Saturday, December 27, 2008

In search of the perfect watch

So at one point I thought an analog watched powered by your arm motion (dubbed "kinetic" by the watch industry) was the way to go. Many higher end watches like this, however, require you to set the date again at the end of every month that isn't 31 days, and what's worse make you crank through all 24 hours of the day to move forward a day (ie. you can't just set the day one day forward easily). I had both a Rolex and a Tag Heuer like this, and while both are great looking watches, I simply stopped wearing them because of this, and because if you did go a day or two without wearing them, you then had to wind and re-set them, and both are annoying to set. (Yes, I know you can get a "winder" box to fix this, but even those are annoying to put the watch in every time you take it off. I simply didn't do it.)

Having a cellphone does preclude the need for a watch these days, but I still occasionally thought it would be handy to have an actual watch on my arm. Besides, a good looking watch is a whole lot better looking than a cellphone. I wasn't actually searching for a watch when I saw a TV commercial for the Citizen Eco-Drive watches. I'm pretty agnostic when it comes to TV advertisements, but the watch in that ad just really caught my eye. So I started doing some research...

Turns out that "Eco-Drive" is a fancy name for "solar powered." The nice part, however, is that the watch doesn't look solar powered. The solar cells are embedded in the face in a very hidden fashion. Interesting. No batteries to worry about and no kinetic business. That also means the watch is electronic, so it turns out that setting it is easy. But since it's electronic, it can know what year it is and will always get the months right. Okay, great. But then I find they have a LOT of different Eco-Drive watches. Hundreds. Ugh.

Then I started to find there are different types. I've typically been interested in larger "diver" type watches, but only because of the look. I don't scuba dive and may never scuba dive. But upon further research, I found that there is also a "pilot" genre of watches. Interesting. Similar look to a diver's watch, but different features entirely. Like the bezel is actually a circular slide rule. Apparently pilots have long used circular slide rules because of their compact size in a cockpit for navigational calculations and watch companies started incorporating them into the bezel of a watch. Neat. I found a lot of different pilot watches I liked, and almost bought one.

Then I happened upon the smaller "race" genre. These are sort of a hybrid between a pilot's watch and a more powerful stopwatch. The Citizen Promaster series looked great to me. Upon further research, I found via forums that Citizen watches in the US didn't often come with sapphire crystals, just mineral (which scratches fairly easily). This was disheartening as I now found myself in the $500+ price range for an electronic watch that looked analog and couldn't get a good crystal. There was some chatter that perhaps it was possible to get the US repair shop to put a sapphire crystal in most models since most models were sold worldwide and the Asian market watches do have sapphire crystals, but nobody had confirmed you could do that.

I was fairly certain I wanted a titanium case and band in whatever I got, too, since in the size watch I was interested in the weight savings would be significant. So finally I zeroed in on the Citizen Promaster SST. Somehow in my travels I found that a while back Citizen had done a limited edition version of this very watch in black titanium. The icing on the cake was that this model also had a sapphire crystal! Oh, but where to find one. Turns out a few still sat unsold even though only 1500 were made. The original list price was $1,499.95 and I found a couple online retailers with them still listed at MSRP. But I found an eBay seller listing one for $950, which had been the going rate on eBay for them when they came out. The seller looked legit, so I ordered it. It's number 82 of 1500.

Turns out it was better than I ever expected it to be. It's big, but not heavy. Once sized it seems to work in all conditions better than any watch like it ever has (my arm swells when I'm hot and most watches are too "floppy" when I'm not hot or too tight when I am...this one works both ways fine). The features are awesome. I'm lazy and when I travel I like to not have to try to remember what time it is at home. This one lets me put the time for a second timezone in the digital area. It has a 20 lap memory for lap timing at the race track. And a lot of other features I may never use. Best of all, I think it looks great and I wear it everywhere. Now I just have to learn how to use a circular slide rule!

Facebook Rant

Okay, I admit it. I love Facebook. One thing that helps make it great is the fact that Facebook provides programmers with an interface to let them write their own interface applications. And the Facebook folks have even written a few interfaces other than just the standard browser interface. So here are all the ways I use Facebook:

  • Firefox web browser on the Mac
  • Opera Mini web browser on the Blackberry
  • Facebook for Blackberry application
  • Safari web browser on the iPod Touch, iPhone version
  • Safari web browser on the iPod Touch, mobile version
  • Safari web browser on the iPod Touch, full version
  • Facebook for Chumby
Now, there are a TON more Facebook clients out there for different platforms. These are just the ones I use. And I'm glad I can use Facebook on different devices, but note that I use it on my iPod three different ways and on my Blackberry two different ways. Why? Because all five clients are basically broken in some way. The only one that doesn't seem to be is the full web version on Safari, but even that is hard to use thanks to the tiny screen. All the others are broken in some way...they won't let you comment on statuses, or see status comments at all, or let you click links posted in statuses, etc. Same goes for the Chumby client (which is really just my alarm clock, but it's cool to be able to see status updates by the bed...okay, it's not cool, it's a wee bit obsessive).

Part of this is because of mobile device limitations, but most of it is just the application developers are doing a poor job of keeping up with the new features the Facebook folks are adding. The Blackberry folks author the Blackberry specific application, and it hasn't been updated in many months, for example.

So if you try to use Facebook on another device and find features missing, it's probably not you. For now, anyway, sometimes you just have to go to the computer and use the full version.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dry Ice Bomb

These are pretty fun to do. I just need more 2 liter bottles!

Check it out on Facebook for a much higher resolution version if you're one of my Facebook friends. Hopefully Troy will get video hosting working at some point soon and I'll be able to stream my own higher resolution version of these things. *hint*

Monday, December 15, 2008

A real life Forrest Gump?

There's no real life Forrest Gump, but there are some folks out there who are pretty close. One of my favorite authors is Homer Hickam. His website has a lot of good information and my favorite books of his are October Sky and then the entire Josh Thurlow series, but he's almost a living Forrest Gump in his own right. A local author got five minutes with him and published an interview in The Blotter. Click the December 2008 issue and download the PDF and go to page 11 to read the interview. He's an amazing guy, and has been known to swap email with just about anyone, including shleps like me!

