2009-11-29

Classless

I was going to write a huge post about Max Hall's post rivalry game comments. But my friends already have here and here. And I agree with them, so we'll leave it at that, except for one additional comment. In general, I think that many fans throughout Utah have a lot to learn about being classy, regardless of who they cheer for. If you don't believe me, ask one of our college athletes what the fans are like at any football school in the south or a basketball school in the east.

Still I reserve the right to go off on a diatribe about it means to be a good fan.

2009-11-06

Literally

It's a pet peeve when people misuse the word literally. It started when I misused it on a paper in junior high. Like most people, I had mixed it up with figuratively. I wrote something like, "He literally killed him," when I meant to say was that the character had the crap kicked out him (which is also a phrase that should probably never be accompanied by the word literally.)

Of course, there are some times when using the word correctly is far worse than using it incorrectly. It happened to me a few weeks ago on one of these Indian summer Saturdays we've been enjoying. I was outside picking up the apples all over my backyard and cursing the tree bombarding my lawn. As I worked along the back fence, near the grape vines and pear trees (yes, my yard is the produce section), the back neighbor was out here picking the grapes (which have seeds the size of small pebbles.) She saw me flinging these apples into the trash and asked, "Are you just throwing those away?" Why yes, I was just throwing them away. As a matter of fact, that spring I liberally doused the tree with a fruit inhibitor, hoping it would keep me from having to do the picking up in which I was currently engaged.

"Well, if you're just throwing them away, can we come pick them up?" I eyed the worm riddled specimen in my hands and replied, "I guess?". So, this middle-aged woman and her mother came over with a couple of boxes to get the rest off of the lawn. I didn't really feel right leaving them out there alone, and the accompanying three year old seemed a little mischievous, so I stayed outside and worked/supervised. This of course, lead to conversation. Turns out that this woman wasn't actually my neighbor as I had thought (don't judge me), but someone who had run into my neighbor and found out about the grapes. (What that conversation was like I can't imagine.) So, she was in the backyard to pick the grapes, because, as she put it, "My kids are anal retentive, literally."

Wait, what? Really? I shuddered. She went on to explain something about the juice being good for kids or whatever. Which is fine...but I definitely didn't need to know anything about anyone's bowel movements. Literally.

2009-11-05

Daylight Savings and the Human Rotisserie

When you live this far north, the end of daylight saving time means that the sun abruptly starts to go down at 5 pm. If you're like me and can't even open your eyes before 9:00 am, that means that you're awake for maybe 6 or 7 hours of naturally lit sky. And, unless you're also a vampire or WoW addict, it can be a struggle to maintain your sanity. So, I have a confession to make; I go tanning. Those few minutes of high intensity simulated sunlight really do a ton for my mood, and actually very little for my Robert Pattinson-esque winter pallor, so no one knows that I'm cheating on winter.

Tonight was my first visit since May or so, and I have to say that it was wonderful. A truly guilty pleasure. And I do feel guilty because I know full well the risk I'm taking by laying down in that big UV cancer taco. And yet right now, thousands and thousands of Americans are probably doing the same thing, like so many rotisserie chickens sweating under cellophane and heat lamps. I know that sounds gross, but UV radiation is really awesome at killing germs and the like, so tanning is actually pretty hygienic. Even so, you walk away with an unmistakable scent when you're done. I imagine it's half leftover tanning lotion, half sweat, and half dead skin cells sloughing off by the millions.

It's a habit that started when I was in college. Logan winters were brutal. My dr. suggested that some light tanning might help with some of the winter blues. The risk they, they say, is not so much in the tanning but in the burning. But to me, that's kind of like saying that it's not cigarettes that kill, it's TOO MANY cigarettes that kills. Still, it's a risk I'm willing to take to a little bit of e-sunshine.

2009-11-02

Sponge

I'm a sponge. No, not that nearly lifeless sea floor inhabitant (though there are similarities, I suppose), but a figurative sponge. I remember stuff. Tons of stuff. Stuff not really worth remembering. For example, today I read an article on the different types of electrical outlets around the world. And I know that some years from now, in some random conversation, I'm going to remember that it's only North America and Japan that use 110V-60Hz power. And people are going to look at me funny for knowing that.

It's my curse.

Of course, you're saying, it's really not that bad. In fact, it could probably be a talent. Well, I suppose you're right. But you see, I don't seem to have much control over what I remember. You'd think I'd never lose my keys or leave the milk out on the counter over night, but I do that kind of stuff all the time. There's no assurance that what I remember is going to be useful in anyway.

But the real problem is when I'm NOT supposed to remember stuff but I do anyway. It happened a month or two ago at a party. This girl walked past and I said, "Hi Abby!" She looked at me suspiciously and said, "How do you know my name?" At which point I had to explain that I wasn't, in fact, some sort of stalker, but that several years before we had lived in the same apartment complex in Logan. We only talked a handful of times back then, but for some reason, I remembered her name. What I didn't realize though, was that I wasn't supposed to remember her name. Instead, I should have pretended that she looked somewhat familiar, and asked if she went to Utah Sate then if she lived in the complex, and then me recognizing her wouldn't have been weird at all.

