January 31, 2006

Raising Thinkers

I subscribe to plenty of podcasts now. Try to listen to all of them, but usually don't keep up with them like I would hope to. One that frequently gets passed over is the Milt Rosenberg podcast. Milt Rosenberg is a radio personality here in Chicago who has been on WGN since 1973. With his five-day a week nightly interview show, Extension 720 he is an institution not only of Chicago radio, but also of radio itself.

milt rosenbergMilt is unique in that he is just so damn smart. He raises the level of the interview into a discussion with meat. You end up riveted by what it is being said. As the quote WGN loves to tag in front of, in the middle of, and after any reference to Milt and his radio program, ". . .when it's time to feed your head, the guy with the biggest ladle is Milt Rosenberg."

I was listening to an Extension 720 on the train ride home this evening. I forgot who Milt's guests were exactly, but there were a whole bunch of them and they all came from places like Argonne National Labs, Fermilab, and the University of Chicago. In other words, really smart dudes.

The topic was "What will the world be like in 2100." The discussion for the most part centered around energy and technology - how these things might change in the next 100 years, and how they would have to change if our society is going to continue to progress.

Towards the end of the discussion the topic switched a bit. Milt brought in the idea of how will people be different in 2100. Considering all the technological advances that are surely to come and considering how technology has affected humans up to this point, Milt wanted to hear the opinions of the others on how humans would be different in how they relate to the world.

It was an interesting point to bring up given the umbrella topic. Milt quoted studies that demonstrated college students who didn’t know the dates of the American Civil War, or couldn’t pick from a multiple choice question what was Boyle’s Law. It was Milt’s argument at the time that the advance in technology is creating a culture where reading or a shared learning is done. That the things I learn are different than what someone else learns. In a way he was touching on the idea of egocasting that I mentioned here in this blog last week.

The panel counters Milt’s argument with saying that school, or at least secondary school, never should be about learning facts. Technology is making it easier for people to find the facts that they need. Go to Google, type in Boyle’s Law, and get your answer.

ZooLights 1Rather, school should be about preparing children to become adults who are thinkers. People who figure out the world and solve the problems of the future. This point made me think about how I approached high school and college, and then about how Heather and I are raising our kids.

In high school, and more importantly college, I purposely avoided picking a major like business because I wanted the liberal arts college experience. I didn’t want to treat college like vocational school, which spending four years to get a bachelors degree in accounting seemed like to me. I wanted to spend four years absorbing whatever I could. Certainly it made getting a job after graduation a bit more challenging, but in the long run I think I am positioned to handle any situation that is presented me.

Hopefully Heather and I doing the same for Ian, Emma, and Zoe. I’d had to see them run through school memorizing facts and learning simply the mechanics of things. I want them to want to understand the why and how something works, not just understand that it works and can be used in a particular way. I want them to be problem solvers and thinkers. Not button pushers and data regurgitators.

How do I teach this? I’m not sure. But I think it will start by demonstrating for them my own interest in learning and problem solving. By actively fighting the urge to relax into egocasting. They might be too young to learn these things from me now; but I think if I get into the habit of demonstrating the power of being a thinker over a human encyclopedia they will understand that power when the time is right.

January 29, 2006

I Knew There Was a Reason I Liked Ted

Ted Koppel has signed on to be an Op-Ed contributor to the New York Times. His first piece was published today, and in it he comes out with both six-guns a blazin' and aimed at the heart of broadcast journalism.

Broadcast journalism, in Koppel's opinion, is "in decline and in distress." He argues that the news media outlets are focused more on giving the audience what they want, instead of telling them what is important. They scramble to appeal to the 24-35 demographic and abandon any attempts at reporting serious news. He writes:

ted koppel"Most television news programs are therefore designed to satisfy the perceived appetites of our audiences. That may be not only acceptable but unavoidable in entertainment; in news, however, it is the journalists who should be telling their viewers what is important, not the other way around.

"Indeed, in television news these days, the programs are being shaped to attract, most particularly, 18-to-34-year-old viewers. They, in turn, are presumed to be partly brain-dead — though not so insensible as to be unmoved by the blandishments of sponsors.

"Most particularly on cable news, a calculated subjectivity has, indeed, displaced the old-fashioned goal of conveying the news dispassionately. But that, too, has less to do with partisan politics than simple capitalism."
Ouch! But I have to think that Ted is hitting things right on the nail with his assessment. I don't necessarily feel any more informed after I have watched the 10 o'clock news or CNN for 15 minutes. I feel like I've been given some interesting sound bites and bunch of fluff. There wasn't anything of substance presented to me.

The one exception being when I watch Chicago Tonight on WTTW. Then I feel like I have been shown new things and educated as to what is going on.

Back to Ted for a moment. He has a solution for the networks. Instead of aiming their news shows at the disinterested younger segment (which they so desperately try to attract for advertising revenue reasons), the networks should focus on serving older consumers who actually are interested in serious news. Why? Ted tells us.

. . . there are too many important things happening in the world today to allow the diet to be determined to such a degree by the popular tastes of a relatively narrow and apparently uninterested demographic . . .
While I take exception at being lumped into the "uninterested demographic," I can't help but stand behind his call for journalism to begin showing us what is important to know and not shaping the news to fit a format that they think will sell.

January 27, 2006

Special Low Price My Ass!

Infinite Crisis CoverDC Comics is in the middle of their big Infinite Crisis event story that is suppose to recast and relaunch the DC Universe in much the same way Crisis on Infinite Earths did twenty years ago.

