September 29, 2006

Bears On Sunday Night Football

With NBC getting the Sunday Night Football TV contract from the NFL and Monday Night Football getting demoted to ESPN coverage, Sunday night is the new national spotlight game every week. And this week the game is going to be a great one - at least from my perspective. It's my beloved Chicago Bears, 3-0 and firmly atop the NFC North division, taking on the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks, who are also 3-0 and looking like a Super Bowl contender again.

Chicago BearsI've enjoyed watching the Bears win the last few weeks over three NFC North divisional rivals. First they beat up the lowly Packers and Lions. Bear fans responded by getting excited for the new-found prowess of the Bears offense and smothering dominance of the Bears defense. Then a very good Minnesota Vikings team gave the Bears a real challenge. Thanks to their league best defense and the solid kicking of Robbie Gould, the Bears hung in the game until Rex Grossman could pull things together and drive the offense like he should. While not the dominant performance from the first two weeks, it showed the Bears will stay in and fight even when things aren't working right away.

This week however, the stakes go up even higher. While the Bears will have the benefit of being at home, and not in the deafening stadium the Seahawks play in, how the Bears play against Seattle will reveal whether the Bears really are Super Bowl contenders or just the tallest midget in an overall weak NFC North division.

Seattle Seahawks helmetI have high hopes for Chicago's chances against Seattle. The Bears defense is the best in the league. I have complete confidence that they will keep Matt Hasselbeck and their four-receiver set in check. I know Seattle things having all those receivers out there will spread things thin for the Bear's defense, but I figure with four WR running down the field Seattle won't have anyone back to block Adewale Ogunleye, Alex Brown, and Tommie Harris. Those guys are going to get into the backfield and cause Hasselbeck all sorts of problems.

I will be anxious to see how Rex and the rest of the offense respond to the Seattle defense. While not as highly ranked as the Bears, they are good. As good as or better than Minnesota's group. They are very strong against the run, though a bit more lax in pass defense. I'm counting on the home field advantage helping the offense in this regard. The Bears, and Grossman, have been very good at home, so they should be able to establish themselves and contemplate the defense nicely.

The best part is that the game is on Sunday night, so I should be able to watch it with minimal interruption from the kids and without guilt that I should be working on something else around the house. Two things I frequently deal with when trying to sit on the coach Sunday afternoons.

Regrowing Body parts

Researchers at Northwestern University have discovered a way for humans to replace damaged body parts or even regrow missing limbs. Thanks to funding from the U.S. Military, scientists have learned that humans possess the same genes that other species (salamanders, star fish) have that allow them to regrow damaged limbs. It's just that in humans the gene goes dormant shortly before birth. These doctors now believe that they may be able to reactivate the gene and trigger the body to repair itself even more than it already does.

This is crazy, but in a really cool way. Sure, it might take months, or even a year, to fully re-grow a hand or arm that had been lost to injury or illness, but imagine how dramatically a discovery like this could change health care.

Read more about it here.

TAO Digital Keychain

I saw this in last Sunday's Chicago Tribune, and I think it's a more legitimate birthday gift idea than my $27,000 Batman Lego statue. While I know the screen is kinda small, I think it is an impossibly cool gadget that I would love to have. Basically, it's a small digital picture viewer on a keychain.

tao digital keychainThe TAO digital keychain holds up to 56 photos that will display on the 1.4 inch screen. The battery is rechargeable. And it works with Windows or Mac machines.

Ever since I gave up a standard wallet for a money clip I haven't been able to carry photos of the kids around with me to share with people. It's something that I miss. Not that I would have a lot of pictures to carry around in a wallet if I had kept it. In the last few years Heather and I have gone so far deep into digital format for photos I am shocked when someone hands me a printed 3x5 glossy. I'm just not used to dealing with actual printed photos. We don't have any around the house. It's all about what's in our iPhoto libraries.

So being able to store and display the photos digitally becomes a serious requirement. Plus, digital photos means that I can update them more easily and more often. But considering my low need for an elaborate phone or PDA, I don't see myself getting all tricked out with a Palm Treo which I could easily load up a bunch of photos on. This keychain just seems to fit what I would be looking for so perfectly.

I don't know if they sell it in stores, but you can buy it for $50 at the TAO website. I like the round one.

September 27, 2006

September Is Kicking Our Ass

Heather and I are counting the days until September is over. I can't remember a month that has more thoroughly kicked our family's collective ass as hard as September 2006 has.