PS: Jane, the article uses the word "raconteur"! Seriously! And thanks to Paul Jones for pointing out this article to me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A tip for Flonase users

So, I had an annoying visit to a Minute Clinic in the CVS drugstore today. I won't go into why, but I do want to share a tip I got for those who use Flonase or any other nasal spray. Tilt your head forward instead of back. Yes, I mean bring your chin to your chest. Then spray. This gets the spray better into your nasal passages rather than being able to drain down your throat. I tried it and it worked great.

I know it's awkward, but it does work better. You think it's going to run back out your nose, but at least with one squirt of Flonase it didn't run at all.

What's with the weather?

Okay, I can't take it. I have to vent. Bear with me.

Why is it that in NC we don't have fall? It's cold or hot, but never in between these days, and it's driving me nuts. It gets so warm you need the air conditioning to sleep, and the next night it's under 40F outside. I might go out of my mind.

The cold snaps are colder than usual for this time of year, too. Which leads me to believe the warm spells will finally go away and it'll stay REALLY cold. That's fine, as long as mother nature sheds a lot of white stuff on us. Cold is useless without white stuff.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One of my favorite snacks

I love them so much. Combine the Krispy Kreme mini cruller with a glass of cold whole milk and you have pure heaven. Maybe not quite as good as a hot glazed doughnut from KK, but much more attainable. Where do they rate on the health meter? I'm sure it's illegal to put them on something called a "health meter." So if my wife is reading this, STOP BUYING THEM! That is all.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Road to Hana

Hana is a small town on the island of Maui, HI, that's only reachable by air and the Hana Highway, a 30+ mile stretch of road with 46 one lane bridges, countless other one lane areas, and over 600 curves. Near Hana is the Waianapanapa (Why-uh-napa-napa) State Park, which is the bulk of this video. Lava tubes and formations found here are truly amazing and make the long road trip well worth it. Check it out...

A Silver Lining

Yeah, so the economy sucks, and probably will for a little while. What could be good about that? Well, nothing is absolutely good about it, but there is at least one thing positive. What's that? Customer service. Overall, it's going to be better than it's been in a while. Why? More places will need your business to stay alive. And they'll realize what it took to get to being big or what it will take to stay alive more than ever.

I've already seen instances where companies are starting to do more for the customer. I think it will continue. There's the argument, though, that this kind of economy will only help the Wal-Mart and Home Depot's of the world to put even more of the smaller guys out of business. That's definitely possible, and quite sad, really. But the reality is that while we might think of "customer service" as someone with a smiling face, lots of product knowledge, and a willingness to help, that's not all it can be defined as. It can also be defined as putting a lot of stuff you need in one place with good prices and no salesmen annoying you to buy things you don't need. Big box stores aren't evil, they provide something that obviously a majority of shoppers want. And the reality is for most of what they sell, most of the people out there don't need any knowledgable help.

But for products where you can put a knowledgable salesperson to use, companies will start to do a better job of it. They'll have to, or they'll die quickly. Hopefully the economy rebounds before they die anyway.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

We'll miss you, Tom!

On December 18, Tom Suiter will do his last broadcast as the sports anchor for WRAL TV in Raleigh, NC. It's likely that any sports fan who has lived in this area in the last 20+ years knows and likes Tom Suiter. The article I've linked does a great job of explaining what Tom has brought to TV, but I'd like to point out that it was Jesse Helms, long time NC senator, that brought Suiter to WRAL. Helms died not long ago, and I did a blog entry about it. It's interesting to find a case where Helms was so instrumental in helping someone out. The great part is just how good at his job Tom turned out to be. I'd bet Helms had a feeling he'd be great, and that kind of thing is what made Helms so special, too.

But not only is Suiter great as an anchor, but he's been a great mentor of young people. These are the kind of people you hate to see moving on...

Saturday, November 29, 2008


So in addition to a whale cruise today I also went parasailing for the first time. What a blast! That's a lot of fun. Give it a try if you can...

Dolphins up close and highly personal!

We went on a 5pm "cocktail" cruise with a whale watching company. We did see a couple different whales way off in the distance (and I got one mediocre picture of a whale tale that I'll try to post later), but the highlight was a visit from some bottlenose dolphins. They actually aren't known for being quite this friendly, but apparently we got a rare treat.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

OpenID and image and video tagging

For those of you who use Facebook (and I'd guess MySpace and others), you know about image tagging. For those that don't, well, let me explain it briefly. If you post a picture to your Facebook account that has people in it also on Facebook, you can opt to "tag" the image. A simple editor opens and lets you click an area around their face and then you select them from your Facebook friend list. Then Facebook keeps that data in a database and if you want to look for pictures of your friends, you can find them easily. It's very cool.

But it's also very Facebook specific. Why? Well, because Facebook has no other way to do it. Generally, people don't have any kind of Internet-wide identity (other than your email address, which is not something you want to "tag" based on since it gives your email address to anyone who can view said picture). OpenID has been formed to let people have Internet-wide identities, but it is gaining momentum VERY slowly. Google is moving to support it, as is Yahoo, but even those guys have been slow to do it (though if you have a Blogger account, you do already have an OpenID!).

I'm not going to explain it other than to say basically your "ID" gets tied to a web address. It can be one you own or you can sign up for one (like your blogger web page) and you can then use that as your "ID" to create forum accounts in other places, etc. They simply authenticate you against the Blogger ID instead of you having to create YET ANOTHER stupid forum identity. (You can still create a handle type identity on the forum for people to call you by, rather than them calling you by your web address.)

Okay, great. I'm not just Donnie Barnes, I'm also Nice. But until more sites support OpenID, it doesn't get me much. Hopefully soon more forum administrators will add support for it. If you want it, ask your administrators politely.

But what I want to talk about now is another way to put acceptance of OpenID, and that's to get support directly into image and video files to "tag" people with their OpenID. Then YouTube and the like could let you search for videos containing certain people. I'd also love to see support in video files (and video editing software like iMovie) so that you could "export" any of the text you add via text overlay (think titles, credits, subtitles, etc) as keywords that could be searched by search engines. Currently you can only do that by hand depending on the video hosting site. This should be IN the video/image file, not some proprietary attachment.