And the situation is totally exacerbated by Facebook and Twitter and blogs. Now people are posting all sorts of things online about themselves. And if I happen to read it, it may just stick in there, connect itself with other random facts, and tumble out of my mouth. So, I have to remember to filter what I remember. And I still can't find my keys.

2009-10-06

Soy un perdedor….

Actually, I’m not, but the company I work for is.  Well, sort of.  It’s not so much that we lost as that we didn’t win.  Is that the same thing as losing?

We were competing for a rather large contract; working double time for the last several months to try and convince a bunch of people that we don’t know with a bunch of money that isn’t theirs that we’re the right people for the job.  And well, we didn’t do that.

It happens all the time in my line of work.  The thing that’s interesting is how people react to the bad news.  Some took it really personally.  Others of us, like me, really didn’t care.  (Well, not too much.)

Sure, it’s hard not to rejection personally.  But it happens.  The thing is that it’s really not personal.  It just means it wasn’t a good fit.  Either that or they’re idiots.

Maybe there’s a lesson there?

In either case, it’s nice to not have to work late.  If rejection means getting more sleep, I’ll take it.

2009-08-27

Rick and Robbie

It was a brilliant mid-July morning when the shrill chime of the door bell woke me up. It was a Thursday, around 9:00 am. I should have been at work already, but the siren song of my king-sized and memory-foam topped bed had overpowered me. Any other day I probably would have ignored the bell, but even in my addled state I seemed to remember that I was expecting someone.

So, I drunkenly donned my bathrobe and stumbled down the stairs to the entryway. The frosted glass in the front door blazed in the morning sun as I opened it and stuck my head out. I squinted hard; my pupils narrowed in the blinding light, and the fuzzy image of a man standing on my porch slow came into focus.

He was six feet tall, skinny as a rail, and tan as a leather belt. A dingy wife beater hugged his wiry frame, and oversized coke bottle lenses enlarged each eye, the lenses joined along the top by a horizontal bar spanning the forehead that was popular in the 80’s. There was a slowly smoldering cigarette in his left hand hand, and as he reached up to take a drag, I noticed that he was missing his two front teeth.

And that’s when he said, “I’m Rick. I’m here to install your windows.” He then pointed over to another smoking companion underneath my crab apple tree. “An’ that’s Robbie. He’s helping me.”

2009-08-25

Domo Arigato

Right now, at this very moment, I am mopping the kitchen floor. You may wonder if I somehow cloned myself ala Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom, or if I am perhaps exercising some little known property of the Heisenberg uncertainty  principle.  But the only somewhat less exciting reality is that Steve is actually mopping the floor.

Who is Steve you ask?

This is Steve:

inv_scooba

Steve is a Scooba, and he’s awesome.  Fill him with cleaning fluid, put him in the middle of the kitchen, and in 15 minutes you have a sparkling kitchen floor.  Which is great, because I really hate mopping.

So now I have two floor cleaning robots.  I’d really like a lawn mowing one too, but Steve’s manufacturers have obviously thought through the implications of an autonomous robot wielding steel cutting blades more than I have.

2009-08-10

Helluva Time

In case you were wondering, it’s been a helluva summer.  Hawaii, LA, Portland, New York, and last week, San Antonio.  Fireworks, dutch oven, smoked ribs, Rick the toothless window installer, ladders in the freeway, church vomit, the list goes on and on.

Those are the things you have to look forward to.

Are you ready?

2009-08-02

Ode to the Recirculate Air Button

Dear Recirculation Air Button,

Once the the car has been infiltrated by odors unknown, one must decide to press thee.  To press ensures recirculation of such fetid smells, to not press risks inundation by odors far worse.

I hate thee.

reardefog2000

2009-07-16

Death to engagement photos...

I don't know if Mormons realize this, but the engagement photo, like the word "fetch" is pretty much an invention of our subculture. And the reality is that nearly EVERY (yes almost every) engagement photo is horrible. The funny thing is that everyone thinks that they are are the exception to the rule, and that the two-headed/face sucking pictures of them will be wonderful.

Stop it. Now.

If you don't believe me, take it from a Mormon female with considerably more blog fame than me:

How not to pose in your engagement
.

As for me, I've decided that my 500 bucks spent in engagement photos would be better appreciate by mailing out coupons for free ice cream.

2009-07-01

The People in Your Neighborhood

It's taken some time to accept that I live in a very less than normal neighborhood. I realize that every street has it's share of crazies, but I think we may have exceeded our quota.

It started with these two:

1brothers According to them, every person in the neighborhood was a character out of a TV show or movie. So, I thought I'd immortalize them as the same. They moved out about a month ago, and I terribly miss their chicanery and debauchery. However, the pain has been assuaged by the arrive of a new roommate:

2warbucks 2willis

He brought with him a Love-Sac, dome-wax, an extensive movie collection, and a love for my vacuuming robot, so I think we will get along quite well.

Below is the back neighbor. From my 2nd story deck, which I love, I can see the entirety of his backyard, which I do not love. Early last fall, two huge mounds of dirt appeared in the backyard. Either he was channeling is his inner Richard Dreyfus or building a miniature moto-cross track. He assured me that the dirt would soon be gone; he was putting in a new lawn. He was true to his word, but the mound of dirt was hiding some sort of portable hot tub, which, along with it's occupants, is now plainly visible from my deck. I think I want the dirt back.

