine.

I wait for Amazon to release a new hardware version of the Kindle or at least drop the price...but no word is coming about that any time soon. At some point, one just has to buy into a technology, realize there will be upgrades, and commit to not buying again for a certain period of time. I get that. But the indecision in my mind about the two devices--again it seems unfair to compare them--keep me holding on. I've just about saved enough for either one. I may buy the smaller Kindle to see if I like it, then if I do, either keep it or possibly return it and upgrade to the bigger one. If not, return it and go iPad. They give a 30-day return guarantee.

Anyone have an opinion?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dallas Stars!

If you followed my Twitter/Facebook feed at all on Tuesday, you know how insane I went when I got to experience my first NHL game. And in a big way. We were on the front row right behind the Dallas Stars' bench. I can't even describe the awesomeness of that evening.

We arrived at the arena when it opened and watched warm up. Every time the Stars came out, I'd lean over the railing and solicited the fist bump from the team (which I would say about half the team acknowledged), screaming my encouragements to them.

My next statement is rather obvious: watching the game on TV is nothing like being there. But to describe what I mean, you can't get an appreciation for how fast these guys skate on TV. While our seats were amazing for their proximity to the bench, it did make it a bit difficult to watch the game. I've never wiggled around in a seat so much in my life...trying to see. But that didn't matter...I WAS THERE!

The Stars ended up breaking the Predators' 7 game winning streak, winning 3-1. Goals were very weird; I really only saw one of them occur. The first goal came in the 2nd period, by Trevor Daley, just kind of happened all the sudden. The Stars fan we sat next to didn't realize it had happened either. Ha. The Preds tied it 1-1 by the end of the 2nd. In the third, the Stars scored 2 back-to-back goals off some horrible turnovers by the Preds. The goals were scored by Loui Eriksson and Matt Niskanen.

Also odd were penalties and stoppage of play. I guess being directly behind the glass, we couldn't hear the whistle. We'd just see a player head off to the penalty box across the ice.

Here's just a few photos of warm up and of my favorite players. I took as many as I could during media time-outs, but I didn't want to watch the game through my phone during play; by the end of the game, my battery was 10%. LOL (Click on the photos to see them big.)

Warming Up:


Brenden Morrow (10; Team Captain), Stephen Robidas (3), and Kari Lehtonen (32; recently acquired during mid-season waivers):

Steve Ott (29):

Jamie Benn (14; 5th highest scoring rookie in the NHL):

Kari Lehtonen (32):

If you wanna see the rest that I spruced up, head to my gallery.

Also next to us was a couple...they actually had seats on the rail.  I wanted to try to get an autograph or 20 after the game.  I had brought a pen but lost it, so I asked the lady if she had one and told her why.  She offered to get the autograph for me, and as attractive as she was, she would stand a MUCH better chance of getting them than I would.  Kids and hot chicks...that's how you get things from athletes.  I eyed Marty Turco, the long time goalie of the Stars (but he sat out this game) and motioned to see if he'd sign the program I handed her.  He nodded.  I wanted to get several and asked as they left the arena, but no one stopped.  But I'm pretty pleased with what I got:

I have this bittersweet problem where when I go to things like this--so rare because of where I live--I get a little star struck.  I think how amazing it would be to have the resources to do this all the time; or even have a job where I could be around the team.  Heck, I even envied the bench-squeegee guy.  I know it looks more glamorous on the outside though, and I've got a pretty good deal going here, but it sure was one of the highlighted experiences I've had.  I'll end this post by repeating what I said in one of my tweets:

considering im not married this is the most epic night of my life!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Life I Want to Live

I've been on the "do it my way" track for a while now. It started last year with a pretty devastating loss to me. Actually, 2009 kinda sucked all around. I lost a lot of security and contentment. A lot of insecurities came blaring out and I was suddenly sensitized to things that I haven't been in a long time. To counter that, I made choice to fit in to the mold of my social world. I made other choices that provided immediate (but temporary) gratification. And thus the degeneration began, and my fellowship with God waned...and waned...and waned. The good things either dropped off or became meaningless routine. And I found myself in a place not even having the want to change.

