Monday, November 19, 2007

It certainly has been a while, hasn't it? I find that, in my times of crisis, writing has always helped me figure things out. Let's hope it can work its magic again tonight.

I currently feel quite overwhelmed. The deadline for application into Madison's Grad school programs (the whole reason I'm here) is rapidly approaching and I am scrambling to get everything together. There are tests to be taking, references to get, and financial aid to apply for... all within the next three weeks or so. I can't believe how long I've let it go without getting this stuff done... I thought I had grown past that phase in my life where I let deadlines approach without doing anything about them. The REAL stress is that the Creative Writing program here is only available to accept new students once every two years... which means if I don't make it this year--I probably won't ever (considering I can't imagine myself staying in Madison for two years if I don't get accepted to Grad school this year or next. What would be the point?).

Even as I plan out the next three weeks, I seem to be unable to get my head working as I've been ill for almost a week now. I actually seem to be getting worse as the days go on. A normal illness for me is a routine that I can almost set a calender to: first day-sore throat; second day-dry coughing/sore throat; third day-by far the worst, coughing/sneezing/runny nose/etc; fourth day-coughing gets 'wetter' and sneezing subsides; fifth day and on-coughing and runny nose until I feel better. This particular illness has stretched the normal days by two or three and I've just now gotten to the climax of the illness. It is my hope that I'll feel better tomorrow so that I can make the trip to Michigan for Thanksgiving... but there's a good possibility that I won't (neither feel better nor make the trip). That depresses me, as Thanksgiving has always been a holiday that my entire family makes the effort to get back together (Christmas can sometimes be all over the place... but Thanksgiving was always steady). I talked to my folks today who discouraged me from making the trip... and then proceeded to say that they would love it if I could make it.

To add to my stress, I cracked a crown on my tooth over a week ago. I just went in to see a dentist this morning, but my health/dental/etc benefits at work won't kick in until 90 days after I started. That means we're talking the end of January before I'll be eligible for some financial assistance. The dentist doesn't think we can wait that long without doing something, and the 'cheaper' part of the procedure is still going to cost me around $400. It also seems as if no one I work with knows anything about my benefits... or who I can talk to to find that information out.

To make matters worse, I recently got into a fender-bender of sorts... and now the right-rear fender on my car is cracked (plastic doesn't bend--it breaks! Hooray plastic! Hooray sarcasm!). With my car approaching 100,000 miles and also approaching a decade old, I'm not too keen to dump a few hundred dollars into getting a 'cosmetic' procedure done.

The icing on this cake is that I really can't talk to my parents about any of this. There is a long story here... but the short version is that their house had an insect problem and the fumigation has caused my parents to have serious allergic reactions whenever they go inside the the point that they aren't living in it any more and may have to consider selling it soon. Needless to say, they have their own problems and have neither the time nor the money to help me.

When I have days like today when nothing seems to make sense--and it seems like from the time I wake up to the time I go back to sleep, I'm just trying to survive the day--it really gets me down. For someone who struggles with 'meaning' and deeper questions of existence... trying to justify having to live a life of daily survival (and 'survival' seems to diminish those who actually are in life-and-death struggles on a daily basis. Perhaps 'in a trance' is a better phrase for it) seems ridiculous! There has GOT to be something better out there. In the words of the immortal Vince Lombardi, "What the hell is going on out there?"

Also, it seems I have 'lost my funny' somewhere along the past year. Is it possible that I grew up and older me just isn't humorous? Must try to recapture hilarity in subsequent posts. Mental note to try to remember all good penis jokes.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Remembering the Good Ol' Days

Big changes are coming up for me... and for the blog, too. I just want to further prove how awesome Abi is, to let her husband spend the hours before their wedding by playing Halo.
Staff Sargent: They were planning on releasing Halo 3 with online multi-player... but it might not be available at launch. Looks like one of us is going to have to fly across the pond in September.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

She Called Me Sir...

"Excuse me, sir?" she asked, as I held open the door to the Mobil Station for her and her brother, a Rockstar energy drink in one hand and a Dean's Chocolate Milk in the other. "Excuse me sir, are we in Iowa or Illinoise?" What immediately struck me--as her uneducated-sounding accent hit the end of Illinois so it sounded less like a state and more like a phat beat--was the odd placement of the question. I mean, here we were, not more than 15 miles from the Illinois/Wisconsin border on I-90 (an interstate that doesn't even go through Iowa) and she's asking me if she's in Iowa?