3dirtmound 3hottub

Then there's Dr. Spaceman. He lives kitty corner from my house, and has produced a brood of a half dozen red-haired and freckled spawn that looks nothing like him whatsoever. They play basketball ALL the time, though they are built like offensive linemen.

4drspaceman 4gingerkids

Next door we have the martial art hicks. One Sunday, I came home from church to find two of my neighbors shirtless in the backyard, throwing spears into targets jumbled together from boxes and styrofoam, all the while yelling at the dogs to stay out of the way. Then, two weeks later, there were more shirtless martial artists in the backyard, this time doing some of stick-wielding synchronized Tai Chi, with lots of extra grunting.

5karate

The coupe de grace, however, is the new kids across the street. Two bespectacled pre-teens brothers that bear an unfortunate resemblance to Christopher Mintz-Platz. One day after work, I walked across the street to get the mail, and they were in the driveway jumping around and saying things like, "My dragon launches fire!" and "I activate the ever-shield!". And then there was some writhing around on the ground when one of them was defeated by the other. Apparently they didn't notice me walk up, because once I reached the mailbox, they stopped and stared at me, standing very still, and didn't resume until I had retreated to my own driveway. (Warning to you naturalists, the nerd startles easily.)

6nerds

So, there you have it. Just wait until I tell you about the characters in the local ward.

2009-05-25

Aloha

I am 1500 miles into a 3000 mile journey, at 35,000 feet somewhere over the inky blackness of the Pacific. There’s a baby crying a few rows ahead, which I can clearly hear through my less than capable noise canceling headphones. I’m tempted to offer it a xanax, but I have no idea how to how to dose psychoactive medications for toddlers.

I’m also in a race against time…the ├╝ber laptop I am using for this composition destroys batteries as quickly as this flight is draining my will. A five hour delay will do that to you.

I’ll spare you the cattle analogies, but at 5:00 PM, 250 of us found ourselves in herded onto 767 at LAX waiting to take off. The airplane never moved. Instead, a platoon of mechanics started to disassemble the right engine. Nothing too serious, we were told, just a diagnostic failure. Still, parts of your aircraft on the tarmac is, at best, disconcerting. The flight crew was not unsympathetic, but not terribly informed. They did their best to keep the masses appeased while coming up with various ways of explaining that the thing is broken and they don’t know when it might be fixed. Here’s the timeline:
  • 5:30 pm. on the ground beverage service: 12 oz plastic cup with far too much of that magic hollow ice and not enough ginger-ale. The irony of participating in this ritual while buckled into a multi-million dollar stationary object is not lost on me.
  • 6:00 pm: free movies on the seat back cinema. We are informed that they have identified the broken doodad, but it doesn’t actually appear to be broken, and they don’t know why it keeps saying that it’s broken. Apparently it looks fine to them.
  • 6:30 pm: they let us off the plane. Are they admitting defeat? Doo-dad is still reporting broken. They’re going to be turning the power off and on in the aircraft; this is strangely reminiscent of me rebooting my computer when it stops behaving. So if you want to watch the first 5 minutes of Yes Man over and over, you’re welcome to stay aboard.
  • 7:00 pm: food vouchers for dinner. Want to know what you can get in the LAX terminal for 7 bucks? I got an ice cream cone. A lot of other people got drunk-ish. My traveling companion bought his food BEFORE the vouchers were offered. Delta seems unconcerned about his seven dollars.
  • 7:30 pm: they do finally admit defeat, and report that we’re changing planes. Everyone that’s left on the plane exits, bringing their luggage, while those of us without our luggage wait to get back on. When everyone is off, we line up in shifts to go into the empty airplane and get our stuff. This is at least 20 times slower than the initial boarding process.
  • 8:00 pm: stuff retrieved, new gate located. We realize that we are now going to arrive in Hawaii at midnight or later. Rental car places closes at 1:00 AM. Disaster looms. There is a large woman seated across from us who whips out her book of Sudoku and stares at it with a ferocity that might set it aflame. She is slightly cross-eyed. It’s all we can do to not laugh.
  • 8:30 pm: located seat near new gate with the all important wall outlet. I plug in the laptop, and promptly fill every USB port to charge our techno junk. One blackberry, one cell phone, one iPod, all sprawled out in the terminal, while I yearn for an open WiFi hotspot.
  • 9:00 pm: our plane lands. A flotilla of empty wheelchairs arrives at the gate. Disembarking passengers seem slightly confused as to why they’re being hustled off the plane. (Again, cattle metaphor omitted.)
  • 9:30 pm: we board the plane, looking at our watches and finding it rather difficult to compensate for flight time and time zones in our calculations. Are we going to arrive at 3? Or is it 11? Apparently we need to repeat 2nd grade. The pilot reports our landing time as right at 1, so it looks like we’ll make it. This is an odd sensation – worrying that the plane leave on time rather than hoping that it leaves late so that I'm on it.
  • 9:50 pm: Plane leaves LAX. Passengers clap and cheer. A little over dramatic, really. It's not like we cured cancer or anything.
  • 1:00 am: The rental car shuttle picks us up. A huge Hawaiian rumbles to the door. He kindly shakes his head and says, “You know, normally we close at 1:00.” He repeats this at least twice more before dropping us off at the rental counter.
Welcome to Hawaii.