I've been reading it and enjoying it enough. It certainly has the big epic feel of Crisis on Infinite Earths with multiple story lines all going on at the same time, characters jumping in and jumping out of the books, and things in general spilling over into other DC books. Actually, when I think about it, the story is a lot of fun in that it is capturing that "big event" that DC really hasn't done since Zero Hour back in the early 90s. It's the big event stuff that I like about superhero comics. It's what can make them a lot of fun to read.

Well, when the main Infinite Crisis story is over, all superhero books in the DC universe are going to "jump" ahead one year into the future and start telling the characters stories from that point in time. Senior VP - Executive Editor Dan Didio, who is the ringmaster of the DCU and Infinite Crisis said he didn’t want Crisis to end and then have all the characters in the DCU standing around talking about the terrific events that had just transpired. That's why he was throwing all the books one year into the future so that the creators working on the books would already have that “decompression” time taken care of. This way the writes and artists could focus on telling compelling stories in the remade DC universe.

cover for 52 issue 1Shortly after this one-year leap was announced, DC followed up with another announcement that they were going to put together a weekly series called 52 that would try to explain, in rather broad strokes, what went on during that one year that was skipped over. The series was going to be called 52 because it was DC intention to put out a new comic in that series every week for an entire year - 52 weeks.

Creating a weekly comic is ambitious when just being done for a month or two. To coordinate all the writing, art, editing and printing for an entire year is nearly impossible. Plenty of people were skeptical of whether the publishing schedule will hold up, while others wondered if readers would be willing to follow a comic that was coming out so frequently. I know I was thinking about the latter. 52 is a lot of comics to buy in a twelve-month period. Not only would they have to be produced at a high quality, in story and in production value, but also the price better be right if you want me to commit to buying something every week for a year.

Well today DC announced more plans for 52. The pricing. At this point I will quote from the official DC Comics press release:
On May 10, DC Comics presents one of the most eagerly anticipated new debuts of the year: 52: WEEK 1, the first issue of the incredible weekly DCU series written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid with layouts by Keith Giffen and covers by J.G. Jones.

And if 52 wasn't exciting enough already, each issue will be priced at the special, low price of $2.50 U.S.
$2.50 an issue! Is that a joke? I pay $2.50 an issue for most of the comics I read that come out monthly. If I buy into 52 I know I will be spending nearly $130 on one comic book series in just one year’s time. It takes over 4 years for a monthly comic to hit the 50-issue mark and for me to spend the same amount. But the difference is my $130 is spread out over four years. $130 in one year is a lot for me to commit to a tight annual comic book budget. If DC wants me to lay down $130 for 52-part story told weekly, then the issues better come laced with cocaine.

Low price of $2.50. Ha! I think I’ll pass.

Happy Birthday Mozart

MozartIf Mozart was alive today, he would be celebrating his 250th birthday. He'd also probably not be up for a big party. Seeing how he died many, many years ago, the entire country of Austria has taken up the challenge of celebrating for him.

These Austrians are crazy. Their making everything from Mozart t-shirts and commerative recordings to Mozart sausage and Mozart baby bottles (Mozart sauage? I hope it's not too authentic.) all in the name of honoring one of the world's greatest music composers. And I thought Americans went overboard on things.

If you can't make it to Austria but would like to join in the celebration, a free, live streaming audio feed has been established so you can listen to everything that goes on in Salsburg, Austria today.

I wonder what Mozart would make of all this, if he was alive to experience it?

January 26, 2006

Depressing Thought for the Day

Something occurred to me this morning while making my trek from the train station to the building I work in downtown. And I find it a bit depressing.

I've been alive for 33 years. In that time I have gone from being a newborn infant through grade school and college. I've learned to read, write, ride a bike, and drive a car. I've broken my hand a few times, split my chin open, and put my right hand through a glass window - twice. I have meet people, forgotten people, and found somebody to settle down with. In thirty-three years I have grown to be a guy with a job, a mortgage, a beautiful wife and three great kids.

I've done a lot in thirty-three years, and it feels like it has taken a long time to get to this point.

Now I have only been working a steady job for about ten and a half of those thirty-three years. So roughly 30% of my life here on Earth has included plenty of days where I have to drag my ass out of bed and go put in time to earn cash to support myself and my family.

It's conceivable that I will continue to be doing the daily work grind for 33 more years. Working daily until I'm 66 isn't that far fetched. Sure I'd prefer to be out of things before that and Heather and I are trying to make the right investments and plan so that it might happen. But I do have to face the possibility that I will work into my mid-60s. Thirty-three more years of work.

It's been ten years out of the first thirty-three, and I feel like I've been working forever. To think that I'll continue doing what I'm doing for as long as I've already been alive makes me want to go home hide under the covers of my bed.

January 25, 2006

Random Thoughts

iced oatmeal cookiesIced oatmeal cookies are the best store-bought cookies in the world.

(I didn't say the best cookies in the world, mind you. I qualified it by saying "store bought." You can't beat homemade cookies. Luckily, Heather had got plenty of fantastic recipes.)

Iced oatmeal cookies could very well be the best junk food - ever. Not too sweet, but not bland. The juxtaposition of the oatmeal and the icing takes care of that. They have some weight to them, so they fill you up, but are so heavy that you feel bloated when you devour a bunch. And because they're made out of oatmeal, you don't feel like you're eating badly when you snarf down five or six of them at a time.

Hell, I eat them for breakfast sometimes. They taste good. Again, because they're made out of oatmeal, they are practically breakfast food.

I wish I had some right now.

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Blackhawk logoMy dad took me, my brother, and my sister to a Chicago Blackhawk’s game this past Sunday. It was a lot of fun, even though the Blackhawks are a pathetic excuse for hockey team.