I think we're headed in this direction, but people need to start asking their software providers for these things!

More fun with iMovie and The Flip!

So here's a video I put together of snorkeling in Maui. Only a couple minutes long.

This one is getting published with YouTube instead of Blogger because Blogger won't let you make it bigger. It'll probably be lower quality, though. Tell me which you like better in the Comment section.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It oughtta be a law!

There really ought to be a law that hotels must advertise the height of their shower head. I'm really sick of hotels that have shower heads at 5'6" or so when I'm 6'2". It's a serious pain to use those, and I really think it could be a safety issue. While we can't really mandate what height hotels put them at, I think having to advertise the height would cause more hotels to fix their low shower heads for fear of losing business, and if they don't at least people like me could choose their hotels accordingly.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sea Life Park video

So here's my quick video from Sea Life Park, shot with the Flip MinoHD. It's edited with iMovie on the MacBook Pro and is just over ten minutes long. It took me less than thirty minutes to put this together.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Video camera in your pocket?

Think it's too good to be true? A decent camcorder in your pocket? Think again. I just got a new Flip MinoHD and I love it. It's so easy you can't imagine. Hit the power button and hit record. No muss, no fuss. Hit the play button to go back and view your recorded videos. Want to watch them on a TV? No problem...the included cable has normal RCA video and audio plugs that work with almost any TV with spare inputs. But best of all, the ease of which you can send them to your PC is incredible. Pop out the included USB plug and just plug the entire camcorder into your PC or Mac. Copy the files over. You can upload straight to Youtube or your favorite video editor easily.

The video in this blog entry was shot with the Flip MinoHD and I should have more videos uploaded shortly. The zoom works, but I will say it's really just a digital zoom and thus when you zoom in you do lose some resolution. But it's simplicity and ease of use and size make up for this minor difficiency, in my opionion. It recharges from your computer's USB port and has one hour of storage built in (and probably not much more than that in battery life, but that's all you need!). It does take some time to offload the video to the PC...fifteen minutes worth took about ten minutes to copy over, so it's not terribly fast in that department. But that's WAY better than trying to send video tapes to a PC as that can generally only be done in real time.

Real camcorders with good optical zooms and other nice features do still have a place, but this thing is smaller than many cellphones people carry and thus you're likely to have it on you when you need it. That's worth a LOT right there, especially if you have kids. Oh, and the price is pretty good, too. At the time I got mine the HD was $230 with the normal resolution one at $170. Well worth it, I think. The video recording in any cellphone I've ever tried was pretty horrible. This is way better.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sea Life Park

Just a quick note...if you ever find yourself in Oahu, HI, check out Sea Life Park. The place is a little run down, but the shows are good and the kids can really interact with the animals a lot more than at places like Sea World. Well, assuming it's not crowded, which was how we found it. Here's a short video of the dolphin show.

The kids had a great time there. I would recommend eating somewhere else. The food wasn't horrible, but it wasn't very good, either. But compared to prices on everything else in Oahu, this place was pretty reasonable on admission.

I'll upload more videos when I have a faster connection. Shouldn't be but a day or two.

Before you press that 'Forward' button...

...stop. Take a deep breath. Go have that first cup of coffee. Or walk the dog. Or read a story to the kids. Or, well, all of the above. Then follow these simple guidelines.

Okay, there are three major types of things people "forward" via email to a LOT of people at one time. The first is chain letters. If you ever even considered sending one of these, seek medical attention immediately. And if you send one to me, you might have to seek medical attention! Basically, what I'm saying here is just don't do it. There is really no good reason. You won't get good luck if you send it. You won't get bad luck if you don't. It's just clogging the Internet for no reason. And you know that down deep, don't you? That's that delete button. There you go. It really is okay.

The second is the good old fashioned internet joke. Hey, if you have to forward it, feel free, but please don't send it to me. I've been on the Internet since 1990. I've seen it all. At least ten times. Really. Plus there are about a gajillion different places to go read jokes on the Internet already. If I want to read a joke, I'll go read a joke or two. Besides, it seems like most internet joke forwards are really things told as "true stories." And they aren't true at all. The one about the blond who thought she was shot in the head only to find she had a can of biscuits explode in the backseat? Not even remotely true, and it's just not funny if it didn't really happen.

The last is the most controversial, probably. The cause. You got it, you read it, and it tore at your heart strings. It made you tear up a little. Or a lot. Whatever. But before you go sending it out to everyone you know, please check its validity. The single best place to check is You can go there and search on just a couple words from the subject line or body of what you received and in most cases you'll find you're looking at something either fake or at the very least completely unverified and unable to be verified (which means it's fake). If you can't find it at Snopes, try Googling it. It might just verify. Or Snopes will tell you if you have a positive, too (some things listed in Snopes are indeed true...try reading up on the copyright of Happy Birthday for an interesting story).

Now, if you've sent me one of these in the past, please don't think I'm mad at you. I'm not. I used to do this kind of thing myself. But since I've found out that so much of what's forwarded around isn't true, well, I've made it my mission to stamp it out. And that not only means telling you that your Forward wasn't true, but it means trying to get you and everyone else to check these things first. If we work together, we can make the truly bogus things go away. But if you mess up and send me one of these, well, I'm likely to just point you to this blog post. If I did that and you read this far, well, figure out which category you're in and act accordingly in the future. No need to respond...unless I told you otherwise, I still love you almost as much as before you sent me that email. Almost. *grin*

Monday, November 10, 2008

If I were president...

No, this isn't some commentary on how much better a president I'd be than everyone else. That would take too long. *gulp* Nope, this is about the things outside of all that in my life that would have to change if I were president.

First, there's basketball. My favorite hoops spot is near home in Chapel Hill, so that ain't happening. But apparently Obama intends to put his own court in the White House, so I could do that, too, and still play. It would be a different crowd, or I could just sneak my crowd back and forth on Air Force One two times a week.

