Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year's End

With so much happening over the holidays and with my taking some vacation time, it's hard to find time to sit back, check email, skim the RSS feeds, and post something here.

So, I thought I'd share some quick thoughts on memorable moments that have happened over the past week or two.

Elizabeth stopped me one day while I was sharpening the kitchen knives on one of those wheely-sharpener-thingies and asked how it worked. So I showed how you sharpened the knives, then explained how it was like the emory board you use on her fingernails. After giving her an example with her fingernail, she said something to the effect of "Dad, you're the bestest teacher. You always take the time to explain to William and me how things work and we learn it so fast. You're a great learner."

I finished Abercrombie's final book, The Last Argument of Kings. While I can certainly see how some may take the ending as below par for his level of work, I must say I can see his subtle hand in the workings of the greater machine of a genius author. All those comparisons of him being the Tarentino of fantasy aren't true. He's better than that. Glotka is gruesome. Logen is human. And Bayaz makes the Emperor in Star Wars look like a sissy boy.

It snowed today. Briefly, but it snowed. Yvonne and I got a "grown-up day" while the in-laws babysat the kids. We did some returns, spent time together, had lunch, and painted a plate (at a pottery place - something I haven't done in several years).

There were presents galore. So many presents I know I didn't get pictures of them all. Me, I got a Les Stroud book, and a jacket, pants, and new shoes for running. Yvonne got lots of stuff she returned (so much for me thinking I know her size), books, and movies. Oh, I got movies too. We scored big on DVDs this year. Movies, TV shows, etc. And of course there were a ton of toys and clothes for the kids. A few duplicates we returned today, but overall some nice stuff. Like stuff I'm excited about playing with too.

William is getting big. And he's starting to understand more and more everyday. Lately I've noticed he's learning to shake his head "no" when he doesn't want something. You'll ask him if he wants a "milk" or a "toy" and he'll shake his head. Trust me, it's an improvement on him just shaking his head "no" when you tell him not to do something.

Oh, and if you've made it this far, I've started a new blog (this will be number four in my resume) over at Library Dad. Go there to see what it's all about. I'm hoping, really hoping, that I'll be able to spend most of my year over there instead of here. Which means fewer updates on my life and more updates on the library.

There are of course more updates of a more personal nature, but I'll just leave it at saying I love my wife and I like our (joint) New Year's resolution.

I'm over halfway through Chabon's Kavalier and Clay novel. Not quite as good as his Yiddish Policemen's Union, but still a work of art. Chabon is a master with words.

I also finished The Road Taken by Megan Hart. Simply put, it's a short, lame, romance novel with some dirty scenes in it. But it was free.

I'm still reading the Bible. I'm in 2 Samuel and it's actually (and surprisingly) getting interesting. More so than some of the other books I've read this year.

I'm looking forward to you, the reader, to tell me what to read next over at Library Dad.

And I think that's it. If you care, I don't really have a New Year's resolution for myself. I would like to run most or all of the Grand Prix events in the area (tomorrow's race isn't part of the Grand Prix, but I figured, hell, what's some frigid temperatures when it comes to starting the year off right, right? Yeah. We'll see if I freeze, run, walk, and finish.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas Everyone

Elizabeth wishes you all a Merry Christmas. She's sharing her latest photos with you here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A giant igloo

Edinboro University opens it's new dome for sports.

And the sad part is, they probably could have used snow to build it. Lord knows there's enough of it there.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Sunrise Lands

I know I've talked about this book before, in fact it was the first one on my list for this year. How fitting it's near the bottom at year end.

After re-reading what I said back then, I'm pretty much still in the same frame of mind. The end wasn't quite what I wanted, but still good enough to keep me hooked.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sekrit Projekt Trial Run

I'll be making my attempt at a trial run today for my Sekrit Projekt. Who knows how it will work, but I'll give it a shot. It's not the original idea I had a few weeks back, but I'm taking a spin on it and hopefully it'll work out better. Right now, it's kind of a lame idea, thus the "sekritive" nature of the project. Part of it is tied into a resolution I have for the new year (not the one below) and the resolution isn't so lame (in fact I've seen some more "professional" reviewers/bloggers taking it up. Oddly, it isn't due to the "economy," it's due to my OCD nature of being a completist. Anyway, we'll see.

As for my not-so-sekrit-projekt, I'm making an early resolution for the new year. Running. Yes, that self-abusing sport of running. I did pretty good with my first race (2nd place for my age group plus a trophy) and my second race was a bit of a wash (but I walked with a four year old, so it really wasn't all that bad). My personal goal is to run the race in 30 minutes or less. That's five minutes faster than my best race (of old age, not of all time - that's in the 21 minute range from high school - but let's not count that, shall we?). I have an eight-week training schedule mapped out, scheduled time off you-know-where, and hopefully enough motivation to do well. The race I'm training for is the first in a series, in fact a local "Grand Prix" sponsored by various local businesses. Maybe if I'm fast enough, I'll reward myself with some uber-cool shoes I saw this weekend.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The AFI Top 100 Movie List

I've long been a fan of movies. I grew up watching them nearly every week as a kid, so it's no surprise that there was once a time when I knew the production company associated with each logo. Flying unicorn? Tri-Star.