I don't know a whole lot about hockey, my dad and brother know more than I do. My dad has played it since he was a wee little lad and loves the sport. My brother spent nine months in Canada and had to become a fan or they'd have done something really horrible and Canadian to him. I enjoy watching the sport - it's fast moving, there's plenty of action, and plenty of hitting too. During the Winter Olympics I'm staying up late or getting up extra early to watch Team USA skate around after the puck. But I still don't anything about the sport.

What I did notice while we were at the game Sunday was the hockey isn't a social spectator sporting event. Not like football or baseball. Because the action is constant, and there's always the potential that something is going to happen, as a spectator you have to keep your attention on the rink. There's no time for chitchatting or socializing. Not like in baseball where there is plenty of downtime between innings or batters. In hockey you just have to keep watching and kinda yell things out. It's not really conducive to spending time with some people to just talk or do whatever. I guess that's why we went out to dinner before the game. It gave us a chance then to get all our talking out of the way.

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The most recent Ricky Gervais Podcast is the funniest one yet. If for no other reason than the bit they did reading from Karl's diary.

I don't know if the diary was real or a fabrication, but it was one of the funniest things I've heard in a long, long time. It was "laugh out so loud on the train that people turn around to see what you are doing" funny.

You can see some scans of the diary here, but to really experience how funny it is you have to hear Steve Merchant reading it aloud.

January 22, 2006

WOW! Disney Buys Pixar For $7 Billion

pixar logoApparently it will be announced Monday that
Disney is paying $7 billion to acquire Pixar Animation. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and CEO of Pixar, will now become the largest sharholder in Disney.

This just boggles the mind. A year ago Pixar and Disney were fighting, resulting in Pixar walking on the distribution deal they had through Disney. Now Disney will own the studio. However, considering how the Disney-created animated films have fallen flat over the years, you have to believe that Disney is bringing in Pixar to keep the House of Mouse on top of the animated film biz. Pixar will certainly still be running the show.

UPDATE: (7:50 1/24/06) Have yet to see this news come across the wire, so it might have been a well placed rumor. I saw it enough places to believe it, but I guess it isn't true - yet.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: (4:51pm 1/24/06) It's a done deal. CNN is reporting that Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 billion.

Besides Steve Jobs being the biggest shareholder and joining the Disney board of directors, what I found intesting in the CNN article was this little bit:
John Lasseter, the highly respected creative director at Pixar who had previously worked for Disney, will rejoin the House of Mouse as chief creative officer for the company's combined animated studios and will also help oversee the design for new attractions at Disney theme parks.
Lasseter is the creative power behind Pixar that has made it the success that it is. Having him running things for Disney can only mean the overall quality in animation coming out of the House of Mouse will get better.

January 21, 2006

Superman Returns Pics

Comic Book Resources has got some new exclusive photos of the new Superman Returns movie.

If the photos are any indication, the movie looks like it's going to have a great classic feel to it. Something both reminiscent of the comics and the great Richard Donner-helmed Superman: The Movie.

superman returns

Phantom Statue

Before reading about the Phantom statue on the Deep Woods website I had never heard of Electric Tiki Design. But after seeing the Phantom statue they have in the works, plus some of the other great pieces they have done for other classic characters like Dick Tracy and Mighty Mouse, not to mention modern heroes like Hellboy, I am a big fan of their work.

Now if I could only afford to spend the money to pick up these very cool pieces.

January 20, 2006

Have You Fallen Prey to Egocasting?

This is a fascinating article in a Canadian newspaper about "egocasting."

Egocasting, a term coined by U.S. historian Christine Rosen, represents the trend that as more and more gadgets and technology come out with the ability for us to customize the content we read/listen/watch - we begin to close ourselves off from a larger cultural, political, and ideological pool of information. Or in other words, if you sit around reading RSS feeds from the news sites and blogs you like, only listen to your iPod playlists, and never venture outside of your Tivo'd shows, you collapse inwards on yourself in a small little world with no idea that there might be other sides to a story or fascinating television program that isn't a thirty minute comedy.

While this might not be a critical problem when it comes to music, art, and television, it could have large ramifications in the political and cultural arenas. As the article points out, "more and more people are getting their news via blogs and subscriptions to Web services that align with their own beliefs, so they hear fewer opposing viewpoints." So people surround themselves with data that simply reaffirms their beliefs and ideologies. Because they don't read general interest newspapers or listen to dissenting viewpoint, they sit in an echo chamber feeling better and better about where they stand on an issue. Instead of being forced into an arena where they continually have to defend that position against an opposing thought. With out being put in that position of defense, you can never be sure that the belief held is the right one. You've got to test yourself constantly.

Ms. Rosen is quoted in the article, "I don't think we'll ever become total narcissists. But these technologies encourage navel-gazing and satisfaction of one's own taste as the pre-eminent virtue, and only secondarily the understanding of others' tastes."

I'm not sure if I've fallen into the trap of being an egocaster, though I'm sure I participate in narrowcasting. Most of the feeds I subscribe to have to do with my interests: comics, animation, pop culture, literature, humor, and all things Apple Computer. So certainly I am narrowcasting there.

When it comes to news and commentary, I shy away from just reading any one feed. Instead I look at the headlines and stories from a number of different sources and try to read commentaries from all sides. Hopefully I've been doing a good job at that. After reading this article though, my awareness of how I am choosing my sources for news and information has been heightened. I certainly want to work at making sure I keep information I feed myself to be balanced.

Another Reason to Like Google as a Company

Besides the killer search and the great web applications and services they've built, they aren't afraid to stand up to the Man!

In court documents filed Wednesday, the Bush administration asked a federal judge in San Jose, Calif., to force Google to comply with a subpoena for the information, which would reveal the search terms of a broad swath of the search engine's visitors.

