Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Eclipse of the Moon

Since I was a kid I have had somewhat of a passing interest in astronomy, and even though I don't look up at the night skies nearly as often as I ought to, I still enjoy watching celestial events when I think to do so.  My brother Andy and I used to have cheesy cardboard star maps when we were kids, and haplessly hold them high as we struggled to identify various constellations that managed to poke through the lights of Lincoln:  Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Orion...were fascinated at the big balls of gas burning brightly so far away even if we could barely distinguish one star (or planet) from the next.  It was fun, though, and one of the nice things about living in a small town now is that there's a whole lot more stars visible at night than when we lived in Minneapolis, and even if I couldn't for the life of me explain which planet is which or how to find the north star without some sort of sky map, I still enjoy casting an upward gaze in the wee hours.

And so last night I set my alarm for 2:30am in order to get up to see the lunar eclipse, even though I had heard reports that it might be too cloudy to see much.  This one was to be kind of noteworthy because it took place on the winter solstice, a confluence of events that has not happened in nearly 400 years.  Did that make either event any more noteworthy?  No, not really.  But it was a good excuse to drag myself out of bed and go snap some photos.  I snapped a couple 15-second exposures from our driveway near the edge of town, and then drove a couple miles east and set up the ol' tripod in order to get some better pics.  Our trusty point-n-shoot camera (with a humble 3x optical zoom) was ill suited to capture the magnificence of the event, but all in all the photos turned out rather well considering the circumstances.  I ended up with about 15 and only posted a couple here, and you can click each one for a full resolution version.

The belt of Orion is visible
on the lower-left corner of the picture.
(No magnification in this photo.)


Zoomed in as far as our little camera would go! :)
Just for funsies, a long-exposure shot of the horizon.
(it's a porch light, not the moon, btw)
I was probably out there for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, and by the time I got back home around 3am the shadow of our planet was creeping slowly away from the rim of the moon, making way for the full white brilliance to become visible once again.  I was a bit tired at work this morning, but I think it was worth it.  (If you're interested in some really cool pics, National Geographic has some excellent shots.)

Looking up at the sky, even for just a minute, is a really cool way to experience the wonder of the Lord's creation.  Even on a regular night you're liable to see some cool sights, and maybe even catch a glimpse of a meteorite, aurora, or just a cool-looking constellation too.  Even if you have no idea what it is you are actually looking at.  :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Music in the Aire

One of the things I enjoy most about this time of year is the music.  It might sound a tad silly, but I just can't get enough of Christmas music.  I have four Pandora stations soothing my ears with various Christmas tunes all day at work, and there's a great Christmas broadcast over the FM airwaves when we're driving too.  I dig the classics, the hymns, the modern rock stuff (Gary Hoey does an amazing rendition of "Linus and Lucy"), and especially the carols.  Even though we can get these tunes any day of the year, there's something special about combining Christmas music with the palpable anticipation of the celebration of Jesus' birth.  Anyone can raid the pantry for a spoonful of sugar, but combining sugar with chocolate chips, flour, eggs, and butter makes for an entirely new creation far greater than the individual parts.  And so it is with the music of the season--it's best enjoyed with decorations in the home and neighborhood, presents under a tree, and Salvation Army bell ringers at the stores.  Besides, reserving "The First Noel," "Joy to the World," O Night Divine," "Silent Night," "What Child is This," and dozens of others for this one time of year just makes them a little more meaningful.

On Sunday my wife and I went to a Christmas music celebration put on by First Baptist Church right near downtown, and even though we have been to a fair number of choral performances, this one was really special. A massive assembly of choir singers from congregations around the city, augmented by an orchestra, sang Christmas songs and hymns proclaiming the birth of our Lord and Savior long into the night.  We sat in the balcony and had an excellent view of the proceedings, which included Bible readings between each song to give a context for how many classic carols fit into the Christmas story and, ultimately, the Lord's plan of salvation for all mankind.  From time to time the audience was asked to join in, and hearing the voices and music soar far beyond the old wooden church rafters was a pretty incredible experience.  Afterwards we met up with one of my wife's colleagues who was singing in the choir and it was cool to talk about the rehearsals and the final performance.  Even though there's no snow on the ground here in Oklahoma, it's stuff like this that helps make the Christmas season seem all the more real.

On a completely unrelated note, this is a picture I took last week as the sun was coming up right before I left for work.  I brought our little Canon point-n-shoot out into the backyard and attempted to catch the majesty of the sun beginning its daily ascent as its beams shot through the morning mists and frosty air.  The picture doesn't exactly do the scene justice, but it's better than nothing.  You can click it for a larger version, but really, you kind of had to be there.  :)

Minnesota residents: note the lack of snow.
Any time you want to come down,
Oklahoma welcomes you with open arms. :)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Not-so-Black Friday

Last year I embarked on my first real Black Friday experience, getting up around 3:30 to stand in line outside a Target store in order to get an Xbox 360.  It wasn't even one of the big sale items, but it did come with a $50 Target gift card, so I was worried they might sell out anyway.  My sister's husband and I waited in line for an hour and a half, braved the surging crowd to get inside once the store opened, and then calmly went about getting my Xbox and a couple other items on our lists.  It was a pretty good time and I enjoyed the cosmopolitan atmosphere, friendly crowds, and yes, the good prices.  Was it worth getting up so early?  No, probably not.  But it was a fun way to spend time with relatives and friends, so that probably makes up for it.

This year my wife and I refined our tactics a little bit, scouring the black Friday ads well in advance and taking note of a couple items we wanted to pick up.  Nothing more than $20, and all things we had talked about getting anyway, so it was a good way to keep our post-Thanksgiving shopping in check.  We woke up around 3:30 again, and she went with a friend and some of the women in our family to hit up the clothing stores and the local mall.  I spent the morning with my brother, whose wife went with my wife, going to a few hardware stores and a couple other places looking for my part of our short shopping list.  We actually braved the crowds at Best Buy which, despite the headlines and news stories people may have heard, were casual and easygoing and not at all violent or angry.  Even the employees at most stores were cheerful and happy to help when we needed it.  After a couple hours we headed back home and I met up with my wife and her friend for some Amigo's and a bit of Shopping Part Two before calling it a day.

Much of the weekend was spent in the company of friends and family, which is just about the best way to spend a holiday.  Aside from playing with the nieces and nephews, we boring old folks watched Nebraska beat Colorado on Friday, and then played some cards while OSU got shut down by Oklahoma on Saturday.  Earlier that afternoon we were at my brother Phil's to help him and his wife celebrate the first birthday of their son, and like he said, time sure goes by quickly.  Seems like just a few weeks ago little Noah was just a big pink raisin in a baby carrier, and now he's this close to walking.  Keep it up, little guy!

Me and my one-year-old nephew. Aww.

My brother Andy made this. It was some sort of recipe that
involved cooking a whole pumpkin.


Eagerly anticipating Thanksgiving dinner.

My brother Tom doing card tricks with the kids.

Grandpa and granddaughters, waking up with
a Mountain Dew and carrot cake.