  • I'm still chasing the moving company for the money they owe use. It's only a couple hundred bucks, but it's our money and I want it back. As I told the receptionist on the phone yesterday, I'm getting pretty tired of having to call about this money. My approach on the phone has been gradually getting more and more hostile. Hopefully, yesterday's call will finally get a check to be sent to our house.

  • The car accident. I don't think I need to elaborate on this. You can read the full story here. The van has been in the shop for almost a week. We got a deal on a rental, but I'd still like to have our van back. Plus, we haven't heard anything from the shop. So now I'm gonna have to start hounding them for answers as to when the damn vehicle will be ready.

  • My neck went out of whack for the weekend. I'm about 90% back now, but last weekend was a pisser. I pretty much just sat and did nothing Friday afternoon and Saturday. It hurt pretty badly. What annoyed me the most about my neck wasn't the pain, but that it prevented us from doing a lot of the things I wanted to get done that weekend: string the speaker wire for the home theater system, start installing the new cabinet hardware in the kitchen, go apple picking with the kids, and picking out some paint for the kids' bedrooms. That bothered me more than the pain and stiffness in my neck.

  • Emma's Emergency Room visit. I haven't written about this yet at length, but it's what prompted yesterday's call for a Moment of Zen

    Sunday afternoon, as we were headed out the door to my Dad's house for dinner, Emma began complaining that her stomach hurt. Heather took Emma's temperature and discovered that Emma was running a low-grade temp. Ian, Zoe, and I headed off to my Dad's place for dinner, Heather and Emma stayed at home to watch Barbie DVDs.

    Around 8:30pm that evening, as Ian, Zoe, and I were preparing to head home, I got a call from Heather on the cell phone. She told me she was taking Emma to the hospital ER because Emma might be suffering from appendicitis. Heather had been on the phone with my Aunt Kathy, a nurse, and the recommendation from Aunt Kathy was to take Emma into the ER. The sharp pain in the belly, the fever, it all seemed like appendicitis, and even though it could be something else, Heather was going to take Kathy's recommendation to heart.

    So I hurried the kids home with my Dad in tow. He agreed to stay at the house so I could rush out to Edward's Hospital where Heather had taken Emma. The drive home was interesting. Ian understood that something might be wrong with Emma and it scared him a bit. He was visibly upset that his sister was being taken to the hospital. I assured him that Emma would be fine, which I think he believed to an extent, but I wasn't able to put all his fears to rest. Zoe just wanted to confirm with me that Emma wasn't going to die. I told her Emma wasn't going to die, and that pretty much put things right in Zoe's world.

    EmmaIn the ER room at 10pm I found Emma sleeping on a bed, and Heather and Aunt Kathy talking. The preliminary exam by the doctor indicated that it probably wasn't appendicitis, but they were ruling it out yet either. They want to do an x-ray so they could see what was going on inside Emma's little belly.

    My Aunt Kathy went home and the nurse came to take Emma to the x-ray room. After the doctor had a chance to review the film from Emma's x-ray session, he came to us with his thoughts. "I see a lot of poop," were his exact words. Apparently our little princess was just really backed up, and that was causing the pain and discomfort. The doctor's recommendation - let's give that girl an enema.

    My thought? You want to give an enema to a cranky four-year old at 11pm a night? Wouldn't surgery be easier?

    None the less, Nurse Betty showed up with a Fleet enema for Emma's introduction into bowl cleansing. Luckily for all parties involved, Emma handled it very well. Between Burse Betty's discussions of her three cats and Heather questions about Halloween, we got Emma to sit still and wait the necessary five minutes for the enema to work its magic. Then I got to carry her ever so quickly down the hall into the bathroom and watch my little four-year old precious flower take a dump like a drunken sailor on a five-day bender. I think she lost six pounds.

    But the fun wasn't over. Emma was discharged from the ER around 11:45pm and sent home, but the enema kept working that voodoo through most of the night. So while Emma slept on the couch in the family room, I bunked on the floor to help her out when needed. Needless to say, Emma didn't go to preschool on Monday and I didn't go to work. Neither of us had it in us (pun intended) after spending so much time in the bathroom over the last twelve hours.

    Two days later Emma is fully on the mend. No belly aches, no fever, and free-flowing bowls. She'll gladly tell you about the medicine the nurse put up her butt to make her feel better - if you ask. So I think we may have dodged a bullet on any scars to the psyche. Still, it was one more think to deal with in September.