I knew I was on the fast track to losing my communion with my Creator, but by that point, I couldn't let go of some things that I had begun. A wise man told me, when I asked how to get rid of them, that will power wasn't enough...that I had to replace those things with good. And so I took some steps to do that, yet to this date some of the old leaks back in. Our pastor has been leading a study on Philippians and how to fine true, inner joy through Christ. It is resonating with me. A conviction came over me so greatly this weekend, that I knew the time had come...I either needed to make the necessary changes in my life or I would be heading to a point of no-return; of doing things I would not be able to take back.

I really suck at praying. I have to think about what I'm going to say and rehearse it like a speech in my mind, before bowing my head and closing my eyes. So the first thing I did this morning was ask God to teach me to pray. Then I asked Him to guard my heart against the temptations I've let slip in. And I prayed for this kind of life:

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

I'll hope you'll pray for me in this, and join me in this pursuit.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sleep Cycles

Flipping through the top selling apps on the iPhone, I ran across an app named "Sleep Cycle". I checked it out. This app uses the phone's accelerometer (motion-sensor) to monitor the degree of movement while you sleep. You set an alarm time and, based on what stage of sleep you are in, it will wake you within 30 minutes of that alarm. The idea is you aren't woken during a deep stage of sleep.

As a physiology instructor, I was interested to see how well this app worked and how much of it was just novelty. So if you'll indulge me, let me speak briefly about sleep cycles.

We alternate between "non-rapid eye movement" (NREM) and "rapid eye movement" (REM) sleep during the night. For the typical person, it takes about 45 minutes to slip through the first two stages of NREM and into the latter two, when true deep sleep occurs. (Incidentally, nightmares tend to occur in the latter two stages of NREM.) After about 90 minutes, brain activity changes dramatically, our muscles become inhibited, and our eyes start flicking around (thus the name of the sleep). Most dreaming occurs in REM; the muscle paralysis keeps us from acting out our dreams, even though the eyes are following what is being seen. The brain activity is "more awake" during REM than when we are actually awake. The typical adult will re-enter REM about every 90 minutes; each time, REM lasts a little longer. NREM is thought to help physiological processes "reboot" (if you will), while REM is thought to work through psychological needs.

So in trying this app out, the graph is a little misleading. Since no motion occurs during REM sleep, the part of the graph that says "dreaming" is a misnomer. Perhaps a better term would be "wakefulness". However, "deep sleep" works okay for the lower portion, but keep in mind that REM is when we are dreaming the most, and true "deep sleep" occurs in the latter two stages of NREM. More motion likely means you are not in REM, but for deep sleep you could easily be moving or not. Being woken from deep sleep is what makes for the groggy feeling, so motion is not the best indicator. The app builds on ideas that actigraphy utilizes--where sleep technologist monitor motion--but should be used for novelty purposes only and to get a GENERAL idea of how you tend to sleep. The fact is, you could lay still during NREM just as you do in REM, so motion is not a true test of sleep cycling; only a brain monitor can do that. However, if you are really having sleep issues, a true sleep study is the way to go.

My first night with the app did show fairly consistent time frames for the typical sleeper that I described above. I entered a state of no-motion (which is REM) about every 90 minutes. I apparently had two such stages during my 7 hours of sleep, which by the way is arguably not enough cycles through REM, and the second was longer than the first. (I started to enter a third, but about that time my pet woke me up. Ha ha.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2010 Winter Olympics

If you are as big a fan of the Olympics as me, you'll find yourself glued to the TV for the next two weeks. Well that may not be so easy, so I went searching for a complete TV schedule and found this. Maybe it'll help you pick out what and when to watch. TIMES ARE IN EASTERN.

NBC Universal's 2010 Winter Olympics Schedule
This is the NBC Universal Olympics Schedule from Day 1, February 12 until Day 17 on February 28. I have omitted overnight programming on MSNBC which starts at 3 a.m.