Other highlights from the weekend:
  • Thanksgiving dinner.  My mom makes some really good turkey!
  • Going back to Russ's Market for the first time in about 5 years, and seeing some former co-workers who are still holding down the fort.
  • Watching Mega Piranha with my brother, his wife, and a bunch of their friends on Friday night.
  • Hanging out with our friends and 1.5-year-old daughter on Saturday afternoon. Wow, she loves to jump on the bed!
  • Staying up late on Saturday with my buddy Gavin, watching speed runs of Super Metroid.
  • Lunch at Valentino's on Highway 81 on the way home.
And so this Thanksgiving we were indeed giving thanks.  Thanks for family, for friends, and for a savior who loved us enough to die for us. May we find rest and peace in His arms this Christmas season.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Light the way home

My wife and I aren't much for decorating with the seasons around our house, but this winter we decided to kick things up a notch or two by putting up Christmas lights outside.  We purchased about 200 feet of glowing white LED lights on clearance last year and I was eager to get up on the ladder and hook 'em to the gutters, mostly because I had never done it before.  And so last Sunday, with temps hovering around 75, we hustled to Wallyworld to buy an outdoor outlet timer and some gutter clips, and I set out to putting up our first outdoor Christmas decorations ever.

The project actually went pretty smoothly, with a few hiccups here and there due to snags in the lights and some poorly-placed bushes around the perimeter of our house.  My wife had a lot of schoolwork to do, so I called up a neighbor and he was gracious enough to take time out of his Sunday to help me hang the lights.  We spent around an hour and a half fumbling with little plastic clips, stringing lights, and crab-walking on the roof in order to get the job done and had a pretty good time overall if I do say so myself.  And it's my blog, so I just did.  :)
It's not much to look at, but it's
our first time putting lights up :)

The lights are nothing special, and we don't plan on turning them on until after Thanksgiving (except to take that photo), but it was fun to spend the afternoon hanging 'em on the gutters and chatting away with my neighbor.

Last night my wife and I were going to go to an OSU women's basketball game, but there was a problem with the tickets (they were given to me but there was a mix-up regarding the seat assignments, or something like that) so we ended up heading to McDonald's for some ice cream and then back home for the evening.  No fire in the fireplace, but we did catch a few episodes of one of our favorite TV shows on Netflix and then just kind of took it easy for a while.  With the busy holiday season coming up those kind of evenings are going to be kind of in short supply, so it's nice to enjoy 'em while you can.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Kayak Water What?

A few days ago my brother Tom called me up, more or less out of the blue, with a somewhat strange proposition.  Knowing my wife and I would be in town for my sister's wedding, Tom invited the two of us to join him and several others a game of Kayak Water Polo.  Having only briefly heard of this kind of thing, and not really sure at all what to make of it, I gave him a cautious affirmative and figured I would let the chips fall where they may.  Tom has, apparently, been doing this for a few weeks now and was eager to bring us along for the experience.  I figure it can't hurt to try, so why not give it a shot?

And so last Friday evening I found myself in the swimming area of a local gym, donning a life jacket and helmet with over a dozen other people ranging in age from 13-ish to 50-ish.  There was only one opening for that night's game, so my wife elected to bow out and let me have at it, which turned out fine for her since she got to spend an hour chatting with Tom's wife while their husbands flailed around in a swimming pool in tiny plastic boats chasing a ball with paddles.  I have been for-real kayaking once before, and funyaking on several occasions, but it was nothing like spending an hour paddling my arms off in a somewhat vain effort to chuck a ball through an elevated square goal.  These people were serious about their kayak water polo, dude.  Super friendly, but super hard core too.

Tom and I, T-minus one minute to all heck breaking loose.
For the first 20 minutes or so I did OK, holding my own with the rest of the blue team as we battled it out for aquatic supremacy with the red team.  I was ably paddling back and forth across the pool, chasing down the ball and getting in a few good passes here and there too (the rules are very much like Ultimate Frisbee).  But after that my arms turned to jelly and it was all I could do to just keep up.  David, the proprietor of the Lincoln Kayak Water Polo Club, mercifully switched my place on the blue team with the best guy on the red team, a move that really did even things out for the rest of the game.
It may look like chaos, but really...ok, well, it's chaos.
The object is to toss the yellow ball through
the net. And yes it's harder than it looks  :)
I was by far the most inexperienced person on the field in the pool, but it didn't matter.  I had a great time, and everyone there was super cool about the fact that there was a total n00b playing with them. There was even a young kid (the aforementioned 13-year-old) who was incredibly helpful and encouraging throughout the game.  He continually gave me tips and pointers as we played, and even went out of his way to pass the ball to me a few times too.  I even scored once, but the best part about the whole game was that no official score was kept at all.  It's all played for fun, and even though the players are pretty intense about their game, everyone was really there just to have a good time.
Basically you do this for an entire hour without stopping.
As a bonus, I ran into an old friend afterwards I had not seen in years.  Turns out his wife plays Kayak Water Polo regularly, and he was there to cheer her on.  Imagine catching up with a buddy because of a game of Kayak Water Polo.  That's Lincoln for you.  :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Great Pumpkin (Patch?)

I learned to ride the unicycle when I was about 16, if memory serves me correctly (though seeing as how I recently turned 30 I wouldn't put a whole lot of stock in the ol' grape anymore), and since then I have picked up a few tricks here and there but mostly my unicycling has remained more or less at a comfortable plateau.  Advancing one's unicycle skillz isn't so much a matter of going farther or faster, but learning tricks and finding ever more crazy ways to ride the one-wheeled contraption.  Even though my repertoire of stunts is basically limited to riding with one foot, I was thrilled to be able to ride in the annual Homecoming parade this past weekend.  Especially since my sister was able to ride in it with me.

She, her fiancèe, and their respective daughters were down for a visit and I asked the lady who owns the local bike shop (the organization with which we hooked up in order to ride in the parade) if she minded me bringing my sister along for the parade.  She didn't mind at all, and so at 8am last Saturday the two of us met up with a dozen or so people on all sorts of strange-looking bikes and multi-wheeled contraptions for the big parade ride.  Everyone was exceptionally friendly, even though my sister and I had never met any of them before, and around 9:15 we started down the parade route along with the music of high school marching bands, honking horns, and cheers from the crowd.

Neither my sister or I have ridden in any parades for years, though when we were younger we took part in a handful with the rest of our family.  It was fun to learn routines and put on a show for the crowd, and even though the Homecoming parade ride didn't involve any specific routines or patterns, it was fun to just ride for a while.  There was another lady from the bike shop who rode with us, which made us a trifecta of one-wheeled entertainment the likes of which Stillwater has never seen!  Well, not since the last parade anyway.  :)

My sister and I, desperately searching for handlebars
or at least a second wheel.