Prosecutors are requesting a "random sampling" of 1 million Internet addresses accessible through Google's popular search engine, and a random sampling of 1 million search queries submitted to Google over a one-week period.

Google said in a statement sent to CNET News.com on Thursday that it will resist the request "vigorously."
Yahoo! and Microsoft rolled over for the Feds, but not the kids at Google. Now I know which company really does have the best interests of their customers in mind.


January 18, 2006

Sam and Max

Sam and Max, the very funny cartoon from the warped mind of Steve Purcell (and which was an equally funny animated show in the mid-90s) is back again. This time as a interactive webcomic.

sam and max screen shot

I'm Luigi, He's Mario

For the last couple of months Heather and I have been suffering through a leaky kitchen faucet. It didn't leak all the time, just when you turned the thing on water would begin trickling out around the single-pull handle. It would pool around the back of the sink and just kinda make things soggy. Nothing major, but still a nusance.

Over the weekend I was at the hardware store with the girls picking up some items for other projects and decided to talk to one of the guys at Kelly's Ace Hardware (nicest, most helpful guys I have ever run across) about the problem with our faucet. They made some suggestions about what I could do and I went home ready to be Mr. Handyman.

Once home I realized that I didn't have all the right info when I was talking to the guys at Kelly's Ace. The faucet we had was a cartridge style one. We hadn't talked about how to fix that. No problem. I, being the web-savy person that I am, went online and quickly found out what I would need to do to repair the sink myself. Or so I thought.

faucetAfter much driving around looking for a new cartridge for out faucet, I returned home and attempted to replace it. Things were going fine until I had to remove the old cartridge from the faucet. The instructions I had read - both online and those that came with the new cartridge - made it sound like a breeze. Simply grab a hold of the old cartridge with your pliers and pull straight up. Nothing to it.

Well, I spent next to thirty minutes pulling on that damn thing without it moving a millimeter. It was like the unholy host of faucet cartridges was cemented in the top of our faucet. I decided to go under the sink to get a different look at the situation. Why? Because I wasn't sure what else to do at that point.

While under the sink I noticed that the middle spot under the faucet, the spot where the cartridge would be sitting, was all corroded and dripping just the littlest bit of water. The dripping water was new. I had never noticed any dampness or standing water under the sink before. So I suspect that the cartridge had fused with the corroded faucet and all my yanking and pulling had loosened things enough that water was starting to drip out.

It was at this point that Heather and I decided to just scrap the cartridge replacement project and just replace the whole damn faucet - which is what we had talked about doing in the first place. Considering that we plan on moving this spring/summer, we thought that if we could save a little money and fix the faucet with a new cartridge. Now it looked like that plan was dead and we needed to move back to the original idea of replacing the faucet.

I consider myself a pretty handy guy and have repaired / installed plenty of things in our house. But when a project becomes something more complex - like a project involving plumbing - I like to call in someone who has done that sort of work before.

Luckily my dad had installed kitchen faucets before and was free to come over to my house Tuesday night to help me install this one. So Tuesday morning Heather and the girls went off to Home Depot to pick up a new faucet while I went off to work. Later that night my dad showed up after dinner so I could play Luigi to his Mario.

mario and luigiThe saying goes that any home improvement project will involve at least three trips to the hardware store. Luckily for us, we had gotten two of those trips out of the way already (my trip to buy a cartridge for the failed replacement and Heather’s trip to buy a faucet and basin wrench). Which meant my dad and I would only have to make venture out once Tuesday night to pick up more parts. Or so we hoped.

The old faucet came out easily enough; but when we compared how the water lines went into the old faucet with our options for the intake lines built into the new faucet, we realized that we were ready for our first (and hopefully only) trip to the hardware store.

We played it smart and took some measurements of where pipes were before we left. Plus, we brought both the old and the new faucets with us to show the boys at Kelly’s Ace. We walked in and were immediately ushered back to the plumping section to find what we needed. I returned the cartridge I had bought the previous day, used the credit for the new purchase, and we out the door in probably less than 10 minutes. It was a nice fast run.

Back home we roughed things in and saw that all our different pieces of plumbing were coming together nicely. It looked like it would be a one-tripper.

All the fittings were fastened together. Plumbers putty was applied. The faucet was secured down. Then it was time to turn the water back on. I pulled the handled up confidently and water began pouring out immediately – and with no leaks underneath the sink. Everything in the under-sink region remained bone dry.

We had to fiddle with the aerator a bit, but within an hour and a half of starting the project with my dad our new faucet was in place and pouring clean, crisp Lake Michigan water into our sink. I felt so proud – for completely the install so quickly and without any major problems, but mostly for my dad. He actually did the lion’s share of the work. It was my dad who spent most of the time bent under the sink tightening everything and explaining what our next steps should be. I spent a lot of time watching and helping where I could. But I guess that’s what a dad is for, even when you are 33 and your dad is building up to the big 6-0.

Now that the water is flowing again and I feel ready to take on the next challenge.

Erosion of Bathroom Etiquette

Since the company I work for moved into new offices - ones where we share our space with many other divisions of the much larger corporation - I have had the unfortunate opportunity to experience the erosion of bathroom etiquette.

The men's bathroom has three urinals, which are separated by little floating walls about five feet high. Now proper bath etiquette would dictate that if you come into the bathroom to use a urinal, and none are occupied, you move to the urinal to the far right or the far left. This is so in case another person comes in to use a urinal they can go to the extreme other end and keep a nice one-urinal space between the two of you. (The same logic applies for the stalls). This is because unless we are drunk or at a sporting event (which usually happen at the same time), men like a little space when tapping a kidney. You don't want some other guy huddled up, shoulder-to-shoulder, while you try and take care of business.