NBC, 7:30 p.m. - midnight: Opening Ceremony, Ski Jumping: Qualification

NBC, 2 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Ski Jumping: normal hill, Speed Skating: men's 5000m and Biathlon: women's sprint.
CNBC, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Women's Hockey: Sweden vs. Switzerland
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.: Women's Hockey: Canada vs. Slovakia
NBC, 8 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.: Short Track: men's 1500m (live ET/CT). Alpine Skiing: men's downhill -- and women's moguls.
NBC, midnight - 1 a.m.: Luge: Men's Singles, Women's Short Track prelims: 500m, relay and medal ceremonies.

NBC, 1 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Nordic Combined (live ET/CT), Speed Skating, Luge and Biathlon.
USA, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Women's Hockey: USA vs. China
NBC, 7 p.m. - 11 p.m.: Alpine Skiing: Women's Combined. Figure Skating: Pairs Short Program. Luge: Men's Singles Gold Medal Final
NBC, 11:35 p.m. - 12:05 a.m.: Recap and analysis from Figure Skating's opening act: the pairs short program. Plus, medal ceremonies from Speed Skating and more.

NBC, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Women's Cross Country, Men's Snowboarding and Men's Cross Country
MSNBC, 5:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Women's Hockey: Canada vs. Switzerland
NBC, 8 p.m. - midnight: Figure Skating: Pairs Free Skate, Snowboarding: Men's SBX, Speed Skating: Men's 500 meters
NBC, 12:35 a.m. - 2 a.m.: Women's luge, Medal ceremonies

USA, noon - 3 p.m.: Men's Curling: USA vs. Germany
NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Biathlon: men's 12.5K, women's 10K
USA, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Men's Hockey: USA vs. Switzerland
CNBC, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Women's Curling: USA vs. Japan
MSNBC, 5:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Women's Hockey: USA vs. Russia
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Canada vs. Norway
NBC, 8 p.m. - midnight: Figure Skating: men's short program, Snowboarding, Speed Skating: Women's 500 meters
CNBC, 10 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.: Women's Hockey: Finland vs. China
CNBC, 12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Russia vs. Latvia
NBC, 12:35 a.m. - 2 a.m.: Women's Luge

USA, noon - 3 p.m.: Women's Curling: USA vs. Germany
NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Women's Cross Country Skiing
MSNBC, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Finland vs. Belarus
CNBC, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Men's Curling: USA vs. Switzerland
MSNBC, 5:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Women's Hockey: Canada vs. Sweden
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Sweden vs. Germany
NBC, 8 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.: Speed Skating: men's 1,000 meters, Alpine Skiing: women's downhill, Snowboarding: men's halfpipe, Short Track: men's 5,000 meter relay & 1,000 meters.
CNBC, 10 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.: Women's Hockey: Switzerland vs. Slovakia
NBC, 12:05 a.m. - 1:30 a.m.: Short Track: men's 1,000 meters, doubles luge, medal ceremonies.
CNBC, 12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Czech Republic vs. Slovakia

USA, noon - 3 p.m.: Men's Curling: USA vs. Denmark
NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Women's Biathlon: 15K, Women's Snowboarding: Halfpipe
USA, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Men's Hockey: USA vs. Norway
CNBC, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Women's Curling: USA vs. Denmark
MSNBC, 5:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Women's Hockey: USA vs. Finland
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Canada vs. Norway
NBC, 8 p.m. - midnight: Figure Skating: Men's Free Skate, Women's Snowboarding, Speed Skating: women's 1,000 meters
CNBC, 10 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.: Women's Hockey: Russia vs. China
CNBC, 12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Russia vs. Slovakia
NBC, 12:35 a.m. - 2 a.m.: Skeleton: Men's and women's 1st and 2nd runs, Biathlon: men's 20K, medal ceremonies.