After responding, "Illinois," letting her and her younger brother walk past me into the station, the word hit me: "Sir" she called me. Was it the chocolate milk I was holding? Or the energy drink? Couldn't possibly be it. Was it my clothes? I was wearing shorts and a black polo, but that's certainly not something you see older gentlemen wearing to the country club (or is it?). Or was it her polite way of saying, "How did it feel to start losing your hair at 16?"; "How does it feel to be out of touch with the younger generation's music, language, and affinity for texting?"; "How did people listen to music before the iPod? With, like, rocks and stuff?"

Granted it wasn't the first time anyone had ever called me sir, but usually it is said by a peer in jest, or someone checking me into a hotel, or taking large amounts of my money electronically via credit. Something about this 15 year-old girl's sign of respect hit me too hard that day. Sir.

Glass half full: It IS a sign of respect, something I've long coveted and oft got. And it's not as if I'm a woman. What DO you call a woman to not disrespect her? "Ma'am" and "Madam" are out because they make a woman feel too old. "Miss" carries the complete opposite problem. "Mrs." is tricky because you never know whether the woman is married or not. "Ms." I find too hard to say and generally avoid for that reason. "Ms."... the 'z' hits the back of my teeth hard, closing my mouth and the flow of words from it.

Certainly no word is as clean, universal, and respectful as "Mister" or "Sir"... both easy to say and "sir" makes me feel a little like a knight, now that I think about it. So what IS the proper word to use with a woman? How did I get here? What does this have to do with me? I'm not sure. But it's good to know that, no matter how old I get, I'll still have useless yet thought provoking questions to ask in such a way as to receive no definitive answers ever and I'll end up saying a phrase my dad used to say when I'm older and have kids: "You know, when I die, I hope all of this will be explained to me."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Packers Draft... Who?

With respect to the Packer's draft: Ted Thompson seems hell-bent on trying to find 'hidden gems' to the point that he's going to reach for, and take, players far before they need be drafted. I was happy when we (meaning the Packers... when I say "we" that's who I mean) traded down in the second round because I figured we wouldn't draft anyone worth drafting in that spot anyway... why not get another guy or two? I actually felt Thompson rotated between 'good-value' picks and 'reaching' picks.

Round 1. Pick 16. DT Justin Harrell, Tennessee-- Why reach for a guy who could very well have been around at pick 47 (our second round pick that we traded out of)? Particularly with so many glaring holes at other positions (WR, RB, TE, S), why take a player at a position that our team is actually fairly solid?! This pick made no sense to me and I would have been one of those people booing had I been in Green Bay. Who knows if he'll even start, behind Ryan Pickett, Colin Cole, and 'my boy' Cullen Jenkins? Sure he'll be rotated in, but do we really want to spend the sixteenth overall pick on someone who will be rotated in?

Round 2. Pick 63. RB Brandon Jackson, Nebraska -- one draft magazine said this Junior (he left Nebraska early) was the third best Running Back in the draft. Most other mags said he was the eight best RB overall... but all agree that he can learn to be effective, particularly in the kind of zone-blocking scheme that the Packers now run. A Nebraska running back with a 'fumbling' problem? Last time I heard this story it turned out pretty good (Hint: Ahman Green). Do I think he'll start? No... he'll backup Vernand Morency aka "The Big Who?".

Round 3. Pick 78. WR James Jones, San Jose State -- Some of the draft magazines don't even have this guy listed. The ones that do say he's slow but has 'moxie'. Does that sound like a guy we should spend a third-round pick on? (Hint: No) Why do I think they drafted him? "Experienced returning punts." The end.

Round 3. Pick 89. S Aaron Rouse, Virginia Tech -- The Packers need a safety to compliment Nick Collins, and this guy is 6'4" and hits like a truck. Some say that he tries to hit so hard that sometimes he completely misses... but doesn't he sound like every other safety we've ever had? (Chuck Cecil, Mike Prior, and Darren Sharper come to mind) Some mags say he has "first-round skills" but that his negative is that people don't know if he's a safety or a linebacker. That being said, most of the elite safeties in the league today are safety/linebackers who can rush the quarterback and stop the run. ESPN also says he'll bring as much to the locker room as he does to the field. For a late third-round pick... this guy's a steal!