Next is the car racing thing. This is a big problem. I'm pretty sure that you folks out there in taxpayer-land wouldn't appreciate me taking 20 weekends off per year to go race cars. So what to do here? Well it's obvious. I'd simply have to figure a way to race under a pseudonym with a disguise maybe only ten weekends per year.

Then there's all the blogging, facebook, and forum stuff I do. This part is very hard. I'm a big believer in being yourself online. I try to never engage in debates online with people who obviously maintain their anonymity online. I am me, no matter where I go for discussion, and I prefer to interact with like-minded folks (like-minded in that they don't care to be anonymous...if I only talked to folks who were like-minded about everything else I'd stay pretty bored trying to find someone to talk to!). They tend to only say things that they'd say in person and not "keyboard-commando" that way. The one true answer here is to just create an alternate name and still just "be me" and chalk it up to "dammit, I'm the POTUS I can do what I want." So I'd be Onnie Arnes online. Sure, people might draw a link, but then they'd be like "nah, couldn't be." Especially if I occasionally used some broken english.

Then there are my kids. Can the kids of the POTUS be in Boy Scouts? Can they play youth league basketball? I don't think we've had a president in modern times with kids younger than teenagers, anyway. And that was Chelsea and I don't think she got out and did much. I know I could show them the world from Air Force One, and I could say cool things like "because I'm the president!" instead of just "because I said so!" But would having them shadowed for like the rest of their lives by secret service be worth it? Eh, sure. I'm the POTUS.

I don't even want to think about what this would do to my wife. She won't let people cook or shop for her at home, and she'd get awful tired of aggravating the secret service guys to go with her every time she needed to run to Michaels. She'd be miserable. Plus I'd say stupid things like "we can have a chef and a shopper so quit whining to me about not having a Lowes Foods nearby...I've got to save the world AGAIN." On the plus side if I did have a race car accident and needed a reason why I was beat up I could just tell the world I said that to my wife and she did it. Poof, instant alibi.

I love me some college basketball and football. This one is a toss up. On the one hand, I wouldn't get to go to a lot of my favorite games. On the other, I could have some shlep of a staffer whose job it was to record every game I liked and then edit them down to skip the commercials. I'd be so busy that I wouldn't mind watching them a little after they actually happened if I could watch the condensed versions like that. Heck, I might get a high end enough shlep that he could put in replays for me automatically of plays I'd like to see again. But then there's the real plus side of being the POTUS when it comes to seats for all the biggest events! I know what you're saying..."but Presidents generally don't do that." HAHAHAHA. Sure they do. They just do it behind some one-way glass and make sure nobody KNOWS they are there. I'm the POTUS and nothing is stopping me from attending the SuperBowl, World Series, Final Four, and whatever else I want to go to!

On another plus side, I'm currently banned from buying a helicopter of my own. With being POTUS and all I wouldn't have to buy one BUT I'd still get to put a heliport in at the ranch so that helicopter the Marines have could fly me in. Then after I wasn't president any more I'd have to buy a helicopter. Wouldn't make any sense to have a heliport and no helicopter, now would it?

Hmm, I think it might just be too much. I know I could win if I ran, but I'm just not sure it's worth it...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Life is Good.

It's no secret to those who see me on a regular basis that I like Life is Good clothing. But that's not what this is about, even though I stole the title and logo for this post. This post is about technical stuff, but technical stuff for everyone. Ever visit a web page (particularly maybe an eBay product page) and want to email a link to the page you're on to someone? You can drag and drop or cut and paste the URL directly into an email, but you end up with a really ugly long mess sometimes.

There are several sites that reduce URLs for you, but my favorite is (and it's easy to remember once you know the creators think of it as "is good"). You copy the URL you want to send to your clipboard, visit, and paste it in the box. You'll have a new tiny URL returned to your clipboard. Paste that URL in your email and when someone clicks it, they'll get your intended page. Seem like a pain? Well, it is a little. So if you use Firefox, streamline it the process using this plugin. Now when you're in Firefox viewing a page you want to make a shorter link to, you just click the "is" button to the left of the URL in the top of your window. You'll have a new shorter URL put in your clipboard automatically that you can just "paste" into your email (or whatever).

Very handy.

Movie Review

Growing up, I loved to catch reruns of the TV show Get Smart. There was just something great about it that I can't really explain. I was apprehensive, however, that the movie might be yet another over-the-top remake that turned something good to something incredibly stupid (like Dukes of Hazzard...ugh!). Mel Brooks was the creator of the original series, so I should have checked to see if he was involved in this one. Fortunately he was, which likely played a part in it being true to original.

All in all I thought it was a fun movie. True to the original with the addition of a few more modern fight scenes. Be warned that it isn't for small kids as people are killed as well, which I don't think was true of the TV show. But the violence isn't terribly graphic. I thought Dwayne Johnson (still perhaps better known as "The Rock" from wrestling circles) was really good, too. Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway were perfect in their roles.

If you like Mel Brooks movies, you'll like this one. Oh, and some folks might know that I own a Smart car. I got a personalized plate for it...KAOS. Really, it couldn't be helped.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Wow. Just Wow.

So the voters of California voted to ban same-sex marriage and now some gay rights groups are advocating everyone sympathetic to their cause should boycott the entire state of Utah. Unbelievable. I'm sincerely doubting very many people within the state of Utah put in any hours on this election. It was likely Mormons who live in California who put in most of the hours on this. Add to that the fact that Mormons are not near 100% of the population of Utah, and you have something really silly brewing. And pathetic at the same time.

I understand protesting at Mormon churches and temples if the gays want to. As long as they do it lawfully, they have that right. Just like what the Mormons did in fighting same-sex marriage. But to potentially punish both non-Mormons in Utah as well as Mormons in Utah who had nothing to do with this is wrong on so many levels, especially when there's no outcry to do anything to punish California or the movement against it THERE. Sheesh.

For those wondering, as of 2004 the state of Utah was about 62% Mormon with the percentage on the decline. Projections show if the current trends continue that the percentage will drop below 50% by 2030.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Things I wonder...