USA, noon - 3 p.m.: Women's Curling: USA vs. Russia
MSNBC, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Sweden vs. Belarus
NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Women's Cross Country Skiing
CNBC, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Men's Curling: USA vs. France
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Czech Republic vs. Latvia
NBC, 8 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.: Figure Skating: Ice Dancing, Women's Skeleton
CNBC, 10 p.m. - 1 a.m.: Women's Curling: Canada vs. Denmark
MSNBC, midnight - 3 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Finland vs. Germany
NBC, 12:05 a.m. - 1:30 a.m.: Medal ceremonies

MSNBC, noon - 3 p.m.: Men's Curling: USA vs. Sweden
NBC, 1 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Freestyle Skiing: Women's, Ski Jumping: Large Hill, Cross Country Skiing: Men's 30K Pursuit
MSNBC, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Norway vs. Switzerland
CNBC, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Women's Curling: USA vs. Great Britain
MSNBC, 7:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Slovakia vs. Latvia
NBC, 8 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.: Alpine Skiing: Women's Super G, Bobsled: Two man, Short Track: men's
CNBC, 10 p.m. - 1 a.m.: Men's Curling: Canada vs. Great Britain
MSNBC, midnight - 3 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Belarus vs. Germany
NBC, midnight - 1 a.m.: Short Track: Women's 1,500 meters and medal ceremonies.

MSNBC, noon - 3 p.m.: Women's Curling: USA vs. Canada
NBC, noon - 6 p.m.: Freestyle Skiing: Ski Cross, Biathlon: Men's 15K, Men's Hockey: Czech Republic vs. Russia
CNBC, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Men's Curling: USA vs. Great Britain
MSNBC, 7 p.m. - 10 p.m: Men's Hockey: USA vs. Canada
NBC, 7 p.m. - 11 p.m.: Figure Skating: Ice Dancing (Original Dance), Alpine Skiing: Men's Giant Slalom
CNBC, 10 p.m. - 1 a.m.: Women's Curling: USA vs. Sweden
NBC, 11:35 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.: Biathlon: Women's 12.5K, Medal Ceremonies
MSNBC, midnight - 3 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Sweden vs. Finland

USA, noon - 3 p.m: Men's Curling: USA vs. Canada
NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Cross Country Skiing: Men's and Women's team sprints
USA, 3 p.m - 6 p.m.: Women's Hockey: Semifinals
CNBC, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Women's Curling: Canada vs. Sweden
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.: Women's Hockey: Semifinals
NBC, 8 p.m. - midnight: Figure Skating: Ice Dancing (Free Skate), Freestyle Skiing, Ski Jumping
CNBC, 10:30 - 1 a.m.: Men's Curling: USA vs. China
NBC, 12:35 a.m. - 2 a.m.; Men's Hockey: Elimination Round, Medal Ceremonies

USA, noon - 3 p.m.: Women's Curling: USA vs. China
NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Biathlon: Women's 4 x 6K Relay, Speed Skating: Men's 10,000 meters
USA, 3 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Elimination Round
CNBC, 5 p.m - 8 p.m.: Men's Curling: Canada vs. China
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Elimination Round
NBC, 8 p.m. - midnight: Figure Skating: women's short program, Freestyle Skiing: Women's Ski Cross Final, Bobsled: Women's, Alpine Skiing: Nordic Combined
CNBC, 10 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Elimination Round
MSNBC, 10 p.m. - 1 a.m.: Women's Curling: USA vs. Switzerland
CNBC, 12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Elimination Round
NBC, 12:35 a.m. - 2 a.m.: Figure Skating recap plus medal ceremonies

NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Quarterfinal Round
MSNBC, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Curling: Tiebreaker Round
CNBC, 7 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Quarterfinal Round
NBC, 8 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.: Alpine Skiing: Women's Giant Slalom, Bobsled, Short Track Speed Skating: Men's 500 meters and Women's 3,000 meters relay
CNBC, 10 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Quarterfinal Round
NBC, 12:05 a.m. - 1:30 a.m.: Short Track Speed Skating: Women's 1,000 meters and Medal Ceremonies
CNBC, 12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Quarterfinal Round

USA, noon - 3 p.m.: Women's Curling: Semifinal
MSNBC, 2 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.: Women's Hockey: Bronze Medal Game
NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Cross Country Skiing: Women's 4 x 5K relay
CNBC, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Men's Curling: Semifinal
MSNBC, 6 p.m. - 9 p.m.: Women's Hockey: Gold Medal Game
NBC, 8 p.m. - midnight: Figure Skating: Women's Free Skate, Freestyle Skiing
NBC, 12:35 a.m. - 2 a.m.: Figure Skating wrap up plus Medal Ceremonies