Round 4. Pick 119. OT Allen Barbre, Missouri Southern State -- Another guy I sometimes have trouble tracking down because he's not even listed in some draft magazines. When I do find him, they say he's an amazing athlete but is "raw." For a position (O-line) that we actually have some depth, this might not be a bad pick, as our depth will allow him to become more polished... he's just not a guy I would take in the forth round.

Round 5. Pick 157. WR David Clowney, Virginia Tech -- As far as I can tell, THIS is the guy I want... not the guy we took in round three. Lightning fast and quick, with a silly fun-to-say last name. The strikes against him are that he needs to get stronger and that he struggles with under-thrown balls. Brett doesn't under-throw balls... and I can't see him not gaining some muscle when all pro players do all day is work-out and practice. They say he has third round talent, just didn't get to show it at Virginia Tech with sub-par quarterbacks. I could see him as the fourth or even third WR by year's end.

Round 6. Pick 191. ILB Korey Hall, Boise State -- Couldn't find this guy at all. He went to Boise State, so he's at least played a couple big games in his career... but, again, nothing.

Round 6. Pick 192. ILB Desmond Bishop, Cal -- Could find this guy. He went to Cal, and they say he's a run stopper. This makes sense because he's horribly slow and probably can't cover anyone in space. But at least he can tackle... which is apparently one of his biggest strengths. He won't start... but on situations where we know the other team has to run, they say he has great instincts and may be a valuable player.

Round 6. Pick 193. K Mason Crosby, Colorado -- The best kicker in the draft. Period. Everyone says so. It may be the Colorado air in which he kicked in college, but this guy has a huge leg. At the very least, he'll make one hell of a kickoff specialist. For a sixth round pick, what a steal this guy is.

Round 7. Pick 228. RB DeShawn Wynn, Florida -- Big, slow, bruising back who they say could only excel in a zone-blocking system (which is what we run). His problems seem to be character, so I'm surprised we picked him. However, what harm does it do if a seventh round pick doesn't make the team? (Hint: None)

Round 7. Pick 243. TE Clark Harris, Rutgers -- A 6'5" tight end that they say is most like Bubba Franks of everyone in the league. He, apparently, can't catch the deep ball... but excels on short routes (like goal-line and short-yardage plays). If all they're doing here is replacing the useless Bubba Franks with a similarly useless Tight End, I'm fine with it... since it's only a seven round pick. My hatred and disdain for Bubba Franks is legendary... all I can say is that I'm sorry I don't like a guy you have to impale with the ball for him to catch it.

All in all, I give this draft a C-. I don't think we picked up a starting Running Back, we don't have a strong second/third Wide Receiver (who won't get injured), we didn't address a starting Tight End need or third Cornerback. I didn't flunk the Packers because I think we'll get at least two, maybe three, starters out of this group (Rouse, Crosby, and maybe Clowney [as the third Wide Receiver])... and maybe Harrell will start at DT, but will definitely rotate in and out of the game. But, all in all, I was not impressed. I, personally, would have been tempted to draft Quinn in the first round, since Rodgers only proved he can break his leg in his first action as NFL QB. If not Quinn, CBs Leon Hall from Michigan or Aaron Ross from Texas might have been good (since we needed a third CB) or TE Greg Olson from Miami who we'll be able to see twice a year on the Bears. Hell, I might have even traded out of the first round if I could get a 2 and a 5 or something similar. I might have even reached for a WR or Running Back who shouldn't go as high as 16, just to get that need out of the way.

In summation, I'm not impressed. Boo to my team.
Paperless Transactions... Thanks For Nothing?

I'm sure all of my readers are aware that the newest rage in billing is to go 'paperless.' Credit card bills, cell phone bills, cable bills, Bill bills... have all started asking their customers to go 'paperless' and pay their bills online. Why would they do this? Are Americans so in love with new technologies that we'll change an entire history of papered business transactions just because we can do it a new way now? Or is a paperless transaction so much more convenient that we all can't be bothered to receive something in a mail... "too much work!"?