    Don't get me wrong, there have been some good things in September. Heather's brother and sister came for a great visit. We got a new kitchen table that all five of us can sit around comfortably. The deck got stained. Ian and I attended a Cubs game with my Mom the other night. So there have been some high points. But over all it feels like September set out to kick our ass. I can't wait for October.
  • WXRT

    I'm posting this because I can and because I love WXRT.

    I think XRT first ran a variation of the "Lemmings" commerical back when I was in high school. I've always enjoyed the "there are no 5-year old lemmings" line.

    September 26, 2006

    How Do You Make Marmaduke Funny?

    There are plenty of comic strips out there that have lingered in production a lot longer than they should have. Cathy, Garfield, Family Circus, and Ziggy, are all prime examples of strips that have beaten their one-trick pony to death. Another is Marmaduke. Even when I first read a Marmaduke comic as a kid it seemed tired and old. Time has not helped the strip.

    Luckily, Joe Mathlete has found a way to make a Marmaduke comic funny. He explains it in simple terms.

    screen shot of marmaduke strip with commentary

    Today's Moment of Zen

    autumn scene


    And after the weekend we had, I'm looking for a few moments of Zen to help put things back in balance.

    Full story when I get some time.

    September 23, 2006

    SquidSoap

    It's such a perfect idea I'm surprised it took this long for someone to market it.

    SquidSoap works by applying a small ink mark on a person's hand when they push down on the pump to dispense soap. When they have washed their hands enough to make the ink mark disappear, then they know they've washed their hands enough to kill all the germs. It's a great way to make sure kids wash their hands properly.

    squip soap

    September 22, 2006

    Oh, My Achin . . .

    Is it possible to have a delayed injury?

    On Sunday, if you recall, the whole family was in a car accident. At the time, and in the days following, nobody complained of any aches or pains. The only injury reported was a small bruise on Heather's shin.

    This morning I woke up with the most horrific pain in my neck. (And I'm not talking about Heather's undying love of certain college football team located in Columbus, OH) As I get older, I'm getting used to small pains greeting me when I wake up in the morning or at the end of the day. But they usually go away.

    This pain isn't going away. In fact it is getting worse. I can't turn my head to the left or the right, nor can I effectively move it up or down. Working at a computer is very difficult. I'm planning on going home shortly.

    My question is this: Do I see a doctor immediately about this or give it a day or two and see if maybe I just slept on my neck funny?

    September 21, 2006

    Pyrats!

    I wish I had seen this a couple of days ago. It could have been used to celebrate "Talk Like A Pirate Day."

    None the less, Pyrats is an animated short from five students at the Gobelins animation school in France that is a lot of fun to watch regardless of what day it is. The influence of the The Pirates of the Caribbean movie is clear, but the film does strike its own identity in the few short minutes it runs.

    pyrats screen shot


    By the way, none of the downloads actually worked. Just watch the film on the website. It loads fairly quickly.

    September 19, 2006

    Birthday Gift Idea #1

    Wondering what you can get me this year for my birthday? Here's an idea courtesy FAO Schwarz.

    The LEGO Batman

    lego batman

    Judge McKillip Lays Down The Law

    marcella raymond bio picture from WGN websiteJudge Brian McKillip brought the hammer down on TV news celebrity Marcella Raymond in court yesterday. Judge McKillip convicted Raymond of misdemeanor battery back in June related to an altercation with a woman at a Wheaton, IL gas station.
    Raymond became upset when a 61-year-old woman parked diagonally, taking up two spots. Words were exchanged and a quarrel ensued. Raymond was convicted of grabbing the woman's left middle finger for several seconds as the woman made obscene gestures.
    Judge "Hang 'em High" McKillip was in true form as he knocked this local celebrity down to size in his court room and showed that no one would receive preferential treatment as long as he sat on the bench in Du Page County:
    "All of us have had a bad day, and Ms. Raymond had a bad day"
    Give her hell, McKillip!

    How did Ms. Raymond respond to Judge McKillip's firm-handed treatment?
    "I am truly sorry that my actions led to this unfortunate incident," Raymond told McKillip tearfully. "I'm embarrassed."
    That's right! He made her cry. So in addition to 6 months of conditional discharge and ordered to pay a $300 fine, Judge "Hang 'em High" McKillip made Ms. Raymond cry in public.

    You 'da man!

    Avast, Me Hearties!

    It's International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

    I think you know what to do.