2009-04-24

Everything is better with bluetooth...





Seriously, it's true. Everything is better with bluetooth. Sure, you may look insane when using it in public, but we're one step closer to real life Star Trek, right? Okay, so I'm teasing, but I really do love bluetooth, and most technology in general. Well, not so much technology as gadgets. If you don't believe me, you should see the list of junk I've bought from Woot.

That's why, three weeks ago, a Woot really caught my attention. It's something I've wanted for some time, but never could really justify. Something that seemed to be the perfectly blend of geek and utility, something that would simultaneously impress the ladies and win adulation from my peers, the iRobot Roomba.

No, it has nothing to do with the Will Smith movie -- the Roomba is a vacuum cleaning robot, about the size of manhole cover. He's extremely intelligent, as far as vacuum cleaners go. Push one button, and he goes to work, driving around the floor, sucking up all sorts of junk. When he comes to a wall, he slows down until he touches it, and then turns and heads off in a different direction. He remembers where he has been, has sensors to keep him from falling down stairs, and an electronic eye so that he can find his charging station when he's all done. And yes, it's a "he". (A vacuum robot doesn't have to be a girl, you sexist.)

With the purchase of a roomba, my nerd cachet has nearly doubled. The day he arrived, the guys in the office insisted we unpack him, and then we watched in awe for nearly a half hour as he motored around an empty office. You could see our nerd pride swell: this is the epitome of American engineering, to design a robot to perform what is probably the simplest of household chores. Watching him zig zag around the carpet made me think about all the hours that were spent writing algorithms and figuring out navigation based on infrared beams. It's enough to make a grown nerd cry.

Maybe you think I'm crazy, but I'm far from the only one that has fallen in love with the Roomba. He's clearly entrenched himself into popular culture:






Of course, there is one really ironic thing about the Roomba. No bluetooth. But I'm sure they're working on it.

2009-04-22

A Soggy Nation

I'm in DC again for the 5th or 6th time. This trip, I was optimistic about being able to catch a glimpse of the cherry blossoms around the mall, which is probably the only touristy thing that I've wanted to do but been unable to enjoy in my previous trips here. It's a little harder than it sounds because there is a two week window of fragrant white, pink, and purple blossoms framing white marble monuments, and the exact time changes every year.

This year I'm about a week too late. Though some trees are still blooming, and they are magnificent, this week so far has been much more soggy than blossomy. Being from the desert, I'm not sure we appreciate real rain like they have out here. It's like God throwing little watery javelins at you. Fortunately I was ensconced within my POS rental PT Cruiser, which, despite many flaws, did prove capable of keeping out the rain.

Driving around the soggy capitol, I made a few observations:

  • It seems like everyone runs here. At every intersection, along with a bunch of people in suits, is at least one or two people jogging in place like they're auditioning for Jazzercise.
  • It also seems like everyone has a dog, too, and some people try to run with them. This includes this very small Asian gentleman and his 3 month old black lab pup. At first, all I saw was a man's head jerking violently every few steps behind the row of parked cars. Then I saw the dog on the leash. Good luck dude, that dog is going to weigh more than you in about 3 months and then he'll be walking you.
  • Few things are more miserable looking than a group of wet tourists. Unlike me, they paid their own money to traipse around the national mall in the rain. They are also probably more than a little miffed by having to wear a 2 dollar gift-shop poncho. Can we say "not flattering?" At least it keeps them fresh, like meat under cellophane.

2009-04-15

Politics Shmolitics...

I hate talking about politics sometimes because that topic seems, too often, to immediately descend into vitriol and tired party lines. If there's anything that's wrong with politics today, it is our intolerance for differing opinions. Punditry has so largely displaced discourse that the moderate voices no longer have place. Ideas are not judged on merit, but mocked or lauded by party leanings. This is why I begrudgingly write about politics at all, because I can handle the partisanship.

It is this hesitance that motivates me, because I realize that if I am weary of the political process, there must be countless other thoughtful voices that are also stifled. If we collectively remain silent, then the quiet moderate majority will constantly be held hostage by the political pendulum. With this in mind, I have some thoughts on current economic situation we face in the US.

So, sure, deficit spending didn't cause our current problems, or de-regulation of the financial markets, or the Fed keeping interest rates too low to avoid inflation, or sub-prime lending destroyed by the housing bubble, or an ill-timed and expensive conflict in Iraq, or a ballooning national debt, but surely it's some combination of all of them... which was in turn caused by some combination of Presidential administrations, Congresses, and greedy/stupid people.

While preventing any one of those problems might have mitigated our current situation, that doesn't change the fact that we're here now. Everyone is looking for the straw that broke the economy's back to assess blame, but there isn't one. I happen to think that GWB's admin has perhaps a majority of straws, but Congress and previous admins have their share, too. In the end, we have to assess each problem individually and find the best solution.


The big news right now, is, of course, President Obama's new 3.6 trillion dollar budget for 2009-2010. Yes, it is huge, and yes, numbers of that size frighten me. But then again, I'm not so sure it is as egregious as we might think.