That being said, on a number of occasions I have entered the bathroom at our office and found a guy using the middle urinal while the other two were unoccupied. If this gaff wasn't horrible enough, the guy (and I've seen this happen more than once) has his arms stretched out and resting on the little privacy walls! It's like he is taking up all three urinals.

The first time it happened it was some guy from the other divisions I don't work for. But the most recent transgression was committed by someone from our own sales team.

I am really unclear on what to do. Should I pull the guy aside (after he's finished and washed his hands, of course) and explain his mis-step? Do I post some signs? Maybe I should start a website to promote proper bathroom etiquette. These are things I need to consider if we want to stem the backward slide towards completely uncivilized bathroom behavior.

January 17, 2006

If Anybody Can, The Shatner Can

The headline says it all: Shatner Sells Kidney Stone for Charity

William Shatber auctioned off a kidney stone to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. The winning bid $25,000 came from online casino GoldenPalace.com.

Shatner is the man.

January 16, 2006

Oh Well, There's Always Next Year

dejected grossman taken from chicago tribuneIt was fun while it lasted.

The Carolina Panthers soundly beat the Bears yesterday, and as quickly as the Bears march to the Super Bowl started it was over with a 29 - 21 loss at home.

I got a bad feeling about things when the Panthers jumped out to a 7 - 0 lead less than a minute into the game when Steve Smith took the second play of the game almost sixty yards for a touchdown. Smith would end up being the bane of the Bears all day, scoring two touchdowns and being responsible for over 200 yards of offense.

What really shocked me in the game yesterday was the horrible play of the defense. They couldn't seem to slow down Smith at all, the Panthers seemed to convert on 90% of their third down situations (though I'm sure it was less than that) - the Bears simply could not stop the Carolina offense.

Rex came out slow, but then picked up his play in the middle of the game. He was able to engineer a number of drives and pulled the Bears to within two-points late in the game. But in a shocking turn of events, the Bears defense continued to let the Bears offense down and Carolina marched right back down and reasserted the 8-point lead. Then Rex failed to come up with anything, leaving all of us Bears fans with nothing Sunday night.

Well, I'd like to say there's always next year, but with the Bears you never know. In 2000 they went from a spectacular season to another season in the cellar. Of course, I think the situations are a bit different between the 2000 team and organization and the 2005 team and organization. The Bears should come back as a strong team next season. It will just be matter of how strong.

January 14, 2006

Playoff Football in Chicago

bears logoTomorrow the Bears will take the field in their first playoff game since 2000. Back then the Bears run to the playoffs seemed surreal. They won so much on fluke plays and luck that it almost didn't seem right for them to be there. And considering how they lost to the Eagles that afternoon, I think we all knew it wasn't meant to be.

This year has been different though. After a slow start, the Bears have played well behind an awesome defense and have looks particularly good when Rex Grossman got back under center. Back 2000, the Rams, Packers, and Eagles were considered the elite of the NFC. This year, there really isn't a team in the NFC that I would consider unbeatable. Seattle has played well, but like the Bears they started slow as well and have come on stronger as the season has progressed. The Caroline Panthers are certainly good. But the Bears have beaten them before. If anything, the season has shown that the teams of the NFC are fairly well balanced. It could be anyone going to the Super Bowl in a few weeks.

I think that's why I am particularly excited about this trip to the playoffs for the Bears. I really feel like they have a change of winning it all. Certainly other peope think the same. Plenty of national sports programs and journalists have spoken highly of the Bears changes of not only winning this weekend, but next as well.

Tomorrow's game will be exciting. Carolina will certainly try and put up more of a fight than what they did in November, but ultimately I think they will fall to the Bears. The Bear defense is still the best in the league, and Rex gives the offense the punch they need to stay on top.

This is going to be fun.

January 13, 2006

Books For Emma

I know Emma is still a far way off from being ready to read chapter books (Ian just got into reading them seriously about six months ago), but when I saw that Disney was coming out with a line of chapter books based on the fairy world Tinkerbell inhabits in Never Land I couldn't help but think how much Emma might enjoy these.

tinkerbell book coverIf it has to do with Disney princesses, fairies, or ballerinas, Emma is almost immediately in love with it. In fact, whenever she can combine all three together she is at her happiest. I know if she was old enough, she would enjoy these books.

What I found interesting about these new Disney Fairies books, was Disney's approach to creating them. According to this article, they wanted to "let publishing guide the venture, as opposed to the feature film department."

Meaning, Disney wanted to start with skilled, creative authors with experience writing for children to create stories. Then Disney would put its marketing juggernaut in motion to promote everything and see what other products they could eventually spin off.

This sounds like a solid way to approach something like this and gives me confidence that the books, at least, will most likely be of a quality that I'd be comfortable giving them to Emma or Zoe.

Now I just wait to see where Emma's interests are when she gets to older and is ready for chapter book like this.

Had To Do It

Saw this photo this morning and it was like sitting in the batter's box and having someone toss a big ole slow softball lazily over the plate - you gotta just take a huge swing.

Has there been a better juxtaposition of imagery in recent history?

joker and president bush

January 12, 2006

A Gift Idea For Heather

Heather has a lot of cookbooks, but I'm sure she doesn't have this little gem from the 1950's.

ground meat cookbook

January 11, 2006

The Lost Colony

the lost colony cover artThe Lost Colony Book 1: The Snodgrass Conspiracy is a new comic book by Grady Klein coming out this spring from First Second.

Don't know anything about First Second or Grady Klein, but what I've seen from the previews of the comic and the nice little trailer First Second put together to promote the book, I am interested in this comic.