So what happens now for Obama? I mean in the time between getting elected and taking office. It's kind of a long time when you think about it. I know he's got a lot to do what with appointing a staff and such, but how and where does he do all that from? I'd guess his secret service protection is stepped up, but is he just going to be around the house working from some office he already had? Or is there some "president elect" space somewhere? And we know the White House is pretty much furnished, so what does he do with his own house and "stuff"? Do you just pack your clothes and leave it like it is for four (or eight) years? We know you can have pets at the White House (hopefully the security deposit is high)...does he have pets? If not, will he get a dog or maybe a cat? If he does, will that animal have its own secret service agent?

And on the secret service, just how does that work? I know they can't tell me, but I still are they staffed? Is there two months where the current president (or POTUS as is so en vogue to call him now) just gets sort of half his normal security? Or do they bring in some secret service agents from some temp secret service agency? Surely in DC there's like some temp firm you just call when you need large bald men (bald because they obviously shaved it, not because they lost their hair) in dark suits and earpieces with several large hidden guns.

Will Obama be allowed to play basketball now? And if so, who does he play with? I mean I'm sure he had some group of buddies that played with him before, but do those guys now get to play with the POTUS? Or does he have to make the bald dudes in the suits drop a couple of their weapons and get their sweat on? Or does he just call up Michael Jordan and say "hey, MJ, this POTUS...Air Force One is in your area, wanna hop on and meet me for some one on one?" I'll bet MJ would go just so he could say "I schooled the POTUS." Well, I've seen POTUS-elect play and I could school him, too, so maybe he wouldn't.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why do we allow straight party tickets?

I know the presidential election isn't part of it, but other important elections are. Why do we allow ballots to be done that way? What possible rationale is there for it? Can people who truly want to do that not fill in a few extra bubbles? Seems like allowing elections to swing simply because of convenience is silly.

Now we have a governor who is chastising her own crowd for being rowdy because she "used to be a teacher" and looking like a twit doing it. It's entirely possible that had there been no straight party ticket on the ballot she would NOT be the governor. Amazing.

Katie Couric is just plain bad.

I rarely watch any of the big network news shows, but when I do I tend toward CBS. I know Couric has been on the job for a while, and things were shaky when she started, but I thought you had to give her time to settle into the new job. She's had plenty of time and she's still bad at it. Just tonight during election coverage they talked to a reporter in the stands at the stadium at FSU where folks went a little nuts when the cameras came on. She said something very close to "well, young people love to be on TV, no matter how foolish they look doing it."

Why would you say that? I just don't get her. She's a constant stream of mis-speaks and errors and just plain poor questions. How does she still have this job?

Monday, November 3, 2008

My body is a pretzel.

So over the last couple months I've noticed that my left hip has gotten tighter and tighter and the area middle to the lower part of my back on the right side has gotten tighter. It's gotten to the point it's caused some back pain and strangeness. Massage has helped, but with my racing schedule and with trying to get some workouts in, I just haven't been able to get but like one massage per month.

But what I've finally started to notice is what I think is the cause, and it's driving. Both competitive and on the road. The way I sit so that I have maximum foot control combined with all the "work" my right leg gets doing gas and brake seems to be aiding this "condition." In the race car, the brake pedal requires a good bit of force, but it must also be VERY controlled force. The clutch pedal, on the other hand, just requires occasional quick hits and little "control." Combine all that with the fact that I've done a LOT of driving in the last three months or so (both competitive and street) and we have a problem.

In racing circles, I do what is called "right foot braking" only. If you're going to downshift while braking, you have to use your right foot on the brake. But many racers also use "left foot braking" when they aren't downshifting, and that is exactly what it sounds like...using your left foot only to brake. I think it's time I started using left foot braking on the street everywhere I can to see if that helps this condition. Of course, I'm also stretching a lot more, doing hot-cold tub therapy, pool workouts, and won't be in a race car much for the next few months. We'll see how all that plays out.

What is "hot-cold tub therapy", you might ask? Well, that's the practice of spending two minutes in a hot tub (around 100F, maybe a bit more) and going immediately into a cold tub (about 45F) for one minute. Repeat three times (though it's okay to add one more hot tub trip at the end to warm back up). What does that do? The heat causes blood vessels and such to dilate (expand) and the cold causes everything to contract. So you get a pumping effect that helps free up and flush out the inflammation (and contaminants that cause it). It's a terribly annoying thing to do, but seems to work and work well. Tiny booties for your toes help, though I've found the biggest problem is an inability to breathe well in 45F water.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Did you know?

In the past 12 months, more US Marines were killed in motorcycle accidents than in the war in Iraq. This doesn't trivialize the war or the need to end it, but it is shockingly significant. I'm certainly in favor of having the freedom to ride a motorcycle if one desires, but there's clearly a problem here.

(That logo you see is for the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The kid got what he deserved, and his parents are lying.

This could be one of my favorite news stories ever. Some guy in Chapel Hill kept having his McCain signs stolen out of his yard, so he wired them up to an electric fence charger AND put up small warning signs that he had done so. He also (obviously) puts a video camera in a nearby tree and captures not just this kid, but YET ANOTHER NEIGHBOR trying to steal his signs!

I don't care which side of the, err, fence you're on in this election, this kind of thing is despicable and wrong (unless, of course, you know the owner of the sign, are friends with the owner, and it's a SMALL joke). What's worse, I think, is that the parents of the kid just plain lied when they said he "just wanted to see how the sign was put together" or whatever. HE HAD AN OBAMA SIGN IN HIS HANDS! Sheesh. What a crock. At least own up to what your kid was doing! It's not enough they're teaching the kid to steal or deface the property of others, they're teaching him that it's okay to lie about it in a public medium. All I can say is WOW.

Check out the kid getting zapped for yourself. It's obvious that it was pretty harmless (and yes, I've been zapped by those and it's annoying, but the kid isn't burnt or scarred for life or anything).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Go vote!

That's all I have to say, EXCEPT to add a little rant. I'm sick of political advertisements in just about every form. Wouldn't it be cool if our DVRs and radios could somehow know that we've voted? And give us alternate advertising? So then not only do folks have an incentive to vote, they have an incentive to go vote early! How cool would that be? I dig it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.

In this one, I was the windshield. I got really lucky in the Laguna race that this tire still held air fine after the wheel damage.