USA, noon - 3 p.m.: Women's Curling: Bronze Medal Match
NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Semifinal
MSNBC, 3:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Speed Skating: Men's and Women's Pursuit
CNBC, 6 p.m. - 9 p.m.: Women's Curling: Gold Medal Match
NBC, 8 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.: Alpine Skiing: Women's Slalom, Short Track Speed Skating: Men's and Women's 1,000 meters
CNBC, 9 p.m. - midnight: Men's Hockey: Semifinal
NBC, 12:05 a.m. - 1:30 a.m.: Snowboarding: Women's PGS Gold Medal Final plus Medal Ceremonies

USA, noon - 3 p.m.: Men's Curling: Bronze Medal Match
NBC, 1 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Snowboarding: Men's PGS Gold Medal Final, Speed Skating: Pursuit
CNBC, 6 p.m. - 9 p.m.: Men's Curling: Gold Medal Match
NBC, 8 p.m. - 11 p.m.: Alpine Skiing: Men's Slalom, Bobsled: Four Man, Figure Skating: Champions Gala, Snowboarding: Men's Parallel
MSNBC, 10 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Bronze Medal Game

MSNBC, 6 a.m. - noon - Figure Skating: Champions Gala
NBC, noon - 3 p.m.: Cross Country Skiing
NBC, 3 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Gold Medal Game
NBC, 7 p.m. - 11 p.m.: Closing Ceremony
NBC, 11:35 p.m. - 12:35 a.m.: Wrap Up

Monday, January 18, 2010

The (In)Complete and (Un)Authorized Vegas Autobiography

I've never been on a real vacation on my own, so I had been looking forward to this trip to Las Vegas with friends since it was booked in October. We got a great fare for the flight and one of our buddies hooked us up with a free stay at a hotel. We had roughly 3.5 days to take in as much as we could, and I must say, it was just about the right amount of time. Click the links for pictures and video clips.

Tuesday: Our flight out was great! After having my traditional McGriddle before traveling, we headed to the airport and breezed through security. Well, actually, I got the full search. The metal detector went off on me, which turned out to be from the large metal buttons on my shirt. The TSA agent was very nice and professional, even explaining to me that if he needed to search a "sensitive area", he would use the back of his hand. He then asked if I needed him to define a "sensitive area." I think I had it pretty well defined. On the plane, the flight attendants really went all out for us; guess they liked the idea of a group of guys heading out to Vegas for a good time. They comped us a round a drinks and even made Ryan a crown of peanuts! Our flight arrived 45 minutes early and we embarked for the hotel. My buddy Craig and I stayed at MGM Grand, while Kyle and Ryan stayed at Caesers Palace. Not only was Kyle able to get the rooms comped, we got upgraded to suites, aka bungalows! Sweet!

We spent the afternoon checking out the strip. When someone tells you that the hotels appear to be close together but are in fact, quite far apart, they speak the truth. By the end of the week, my poor feet would be revolting! Seriously, most of our day time passed by walking. We checked out a few hotels then headed back to our respective rooms to get ready for the evening. On the way to our venue, we got to watch a fountain show at the Bellagio. The main feature of the evening: Penn and Teller's magic show at the Rio. Two words: Ah-mazing! I have no idea how they did the things they did. Their gimmick is to "reveal" how many traditional tricks are done, but as they are doing so, throw in a new twist that leaves you wide eyed and mouth open. The evening topped off with the "magic bullets" trick. If you haven't seen it, you have to! After the show, Penn and Teller signed autographs.

Wednesday: Today, we were up early because we had a bus to catch. We booked a Hoover Dam tour. This was a definite highlight. After about a 30 minute ride out to Lake Mead, in the Black Canyon, we arrived. Currently under construction is the largest arch bridge in the US. It is part of a new highway being built due to frequent delays this area deals with. The driver said that 30 minute trip we just took could take 3-4 hours sometimes. We took a tour underneath dam, standing over the huge pipes. The power of the rushing water flowing through that 30 ft pipe is quite overwhelming. We also got to see the generators by which the power is created. Returning to the surface, we got some free time to walk along the top of the dam and look around.