Besides the sample pages and the QuickTime trailer, First Second also provides an intriguing description for Klein's new work.

A MYSTERIOUS ISLAND unknown to the rest of the world, in nineteenth century America.

ITS CITIZENS: a colorful and outrageous band of capitalists, inventors, hucksters and freemen, who jealously guard the island's fantastic wealth from the prying fingers of the outside world, even as they attempt to conceal its captivating secrets from one another.
The sample pages demonstrate a comic with a unique style and an animator’s sensibility for storytelling. And the little glimpse into the story and its characters certainly looks like fun. I know it might be asking a lot for you to check it out, but I certainly plan on doing so.

My Rainbow Brite

I am literally up to my armpits in work. But dammit, I'm going to take five minutes to share these photos I took of Zoe last night while we were playing!

Zoe had gotten her clothes pretty dirty about 30 minutes before bath time, so we just let her run in a diaper for a while. (Too cold you say? Not our kids. When it's 20 below they are still running around barefoot. They're cold weather warriors I tell ya.)

Zoe loves the rainbow-colored socks Heather's mom got the girls for Christmas. She's always putting them on, usually while she's wearing clothes too.

Luckily she stood still long enough last night for me to snap these shots.

Rainbow Zoe 2 Rainbow Zoe 1

January 10, 2006

Now You Offer It

apple radio remoteNo sooner do I finish writing about how Apple has failed to complete the iPod by not giving it a radio receiver and how I have to go to a third party to get my live radio fix via iPod, than they announce an iPod Radio Remote at today's MacWorld 2006 expo.

The iPod Radio Remote looks to be almost identical to the Griffin iFM except for a few things: 1) It uses the iPod screen to let you know what station your on. 2) It only works with iPod Nano and iPod with video. 3) It uses the Radio Data System standard to display song and artist info.

Heck you can tell from the picture that you're still going to be dealing with alot of white cord when trying to enjoy some live radio via your iPod. Apple is really just copying what Griffin has already done.

It's still not the same as having the FM tuner integrated into the MP3 player, like so many other manufactures already do. But at least Apple is making an effort. In the end though, my Griffin iFM is good enough for me.

A Rose By Any Other Name

I had an interesting phone conversation with Heather a few minutes ago. When we were kids, we both would make drinks where you combined whatever was available in the fridge. Coke, orange juice, kool-aid - whatever. Kevin and I called these concoctions "zombies." Heather and her brothers and sister called them "suicides."

Ian and Emma have learned about making these kiddie-mixed drinks (probably one afternoon when we were running low on juice) and are now always eager to make their own. Or course Heather and I told them about how we used to make them when we were kids. Ian and Emma also learned the different names Heather and I used to refer to these drinks. Emma modified things a bit and now refers to them as "mummies". Ian latched on to the term "suicides."

What Heather and I were talking about was how disturbed we would feel whenever Ian mentioned wanting to have a "suicide." (We've asked him to start referring to them as zombies, and without much questioning he has done so.) Obviously Heather had used the term when she was little and it didn't faze her then at all. It was only now, as an adult parent, that the word seems inappropriate for a mixture of juices for kid to drink.

It reminded me of something I read a few years ago in Killing Monsters by Gerald Jones. In it, (and I'm paraphrasing here) Jones talks about how when kids are running around playing with toy guns or even sticks as make-believe guns, parent feel uncomfortable. He argues that it is because parents graft onto the gun playing all the horrible things they have read in the news or experienced in real life in relation to guns. The kids are just playing a game. Goofying around with toys. Parents see murder and pain and violence.

(Of course, Jones goes on to argue that this is one of the reasons why it's okay to let kids play with guns. Children are innocently playing. When we as parents start interfering to try and stop imaginative gun play, we are bringing our pain and fears down on the children. We should teach children the danger of guns, but not at the cost of stealing their childhood.)

I think the same applied to Heather and my reaction to Ian using the word "suicide" to talk about a mixture of juices. He's just thinking about a fun way to drink some juice and pop. Heather and I are thinking of teenage depression, sadness, and parents losing their children.

It's fascinating how your perception of the world, and the words used to communicate within it, change as you become an adult, and then a parent. Orange juice and apple juice together in a cup is what it is - juice in a cup. Call it a "zombie" and it's a fun drink. Call it a "suicide" and make your parents squirm.

This Is More Like It

iFMFor Christmas my Dad gave me a Griffin iFM for my iPod. I have loved my iPod since I got it this summer from Heather as an anniversary present, but I always felt that Apple left the product incomplete by not putting an FM tuner in the iPod. It's great having all my music at my fingertips and in compact fashion, and there are plenty of fun and informative podcasts out there to listen to, but sometimes nothing can replace good old fashioned live radio passing the time. That's why when Griffin announced the iFM, and the reviews were strong, it quickly went on my wish list.

I've had it for a couple of weeks now, and with going back to my daily commute to and from work, I've been able to put the iFM through the paces.

To my great pleasure it has stood up and delivered on everything that it is suppose to do. The FM reception is strong and the sound is crisp. In fact, the overall performance of the radio reception is better than some of the personal radio devices I have used in the past. I was a little concerned going in that trying to operate the iFM in a radio frequency saturated market like Chicago would cause problems with locking in on the stations I was interested in. This is not the case at all. The iFM can store six station presets, and the reception is always good.

The iFM also doubles as a remote for the iPod, which I have found to be quite handy. The remote will allow you to play, pause, fast-forward, rewind, or control the volume. I can't change playlists or select a new podcast, but that's okay. It's still convenient to adjust the volume or pause things temporarily without having to dig the iPod out of my coat pocket.