This guy could ride a wheelie all day.
Not even kidding.
We had fun riding in the parade, but the best part of the weekend was spending time with family.  No, seriously.  Watching the homecoming game, going to the park, hanging out at our house, going to the pumpkin patch...it was so fun to be with everyone.  Especially my niece and soon-to-be niece, who were excited just to be on vacation.
Thank goodness our visiting family members
didn't get lost in the hay maze at the pumpkin patch.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Blame it on the Drain

It's too bad I didn't take any pictures today*, because it would have been a good day for it.  Things got off to an interesting start when I set out to tackle our first real plumbing challenge here at home.  We have lived in our house for just over a year without having to deal with a whole lot of plumbing issues, and in that respect I consider us fortunate.  In terms of house problems, water can be a biggie.  Anyway, a few days ago we shut off the water supply valves on our toilets in order to clean them, but discovered that one of them would not turn back on properly.  Along with that, the float inside the toilet tank was also not working right, which resulted in a slow but steady drip into the toilet tank for the past few days.  Not exactly the worst thing that could happen, but something that should be fixed nonetheless.

While I have tacked a handful of home repair projects before, plumbing is not one of my favorites.  If we mess up while painting, the worst that happens is we have to re-do something or clean up a spill.  But if something goes wrong with a plumbing operation, you're basically sunk.  Leaky pipes and dripping valves can cause all kinds of problems, and attempting to fix them can often make things even worse.  Nevertheless, I figured the toilet was something I could fix on my own, so armed with a couple video tutorials and a healthy dose of prayer, I set out to bring new life back to the ol' commode.

The hardest part of the whole operation was actually getting the house water supply shut off.  The valve outside was incredibly difficult to turn, and it took several tries over the course of at least 10 minutes to finally rotate it into the off position.  After that it was kind of a trial-and-error operation with the valve that involved a crescent wrench, channel lock, drip pan, and two trips to Lowe's to find a valve with the correct fitting diameters.  It actually wasn't that difficult to install the new valve, but it was kind of tricky figuring out just how to go about getting it done.  The intake line and new float were honestly a piece of cake, and soon enough the toilet was flushing and refilling properly without any leaks or drips.  Hooray!

The master shutoff valve for our house. See how close it
is to the sidewall? Yeah, that made it super hard to operate.
Our new high-tech $8 float shutoff. Whee!
New valve and intake line. To leak, or not to leak.
That is the question.

Only downside was I had no sooner fixed one toilet when we discovered basically the same problem with the toilet in our hallway bathroom too.  Thankfully I kind of knew what to do (and what parts to buy) so it wasn't too hard, but still...

Later in the day we went out to help one of my co-workers at her farm property a half hour north of here, and after doing some weed-whacking and shoveling, my wife and I got to feed a baby calf with a bottle. Having grown up firmly within the city limits there's a host of farm-type activities I have never done before, and it was fun helping the two-week-old calf with its dinner.  My co-worker's husband warned us about the calf's tendency to basically head-butt the bottle from time to time, so my wife had to wear these big puffy utility pants over her jeans to keep her clothes dry.  And yes, I may have to trade in a few points on my man card, but it was pretty cute when the tiny little cow let out a tiny little "moo."  :)

And so with a plumbing problem solved and some yard work finished, we capped off the day with an episode of Star Trek: Voyager and some ice cream.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday (even if Nebraska lost their game against Texas...).

*I went and took some photos anyway, ex post facto, as I wrote this blog post.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

14 Feet to the North

My parents came for a visit last weekend, and even though their time here was brief it was thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.  It's always nice to go visit the fam up in Nebraska, but it's great when they can make the trek down to Oklahoma too.  Saturday was mostly spent doing two projects at our house, along with a trip downtown to a car show and capping the evening off with some cards.  During the afternoon my wife and my mom worked on painting some borders along the top of our bedroom while my dad and I installed a cable jack on a different side of the living room.  And surprisingly (or perhaps not, since we often start these projects with prayer) there were very few hiccups or problems during the operation.


The goal: move this mess from behind the couch
to under the cabinet. And straighten it out, too.  :)
Installing the new cable jack junction box.
About half of the installation project involved going down into the crawl space below the floor to move some wires, drill some holes, and of course, take some pictures.
My dad, doing his best Steve McQueen impression.

'Twas a tad cramped below the house...
A couple hours and one bottle of cream soda later we had finished, and the results, while not exactly worthy of the Sistine Chapel, weren't half bad.
Best part of the whole picture: Mexican Train Dominos.
Meanwhile, my wife and mom did a stellar job of painting, and even though the color we chose looked a little different on the walls than it did on the paint sample, it's much better than the original off-pink color the borders used to be.  But that's kind of the nature of home improvement projects--one gets completed and another takes its place, or one gets finished just enough to be put aside for now until it can be revised and changed even more later on.  And hopefully, like it was with my parents, it will be a fun process along the way.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The chair and the needle

While I respect the dentistry profession, I have always had a somewhat irrational fear of going to get my teeth examined.  When I was a kid I didn't mind it so much, but about 12 years ago when I got my wisdom teeth pulled in one grueling hour-long session I started to develop a real aversion to getting my pearly whites examined.  I'm a good brusher for the most part, and floss almost every day, so there's really not much for me to worry about.  But even so, when I went to the dentist for my semi-annual checkup in September the hygienist informed me that despite my best efforts to the contrary, I had developed two cavities on the surfaces of two adjacent teeth.

Major bummer.



She assured me that it wasn't exactly my fault, though--my teeth apparently have surfaces that are just hard to clean.  So a few days ago I bit the bullet, went in, and got the cavities filled.  All in all it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, and certainly a lot easier than the wisdom tooth operation of yore. I think it's the anticipation that's worth than the actual operation, as is probably the case with most medical procedures.  But with my iPod in hand and the laughing gas going straight to my brain, it wasn't all that bad.

Now about that mouth guard the dentist says I'm going to need...

In other news, my parents are coming for a visit this weekend and I'm pretty excited about it.  A year ago they helped me and my wife move in to our new house, and it'll be their first visit since then.  It's going to be cool showing them all the changes and updates we've made to the ol' homestead, and if all goes according to plan my dad and I will be able to move the cable internet hookup across the room while my wife and my mom paint the borders in a few rooms too.  And yes, there will be plenty of popcorn and card games too.  :)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bagworms?

I was out in our back yard a week ago and struck up a conversation with the guy next door.  He was out playing ball with his young son and I was on a mission to inform a particular spider that he would have to build his web somewhere other than our back porch.  We got to talking about work, the weather, church groups, and other sorts of neighborly subjects that are fairly commonplace for backyard discussions here in Oklahoma.  Soon he looked at our pine tree that is adjacent to the fence bordering our yards and made a simple observation.

"Looks like your tree's got bagworms," he spoke with all the confidence of a guy who's had his own yard for more than a little while.  Not even certain which tree he was talking about, I just sort of agreed more out of politeness than anything.  He pointed to the evergreen (you will notice, no doubt, that in referring to it by such a generic term that I obviously have no idea what particular type of evergreen it actually is) and, specifically, to the brown pinecone-like things that were hanging from the branches.