That happened with about 15 minutes to go in the race. It wasn't due to contact with any other cars, it was simply due to running over the new "turtles" that they've installed at Laguna inside of the normal rumble strips to keep people from short-cutting the turns in the gravel (which can be faster). The particular turtle I hit was in turn six, one of the fastest and most dangerous corners on the course. It actually sent the car up on the other two wheels a little and was quite an interesting ride. I was sure that I had done some damage and that it would result in a flat tire, but I felt it out for a little over a lap and it was fine, so I just kept motoring. You can't see in the picture, but the sidewall of the tire is actually bulged out a little where the rim edge is missing, too. Lucky, indeed.

Laguna racing wrap-up

About a week ago I put an end to my professional racing for 2008 with the Mazda MX-5 Cup season finale at Laguna Seca, which is near Monterey, CA. I raced there for the first time back in 2007 in the same series, and really enjoyed the track. I enjoyed it enough that I'd really like to race there every year, so hopefully I can find another arrive-and-drive scenario for 2009.

For this trip I was able to talk Ashley into going with me. That wasn't hard since she had never been to California at all, and northern California has so much interesting stuff to offer. We got a really nice room on the ocean at the Spindrift Inn right on Cannery Row in Monterey for the first couple nights. That was perfect as it let us walk around that entire area in the evening and in between my practice sessions. The Inn has awesome valet parking service, and was generally beautiful and awesome all the way around. The only negative was a lack of air conditioning, and it was hard to keep the room even 72F, and I generally like it cooler than that to sleep. I finally asked for a fan, though, and that got it really good at night. We were about 15 feet from the ocean at high tide and it was awesome sleeping with the waves breaking right outside.

We ate at several random places in Monterey that were all pretty good, but the best food in that area was definitely our Friday night dinner at the Chart House. Very good place and highly recommended if you're in the area. We checked out of there on Saturday after qualifying and headed to Santa Cruz. That afternoon we did a really fun train ride up into one of the virgin redwood forests still left. The cars were all open top gondolas and it was a real steam engine. Another highly recommended stop!

After that we met Jane and Colleen at their friend Judi's house on the beach in Santa Cruz. Judi was gracious enough to let us stay in their house there that night, so we went out and had another great meal at Aqua Bleu in downtown Santa Cruz. I got up Sunday and headed back to the track for the race. Ashley and Colleen and Jane came in time to see the entire race, and Hilary and Scott met us all there to see it, too. It was way cool having real fans in the stands for a big race! I even got to wave to them from the race car as we gridded up on the front straight before the pace lap. Afterwards they got to come to the pits and get some pictures with me and the car.

After that Ashley and I drove on up to San Francisco to check into The Argonaut, our hotel right on Fisherman's Wharf (thanks to Scott for that recommendation!). We got in late enough and were tired, so we had room service. This is one very cool hotel that even had good room service! Another highly recommended spot! Their valet parking is a little slower (probably just have further to go to get the cars!), so plan accordingly. On Monday we got up and headed to Muir Woods, which was way cool. It's another big virgin redwood forest with a very nice set of trails through it. We met Jane, Colleen, and Colleen's daugher Hannah there and headed up to Mt. Tamalpais. This is the tallest peak with a view of San Francisco and the bay, and it's awesome! Highly recommended.

After that we all headed down into Tiburon (a small town on the bay) and ate lunch at Sam's Cafe. Good food and good times sitting out by the marina. Tiburon is a very cool little town to visit, and I was awed by the houses on the cliffs over the bay. Wow. Then Ashley and I headed to Headlands Park, which is probably the best place to view the Golden Gate bridge. It's got the added charm of the WWII facilities that were built and then never actually used as they weren't completed until it was apparent that no enemy ships would ever make it to the west coast. From there we headed back into San Francisco and met Hilary at her and Scott's new apartment and then on to dinner. This time it was Betelnut restaurant, and this was definitely the best food we had on the entire trip. Amazing asian fare and highly recommended when in SF.

We flew home the next day after I was able to finally get my In-N-Out burger on the way to the airport (the most important food stop in any west coast trip!). Okay, my first hot In-N-Out burger. Some people might be here for a race report, but the trip was so much more than just racing I decided to just skip that. Okay, I won't skip it. I'll summarize. I was mid pack for most of practice and qualifying. Had a good race from 19th in qualifying (out of 29) to finish 12th on track. But a flurry of post race protests bubbled me up to tenth before I was caught in one myself (which most sadly cost me my FIRST hot In-N-Out as my wife and friends headed there and I got stuck being interviewed and all that for the protests) and penalized back to 13th. The short version is I'd do it all the same again, and if I had been the guy that protested me I would have chalked it up to "one of them racing deals" and not thought about it again. Same thing has happened to me several times, in fact. But such is life, and I had a great time on my trip. Ashley and I found some really great stuff to do when we take the kids to visit Hilary and Scott next year, too!

Please, no poop!

Near the Palace of Fine Arts, in San Francisco, we stumbled upon a flower garden with this sign in it.I suppose people walking their dogs might be inclined to try to "help" by dumping the poop in a flower garden. Or they might even let their dogs poop in a garden and not pick it up like they would have to if it was on the street. I don't know. But what I do know is that there's no way having a little dog poop in a flower bed is less attractive than this dumb looking sign. No way.

Online Shopping Tip

Many online retailers offer promotions and the way to get them when you place an order is to fill in a "promotion code" or similar box during your checkout. I've recently found that any time I encounter one of these, I go to Google and search for the retailer name along with "promotion code" or "online coupon" or whatever that particular retailer calls it. Often you find forums or sites where people have posted promotion codes that are still valid. Even if they're not, it never hurts to try as usually these are nationally advertised promotions (like 10% off one item, etc) and you're just as entitled to use them even though you never actually saw the advertisement. Give it a try, it's worked several times for me! One time in particular saved me nearly $300!

Cooking with brown paper bags?