Anyway, AFI published this list back in the mid-1990's and I've been slowly trying to cross them off my "to watch list." Those in bold I've seen and those in italics and underline are on my DVR.

And no, this isn't a new idea. Take a look at January of this year where I stole the idea from Paulie (and you can check my progress).

1 Citizen Kane
2 Casablanca
3 The Godfather
4 Gone with the Wind
5 Lawrence of Arabia
6 The Wizard of Oz
7 The Graduate

8 On the Waterfront
9 Schindler's List
10 Singin' in the Rain
11 It's a Wonderful Life
12 Sunset Boulevard
13 The Bridge on the River Kwai
14 Some Like It Hot
15 Star Wars
16 All About Eve
17 The African Queen
18 Psycho
19 Chinatown
20 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
21 The Grapes of Wrath
22 2001: A Space Odyssey
23 The Maltese Falcon
24 Raging Bull
25 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
26 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
27 Bonnie and Clyde
28 Apocalypse Now
29 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
(on my other post, I had this as Rosemary's Baby)
30 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
31 Annie Hall
32 The Godfather Part II
33 High Noon
34 To Kill a Mockingbird

35 It Happened One Night
36 Midnight Cowboy
37 The Best Years of Our Lives
38 Double Indemnity
39 Doctor Zhivago
40 North by Northwest
41 West Side Story
42 Rear Window

43 King Kong
44 The Birth of a Nation
45 A Streetcar Named Desire (on the DVR)
46 A Clockwork Orange
47 Taxi Driver
48 Jaws
49 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
50 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
51 The Philadelphia Story
52 From Here to Eternity
53 Amadeus
54 All Quiet on the Western Front
55 The Sound of Music
56 M*A*S*H

57 The Third Man
58 Fantasia
59 Rebel Without a Cause
60 Raiders of the Lost Ark
61 Vertigo
62 Tootsie
63 Stagecoach
64 Close Encounters of the Third Kind
65 The Silence of the Lambs
66 Network
67 The Manchurian Candidate

68 An American in Paris
69 Shane
70 The French Connection
71 Forrest Gump
72 Ben-Hur
73 Wuthering Heights
74 The Gold Rush
75 Dances with Wolves
76 City Lights
77 American Graffiti
78 Rocky
79 The Deer Hunter
80 The Wild Bunch
81 Modern Times
82 Giant
83 Platoon
84 Fargo

85 Duck Soup
86 Mutiny on the Bounty
87 Frankenstein
88 Easy Rider
89 Patton
90 The Jazz Singer
91 My Fair Lady
92 A Place in the Sun
93 The Apartment
94 Goodfellas
95 Pulp Fiction

96 The Searchers
97 Bringing Up Baby
98 Unforgiven
99 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
100 Yankee Doodle Dandy

Now, on top of that, I have another five planned out for the rest of this month, but I'm not sure if it will conflict with other recordings or events. Trying to get something on the weekend is often hit or miss since we may or may not be home.

So, to steal a line form Friends, challenge extended. Where do you stand with AFI's Top 100 list (the original, don't even get me started on the 10th anniversary one)?

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Wal-Mart Bailout

This has been floating around the interwebs of late, but in case you haven't seen it, it may make you stop and think.

1. At Wal-Mart, Americans spend $36,000,000 every hour of every day.
2. This works out to $20,928 profit every minute!
3. Wal-Mart will sell more from January 1 to St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) than Target sells all year.
4. Wal-Mart is bigger than Home Depot + Kroger + Target + Sears + Costco + K-Mart combined.
5. Wal-Mart employs 1.6 million people and is the largest private employer.
6. Wal-Mart is the largest company in the history of the World.
7. Wal-Mart now sells more food than Kroger & Safeway combined, and keep in mind they did this in only 15 years.
8. During this same period, 31 Supermarket chains sought bankruptcy (including Winn-Dixie).
9. Wal-Mart now sells more food than any other store in the world.
10. Wal-Mart has approx 3,900 stores in the USA of which 1,906 are Supercenters; this is 1,000 more than it had 5 years ago.
11. This year, 7.2 billion different purchasing experiences will occur at a Wal-Mart store. (Earth's population is approximately 6.5 billion.)
12. 90% of all Americans live within 15 miles of a Wal-Mart
13. Let Wal-Mart bail out Wall Street!