I had noticed these things before, but being the not-gardener that I am, figured it was just a bunch of pinecones.  I mean, they looked like pinecones, but the fact that our tree was also kind of dying never really made any connection to me between the two phenomenæ.
Not a pinecone. Who knew, eh?
Our neighbor said that they weren't so bad, really, and all we had to do was pick them off and throw them away.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, turns out it kind of was.  :)  This evening my wife and I were out in the yard for an hour or so with gloves on, picking the little buggers off our tree like it was the week after Christmas.  They were kind of gross and a tad squishy, and even though I didn't see any actual worms, I didn't exactly go looking for any either.  We're also supposed to spray the tree with some stuff called Sevin, which my dad used to spread around the yard when I was a kid to keep the bugs at bay.  That'll be tomorrow, though, and hopefully in the coming weeks and months our little tree fella will find new life once again.
Don't worry, little tree...soon you'll be good as new!  (hopefully)
I didn't do an official Bagworm count, but it was probably over 100.  Yech.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ponca City, here we come!

So over Labor Day we decided to take a trip to Ponca City, the (formerly) booming (not quite) metropolis 45 minutes north of here.  I mean, when you got a whole day off and a full tank of gas, where else are you gonna go?  We spent most of the afternoon at the Marland Mansion, the home of a former Oklahoma governor and oilman extraordinaire.  This was the second mansion my wife and I have toured--the first being the James J. Hill House (by "house" they mean "ginormous castle") near downtown Saint Paul--and like before, it was cool to see how rich dudes rolled back in the early 20th century.
44,000 square feet = 1 cool house.
Pulling up to the mansion itself was a tad intimidating, and kind of gives one a sense of perspective.  I thought, and still do think, that our house is pretty nice.  It's got a couple bedrooms, a decent yard, and a kitchen roomy enough for two people to cook dinner at the same time.  What more could a guy want?  A lot more, it turns out.  Like a T-shaped swimming poll of olympic proportions in the backyard.  Or seven bathrooms.  Or a boat launch accessible via tunnel from the lower-floor dining room.  Or owl statues built into the walls.  I guess when you own 1/10th of the world's known oil reserves, you can pretty much buy a house that puts the house of your dreams to shame.  And hey, why not?  Mr. Marland was also quite the philanthropist who was also known for giving his workers free stuff like food and health care, and took very good care of the town of Ponca City too.

Not pictured: gigantic piles of cash.
The tour was pretty fun, and I cheered a little bit on the inside when our tour guide gave a bit of a verbal smackdown to a couple of emo-type high schoolers who were tagging along in the group.  Mostly it was just a nice way to spend a gorgeous afternoon.  After we moved away from Minnesota my wife and I realized there was a lot of stuff to see and do that we never took the time to experience, so we have tried to make a conscious effort to get out and see more of Oklahoma while we're here.  Not that we plan on leaving any time soon, but whenever we do we would rather have lots of marks on our mental checklist rather than empty blanks waiting to be filled in.
Me, experiencing about 0.001% of the property.
So between the mansion and the Cann Memorial Gardens, we had a pretty nice time up yonder in Ponca City.  Next up?  Who knows.  Maybe Enid.  Maybe Ada.  Maybe Picher (the most toxic town in America!).  Or maybe we'll find someplace here in town to check out that we haven't yet seen.  Like Calvin and Hobbes said, it's a magical world...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Pork Paroxysm

Last weekend I had the pleasure of hosting my brother's bachelor party, and even though the phrase bachelor party probably conjures images of somewhat questionable conduct on the part of all involved, that sort of thing was not at all what this one involved. Mostly it consisted of a dozen or so guys watching the Huskers beat the snot out of Western Kentucky while eating far too much chips, salsa, bratwurst, popcorn, and the like.  Afterwards we played a few rounds of Rock Band and called it a night.  And while a good time was most certainly had by all, the highlight (or lowlight, depending on how you look at it) of the evening was our attempt to create and cook a Bacon Explosion.  Part meat, part spice, and part artwork, the Bacon Explosion was to be our Sistine Chapel--the piece de resistance on an altogether excellent night.  And while the final result was somewhat open for debate, at least we got a cool story out of the whole deal.

Things got going with the initial preparation of the Bacon Explosion itself, the foundation of which is a layer of woven bacon.  I actually wasn't present for the weaving of said bacon, but I must say, my brother Andy did a fine job if I do say so myself.  And I just did, so there.

After that came more layers of bacon, seasonings, sausage, cheese, and more that combined to form a gigantic roll of meaty meat-ness.  Like I mentioned earlier, I wouldn't exactly classify this whole thing as delicious, but it sure was an experience to put together.


After finishing all the preparations, we headed out to the grill to slow-cook the meaty monstrosity for a couple of hours.  Technically it should be prepared in a smoker, but absent that instrument of culinary confectionery, we resorted to the old standby of a propane grill.  And while I wouldn't say that idea didn't work, I would be hard-pressed to say it actually did work.  What we ended up with was part carbon, part meat, and part gooey cheesey meat-like substance in a malformed log shape.

Ready for grilling.  Mmm...delicious?
Several of the guys tried eating this, and a few actually succeeded in downing their portion.  Me, I was content to nibble on a scrap of bacon and call it good, as was my friend Evan.  It was a fun thing to try, but I think next time I'll stick to the plain ol' burgers and bratwurst that are more typical cookout staples.  At the end of the day, though, we all had a great time--especially my brother, which is really all that matters anyway.
My brother, the lucky bachelor, with his bacon trophy.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Changing Colors

One of the things we have learned since moving in to our house last year is that no improvement project is ever as simple as it seems, or takes as few trips to the hardware store as we think.  And for the most part it's all good, since even the biggest problems we encounter pale in comparison to the problems that a lot of people have to deal with in this world.  At least we have a house, and we try to keep that perspective when something doesn't work out quite like we hope it will.  Same goes for our cars too.  I mean, we have not one, but two, fine automobiles in good working condition.  So if a door handle breaks off and it takes far longer to put the new one in than I thought it would, well, no big deal, right?  Anyway, even though it's not always easy to keep that sort of attitude when things don't work out quite the way we hope, we try, and I guess that's all you can hope for sometimes, eh?

Painting In Progress. New light fixture
will go above the mirror, which
takes up most of the space on this wall.
Anyway, we've been doing a re-painting project in the bathroom that has become a little more complicated than we would have liked, but hey, it's all good.  Having never painted a room of our house before, it was a little daunting getting everything in order before we even lifted a hand for the first brush stroke.  What color paint?  What size drop cloth?  What brand of blue painter's tape?  Latex or oil?  Rollers, brushes, or both?  That's not to mention the prep work that had to be done in the bathroom itself, like removing fixtures and taking things out.  But a few days ago after everything was in order, the borders taped over, and the circuit breaker shut off*, we carefully began Painting Project Numero Uno.

All in all it was a success, despite a few misplaced drops of paint here and there and a couple bits of blue tape stubbornly stuck to various surfaces yet.  The room looks much better than it did, and we are slowly putting it back together the way we want it too.  And so all's well that ends well?  Yes, but not as such--or at least, not yet anyway.  The light fixture above the mirror needs to be replaced, and this is where things are starting to get complicated.  It's going to involve some drywall cutting, a tad bit of re-wiring, and the installation of a new junction box too.  And like the time I installed the mount for our TV in the brick fireplace chimney, I have no real idea what I'm doing here and will probably just figure things out as we go (with more than a few phone calls to my dad, who could probably build an entire house with his eyes closed).  Oh, and we also need to find a new light fixture, which is a daunting project in and of itself.