The thing to remember about debt is that it is not bad in itself. While it is generally to be avoided, there are times when taking on debt allow us to invest in things that pay long term dividends. Home ownership and college education are two classic examples. I think national debt should be viewed in the same way. When we agree to take on debt, we have to consider where we are investing those dollars. Is out debt going to pay out long term dividends that exceed the long term costs?

So, what's the purpose of this new debt we're taking on? From what I understand, it appears to be more focused on infrastructure, energy, and health care. To me, these seem like no-lose investments. Frequently, this country has gone into debt primarily for the national defense. Unfortunately, this is less of an investment than it is an expense. Certainly we reap the benefits of a strong national defense, but the expended money seems to have little long term effect on the economy. The one notable exception to this, I think, is the success of the GI bill in growing post WWII America. That massive investment in American education largely created the modern middle class.

Back to current times, I would prefer that my tax dollars not be used for stimulus spending, but my point is that IF there is going to be stimulus spending, I want that spending to be in areas that will have tangible results after the money is gone: a new road, or new rails, or more scientists, or better pre-emptive health care to reduce costs later, etc.

If we look back to the last huge stimulus package, the New Deal, I will agree that a lot of FDR programs did not help the situation in the immediate term (poor monetary policy and counter productive price controls are two that come to mind) but the effects of the other programs can still be seen all around us: rural communities gained electricity or irrigation systems and I was educated in buildings that were constructed by the WPA some 75 years ago. Sure, it's not ideal, but if there's going to be spending, I think it should be spent in a similar way.

Mostly, I'm tired of the knee-jerk reaction to everything President Obama does, whether its pirates, budgets, or bailouts. Such vitriolic responses do little but make the conservatives seem increasingly out of touch. Though they may not be the party in power right now, the conservatives can still have a powerful voice in shaping how President Obama's agenda is implemented, and I hope they don't throw away that chance.

2009-04-05

Newton's 1st

I've always liked math. There are few greater evidences to the underlying order of the universe than the fact that so much of it can be eloquently explained by mathematics. It's too bad that everyone questions the applicability of their math classes. Math is problem solving. Life is also problem solving; adjusting for variables, determining relationships, solving for unknowns.

Subconsciously, we do really complex math all the time without even thinking about it. Even the simplest motion requires the calculation of inertia, accelerations, centers of mass. A quarterback heaving a football 30 yards to a receiver on a fade route is solving the equivalent of a physics final in a matter of a split second.

Sometimes, though, we get the math wrong. Sometimes the equations have too many unknowns, and we have to guess... Snowboarding last week as an example. I was enjoying a wonderful spring ski day. The sun was out, but the snow still had good feel. Halfway down the run, we happened upon a middle aged couple skiing somewhat slowly down the trail. She was following in his tracks, about 5 seconds behind, such that when one was on the right side of the trail, the other was on the left, a lot like two particles on a sine wave.

And thus begins the math. Visibility good? Check. Pass her or him? Him, he looks more predictable. Where to pass? My friend is to my left, I should go right. When to pass? About 3pi/2, where he's at a local minimum and turning to his left. Slope grade sufficient to gain passing speed? Check. Go to pass? Check.

Well, he didn't turn left. I realize all too late that this was more of statistical quantum mechanics problem than a classical mechanics one. As we collide, Newton's first law takes over. For a second we're just a mass of limbs and equipment, and then I'm cartwheeling down the mountain. (I've actually found cartwheeling to be a pretty good way to avoid injury and makes the crash a little more entertaining for the spectators.)

He comes to rest about 10 feet above me, fit to be tied, but physically unharmed. In a situation like this, when your math skills have failed you, you tend to feel pretty sheepish. The tongue lashing was unnecessary, but not undeserved. I was a little surprised neither of them seemed to care if I was okay, but I'll get over it. What I can't get over, though, was slow-skier's wife accusing me of not paying attention. Though guilty of many things, not paying attention was not one them. My math was just off.

But that's the thing about real life math. You can't account for all of the variables. And if you did wait until the equation was completely solvable, the moment would surely pass. That's the hardest math of all, making a decision despite the unknowns. Even though it doesn't turn out the way you expected, that doesn't necessarily make it a bad decision. Next time I'll have to show my work so I can get partial credit.

2009-03-25

Phone Impairment


I hate the phone. I hate how it rings and startles you when you're doing something important. I hate waiting for people to call back. I hate it when people call incessantly. I hate that my phone makes more noises than R2D2 on crack. I hate it when people leave a message that says, "Call me back." I hate how your ear gets all warm and sweaty after you've had the phone up to your ear for 20 minutes. I hate paying 45 dollars a month so that I can reached and tortured by any one, any time. I hate worrying about the brain cancer it may be causing. I hate that my mother can hear me rolling my eyes on the other end of the line. Did I mention I hate the phone?

Why do I hate the phone? Because I am phone impaired. Perhaps not Homer Simpson impaired, but impaired nonetheless. My calls are punctuated by awkward silences. On work telecons (which combine TWO awful things: phones and work), I'm always talking at the same time someone as someone else such that we probably sound like geese at the reservoir. I know that the valediction should probably depend on who I'm talking to, but everyone gets the standard, "So, uh, yeah ... talk to you later", even if it's a telemarketer from India.