    Pirates Fighting

    September 18, 2006

    Something For Ian To Think About

    If you asked Ian today, the answer would be "never," but chances are that the kid will get married some time in the future.

    Considering the boy's love of all things Mario, he might want to file this wedding cake idea away to pull out when the time is right.

    mario wedding cake


    [via boing boing]

    What Did You Do This Weekend?

    Yesterday afternoon Ian was invited to a friend's birthday party and was very excited about attending. The party was at a bowling alley and Ian was going to get to try bowling for the first time. (Heather and I felt a little guilty that Ian hadn't gone bowling already, but what are you going to do?)

    The bowling alley was up in North Aurora, a small town just - well, north and west of Aurora. Considering we had just moved to the farthest southeast corner of Aurora, it was quite a hike to get Ian up to the party. Heather and I decided that the whole family would make the trip. While Ian was at the party we would take Emma over to Target or Toys-R-Us to spend her birthday money and Heather and I would do a little shopping for things for the new house.

    The party was two-hours long, just the perfect amount of time for Emma to find something for herself (and for he sister) and for us to make it back to pick Ian up. Some nasty storms were blowing through the area, but they were keeping us from doing what we needed to do.

    The party was over at 5:30pm. Heather and I knew that by the time we got home it would be close to 6pm and we didn't really have any plan for an evening meal. We decided to stop at McDonald's and told the kids as much. Needless to say they were very excited. It was going to be - at least for them - the perfect end to a great weekend.

    See Friday night Heather's brother Kevin and his family came in for visit. On Saturday his wife and eldest daughter went downtown to the American Girl store while we had fun at the Morton Arboretum Children's Garden. After they headed back to Michigan Sunday morning, Heather took Ian out to buy his friend a birthday gift for the evening party and Ian spent his birthday money on the new Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy video game. And of course there was the party and Emma and Zoe getting new toys. It had been a full and fun weekend of cousins, trips, ice cream, and lots of playtime.

    While driving home the kids kept pointing out every McDonald's we drove past. I reminded them each time that we were going to stop at one closer to our house so we could take it home to eat. It may have disappointed them temporarily, but hope sprung eternal that the next McDonald's would be the one Dad would stop at.

    We had just made it through downtown Aurora and were making our way to the east side of town (closer to where we used to live on Spicebush) when something happened that ended up putting an even bigger exclamation point on the weekend than a trip to McDonald's ever could.

    There was slight rain falling, a fairly steady drizzle, and it was starting to get dark. We were headed eastbound on Galena Blvd approaching an intersection where traffic on Galena did not have to stop in either direction. The cross traffic (Smith Street) did have a stop sign.

    Sitting on Smith Street, facing north, I saw a car waiting at the stop sign. Just as our van is entering the intersection, the car pulls out in front of us. My feet slam on the breaks in an attempt to stop from hitting the car, but the slick road, our speed (30 - 35 MPH), and the proximity of the other vehicle isn't enough to prevent the accident. I slam into the car's driver side were the driver's door and the driver-side rear door meet.

    My defensive measures aren't all for naught, I am able to turn our van the right enough so that we hit her (I could see it was female driver when we slam into the car) at an angle. The driver side of the van takes the majority of the blow, though the whole front end of the van is pretty well damaged.

    map of crash site taken from Google MapsThe force of our van completely spins the woman's car 180-degrees and sends it up on the sidewalk on the northeast corner of the intersection. We come to a complete stop in the middle of the intersection.

    I spin my head around to see how the kids are. They are all crying and visibly shaken, but nobody is bleeding, no body is complaining about hurting. Being a father for seven years has helped my figure out what sort of crying I'm listening to, and this all sounded like the cries of being scared. As they should be. They had no idea of what was coming. At least Heather and I could see the events unfolding in front of us and could prepare a bit. Ian, Emma, and Zoe were lost in their own thoughts - GameBoy play, looking for McDonald's to point out, playing with their new toy. To have the van come to such a sudden stop was terrifying for them.

    I moved the van out of the intersection and parked it on the south side of the street. I left Heather to continue caring for the kids and jumped out of the car to see how the other driver had faired. She was still sitting in her vehicle, though the front door would stay shut. I noticed both doors were badly damaged and the rear driver-side tier was completely burst. Her engine was still running though.

    When I asked her if she was okay, she said something in Spanish. I asked her if she spoke English - and didn't get much of response. She said something about moving her car, which I told her I could not help with. That I needed to call the police. She didn't seem to like that too much, but I did it anyway.