Yeah, me, and a cooking question. So often times my wife has Food Network on the TV. Sometimes watching, and sometimes just as background noise. I've noticed now, having seen exactly two episodes of Cooking for Real, that the cook on that show likes to use brown paper bags. Once for a fried chicken recipe and now for an oyster recipe. She just uses them to batter things, which I get. Except my problem here is that I can't find a sanitary brown paper bag anywhere. In quick google searches I have found recommendations to not use brown paper bags for the popular turkey recipe out there because they might combust and aren't sanitary. I've found places that sell brown paper bags, but none that list any as sanitary for cooking.

I know if you're just going to deep fry everything that you're not going to get any bacteria from the bag, but what about good old-fashioned dirt and/or bag material or even chemicals from the recycling process? You're eating that stuff. Now, I know that you can get a lot of different fried goods at the State Fair, but I don't think they are yet selling fried dirt or fried brown paper bags. And no, I don't plan to cook, much less with a brown paper bag. It's just something that bugs me to see repeatedly on TV.

Yes, I know it's been two weeks since my last blog. I'll do better, I promise.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A sure-fire way to make money on Wall Street right now!

Go to Wall Street in NYC and become a street vendor selling Tums! I suggest keeping the prices low...something that works easily with small coins. Your target market is easily identifiable...they'll have lots of visible sweat and a facial expression that reminds you of deer-in-headlights. Do not attempt to engage them in petty conversation unless you have a very good shoulder to cry on.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Final Koni Challenge update of 2008

Well, the last of my Koni Challenge races for 2008 is over, so it's time to recap it and the season. This race was at VIR, a track I know well and have done fairly well at in the past, so I had fairly high least of myself. This weekend was somewhat interesting as my co-driver and team owner wasn't around for any of the testing. That meant no data to look at, no coaching, and no setup help. For the setup help we enlisted the services of Brian Smith, who is a co-manager for Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC. Brian is a good friend of mine and a great professional driver.

The first test day had two sessions available, and I drove the first one on the same tires we used for the entire race at Miller Motorsports Park. That proved very interesting as our times were fairly mediocre compared to everyone else and it felt like there was a complete lack of grip all the way around. I thought it had to be tires, so we got some new ones put on for the second session and sent Brian out on them. He made a few minor shock tweaks and got some decent times out of the car...going five seconds faster than I had in the morning! I went out for the last session and immediately dropped 3.5 seconds off my time, which was pretty good. I'd still like to be much closer to Brian than that, but he's pretty good. I also wasn't feeling entirely well, which contributed some.

On Friday we had three more sessions. I jumped in for the first of those and in the out-lap the car decided to go into ABS failure, which caused me to make a minor detour into some strategically placed tires stacked against a wall. Cracked up the bumper cover some, but no damage. The ABS module continued to do that early in each session, but you could reset it and it stayed fine from then on. Very odd. Made a few pit stops in that session to check temps and things, but didn't really drop much time over the evening prior. The guys adjusted on the car some before the next session. I think it was better, but track temps were going up and grip was going down, so it didn't show on the clock. But the most annoying thing was the last twenty minutes of that hour session were pretty brutal on my body as sickness was setting in harder. I got fairly nauseous when I got out, in fact.

Our last session would have been in mostly dark conditions since that's how the race would finish the next day, which meant we couldn't really do much of that session as we didn't yet have working headlights (though the crew did get them working before the actual race). But since that was the case and I was feeling ill, I decided to go home and get some rest. The race was to be six hours which would mean I would need to do at least two stints of over an hour each, and each time I had gotten out of the car already I was completely soaked in sweat.

Our last practice session was first thing Saturday morning, followed an hour later by qualifying. There was an 11:30 drivers meeting and the race started at 2pm. Jason needed that practice since he hadn't been on VIR in the RX-8 yet and then he would qualify it. So I just slept in and got to the track in time for the meeting. Interestingly, we were told in that meeting there would be TWO pace laps before the race start. More on that in a bit.

I wasn't feeling at all well, but I did get some sleep and did hydrate okay, so I figured I had at least one stint in me, which was pretty important to me. We had a couple backups lined up in case I couldn't do the second one (as Jason would have gotten fried trying to do the rest of it himself). Jason started the race in 33rd out of 38 starters. Not good, but that was the best time we'd seen in the car all weekend so far, so it wasn't too far off what the car could do. We worked some good pit strategy early and worked our way into the top 2o about an hour into the six hour race. We hovered around 15th for the next hour and then I got in. I had done about 45 minutes and we were still easily in the top 20 when the motor decided it had enough of this abuse and gave up on us.

That's the first time I've ever had a motor just decide to expire for no external reason (missing a shift, etc). I wasn't able to make it around to the pits, so they had to throw a full course caution and pull me back in. Day over at the 2:40 mark.

Our car was never fully developed for this series as far as what we would have been allowed to do to the engine, so we were down on horsepower in a significant way to most of the field. We did get the car to handle better than most cars, though, and used that to stay somewhat competitive. It was a good learning experience, as we did see a lot of different conditions both with the car and the tracks we raced on. Fun stuff. Big thanks to the Team MER crew...Jason, Juliann, Darrin, and Wally in particular. Thanks for all the hard work, guys!

What's up for next year? Who knows. I do still have an MX-5 Cup race left at Laguna-Seca, a set of Spec Miata races at VIR, and then the 13 Hour enduro at VIR.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Illegal Immigration to increase thanks to weak economy?

So the subject of illegal immigration is a complex problem that becomes very annoying when you add the social aspects to it. On the one hand, there are lots of dollars at stake, but on the other nobody wants to be the "bad guy" to the poor and downtrodden. I get that. But then sometimes the dollar amounts are so staggering that one can't help but be annoyed. Take, for instance, the fact that not only is Mexico's second biggest source of foreign income the money that legal and illegal immigrants send to Mexico (around $2B per month), but Mexican oil production has been dropping such that their first biggest source of foreign income isn't so hot.

So now, according to this story, when the US economy gets hit hard, the Mexican economy gets hit harder. In August the amount immigrants sent to Mexico dropped 12%. Since most of the immigrants leave the poorer villages for a better life and then send money back to family still in those poor villages, we're talking about $300M that didn't go to those villages last month that normally would have. So that makes the poor villages poorer. So what will people do? More people will leave to find ways into the US! Then we have more illegal immigrants to add to the enforcement load of the border patrols and immigration officials. There are going to be more of them competing for the same jobs as US citizens. More of them using government services (like school for the kids they have here) even though many aren't paying taxes for those services.