As far as I'm concerned, the phone is a means to an end. Get in, get out, get on with your life. You have a question, you make the call, you get it answered, you get off the phone. I think I learned this from my dad. You can always tell when he's done talking. They best is when he tells you point blank: "Well, I'm out of words." Yep, I'm out of words, so don't judge me.

2009-03-22

The hiearchy of Sandwiches

Growing up, I think I ate a sandwich nearly every day. Peanut butter and honey was a staple, as was peanut butter and mom's strawberry freezer jam. Tuna fish was rarely acceptable because it didn't age well in your backpack from 8 am until noon (fish + mayo + lettuce + room temperature = soggy and smelly).

The real travesty, though, was the cold cut sandwich. I'm not sure how it happened, but I never learned how to make a proper sandwich using sliced meats. For starters, we used margarine instead (no mayo) and "kinda" cheese (Kraft singles, which are only "kinda" cheese). Forget any lettuce, tomatoes, or mustard. It was just 3 or four slices of pressed chicken product between two slices of white bread. And, to be honest, I liked it! Sometimes I'll still make one when I'm feeling nostalgic. But this is not the kind of sandwich that will win adulation and affection.

Fortunately, I discovered the real sandwich when I started working. It was then that I realized that I don't tolerate fast food anymore. I have a once per month quota on anything from McDonald's, Burger King, Arby's, Taco Bell, etc. (Well, that's not true, I could probably eat Five Guys several times a week, but that's another post entirely.) What, then, is a hungry young professional to do?

Become a sandwich snob, that's what. If you go easy on the milk based condiments, its damn hard to make a sandwich unhealthy. I used to eat at Subway 3 or 4 times a week. At least. Grilled chicken breast on wheat with spinach, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, vinegar and oil. Awesome, totally non lethal, and 5 bucks. Life was blissful.

And then I ate at the Subway Shop in San Diego. You've probably never heard of it, probably will never go, either. But, they make the best sandwich ever. Hot pastrami on 2 inch thick marbled rye with provolone and mild peppers. This is when I realized that Subway was really no better than the cold cut and margarine sandwich.

Since the Subway Shop, I've been on a quest for the perfect lunch sandwich. It must be inexpensive, tasty, easy to pick up (in both ways), and not so full of triglycerides that my Dr. can buy a new pool based on my future medical bills. And I think I found it at Jimmy John's:
  • Tasty: French bread that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Bread is the KEY to a good sandwich. A JJ sub, filled with toppings together well enough that you can eat it while driving on the freeway with a manual transmission. Not that you should... They also have something that a lot of places are missing -- the avocado!
  • Inexpensive. Less than 5 bucks for most sandwiches. To be fair, the sandwich is 4 inches shorter than at subway, but what sense does it make to measure food by the inch?
  • Easy to pick up. Online ordering people! ONLINE ORDERING. Get on the web and you can tell them EXACTLY how you want your sandwich. No line, no sandwich artist with a tenuous grasp of the English language, and then you walk in and and walk out. With online ordering, you don't need a drive through.
  • Healthy. Sure enough. They advertise 4 sandwiches with less than 5 grams of fat. I would guess that most don't have much more. As always, you've got to avoid the mayo for that to work. Not a problem for me, because the bread isn't sandpaper-ish.
Well sheesh. This turned into a stupid advertisement. Lame. Sorry about that, but I really do like a good lunch sandwich. If you're like me, and you want to grab a quick lunch you can eat in the office, where do you go?

2009-03-06

Constantine's Sword

Sometimes, despite my better judgment, I abandon the usual episodes of 30 Rock and The Office for something more cerebral. This time, it happened by total accident. I downloaded a movie called Constantine's Sword, thinking it was some sort of sequel to the the guilty pleasure movie Constantine. (Yes, the lame one with Keanu Reeves ... don't judge me...)

What I got instead was this semi-documentary exploring the violent origins of Christianity in modern western civilization and the intolerance. Immediately, I was intrigued; violence and intolerance are not attributes that I associate at all with Christ or His believers in any age. Certainly, I was familiar with the mixed role the Catholic church (the source of Christianity at that time) played in Europe throughout the middle ages, but I always assumed those trespasses to be part of some malignancy introduced by corrupting and later was excised by the renaissance, the reformation, and the enlightenment. Constantine's Sword however, shines a much brighter light on the history, makes some very interesting and disturbing observations about where modern Christianity comes from, the dark symbolism of the cross, the actual role of Jerusalem's Jews in the crucifixion, the growth of antisemitism, and the as the subsequent role (or lack thereof) of the church in inquisitions, crusades, wars, hateful evangelism and even the Holocaust.

I hope it doesn't seem as though I accept everything in the film as historical fact, because I do know that the the film shows only one perspective and takes liberties in compressing 2000 years of history into two hours. That said, the film makes a genuine inquiry into some of modern Christanity's flaws, which have suprisingly ancient roots.

For me, personally, the lessons from the film revolve around two of the two great balances of Christianity in the United States: how do we balance church and state when the majority is Christian, and how do we balance evangelism and a desire to prosylite with religious tolerance? Difficult questions indeed. We'd like to believe that we are philosophically light years away from the church that went on crusades or told Jews to convert or die, but we must acknowledge that these wrongs are in our past and avoid any modern day incarnations.