This leads me to one of the features of the iFM which is both a blessing and a bit of a curse. The iFM connects to the iPod via the headphone jack on the top of the device (there is an iFM that connects via the dock connector on the bottom). So we have a cord going from the top of the iPod to the iFM, then there is a small cord coming out of the iFM that you plug the headphones into.

iPod headphones are about two feet long. The cord used to attach the iFM to the iPod is also about two feet long. Now this is nice when you want to have the iPod tucked away and want to use the little iFM remote for changing stations or adjusting the music volume. But it also can get a little unwieldy. It's over four feet of little white wire, with a little box in the middle, which you are trying to corral. All the extra wires can get a little frustrating at times, but I'm starting to figure out how to best wrap and position things.

Overall, the iFM is fantastic. It has delivered on what I expected it to do, plus provide me with some additional features. It certainly allows me to get the most out of my iPod. Now if I could only get video . . .

January 06, 2006

Hurray!

Jim Lee seems to be active again on his blog.

For the last few months it's been up to everyone else who share the studio with Jim to carry the contributing to the blog - which isn't a bad thing - but I was starting to miss the art samples Jim would post from time to time.

Well he says he's back and promises more art in 2006. I can't wait.

new jim lee artwork

The Obliviousness of Some People

It never ceases to amaze me how dumb and oblivious people can be.

In today's Chicago Tribune, Public Editor Don Wycliff addresses recent reader complaints that the newspaper received concerning its coverage of the West Virginia coal mine tragedy. He lists some of the complaints he received from irate readers who saw the first edition of the Wednesday morning Trib that reported that 12 miners had been found alive and well. Only a few short hours later the story was reversed when it was learned that 12 of the 13 miners had died.

"Your front page news item was apparently based on a cell phone conversation and not from an official mining company report. So many people were happy to read that the 12 miners were alive, and here we find out finally, that the 12 miners are dead.

"Do I have to pay for today's Chicago Tribune?"
And my favorite quote, isn't actually a quote, but a paraphrase from a conversation Wycliff had with a reader.

One particularly belligerent reader with whom I spoke Wednesday evening demanded a refund of every penny he had ever spent on copies of the Chicago Tribune. Our Wednesday first edition headline--"12 found alive in coal mine"--was a distortion of the facts and was done solely "to sell newspapers," the gentleman fumed.


Wycliff does an excellent job of using this "teachable moment," as he calls it, to discuss the limits of journalism and publishing a newspaper. But what I still can't get over is that the Chicago Tribune even received complaints. The Trib was reporting on a story that had interest to the Nation. There were reports from the mining company and other government sources that 12 miners had been found alive - why wouldn't they run with that story and try and get the news out as quickly as possible. It wasn't just the Tribune that was running this story, every news media outlet began reporting that the miners were alive and well. It was only after the communication was corrected, and the horrible truth revealed, that everyone quickly changed their stories to reflect what was now known to be true.

How can you fault the newspaper in this situation? How can you demand your money back? Are you asking CNN for some of your cable bill back for reporting the miners were alive on their news broadcasts? That is just a stupid, narrow-minded, oblivious way to go through life.

ADT Can Kiss My Ass

ADT logoWe've all seen the commercial. A young mom frankly scrambles to get out of bed while the whine of an ADT security system plays. Through the voice over we learn that she was home alone with the kids while her husband was out of town on business. The alarm system went off and she was afraid someone was in the house. Luckily, she tells us, the ADT alarm system scared the perpetrators off. She then professors her deep love and gratitude for ADT and their security monitoring systems.

For most adults, we see this for what it is - a ploy on ADT's part to play on desire to keep our families safe. We know that in most cases our houses are safe. In the huge vast numbers of homes in America, very few are actually broken into - in the grand scheme of things. Not that we shouldn't all take precautions to keep our homes safe, but we all don't need a fancy ADT security system. Simple locks, proper outside landscaping and lighting can handle things in most cases.

For a three year-old girl though, this commercial from ADT can have traumatic experiences. Emma saw this commercial a couple of days ago, and now Heather and I have been repeatedly been fielding questions from her about if any people are going to be coming into our house.

Last night alone I spent nearly ten minutes try to reassure Emma that no people would be coming into our house while she slept. I told her repeatedly that no one would be coming into our house. That our house was very safe and that her mom and I spent a lot of time at night making sure it was so. I promised her that I would make sure the doors and windows are locked. She asked that I check twice, and I said I would comply with this request.

I even told her that Bumper - our mildly insane cat - routinely roams the house while we sleep, making sure that the windows and doors stay shut and locked. This seems to make her feel better. But I get the feeling that this isn't the end of things yet.

I understand ADT’s need to try and generate a need for the products, but I still can’t help but hate them for creating a commercial that has effectively convinced my daughter that strange people routinely break into people’s houses. Because of ADT, I am now faced with the difficult task of convincing Emma that home break-ins are NOT a common occurrence. Especially in the neighborhood that we live in.

Thanks a lot ADT. Next time one of your little sales lackeys shows up at my door, they’ll have to kiss my ass – literally – before I even entertain the thought of listening to what they have to say.

January 05, 2006

Hayao Miyazaki on TCM

princess mononokeI'm not a big fan of Japanese animation. Not that I think that there is anything wrong with Anime, it just isn't my cup of tea. So usually I don't give news about Anime much attention.

However, there have always been two aspects of Japanese animation that I have been interested in checking out. One is the animated classic Ghost in the Shell by Mamoru Oshii. The other is the animated works of Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki is considered the "Japanese Walt Disney" for the work he has done in animated films. Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Castle in the Sky are just some of the movies oh Miyazaki's that I have read nothing but great things about. I know some of these film have been released in the U.S. with English translations, most recent of which was Spirited Away, but I have never gotten to see them.