Anyway, I think we're in pretty good shape and I'm sure in a few days we'll have a new-looking bathroom all painted and re-lit and everything.  And besides, even if things don't quite work out, what's the worst that could happen?

*note: grabbing bare wires without performing this step is not recommended, as I found out firsthand :)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

One Fair Day

Yesterday was one of those days where the stuff we did in the morning seemed like a week ago by the time we finally made it to bed.  Just listing everything that happened would take quite a while, but there's a couple highlights I wanted to write about instead.  To start with, we spent the morning going around town to more than a dozen garage sales looking for nothing in particular except a good deal or two.  The thing with garage sale hunting is that you can't really plan ahead to look for specific items--it's really more like looking for coins on a beach.  Most of the time you'll find nothing but scrap or garbage, but every now and then you'll come across a quarter or even a half dollar, and so it is for garage sales.  For three hours we scoured the city, taking a pre-planned route we devised the night before in order to maximise efficiency yet deviating often when we saw additional signs for sales along the way, and even though we only made one purchase we had a good time nonetheless.  Our find?  A nice desk chair for my wife that we got at an estate sale.  It looks like it has hardly been used at all, and is so far making a very nice replacement for the IKEA chair we've had for a couple years.  But much in the same way that hunting for coins on a beach is enjoyable for the sights of the ocean, the feel of the sand, and the wind in your hair, going garage sale hunting is fun (for us, anyway) even if we don't land any huge deals.  Kind of a thrill-of-the-hunt sort of thing, I guess.  :)

These women were serious about the pie judging.
And even more serious about baking with
butter instead of margarine.
After we got back home a friend of ours called and invited us to the county fair, and even though neither my wife or I have been to a fair in years, we thought it would be fun to check out.  And boy, was it ever.  I recall going to the Minnesota State Fair in the summer of 2004 and not being particularly impressed because it was so crowded and sprawling.  But the county fair yesterday was just our style.  We wandered among the indoor booths and exhibits, and I had a great time talking to a guy with a sprawling N/HO/O scale model railroad and another who was manning a HAM radio booth.  The best part by far, though, was the pie contest judging.  It was an intense affair, with pies of all shapes and sizes being inspected, tested, tasted, and ingested.  The two judges were as serious as prison wardens, and left no flake of crust overlooked in their criticisms of the baked concoctions.  A first place ribbon in this contest was a hard-won and well-deserved honor, let me tell you.  After that, we went to see some of the animals and wandered among the chickens, rabbits, horses, and cows, but the goats and hogs were nowhere to be found.  Even though I grew up in Nebraska I have spent very little time around farm animals, and I still think it's cool to hear a rooster call out his famous cock-a-doodle-do cry, or a horse let out a giant neigh.  But the crème de la crème was the horse competition.  Not necessarily for what the riders were able to do with their horses, like maneuver in specific patterns or race around barrels, but the age of the riders.

Who knew a girl so small could ride a horse so big.
I was amazed at how young the people were and what they were able to do on the horses.  The barrel riding competition had an entire category for children ages eight and younger, and even though they weren't exactly equestrian masters, these kids were incredibly competent at horse riding.  I have ridden a horse maybe three times in my life, and the amount of skill it takes (for someone like me, anyway) to even get the big animal to go forward or turn from left to right is fairly high.  But these kids could command the horses to turn on a dime, sail around a barrel, and break into a sprint for the home stretch.  There were other age categories too, but it was these little kids who impressed me the most.  After that we strolled to the tractor museum and finally made our way back home.  Later on we looked at some paint samples for a couple rooms in our house, which we hope to get working on soon, and I finally replaced the faulty fluorescent light fixture above my workbench in the garage.

As for today, we're heading to church in an hour and then back to church this evening for a welcome-back event for the college students.  Should be fun.  :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Boxing Up

One thing I've learned since we bought our first home last autumn is to never underestimate the complexity of what seems to be a simple household project.  For Exhibit A, allow me to submit our mailbox.  The one we had outside since moving in has been in a slow and steady state of decay for the past several months (probably years).  The box has been loose on its pole for quite some time, it has leaked as long as we've lived here, and a few weeks ago the door started falling off.  So we finally bit the bullet, went to Lowe's, and bought ourselves a shiny new mailbox.

End of story, eh?  Well, not so much.  The First Law of Home Improvement clearly states "The perceived simplicity of a project is inversely proportional to the number of trips to the hardware store required to complete it."  When we went to set up the new post receptacle we found out that the mailbox itself was too big to fit on the post.  So we made our way back to Lowe's and returned the post, only to leave empty-handed with more questions than answers.  Do we get a wooden post instead of a metal one?  What about polymer?  Do we mount the box with brackets or on a piece of wood?  Do we return our new mailbox and get a smaller one?  And what about those weird plastic mailboxes that look like they're made by Fisher-Price?  It was all getting rather out of control, and still our rusted old mailbox continued to waste away by the roadside, doing everything in its power to hold our alumni association solicitations and JASNA subscriptions without collapsing under its own sorry self.

So a few days later back to Lowe's we went, looking for a stout mailbox post the way our grandaddies used to make them:  from good old-fashioned wood.  Soon enough we settled on a nice cedar post that would look appropriately regal and surely be the envy of the neighbors (we're suburbanites, after all.  Isn't that the goal of every home improvement project?).  But then came a new set of problems:  removing the old mailbox pole, digging a new hole, mounting the box, securing the post in the ground, and all kinds of new complications that continued to turn what I thought would initially be a half-hour Saturday project into a weeks-long ordeal with government-style budget overruns.

But finally, after much digging, cementing, drilling, hammering, and sweating, we have a brand new mailbox sitting proudly by the curb performing its duties as admirably as one could hope for.  But, come to think of it, the cross-beam does seem a tad loose.  I bet I could find something to secure it just a little.  Oh, and it could a nice staining job too.  And perhaps a coat of sealer.  And maybe a little flowerbed....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Falling Up

Without a doubt this is the longest hiatus I have ever taken on the ol' blog, and while I can't promise it will never happen again, I do have to admit it feels good to be typing here again. :) I'm generally not a fan of people giving the excuse of being too busy, and that rings true here also. It's not that I have been too busy, because I have consistently found that we will make time for the things in our lives that we deem as priorities. If I was too busy to write in my blog I would have not found time to beat a couple video games, watch so many movies, and waste so much time on Facebook. But nevertheless, the fact remains that I haven't updated The Brighter Side in a while, so I'm going to try to rectify that situation. Will it work? Well, like my dad says, "We'll have to see once."