My spin on bailout

So I’ve been sitting on this idea for a few days. Part of it was spawned by my mother asking me how I would save the economy, but it was mostly due to the recent news of the big automobile bailout. That’s right, Ford, GM, and Chrysler all want money from the government to solve their problems. In return, the government takes part ownership and sets some rules. Well, here are a few rules I’d like to suggest.

Rule 1 – Fewer Models and Choices
I think the major automobile manufacturers have been systemically flawed in their business model for years. Let’s pick on Ford for the moment. They currently have seventeen models to choose from under their Ford brand alone. That’s right, take a look at the list:

  • Ford F-150
  • Ford Flex
  • Ford Focus
  • Ford Focus Coupe
  • Ford Fusion
  • Ford Mustang
  • Ford Taurus X
  • Ford Taurus
  • Ford Edge
  • Ford Escape Hybrid
  • Ford Escape
  • Ford Explorer
  • Ford Explorer Sport Trac
  • Rod Ranger
  • Ford Super Duty
  • Ford E-Series

So out of these seventeen models, there are four trucks to choose from. Four. Why? And that fundamental question is what brings me to where the auto makers are thinking poorly. There are simply too many models to choose from.

This rule would require car makers to reduce their model and feature selections in half. Ideally, they should offer a two door car, a sedan (four door), a truck, a mini-van, a sport utility vehicle (SUV), a van, and a sports car (that’s seven models, leaving them another one or two models to produce). Why should they reduce their offerings? Two reasons. First, consumer spending on automobiles is down drastically, something the manufacturers have admitted to themselves. Second, they need to spend the bailout money on mass transit (see Rule 2).

Rule 2 – More Mass Transit
This rule would require car manufacturers to produce mass transit solutions. The solutions need to be scalable for large and small communities, interchangeable with other producers of mass transit, and uniform in basic design. Let’s say Ford produces a small, medium, and large light-rail car. The mass transit car should be compatible with one produced by GM or Chrysler. There will allow for interchangeable parts, uniform design, and non-proprietary training of maintenance crews. What the car makers produce will also need to be compatible with existing modes of mass transit. The Metro in Washington D. C. and Metra in Chicago may not travel the same rails, but the car makers can produce cars for each as well as modes of mass transit in between (buses, rail cars, street cars, etc.).

These rail cars, trolleys, and buses would not only support our infrastructure, but help drive sales for the car makers in a new market. Some may say they would be drastically reducing the need for individual cars themselves and that may be true in the short term. However, the United States has long been a culture focused on cars. They have allowed us to travel, stay mobile, and commute as we desire.

Rule 3 – More Alternate Fuel Options
The big three automakers are touting their plans for more flex fuel and hybrid cars. But their production rates and prices are often too low and too high respectively to help the average citizen. Tax incentives are helpful, but again they tend to benefit those with the money to buy a new car to begin with. Until most or all of the cars available operate on some sort of alternative energy source, the general public won’t benefit. Perhaps for every five alternative fuel models produced an automaker can get a waiver to go above their allotted model limitations.

Rule 4 – Lower Executive Salaries
Plain and simple, executives make too much money and get too many benefits. While this is not limited to automakers, it’s a good place to start. If an executive can afford to fly a private jet to attend a meeting, maybe he shouldn’t be an executive. The ultimate goal of any business is to make money. Would it not make sense to reduce costs to drive profit? How much could have been saved by flying first class instead of on a private jet? And if you know the meeting is coming, why not take your time on the train?

And it isn’t just the salaries of the executives either that needs pruning. What purpose would a two million dollar, interest free home loan serve for an executive? Can’t they get financing like the rest of us? If their credit is so bad they need to rely on their employer to fund their house, they should choose a cheaper house or work on repairing their credit.

By no means should an executive work for free. They should make a proportional amount more than those reporting to them. If the guy working the production floor makes twenty dollars an hour, his boss makes forty, his boss makes eighty, then his boss should make one hundred. That’s only $208,000 a year. A reasonable sum of money for a high-level manager or executive.

Rule 5 – Last Chance
This is your last chance. As in, if you still go belly up after you get the money, you’re done. No more money, the government takes over your company and does as it pleases with it.

Ford website, Retrieved on December 9, 2008 from

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dense or Whimsical?

Your choice.


Ford's Plan for fixing themselves.

GM's Plan for fixing themselves.

Chrysler's Plan for fixing themselves.

A much lighter view on things from a young girl named Tavi that's into fashion. Sometimes I wish I was this care-free again. Not a worry in the world beyond what to wear to school and if I'd get my homework done in time to watch Woody Woodpecker.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Catch Up Reviews

No, not like ketchup you put on a burger, catch up like I'm behind in writing a few reviews.

First, we have Crusade, the latest book of the Destroyermen by Taylor Anderson. Now, his first book was okay. Clearly not in the league of S. M. Stirling, but decent enough to read the next book in the series.