Well, I have a theory on paperless transactions which is two-fold, cynical, and subversively angry (like almost anything I say or think):

1) Paperless transactions cost less money. Oh not for you. No no no... who cares about you? The consumer? Paperless transactions cost less money to the company. They don't have to buy paper, they don't have to pay postage to send (and return) your bills, they don't have to pay illegal immigrants to mis-appropriate the funds you send so that your bill is twice as large the next month because they put your money in someone else's account. Add all these little costs together for tens of thousands of customers every month, and you've got yourself a huge dollar amount saved by subtly forcing your customers to go paperless. Do they pass that savings onto you, the consumer? How naive are you? Of course they don't... that savings goes directly into the pocket of whatever Vice President headed up the 'paperless transaction initiative.'

2) Paperless transactions leave no paper trail to save yourself if you're screwed over. This is the main reason I will never switch. Let's say I go paperless and pay my bills online... what's to say my credit card bill won't be bigger than it should be? Even with an itemized list of charges online, not having something physically in my hands makes me nervous. Besides, how often do people skim stuff online where they would actually read something that they're holding? I mean, put more simply, if you go paperless for convenience sake, won't you eventually get to the point where you just pay it without really looking at what you're doing? Isn't that the whole point for the consumer to be able to pay their bills in five seconds? Are you looking at what they're charging you or are you just moving electronic funds from your online bank to your online bills... with no way to prove you sent the transaction electronically in the first place? If I say I transferred funds and they say I didn't, how do I prove I'm right? No, my dear people inside the internets, paperless transactions will never be done by this young blogger.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Riddle Me This...

Hello people inside the internets. Let me walk you through a mental exercise. Picture a round food... pizza, cake, pie--anything round and edible will do. Now cut that aforementioned round food so that you may share and consume it. Let me ask you, dear reader, how were those pieces cut? Did you cut that round object into squares? NO, BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE STUPID! So riddle me this, dear readers, why do pizza places in Chicago INSIST on cutting their pizzas into squares?!?! SQUARES... and it's a ROUND PIZZA! I can understand cutting a square pizza into squares, but a round one?! Ludicrous!

The specific square cut is called a "party cut" and is used to allow people to more easily share pizzas with large groups of people. However, when you're not sharing the pizza with anyone, it makes no sense. What brought this irritant to my attention was when Chelsey and I went to a local bar on a Saturday afternoon to have a leisurely lunch. We were killing some time in between two of Chelsey's time commitments up in Wrigleyville, so we decided to order a pizza and wait for it. The bar was NOT BUSY (we were one table of about three that were occupied) so our waitress knew that the pizza was going to only two people. Yet, when we got the pizza, there it was... cut into squares. How lame are square pizza slices? You get some slices with no crust, so the toppings and cheese flows all over your hands as you try to get it... and then you get four slices on the corners that are all crust and then one bite of the toppings. What moron decided that this was the most efficient way to slice a pizza? Why aren't there more people complaining about this? Now I have to make sure that when I order pizza in Chicago I have to ask for "not-square" slicing? Ahh... convenience.

Friday, April 20, 2007

(This is a post I wrote about two months ago, but for some reason didn't publish until now)
It's Official: I Am Way Cooler Than You By, Like, A Lot

Last Saturday afternoon I was invited to a special pre-screening of a mystery movie. I would tell you how I was invited, but I'm not going to. Let's just say I'm awesome and I've got connections. Regardless, ALL I was told was that this movie was going to be a surprise to everyone, that it will be released later this summer, and that it is going to be rated PG.

Of course I spent much of the week leading up to the screening wondering what the movie could possibly be. I had my hopes (third Pirates movie?! third Shrek movie?!) and I had my fears (Fantastic Four: The More Action Figures to Sell Movie), but I was pretty sure they wouldn't keep the "The Nancy Drew Movie" a secret. Who wouldn't want to see that movie? When it goes straight to video? And will be in the bargain bin a few weeks later?

At any rate, the screening was scheduled for 4 PM with a check-in at 3:15. I was told to show up a little earlier than that, like 3, but I honestly didn't know how long it would take for me to get there... so I showed up early. WAY early. The fifth person in line--behind people related to one of the organizers and in front of a family of another organizer--early. My friends Evan and Lainie met me early enough that I wasn't standing around like a moron by myself (for very long). We were given passes (after telling them our ages) and ushered upstairs around 3:45. Waiting for us in front of the theatre was a bag-check station and two security people with metal detectors. No, they weren't looking for weapons (thank God! that would have been awkward... I don't know what I would have done in the theatre without my gat strapped!)... they were looking for recording devices and, yes, even camera phones (I'll just record an entire movie on my camera phone... perfect sound and picture clarity... right).