This summer has been exceptional, but then, summer pretty much always is. It was my first summer since 2005 that I had to work a consistent 8-5 shift at my job. Every year I was teaching I just sort of got summers off, and even though I worked as a maintenance dude on campus from June through August, it was so much fun it could hardly be called work. But clocking in and out at the usual working man's time these past few months has been pretty nice. It's kind of good to maintain a schedule throughout the summer, and I really like my job at the university, so working there has been pretty cool. We even found the means to take a few trips, as is pretty usual for us. We drove to New York for a wedding and back in the span of six days, and along the way got to see a whole lot of family and friends. We only stayed in a hotel one night thanks to my wife's exceptional trip planning abilities and the prominence of family and friends in cities along our route. Our new car Charlie handled the drive very well, and is currently taking a well-deserved break in our garage too. :) We also got to make it to my family's annual reunion this year up in northern Minnesota, which was awesome as usual. And since it was our first trip up north since moving to Oklahoma we made sure to see some friends in the Twin Cities as well.

I'm telling ya, all in all, it was a great summer. And not just because of the trips and the warm weather. It was just a good time in general, and even though the leaves are starting to show the first signs of their fall colors I can look back on the last several months with satisfaction and no regrets. Which is generally the best way to live life anyway. :)

Friday, May 21, 2010

The seeds of summer

Before we bought a house we would often hear from friends and family about how much work they are to maintain. And as I have said before on this blog, this type of work isn't really that big of a deal to me as I kind of enjoy putting work into our house and yard. Between mowing, vacuuming, dusting, swiffering, and the occasional fix-it job, owning a house can be a lot of work but it always leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment. Last night after going on a walk we spent a while in the front yard performing the rather unglamorous task of...weeding. Not stylish to be sure, but a task that needs to be done from time to time. And even though we lifted a trash barrel full of leafy pests from the ground it feels like we hardly made a dent in ridding our yard of them. But there are several noticeable improvements already, and we're even thinking about getting our lawn treated next year. Yeah, it's a bow to suburban lifestyle that we would rather not take, but dude...it's tough keeping up with all the weeds. Who knows. :) We have also successfully re-caulked the bathtub in the past week, after an initial attempt that was foiled due to my use of expired caulking (which is no fun at all to get off once it's applied). Someday we'll get the back screen door replaced, the wallpaper taken down, the rooms painted, and a handful of other projects, but for now we're content with the small accomplishments. :)

A few days ago a giant weather system blew through town, which marked the first time as Oklahoma residents that we were subjected to the mercy of a big ol' tornado-spawning spring thunderstorm. Having grown up in Nebraska, on the northern end of Tornado Alley, we weren't exactly freaking out or anything--in fact, we spent most of the evening moving office furniture on the OSU campus. But when the sirens sounded it was nice to be able to head to a lecture hall in the basement of the building we were in, and wait out the storm with lots of good people and three LCD projector screens keeping us updated on weather conditions. Even though the tornadoes mostly passed our town without incident, it was another sobering reminder of the power of nature and the weakness of even the strongest buildings. Hopefully next time we will be just as fortunate!

This spring has also brought several visitors and mini-trips for us. Between out-of-town work conferences, friends from Nebraska coming down for a weekend, and a bridal shower that my wife put on for her friend back home, it's been a busy couple of weeks. (or has it been months? It all runs together...) We were going to have some family come for a visit this weekend too, but circumstances changed and they are postponing their trip for a few weeks. In a way it's nice to have a free weekend to just be around the house and take it easy if we so wish. And of course play some Xbox too. :)

Monday, April 12, 2010

The great semi-outdoors

I hear a lot of people complain about yard work, but after renting an apartment for years I'm glad to finally have our own lawn to mow (and our own mower with which to cut it too). Cutting the grass, raking the leaves, keeping weeds at bay...I guess it all goes back into the idea of taking pride in a job well done. I'm no lawn manicurist, but I do like having a house and a yard that looks decent from the outside, and I also enjoy the chance to put on my headphones and catch up on a podcast or two while I'm out mowing or raking or whatnot. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's fun to get outside and do yard work, but I would say I enjoy it in a comfortable sort of way. It's supposed to rain in the next few days, so maybe tonight I'll head out and attack the latest round of dandelions with our push mower and see who emerges victorious. :)

Last Friday my wife and I sat outside on our porch eating ice cream with a fire burning in the outdoor fireplace we got from some friends as a housewarming gift a while ago. I don't know why, but I have always been a sucker for a good controlled burn whether it's a big bonfire, a small fireplace blaze, or even a charcoal grill. And so it was nice to enjoy the evening on our back porch while stoking a fire and listening to the birds in the back yard. And yes, there are many birds. Lots of them, in fact, and far more than I would have imagined. It makes for some very musical mornings and evenings. :)

My brother and his wife are coming for a visit this weekend, which has inspired another round of indoor fix-ups like hanging pictures and vacuuming the hallways. I think we hung up nine photos on various walls, along with a clock in the living room, and even though it's kind of a slow process it's nice to get those sorts of decorating things done. When we first moved in I wanted to get a lot of stuff taken care of right away but it has been nice to settle in over time. In fact, I almost prefer it this way, since each improvement, whether it's a new piece of furniture, a new picture on the nightstand, or just rearranging a room to look better, makes the place seem a little more like home.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The big three-oh

Since turning 30 a week and a half ago, not a lot has actually changed. I was worried I would need a walker, a back brace, and one of those SMTWTFS medication containers by now, but thankfully such has not been the case. In fact, things in thirtyland have been great thus far. Thanks to my wonderful wife and her endless powers of sneakiness, along with the help of some of my relatives, I had a really cool surprise party when we went to Lincoln for a visit. It was great to see lots of my friends there, stay up late playing board games, and talking with my cousin and his wife who came down from Minnesota too. We actually were in Lincoln for my sister's graduation from nursing school, which is how my wife was able to pull off the surprise aspect of the party without me suspecting anything. It was a great visit in general, as visits to Lincoln usually are, but seeing all the people that weekend made it extra cool.

Back here in Oklahoma we are heading into the stormy season (which I guess is probably the same for most of the midwest, not just Oklahoma, but still...) and have been taking some steps to make sure we're prepared. We are putting together a little kit with things like batteries, a flashlight, water, and stuff like that, which won't stop a tornado from taking our house apart, but will hopefully help us out a little in case it happens. Or at least it will give us peace of mind in the meantime. :) Anyway, yesterday we went out and bought a second weather radio to keep in our bedroom too, which again just helps out with peace of mind. I was never really concerned about storms like this when I was a kid, but there were times my family huddled in our basement storage room during tornado warnings and, not having a basement in the heart of tornado alley makes me want to take just a couple extra steps to be ready.

Yesterday we also went to a 5K run/walk for charity, and had a great time making the circuit around Boomer Lake with about 350 others. Even though we go on walks several times a week, and have been to Boomer Lake many times, it was kind of neat to be there for a good cause with so many other people too. Kind of a we're-all-in-this-together mentality, you know? There were door prizes too, but even though we didn't win we did snag some free cookies, so all in all it was a great success. :) I also mowed the grass yesterday, and by "grass" I mean "weeds." Mostly it was a preventative measure, since the grass is still generally brownish and not growing much yet, but there are all kinds of little purple things, that look a bit like clover, taking over the front yard. But not anymore! Bwa ha ha! Or, at least, not for a week or so.