His second book follows much in the same vein, but shows some signs of improvement. There are certain aspects that I still don't much like (especially the pacing), but Anderson seems to have gotten better at his craft. The characters are developing (slowly) and the action has certainly picked up a notch (and far outpaces the first book). Anderson shows clearly he knows about battle at sea and on land. His Grik bad guys and Cat Monkey good guys make for an interesting twist on the "normal" alternate-history genre.

What I noticed most about this installment was the humor (it's getting better and is well placed) and the dialogue. Certain characters seem to have these two or three page speeches throughout the book. While certain books couldn't support this style, Anderson does well with it.

Next, we have the books that I had to stop reading. Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley, The Disappeared by Kristine Kathyrn Rusch, and Roughing It by Mark Twain (I've read it before, but had to stop since it was pretty dry listening). Most disappointing was Winterbirth as I really, really wanted to enjoy this one. Unfortunately, it was just waaaaaaaay too slow for me.

Which brings us to Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation to the first two). I'm not a big graphic novel kind of guy, but this one had a cover that caught my eye at the library (yes, the library, that's your one and only clue about my next project idea).

The art inside was fantastic and the storyline was much like Shrek. Funny, entertaining, and pretty close to the original stories to bring in some big names. Like Jack (of beanstalk fame). Anyway, a pleasant read.

And I'll finish off with A Meeting at Corvallis by S. M. Stirling. This one was actually a re-read (well, I read it the first time and listened to it this time). As usual, Stirling delivers. Plenty of action, drama, double-crosses, and witches. Can't wait to get deeper into the storyline of the Change because I'm hooked again.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Because I can't say it

And because Jim says it so well, I'll let him say the rest:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

2008 Turkey Trot

So, I never posted my time from the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day. It's still in my inbox and I seem to keep avoiding it. Maybe I'm subconsciously ashamed of it.

Congratulations Neil you finished the Turkey Trot 5 km on Nov 27, 2008 with a
time of 01:04:47. You placed 1807 of 1816 runners, 871 of 874 Male runners and
57 of 57 in the Clydesdale division. You scored 2 Grand Prix points in this
race. Weather on Race day was 38 degrees, sunny.

Yes, that's right. An hour and four minutes. But I was sick and walked it. With a four year old. And yes, I registered in the Clydesdale division. Something I doubt I'll do again (not because it means I'm fat, but because it seems to take you out of the "normal" men's division).

Aside from being slow (and sick), I'm okay with my time. I hadn't really trained for it and didn't really feel motivated to run it. But when I saw those guys cruising back before we even hit the 1 mile mark, I wanted to get well and run.

Overall, I was amazed at how many runners there were. I mean, this is Thanksgiving morning. And it's freezing cold out. And over 2,000 adult runners showed up for the 5k, plus another 600 or so kids ran the mile. What I enjoyed the most, was the attitude of everyone involved. Sure, some of the kids were being dragged along that one mile route, but nearly everyone was happy to be there. Add a few kegs and it would have been a regular party.

And the sportsmanship of those involved was also great. Cheers went up for the race leaders. The girl in the wheelchair. The stragglers like us. And several people were amazed that Elizabeth did the race. Several people asked "Did she do the whole thing?" or "She's only four?"

Yep, she did it all by herself. I carried her after the Finish line. And she ran a good portion of it too, just in spurts. I think next summer she may be able to do some one mile runs.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

One less monkey

So, I now have one less monkey on my back as I share some recent photos of William, Elizabeth, and our Turkey Trot.

But as I look at the photos, I realize some are missing. So pardon me while I fix that.

Okay. Fixed. Now you can view the entire collection here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A bit of an update

Yesterday's post about the fire has become a temporary obsession of mine. I recently discovered a few sites that may interest you.

First, an image of the funeral services from Life magazine.
Second, an image of a mother in grief from Life magazine (the man looks like my grandfather, but I'm pretty sure it isn't him).

Finally, what appears to be the best source of information (photos, statistics, maps, etc.) about the fire.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Our local paper ran this AP Story yesterday about the 50th anniversary of the fire that killed several students and teachers at the Our Lady of Angels School in Chicago's West Side.

Why did this story make me stop and read it? It has close family ties. Years ago (1996 to be precise) my mother gave me a Christmas present. A book called To Sleep with the Angels by David Cowan and John Kuenster.

And while nobody in our family died in that fire, my grandfather (my mom's dad) knew many of the firefighters involved in fighting the blaze. You see, my grandfather was a photographer for the fire department. And while I never knew him (he died when my mom was a kid), I feel proud that he was such a friend and asset to the department.

So, if you have kids in school, say a little prayer today for those that lost there lives 50 years ago today. If it weren't for their sacrifice, we wouldn't have such high standards for fire protection and prevention in our schools.