Heading back, we stopped at some casino (I can't remember the name) for a buffet. We were left there a long time. No doubt, the tour company was given a little incentive to leave us there for enough time to play, but I would have liked 30 minutes more at the dam and less at the casino. We got back to the hotel and once again got ready for the evening. Kyle made us reservations at a high-end steakhouse called Smith & Wollensky's. We all wanted to eat out nice once. I had one of the best, and definitely the biggest, prime ribs I've ever had. And no, I couldn't finish it. After dinner, we took a walk down the strip and visited some more casinos. The dress shoes I had bought and were wearing were killing me. I was pretty miserable. We ended up stopping at Treasure Island for a while...and by a while, I mean until 4 am! Time can certainly fly when playing and having fun! For some reason, my body just cannot sleep late, so despite finally falling asleep permanently at around 6 am, I woke up at 9 am.

Thursday: Today was to be our "touristy" day. Craig and I attempted to geocache for a little while. I don't know if the 3G was so congested or what the problem was, but neither of us could get our Geocaching app to work. It kept freezing. Pretty disappointed, we gave up. Instead, we visited more hotel/casinos. So far we had walked through Planet Hollywood, Paris, New York, New York, Venetian, Bellagio, and Treasure Island, as well as a few smaller ones. So this time we went the other way to visit the Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Exalibur. Besides, we had to pick up our tickets for the evening venue.

That afternoon, we met up with Ryan and headed way down the strip to the Stratosphere. We stopped off so Ryan could do the indoor skydiving place. He said it was really fun, but short. Heading to the Stratosphere, it was a very windy day. We bought our tickets to the top of the observation tower and ride passes. Yup, there are three rides at the top of this 109+ story tower...the highest in the world. The Big Shot is the's like a reverse death drop, shooting you up the needle of the tower. The Xtreme is a teeter totter that tilts and slides over the edge of the tower. The last one, Insanity, is a spinning swing set, but it was closed due to wind. Craig isn't a fan of heights, so it was up to Ryan and I to complete this feat. And ride we did. So I can now say I've ridden the highest rides in the world! Sweet! To be honest, the rides themselves were really wimpy; 90% of the battle is just being on top of this tower (Big Shot is 1100 ft up). On the ride, we met this crazy girl who is self-described as a "weird ass adrenaline junkie". Her boyfriend wasn't so much excited (see previous picture to know exactly what I'm talking about). We gave her and extra ticket and rode the Xtreme, then headed down. Riding the tram back to our hotels, we got ready for an evening at the Mandalay Bay and the musical "The Lion King".

This performance blew me away. The staging, acting, and costumes were absolutely phenomenal. Many lines were word-for-word from the movie (my favorite Disney, by the way), with a few added scenes that I'm sure were to complement the different medium. The show was only slightly spoiled by two things: 1) After the second scene, we noticed the sound guy started moving frantically and talking on two phones; then the curtain went down and the lights came up. They then announced that the performance would be delayed due to an actor taking ill suddenly. After about 20 minutes, we resumed. 2) A couple of foreigners behind us felt the need to comment about EVERYTHING going on to each other. A couple in front of us turned to shoosh them once, then I finally turned around and asked them to be quiet as well. I really can't stand rude audiences. Craig and Ryan were equally as impressed as I; it was definitely worth the ticket. I was wiped from only getting about 3-4 hours of sleep, so I opted to head to the hotel; the others stayed out a while longer.