Time to finish my OJ and get ready for church. Happy Palm Sunday! Allelulia!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Riverwalk?

Yesterday was a bit uncharacteristically cosmopolitan day for the two of us. We live in a fairly small (but vibrant and interesting) town, with two major cities an hour away. It's pretty nice, actually, because even though Stillwater isn't a bustling hub of urban activity, we prefer a more, shall we say, peaceful existence. It's nice living in a place where a five-minute drive can take you pretty much anywhere in town, but there are times when the big city amenities are nice to have. And that's when a short drive is in order to Tulsa or Oklahoma City. Yesterday one of my friends was in Tulsa to see some of his family, so my wife and I drove out to meet them all for lunch at a local Oklahoma chain called The Hideaway (basically some of the best pizza you can get around here). We had an outstanding time at lunch catching up on things, getting to know my friend's family members a little more, and talking a lot about movies. And yes, the food was delicious, especially the cheesey bread. Oh yeah. :)

After that we figured we would take a stroll down at the Riverwalk, an area down south of town that's kind of a combination of a small outdoor mall, some apartments, and a bike path. We ended up on the wrong side of the river on a separate path that kind of went away from the waterfront, and it was also a tad chilly and windy, but the three-mile walk ended up being a nice way to burn off some of the pizza from lunch. So in the end I'd call it a win. :) We met up with some other friends for coffee and dinner later on, and caught the Hull/Arsenal soccer game on TV too. I don't follow soccer at all, but one of the guys we were with sure does, so it was nice having him around to explain everything and help us know who to cheer for.

My brother Phil let me borrow The Orange Box a few months ago when I bought my 360, and it didn't take me long to join the legions of gamers enthralled with Valve's concept/tech demo/DigiPen Student Project/game Portal. I beat it and unlocked the Developer Commentary version, and I am currently about five minutes away from beating it again before giving the game back to my brother this coming weekend. All in all, one of the most clever and ingenious games I have ever played, and the only game I have ever played with commentary, which is an incredible bonus for anyone interested in peeling back the layers behind a project like this.

It's time to take one final sip of my strawberry milk, wrap this up, and head out for a walk to enjoy the extra hour that was given to us last night. Aw yeah. :)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Springing

A few days ago my wife and I pulled in our driveway and lo and behold, what should we see poking up from the ground just to the west of our garage but scores of little yellow daffodils! Or, at least, that's what I think they are. The dude who used to live in this house was a professional landscaper, so there's a lot of cool plants around the yard, but this was the first really unexpected blooming we have seen. Each day it seems like the clusters of yellow flowers grow a little bit more, and today we noticed some more plants joining their ranks near the southern edge of the little alcove. Not sure if the latter are going to result in any blooming action, but it's cool to see the new life of spring showing up around here. Yesterday we did some more pruning on our Crepe Myrtle bushes in the back yard too, and I took an electric hedge trimmer to one of the bushes out front, which now makes it look like the fauna equivalent of Kid 'n Play. So between the yard work and the mid-60s to low-70s weather this week and last, I'd say Oklahoma is a pretty cool place to live. :)

Tonight I'm planning on watching the Academy Awards for the first time ever, and to be honest I'm kind of excited about it. Ever since starting Walking Taco last June I have tried to pay a little more attention to not just movies, but the connections between movies, filmmakers, producers, writers, cultural phenomenæ represented in moving pictures. I guess the Academy Awards are one way for me to experience the metaculture (is that even a word?) of the movie scene, but we'll find out tonight. One of our writers, MJV, is doing a liveblog of the event so I'm looking forward to that too. My wife told me about a site that offers free liveblog services and integrates with Wordpress, so hopefully things should go off relatively pain-free tonight. But I guess we'll find out in an hour or so...

Since getting my Xbox and a subscription to Xbox Live (thanks to my in-laws!) I have enjoyed playing games online but have mostly restricted my online play to me-vs-everyone, or in gaming parlance, free-for-all deathmatches. See, I'm a decent gamer but there's an entire culture of online gaming that I don't really understand because I'm new to it. A lot of online games have team options, but I was always a little wary of playing on a team, due in no small part to my general lack of skill when compared to most online gamers. I figured a team deathmatch would be an exercise in personal futility, but a few nights ago one of my friends showed me that such games are, in fact, quite the contrary. We spent an hour and a half playing Call of Duty 4 in various team deathmatch games, and it was really really fun. The thing is, people of all skill levels play these games--some good, some not so good. And as long as you're not being a jerk like targeting your own team members or just standing around, people are pretty cool. You might not be the best person on the team, but if you're at least trying, the other players will respect you for it. So basically I have just begun experiencing an entirely new layer to online gaming on Xbox Live. And it is most certainly awesome. :)

Ok, time to shut this down and find something for dinner...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lead Change

Despite growing up in a fairly rural midwestern state, my life has mostly been that of a typical city dweller. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have been to a farm, the only tractor I know how to drive is a John Deere Lawn and Garden model, and the closest I have ever come to harvesting anything was when my mom gave us kids a penny each for all the weeds we could pull from the yard. I had a great childhood, mind you, it's just that here in small-town Oklahoma I am getting to experience a lot of things that are pretty new to me.

Yesterday, for example, we went to our first ever horse show. I have seen horses a time or two, and went riding for a few hours last year with my wife, but have never experienced anything like an actual equine competition. We figured it would be something cool to try out, so we drove down to the giant indoor arena (around here they just call it "the barn") on the edge of town, walked in, and watched the horse competition for a few hours. We didn't know a whole lot about what was going on, but the three events we saw were called "Horsemanship," "Reining," and "Fence Jumping." It wasn't action-packed like a football or basketball game, but I can appreciate the skill it takes for the riders to control their horses as they ride around the arena performing various moves and patterns. The fence jumping was probably the coolest part, but we enjoyed the whole event and hope to go to more of them especially now that we know a little more about what they actually are.

After the horse show we also spent an hour or so out in the back yard pruning some of our crepe myrtle bushes. Yard work is actually one of my favorite parts about owning a house, and I actually tend to enjoy time spent mowing, cleaning, weeding, trimming, pruning, or any of the other physical-labor aspects of maintaining our little plot of land. I'm not sure if we pruned the bushes exactly how they are *supposed* to be done, but we had fun doing it and will probably have healthier foliage as a result. And if not? Well, we learned something new and will hopefully do it better next time. :)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Progressively Dining

Since getting an Xbox 360 a few months ago, our movie/tv/netflix habits haven't necessarily changed, but they have been enhanced to a surprising degree. And running the 360 to our new TV has made a good thing even better. Case in point: Netflix streaming has always been nice, but every time we wanted to watch something we had to plug my laptop into the TV by way of an adapter and two cords. No remote also meant every time we wanted to pause, rewind, or start something new meant a short trip from couch to laptop. Now, this is not a complaint: I grew up with no VCR until I was about nine years old, and fully realize that the modern conveniences we have, like the ability to watch movies instantly through Netflix, Hulu, and the like, wasn't even fathomable as recently as ten years ago. So when I say that I have to walk all the way from our couch to my laptop (a laptop! Ten years ago laptops could barely run video games, much less instantly stream movies from the internet) it's not a complaint. It's an observation, and nothing more. The point is that watching DVDs, Netflix streaming, and playing video games required a series of cords, cables, and button presses on Radio Shack switchboards in the days before our Xbox 360.