2009-02-20

Ward Ski Night

Being a single Mormon in Utah has its share of peculiarities above and beyond the general oddities of LDS life. Take, as example, the church sponsored and oddly named activities in which we are expected to participate. Activities such as "linger longer", "ward prayer", and "etiquette dinners" are cleverly engineered to get us together so that we can merrily and married-ly copulate and torture a new generation of young Mormons with unrealistic expectations.

Tonight, my ward is engaging in just such activity; the ward ski night. And I, suffering from a minor cold and severe writers' itch, am here to mock it. Like so many church activities, ward ski night seems full of promise but is in fact fraught with peril. We live in Utah, home to the greatest snow on earth, and so it seems serendipitous that we are able to gather at a local ski resort one or two nights each winter with our ward-mates. Surely this is the perfect recipe for the Mormon marriage martini: one measure ward boys, one measure ward girls, shaken well with food, physical activity, and a "For the Beauty of the Earth" moment in all of nature's frozen splendor.

With that combination, surely the engagements will start sprouting up. But after years of Ward Ski Nights, this is the reality:
  • Many people don't know how to ski, even in a place like Utah. While this travesty warrants another separate post, it also has the odd side effect of making it so that very few people actual ski at Ward Ski Night. It all comes down to this: if you give a skier a choice between skiing on a bitterly cold night or watching non-skiers learning to ski, they will probably opt for watching the non-skiers learn to ski -- not surprisingly, watching beginners fumble about on 6 foot planks is far more entertaining that skiing in the cold dark.
  • Night skiing is cold. Seriously people, IT'S COLD. Right now it's 6 degrees on the mountain. (I am not making that up.) And guess what? Girls don't like cold generally. They especially don't like the snotty noses and the freeze dried mascara tears that result from such tundra like temperatures. And, on the male side, night skiing requires cold weather foods like chili, stew and sloppy joe's, which may be among the pantheon of Mormon and Scout Camp foods, but they certainly raise intestinal issues in mixed company, particularly if the resort area is location up some winding canyon road.
  • Finally, Skiing isn't really much of a couple's activity. It's at least as mutually torturous as it is mutually edifying. Sure, there may be moments of cuddling on the lift (depending on sloppy joe consumption), but what about the ride down? Odds are that one person will be much better than the other person, so the slow person worries about slowing down the fast person, while the fast person doesn't want to seem insensitive by going too fast. Or, alternatively the beginner silently curses the intermediate for depositing them on the top of K2 with the admonition, "It's not that bad...", while the intermediate mentally screams, "What is SO HARD about the the making a pizza/french fry?" Don't believe me? Two weeks ago, I was riding a lift at the Canyons with an older gentleman and his recently engaged son. They were talking about the mechanics of skiing as a married couple, when the father wisely counseled, "When you're married, you can't just tell her to meet you at the lodge at 4:30. That'll get you in trouble. That's also why the happiest day of my life was when your mother decided she didn't want to ski anymore."
So, I tip my glass for another Ward Ski Night and bid it farewell till next year. I can't wait for the Ward Etiquette Ski Linger Longer Auction.

2009-02-08

Land of Curmudgeons


My grandpa is in Rehab. No, not that kind of rehab. A few weeks ago, he got sick and went into the hospital where they discovered an infection in his left artificial knee. (How does a fake knee get infected?) They operated to clean it up, and now he's in a facility to get his leg strength back so he can get back home. Visiting him in rehab has been a real experience.

On my first visit to the curmudgeon compound, I managed to get myself lost and inadvertently toured most of the facility. I'll be honest, it seemed so wonderful that I thought I wouldn't mind living there myself. There's no shortage of people to talk to, they don't seem to care how loud your TV is, and the week is filled with activities like "Sit and Dance with Carol", "Valentine Craft Hour", and regular viewings of Lawrence Welk. Afternoon naps are encouraged. They also have tons of animals; cats, dogs, birds, and rumor has it, an adolescent kangaroo. So, basically, it's half kindergarten and half petting zoo. You can tell that everyone is comfortable with a certain level of chaos.

Adding to the fun is the fact that many residents have varying levels cognitive function and hearing loss while much of the care staff speaks some form of accented English. Hilarity often ensures, as happened today with my grandpa's roommate Earl. The caregiver brings into Grandpa's room halfway through our visit.

She says to Earl: "Dis es your hroom."
Earl: "Eh?"
Caregiver explains: "You whas en de hwrong hroom."
Earl repeats: "Whas???"
Caregiver repeats with emphasis: "You WHAS en de hwrong HROOM."

At this point, it's all I can do to not laugh. I'm not sure what caused the breakdown in communication: Earl's hearing, the sweet caregiver's accent, or that he is very concerned about proper subject-verb agreement.

I also think that there may be an ulterior motive with all the animals wandering about. Shortly after lunch in Grandpa's room, in wandered an enormous bloodhound. (I'll be honest, I love dogs, so I thought this was awesome.) He adroitly sniffed about the room, let us pet him, and proceeded locate and lick up every crumb on the floor. I'm seeing some serious savings in the custodial budget if you had enough bloodhounds.