Friday: No agenda today; just finish out the things I wanted to see. We played a table during the day before the stakes would go up. Did some shopping at the Coca-Cola store. Visited some more hotels, including Caesers Palace. Stopped by the Apple Store in there. We watched the Treasure Island pirate show and the Mirage's lava show. The night's agenda was to hit a club for one last night of frivolity. We hit up "The Bank" in the Bellagio. It was an exquisite club! First of all, there were tons of security. To sit in this place would cost you about $400, which would include a bottle and table service; otherwise, the cover was $20. The cheapest thing at the bar was like $10! It was crazy how this one guy and (what I'll call his) slave-boy would run up and down the club. The first guy would shine a light on something and yell at his fellow to pick it up. I'm talking a piece of lint on the carpet! If you took your hand off your drink, it was gone. Match books were replaced within seconds. These guys were serious about keeping it clean! The place was so packed; it was hard to move. Although it was fun to let it loose for while, I was done in about 1 am and headed back.

Saturday: Up in just enough time to pack, grab coffee, grab some souvenirs and head to the airport. It was an awesome, unforgettable vacation shared with some great friends. If/when I ever go back, there are still some things I'd like to do. Unfortunately, Cirque de Soleil was taking a production break and the NY, NY roller coaster was down for maintenance. So those would be on tap. I think I'd be up for hitting more clubs in the evening too. But overall, I did it all, saw it all, and had a blast.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sports Broadcasts Rants

I'm a hockey fan. Huh??? you say? It's true. It happened back around 1999-2001 when the Stars won a couple Stanley cups. Being from the Dallas area, I got caught up in the hype and watched. But I came to really enjoy the game. It is a non-stop battle. It's so hard to score that when it finally happens, I think it is the most exciting score of any sports. Now saying all that, I've pretty much self-taught myself the rules. And there are plenty I'm still not familiar with.

And that brings me to the point of this rant. Fox Sports, the channel Stars games are featured on, is really bad about not explaining anything, particularly when it comes to penalties. Well they all are bad about it, really. Sometimes they'll say something like "2 minutes for high sticking" but they rarely show it again. I need to see the penalty so I know what constitutes it. Sometimes it can be as bad as just saying "2 minute minor" indication of what foul was committed. It's hard for me to see penalties at the high rate of play most sports are, so it would be nice if broadcasters would take a second to show the penalty while play is stopped. The other day, I saw my first "misconduct" penalty...a 10 minute one! No explanation.

Explain a rule every so often! I'm not asking for something unreasonable like explain everything every game (more on that in a second). That would suck for the fans that know what is going on. But every few games, when something happens, just take a second to explain it. For example, icing. This was hard for me to figure out. If a commentator had simply said "and the puck travels across the lines without being played so icing will be called"...I'd have known. That's a non-invasive way of slipping in an explanation, I think. (Incidentally, icing is a rule so that players are forced to play the puck across the rink and not just shoot it down the ice. If called, the puck comes back to the other side for a face-off.) They all list season records with 4 numbers, as in something like 10-4-2-0. Okay, win-loss-tie?-??? What the crap are those numbers? They never say! What are these "points" a team accumulates that determine who gets into playoffs? How are they different from points an individual player gets? How the heck do either EARN the stinking points??? Frustrating!

There are still plenty of other things I don't understand, like what exactly constitutes interference or the technicalities of where a face-off happens...but the internet has been helpful to some extent. I've even downloaded the NHL Official Rule Book. Haha. In summary, I think broadcasts would benefit from this notion because it would pick up new viewers long term by keeping them interested (because they are learning) and informed. Finding a balance for the pro-viewers and the new viewers is win-win!

But at the same time, it can't be taken to the other extreme, which is to over-explain a procedure every stinking time. And the overly glaring offender here comes from football and the video review. How long have we had reviews now? WE KNOW THE EVIDENCE HAS TO BE INDISPUTABLE! Do you have nothing else to say? Yes, it must be conclusive enough to overturn. Thank you! We got that the first year. Gah!

And just while we're on this subject, can I just say how useless coach and player interviews are? Just play a record that says "we need to work harder, score more points than [the other team], and come out ready to play", etc...because that's basically all these interviews amount to. Well, duhhhh! Can I get the last 5 minutes of my life back please? If you didn't do those things why show up? How about some substance. Call out some specifics! I know they don't want to point to individual players, but come on! What about the "running game" do you need to work on? HOW do you work on not turning over the ball? Substance! Amirite?