After making it through the check-point, the three of us were still one of the first groups into the theatre, and we had our choice of seats. I felt like we had perfect seats: majority of the screen at eye-level or below, middle of the row, far enough back not to be blown away by the sound.

The crowd filed in and time passed. LOTS of time passed. The 4 o'clock start time must have been a suggestion rather than a set schedule. The crowd began to get a little restless, and I noticed a lot of the people decided to send a representative from their group to get snacks (which is what we ended up doing). But eventually the crowd seemed settled, everyone was snack-ified, and a middle-aged gentleman grabbed a microphone and proceeded to speak excitedly into it. "Thank you all for coming out today," he started. "You are one of the first groups of people in the country to see..."

What do you think it was? Oh, if only I could make it that easy for you. I want you to beg for it. No! Don't just scroll down! Oh fine! I'm not exactly sure if I can say the title. I CAN say that I saw the fifth movie in a seven-part series, and that I anxiously await the seventh book which is coming out this summer. Yes, that's right. I saw THAT movie!

Anyone who has read the books knows how frustrating, dark, and annoying the fifth book in the series is. I have even heard a couple of people argue that they should have stopped making movies after the fourth one... citing the DARK and adult (not like that) tones of the fifth and sixth books.

It should be noted, then, that this movie has a much lighter tone than the book. While the reader follows the protagonist as he feels isolated and frustrated throughout the book... there isn't time, and there isn't a tone to the movie that allows the observer the same level of frustration and anger. The fifth book in the series is the longest (actually by far) in the series and, as such, the book has a LOT of plot to cram into the Hollywood friendly movie-time restrictions. The depth the book goes into is NOT there in this movie... but, perhaps for this book, that's a good thing.

This book includes a new character who wields a lot of power in the world of our heroes... and she is easily the character I hate the most in the entire series. She forces the hero to feel alone and frustrated at every turn--hiding her pure, malicious evil behind a false smile--and even tortures our hero at one point. There is no one in the book series who I would rather see die than her. Having said that, I actually really enjoy the performance by the actress who plays this character. She's, oddly enough, almost funny in the role. And, with that situation controlled in the movie, it's a lot easier for me to not be so angry and frustrated watching the movie as I was reading the book.

While not all of the special effects are finished yet (imagine a "wand battle" with two actors just holding sticks at each other... exciting? No. Hilarious? Yes), I can already tell that the final battle of the movie between the powers of good and evil should be cool.

Will I go see this movie again? You betcha! And I actually recommend it to all those haters who (like myself) would rather not read the fifth book in this series ever again. I might actually re-read the book so long as I can implant the actors into my mental picture as I'm reading along.

Yes, regardless, all the fans of this series should please go see this movie in July when it comes out. I don't think you'll be disappointed... particularly if you hated the book (like I kind of did), you'll be pleasantly surprised by the movie.

Friday, April 06, 2007

And You Wonder From Where I Get It...

I had to share this story. It seems as though Ferris State University, the great enabler of my college educational monies, just recently won the Rube Goldberg competition. For those of you who don't know (a group which included me just half an hour ago), Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist, who created and drew elaborate machines to perform very simple tasks. Still don't know what I'm talking about? Sure you do, if you've ever seen Tom and Jerry or the Roadrunner cartoons (not the bowling ball!). How about all those elaborate traps the gang on Scooby Doo created to catch the ghosts? More recently (relatively speaking), how about Doctor Emmit Brown's elaborate dog-feeding machines in the beginning of Back To The Future? Or how Wallace and Gromit usually start their days, complete with a slide that changes their clothes and drops them into the kitchen where breakfast is already made?

Regardless, there is an actual competition where Universities compete to create these kind of machines. The previous record was held by those engineering marvels at Purdue. Purdue's machine took an amazing record--215 different steps--to shred five sheets of paper. I, on the other hand, can name that tune in three notes.

If you thought a 215-step process was good, then prepare to be astounded by Ferris' orange juicing machine. This year's winning machine from Ferris State makes a glass of orange juice using a 345-step process!!! They added one hundred and thirty steps to the previous record in just one year! Incredibly inefficient! Congratulations, kids.

I'm sure if you asked my parents (or Ken's or Nate's or Jason's) they would say that this inefficient team was surely headed up by the school's Administration. Talk about inefficiency! (zing)