This month though, Turner Classic Movies provides me with an opportunity to see these and other Miyazaki films. To celebrate Hayao Miyazaki's 60th birthday, TCM is showcasing his work every Thursday night.

Up tonight: Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke

Spring Training With the Cubs

cubs spring trainingBaseball spring training is just around the corner. Every year when I start reading about spring training and getting the emails about buying tickets to Cactus League games, I can't help but think about my plan to one year actually go down to Mesa for a week and hang out at Cubs' spring training.

What I would really like to do is go with Ian and my Dad. I'd have to take Ian out of school for a week, but he's a pretty bright kid - I think he could handle it. I just think it would be such a blast to relax with in the warm Arizona sun watching a little baseball with my dad and son while getting caught up in the tradition and fun on spring pro baseball.

Of all the items on my list of things to do before I die, this is one of the easiest accomplishments for me to attain. I'm just waiting for Ian to get a little older so he can really appreciate and have fun with what we are doing (plus make sure he is interested in bumming around HoHoKam Park with his Dad and Grandpa). I give it a couple more years and I think we'll be ready to go. I know my Dad will be up for it.

January 04, 2006

Playbill Casting Notice for DC Comic Heroes

Yes, I know it's a bit cheesey (okay, a lot cheesey), but apparently producers have a casting notice out for Superheroes in Action, a stage show based on DC Comic characters.

Milestone Productions, LLC (prod.) is casting Superheroes In Action, a brand-new live action musical incorporating characters from the world of DC Comics.

Seeking singers, non-singers and musicians for the following roles:

(ALL PERFORMERS MUST BE OVER 18 YEARS OLD)

THE TEEN TITANS / THE TEENAGERS

Robin / Danny – 16 yr. old Caucasian male, 5’4. Singer/dancer/some stunt work. As Robin this character will work in a mask.

Starfire / Mija – 15 yr. old Latina female – 5’11 +. Singer/dancer/some stunt work. As Starfire this character will work in a mask.

Beastboy / Ty – 15 yr. old African American male – 5’2 or under. Singer/dancer/some stunt work. As Beastboy this character will work in a mask.

THE SUPERHEROES

Batman / Stunt Flash – 25 – 45 yr. old male. 6’2 or over. Extensive stage combat / stunt work. Top physical condition.

Flash / Henchman #2 – 20 – 40 yr. old male, 6’ or over. Stage combat / some stunt work. Top physical condition.

Wonder Woman / Poison Ivy – 20 – 35 yr. old female, 5’11 or over. Extensive stage combat. Top physical condition.

Green Lantern / Henchman #1 – 20 – 40 yr. old African American male, 6’ or over. Top physical condition. Must have or be willing to have goatee/shaved head.
Kevin - you could so play the Flash.

January 03, 2006

Here We Go Again

So it's back to work this morning and back to the grind and repetition of regular life. After being off work for ten days straight, I didn't have a problem getting moving this morning. Though things felt a little odd while riding the train and walking through the city - like I didn't belong there.

In a way, I don't think I do. I should be home with Heather and the kids. That is what I really liked. And it wasn't because (with the exception of Christmas morning) I got to sleep until at least 7:00 almost every morning while I was home. It just felt more "right" being at home all day seeing the kids, helping with lunch, doing things around the house. I gotta find me a job that I can realistically do from home - or 50% from home. It seems like I spend most of my time during the week traveling to work or sitting at my office. I know I have to work in order to earn money. There just doesn't seem to be the work / life balance that I would like to have.

Maybe it would be different I was working at something I was passionate about. That has happened since the mid-90s when I was at Educational Structures and me and a bunch of goof-balls were trying to build a company together. Since then it just feel like I am working for "the man," which, quite frankly, does nothing to inspire me.

Start my own business, you say? That scares the crap out of me right now. Even though I know it would be something to get the drive going every morning to take things on. But with three little kids and a wife who stays home to care for them, I don't know if this is something I could realistically swing right now - even if I had a lukewarm business plan pulled together.

It's the start of a new year, so in a certain sense opportunity is ripe. There is the chance to make things happen. But at the same time, December 31st felt the same as January 1st. Nothing really changes. You have to make the change happen. There isn't anything magical about the first day of a new year. Changes can happen whenever you want them to. The beginning of the year just provides a nice frame for getting things started.

Where am I going to take things this year? What am I going to do? My concern is that I won't take the steps to affect change. Just think and write about what should be done.

January 02, 2006

War Is Upon Us

OSU versus ND

The bets have been made. The snacks have been prepared. The schedule at home has been cleared away. At 4pm local time our family room becomes a war zone.

I feel bad for the kids. I don't think they fully realize what they are about to walk into.

As for the outcome of the game, I'm sticking with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame to be victorious even though it seems like every sports media outlet is picking the Buckeyes to win. I can't help but think back to how Charlie Weis had the Irish prepared for USC. They ended up playing the defending champs better than anyone else did this season, and if not for some luck and an illegal play, ND would have prevailed in that contest.

Weis has had time to prepare the Irish for OSU, and the Buckeyes aren't USC. I gotta believe that ND will come out strong and hold off the Buckeyes and find all the wholes in their vaunted defense.

January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everyone. 2006 has begun. If you are looking for some ideas on a resolution for the new year, might I suggest taking up a new hobby. Possibly painting a baseball with multiple coats of paint.

painted ballMike and Glenda Carmichael of Alexandria, Indiana have covered one baseball with over 19,100 coats of paint. It has taken them 28.5 years to apply all the coats and the ball now weighs 1,700lbs and measures 119" around.

It's good to set goals.