Even though the facility is very well kept and the staff is awesome, it's hard to visit because Grandpa doesn't really fit in. Mentally, he's years ahead of his "fellow inmates." (His description.) Inmates is also a pretty apt description, because they've got that place locked down tight. I've seen important government buildings with weaker security. Doors with electronic keypads are scattered about the place, both to keep the old people safely inside and to keep the surly old people away from the well behaved ones. It wouldn't surprise me too much if they had riot gear in case "Sit and Dance" gets out of control.

Adding to the prison feel is the fact that Grandpa has only been there a few days and doesn't have much in the way of room decoration. I joked that I should get him a wall poster, like Andy Dufrense did in Shawshank Redemption. Grandpa has always had a wry sense of humor and appreciated the irony. Of course, maybe that explains why Shawshank is Grandpa's favorite movie; just like Andy, he's been wrongly imprisioned, not for a crime, but by an aging body.

I wonder if grandma would be upset if I got grandpa a poster of Rita Heyworth?



2009-01-15

Hecho en Mexico

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they shop. This evening, I was rushing through Costco, trying to get all the requisite items before they closed. For some reason, this is hard for me in Costco. Stick me in a Wal-mart or Target, and by the time I leave, I usually have a headache. But let me wander aimlessly through aisles of merchandise basking on pallets under warehouse light, and I feel completely at ease, and I seriously consider buying things that I wouldn't normally.

Take tonight as an example. Even though I was in a serious hurry, I stopped for several minutes in front of the Mexican Coke. You know, the stuff made from cane sugar instead of that miscarriage of culinary science that is high fructose corn syrup. And, if that wasn't enough, it comes in GLASS BOTTLES. And not just glass bottles, but glass bottles with REAL CAPS, not the twist off kind.

Immediately, I have foggy memories of drinking an soda out of a similar bottle at a barber shop as a child. I remember my dad taking me to get my hair cut on a summer Saturday and marveling over what was probably one of the last bottled soda machines in existence. Totally mechanical. Two quarters in, turn the knob, and out rolls an ice cold bottle of hyperactivity. And to be completely honest, I don't if that's a real memory or several different ones spliced together with perhaps a little bit of the American collective unconscious. Regardless, the pallet of Mexican coke is really a mountain of bottled nostalgia.

And that explains why I'm drinking a Coke at midnight.

2009-01-01

The Anti-Holiday

I'm pretty ambivalent about New Year's. For a holiday with so much promise, it ends up being awfully anti-climatic. You gather people together, you play games, you eat unhealthy food, and then at midnight you watch a ball drop while Carson Daly freezes to death and inebriated couples kiss awkwardly on national television. If you're lucky, you might have someone to smooch with, or be drunk enough not to care, but if you're a single Mormon, it's more likely that you'll have your annual glass of sparkling cider, mumble some words of Auld Lang Syne, and then switch back to the Wii to finish a song on Guitar Hero.

Basically, New Year's Eve is like much any other party evening, except you make a bunch of noise at midnight and drink carbonated apple juice even though you'd really prefer a less pretentious soft drink. In general, I think it's safe to say that the best New Year's Eve you've ever celebrated wasn't that much better than the worst New Year's Eve you've ever celebrated.

I'm not sure why this is. Maybe it's because of how we celebrate New Years as children ... anxiously waiting until the age when we're old enough to stay up with the adults until 12:01, only to become teenagers with bedtimes routinely later than that so that the idea of a party that climaxes at midnight seems ludicrous. Or maybe it's because we put so much pressure on the New Years kiss, hoping to not be single on the 31st and that you make it count.


New Year's ball, or harbinger of party awkwardness?

For me, though, I think my disenchantment with New Years has a lot to do with resolutions. Instead of celebrating and being excited that we have a whole new year to look forward to, we muck it up with a list of things that we want to change or need to be better at. This isn't a bad thing in itself, but it means that you have to look back at the past year and honestly evaluate your life. And seriously, how does that level of personal introspection get anyone into a party mood?? I know I can't think of anything that makes me happier than ticking off a list of all the personal faults I'd like to correct in the next year ... which are often faults that rolled over from the previous year.

When we were kids, our New Year's tradition (along with the Martinelli's and almond slivered cheese ball) was to write down resolutions for the next year on a piece of paper and then share them with the family. Those were simpler times, and I think my list primarily consisted of things like "get over 200 lines on Tetris", "stop hitting my sister so much", and the obligatory goals related to adequate school performance. And then, for some reason that made sense to us all at the time, we would seal our goals up in an envelope, to be left undisturbed until the next year

Needless to say, the "time capsule" method of goal making is probably not recommended by self help gurus, but it was always interesting to open up last year's goals. More often than not, you realized that: 1) you totally forgot about a goal because it was totally unimportant, or 2) you knocked the goal out of the park, but it didn't really matter because you had moved on in life. Of course, there were those rare instances where you wrote something down and genuinely thought, "ouch, I could have done better with that."

In hindsight, I wonder if unconsciously we new what we were doing in writing down our goals and squirreling them away. That way, they didn't pester us in the new year, and we were free to make the best of whatever life had to offer. We wasted very little guilt on the things we hadn't done, and left everything to look forward to. That in itself is something certainly worth celebrating. Regardless of what we been through, we get a new year: a new chance to live, to be together, discover ourselves, and shape the future.

Now I've just got to find a place to hide my envelope...