This makes my head hurt. It's been easy for so long for the defenders of the illegal immigrants to say that they are only taking jobs that citizens don't want. But as this ecomonic crisis ripples down (and even if things start to turn around, the effects are most assuredly going to linger and work their way downward) you're going to see more citizens willing to take on those jobs they might not have had to in the past. They'll find competition from illegals hard to beat if employers continue to pay the illegals below minimum wage and not have to take out taxes to boot.

I'm all for giving everyone we can a fair shot. But I believe we need a firmly closed border and tight controls on how many people are allowed into the country. The folks allowed in should definitely be paying taxes and given all the freedoms and protections this great country has to offer. But those who can't get in legally? They'll need to be sent back home. I'm not necessarily opposed to amnesty and citizenship for those who are already here, either. But we've got to stop the flood, too.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Grandfather Mountain becomes a NC State Park

Hugh Morton was one of the greatest North Carolinians ever. He truly loved everything about our state, and made sure he did what he could to preserve it with his work at Grandfather Mountain. Sadly, Hugh died in 2006 and the mountain passed to his heirs. I worried then that perhaps his heirs might not be as good at being stewards of such a majestic place, but at the same time I felt like any heirs of someone as great as Hugh must have enough of what Hugh had to want to protect it. As I visited the mountain over the last two years I was very happy to see little had changed except the items put in motion by Hugh before his passing. I even exchanged reassuring emails with one of those heirs.

Now comes the news that the heirs have sold the mountain to the state of North Carolina and Governor Mike Easley has made sure it will become a state park. This should eternally protect the mountain from development while keeping it open for tourists to continue to do what I did, and that's grow up with a great family vacation destination right in their back yard. Thank you to Governor Easley and the legislature of North Carolina. For more on this story, see the WRAL news video here.

In that video, you will note a brief comment from Hugh Morton that just says "Wiseman's View." I don't know how that made it in the editing of the story, but Wiseman's View is not part of Grandfather Mountain. It is yet another of many great overlooks in the mountains of NC, and one I highly recommend to anyone visiting the NC mountains and the areas around Grandfather in particular. Be warned that it is a long drive down a fairly rugged dirt road, but it's usually passable by car (stop at the ranger station on your way in and ask to be sure), but almost always passable by SUV or truck. More info below...

View Larger Map

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Side Effects

So a good friend is having some sleeping trouble and thus taking Ambien CR. She gave me the side effect warning label. Part of it reads:

"Sleep-Driving" and other complex behaviors: There have been reports of people getting out of bed after taking a sleep medicine and driving their cars while not fully awake, often with no memory of the event. If you experience such an event, it should be reported to your doctor immediately, since "sleep-driving" can be dangerous.
Well no kidding! But wait, there's more!

This behavior is more likely to occur when Ambien CR is taken with alcohol or other drugs such as those for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Other complex behaviors such as preparing and eating food, making phone calls, or having sex have been reported in people who are not fully awake after taking a sleep medicine. As with "sleep-driving", people usually do not remember these events.

This is kind of funny on a lot of levels, but I think my favorite is how "having sex" is equated as a "complex behavior" with eating and making a phone call. And in searching around for pics to use for this blog entry I found this little gem:

Talk about something that would sell! Too bad the warning label gets in the way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman passes at 83

There are some people who seem ageless and immortal, and Paul Newman was one of those precious few. You can read any number of news articles today profiling his life and achievements (which included a fifth place in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and, more impressively, a second place at Le Mans...he was quite a race car driver). I just want to say simply that I will miss not only his work, but his amazing vigor for life. He was truly an amazing American artist who brought joy to people's lives in many ways, and his philanthropic endeavors are legendary.

The following snippet from The Late Show with David Letterman is a classic piece of Paul Newman. I loved every appearance he made on that show, and it's because it was almost always something like this.

Paul, I wish I could have known you personally.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Art versus Commerce

Heard an interview on an XM station with a country artist and songwriter a few minutes ago. Sadly, I have no idea who it was because I didn't stick around that long and jumped in during the middle, but the lady had a nice way of putting the struggle that artists face when trying to make a living at art. Three simple words: Art versus commerce.

What she was referring to was the fact that artists must often try to decide between doing something they find rewarding and doing something they think others will find rewarding enough to purchase. Fortunately for me I have no artistic ability so I don't have any such struggles, but I can sympathize with those that do.

But this leads me to a small rant, and that is the association here between art versus commerce and government spending on art. Government spending on art? That's right, the government buys art, and in increasingly large dollar amounts. Many cities now have ordinances requiring all large building projects include some percentage in their budgets for art. Like in Charlotte, NC, they apparently had to spend some percentage of the money that went to the new light rail system on art. That system cost quite a bit of money, so they had to spend quite a bit on art. Problem here is there's no process for how to find good art. But what's worse than that is that even if there is a process, it's likely to never be met with much popular appeal. Why? Because while most people like spending some amount of money on art they like, most people also don't like being forced to spend money on art even if it DID happen to be something they like. And I think most people see government spending on art as forced spending of THEIR hard earned tax dollars on something they probably wouldn't ever buy themselves.

So what is one to do? Not allow the government to spend money on art? Seems like a bit of a stretch there since one could consider any architecture style past "brutally basic" to be a form of art. Plus we need to be able to decorate our governor's mansions and have some pictures on the wall in our government buildings. But at the same time, I wonder about policies that force artwork into places where it probably just isn't going to be very welcome, like along a rail line. Nice landscaping is one thing, but trying to please most people with a big expensive piece of artwork is a recipe for disaster, I think.

Outside of the rant, I just found the art versus commerce line to be a very interesting one. Artists are obviously welcome to just do what they like and worry about money in some other way. And many artists not only choose but quite enjoy trying to find something that the masses will love enough to buy. There's nothing inherently wrong about either tact. It is fun to try to decode particular artists motives sometimes, however. The term "sell out" comes to mind...