Now all that is possible through the game console, and in every case, improved by leaps and bounds. Netflix is amazing on the 360--we can sit back on the couch and with a flick of the remote, peruse our Queue and stream HD movies right to the TV. Video games on the 360 are awesome, and DVDs look better than ever thanks to the 360's upscaling capabilities. In short, Microsoft's little console has been a great addition to our living room...

...until it died last week. After humming along great for three months, the 360 stopped recognizing discs and I had to send it in for repairs. :( From the online repair tracking page it looks like things are going well and we might have it back in as little as a week or two from now, but in the meantime we're left back in the dark ages of regular old DVD players and playing video games on the Wii instead of the 1080p goodness of the 360. It's a perspective lesson, really, and in some ways I'm glad the 360 died. My evenings have been spent reading a book my wife got me for Valentine's day, working on Walking Taco and its new subsidiary Walking Taco Box Office, writing for my brother's video game web site Inside The Console, and tinkering on projects around the house. I'm sure we will enjoy having the 360 back, but in the meantime it's been kind of nice to put the brakes on things for a little while. :)

In a completely unrelated matter, last night we went to what I guess is called a "Progressive Dinner" through our church. Around 25 people met at the house of one of our congregation members for appetizers, and then we broke up into three smaller groups for the main course at three different host houses. After that we all met for dessert at the house of another congregation member on the north side of town. Even though we signed up a little late for the event, they made room for us and there was plenty of food at all the stops throughout the evening. We had a great time meeting new people, getting to know others better, and just hanging out with church people in a non-church setting. Not that going to Lenten dinners and post-worship meetings are bad (far from it, in fact), but it's nice to get to know people in a different environment too.

The dinner was also a nice way to get away from the rain, which has been coming down steadily for a few days now. And I gotta say, even though it's kind of dreary out, I kind of like it. Rainy days like today are a good excuse to say inside, bask in the glow of a good fire in the fireplace, and catch up on some blogging. :)

Friday, January 29, 2010

iPad

Soapbox time, folks! This is a bit of a departure for me here on the ol' blog, but I wanted to get this off my chest. :) If you're not really interested in Apple computer stuff or technology in general, no prob. I'll keep blogging like usual, but I wanted to say a few things about the generally negative reaction to Apple's new iPad device.

Leading up to the announcement of the iPad, the internet was buzzing with all kinds of news, hype, leaked photos, and plenty of outright speculation and conjecture. But now that it's been officially announced and we've all seen the coverage, or better yet, watched the Keynote itself or at least some of the hands-on demos, many people have formed their own more-or-less informed opinions on Apple's "magic" new device. So far my own reaction is fairly positive, but I'll get to that in a minute.

First off, I need to address two issues that seem to be raising the most controversy in the popular media regarding the iPad, the first being its name. Within hours, nay, minutes, of Steve's announcement, teh internets were squawking about the name. "iPad" was a stupid name, and borderline inappropriate for casual conversations, so spake the masses. Why not something like iTablet? MacTablet? iSlate? Anything but iPad!

Oh, how quickly we forget the lessons from tech history. Let's step back a bit to 2006 when the Nintendo Wii was announced. Leading up to the official press announcement, the Wii had was bestowed with the codename "Revolution." It was clever, daring, and indicated a shift for Nintendo, a company traditionally seen as one that catered to families and children with colored consoles and kid-friendly games. But Wii? People liked the technology, but hated the name. It was met with well-nigh unprecedented ridicule and scorn throughout the internet and mainstream press, and many claimed the name of the console would lead to its demise. The worst part, though, was the onslaught of sophomoric jokes and halfhearted attempts at humor at the expense of the Wii. Even Matt Casamassina, one of IGN's most prolific Nintendo standard-bearers, said the Wii made him think of urine, and that was one of the kinder things that gaming pundits said of the console's name back when they first heard about it. It was like the entire gaming press took a giant leap back to junior high, making fun of the weird kid in class with a funny-sounding name.

Fast forward to 2010 and the Wii is doing just fine. In fact, it has consistently outsold its rivals, the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, every month since its launch. And the name? All concerns about it have faded into obscurity, and no one thinks twice anymore about Nintendo's once-oddly-named console. The same goes for all those kids we knew in seventh grade who had funny-sounding names. We grew up, and so did they, and hopefully we are now a little wiser and can get past the whole name thing.

My point? The same will happen with the iPad. Right now people are having a seventh-grade-level heyday with the name of the product. For people to malign Apple's latest creation simply because of its name is short-sighted and downright silly. If you have some real criticism to offer, then fine. But if all you bring to the table is a few jokes about its name, then please leave the discussion. And in the meantime, remember that the iPod was also maligned because of its name when it was first released, but people have moved on from that as well.

The second issue that needs some perspective is that of the iPad's capabilities--in short, what it actually does. And to get the needed perspective, let's take a brief trip back to 2001 and the introduction of another Apple gizmo, the iPod. Nowadays the little-mp3-player-that-could is not only ubiquitous, it has entirely changed the way we approach music. Remember making a mix CD for a trip? Remember buying an entire CD instead of picking and choosing songs at will for 99 cents each? Remember *not* having thousands of songs at your fingertips? But back in 2001, people hated the iPod. It was too limited, it didn't support enough music formats, it only worked on Macs, and on and on. Come to think of it, pundits also predicted the failure of another of Apple's devices that changed the world, the iPhone. Some even refused to give the iPhone a chance and branded it a failure long before it was even released. But Apple understands the concept of user experience better than any other technology company, and as time passed it was clear that despite the limitations of the iPod and iPhone, the devices sold like gangbusters because they were simple, easy to use, and actually did have plenty of features that people enjoyed.

With that in mind, would everyone who is currently criticizing the iPad who has actually used the device please raise your hands?

Anybody?

My point exactly. Very few people have seen the iPad in person, much less used it. And those who have used it are pretty darn positive about it. Sure there are legitimate gripes to be had: the lack of multitasking, the lack of a camera, no actual keyboard, no USB or other readily apparent connectivity features, limited battery life compared to the Kindle, no Flash support for the browser, and so on. But let's remember the iPod and iPhone and their laundry list of limitations for a second. But would anyone deny that these devices have not only been entirely successful, but single-handedly altered our perception of their entire respective device categories? No, I don't think so.

And so at the end of the day, I have to give Apple the benefit of the doubt on this one, simply because history demands it. Not every one of their products has been a success, and several were honest-to-goodness failures. But to dismiss the iPad because of what it can't do (rather than giving Apple credit for designing a device that actually does do quite a bit) or criticizing the product because of it's name doesn't really help the discussion at all.

Time will tell, and that's all I ask. Let's wait until the iPad is released before we start calling it a failure.