    While on the phone with the 911-operator the female driver started to move her car off the curb. I seriously though she was going to drive away and started to stand in front of it. In the end, she only wanted to get it off the grass and back into the street.

    It turned out that other people who had witnessed the accident had put a call in well before I had an opportunity make a call. The police showed up very quickly and starting taking care of the situation. The woman was complaining about a sore shoulder, and she was taken away in an ambulance.

    Back in our van Ian was already playing his GameBoy again and Zoe was content to watch the action outside. Only Emma was anxious to get moving again and find a McDonald's. The EMT came over to look at Heather and I, and he stuck his head in to look at the kids, but it was obvious that everyone in our van was doing fine. A little shaken, but no physical damage. We were all very lucky and I'm eternally grateful for seatbelts and child seats.

    The police officer tells me that I am not being cited for any moving violation because the other woman was clearly in the wrong. I also learn that the driver has no Driver's License. She may have insurance; it's a little hard to tell. There is insurance information on the accident report, but I thought the police officer told me otherwise. I guess we'll have to see.

    Car Crash 3The van can still be driven (after I put the driver-side headlight back into the body of the vehicle) and the lights even still work. So it's really not all the bad. On the rest of the ride home Heather and I run through all the "if" situations we can think of. If we had stopped at an earlier McDonald's. If I had decided to go a different way home. But that's no good anymore. What's happened has happened. I'm glad that we are all safe and the only fixing that has to be done is to the front of the van.

    Looking back it's all very surreal. Seeing the car pull out not being able to believe that she was doing what she was actually doing. Slamming on the break, even though I knew there wasn't space to stop, but thinking that if I didn't slow down the other car would either hit us square on the driver-side of the van or I would plow into the engine area of the other car - two things I didn't want to. Seeing the woman's face so clearly when the van smashed into her side of the car. It was like a photograph - frozen in time. All very weird.

    I wish we had had our camera with us to photograph the crash scene. The woman's car was smashed up really bad. The driver-side doors were both in bad shape and there were plastic pieces of her car everywhere. She looked like she had gotten rammed by something. Our van, on the other hand, hardly looks that bad. Sure both headlights are shattered - but the still shine. There are plenty of dents, cracks, and scratches on the front bumper and grill, and the iPass transponder is completely flattened. But looking at the pictures things don't appear that bad. At home later that night I opened up the hood and took a look at things. The front bumpers did their job wonderfully. I couldn't see any damage to the interior of the vehicle. I'm proud of our little Pontiac.

    Car Crash 4(One curious thing about the accident that Heather and I were talking about - our airbags never deployed. We thought they should have. But then I was thinking maybe the vehicle wasn't traveling fast enough that airbags were necessary. The van was probably traveling around 30 MPH or less at time of impact. I don't know. In the end it wasn't that big of deal - in fact it works in our favor. Nobody was hurt and we can still drive the van without the deployed airbags flopping about everywhere.)

    The last car accident I was in occurred 13 - 14 years ago. Back then it was a case of me having the right of way and the other driver doing something incredibly stupid. While having experienced that crash probably prepared me a little for this one, it wasn't an experience I wanted to re-live. Hopefully Sunday's accident is the last time I - or Heather, Ian, Emma, and Zoe - have to be in that situation ever again.

    At the end of the day Heather and I had to laugh though. Ian, Emma, and Zoe had a full exciting weekend. They did lots of great fun things on their own, with friends, and their cousins. But when Ian and Emma go to school today and tell everyone what they did over the weekend, what do you think they'll say? That they went to the Arboretum? That they got Star Wars II? Nope. That their Dad hit another car with their van.

    Oh well.

    September 15, 2006

    Victory Auto Wreckers

    YouTube is great.

    Back when my brother and I were kids, one of the perks of staying home sick from school were the cheesy commericals on WGN and WFLD (pre-FOX days). We howled with laughter at the Victory Auto Wreckers commerical and the guy with his leather gauntlet watch, mullet, and horrible acting.

    This isn't the original Victory Auto Wreckers commerical my brother and I laughted at back in the mid-80s. The 630 area code and the Dean Richard voice over are clearly modern additions. However, it does feature that classic "ah, man, how am I gonna get to the Def Leppard concert now that my car door fell off" scene that we all love so much.

    No Cupcakes in Classrooms

    Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote in his blog that while attending parent orientation night in his child's 4th grade classroom, the teacher announced that there would be "no cupcakes this year."

    From Eric's blog:
    She'd done the math. Naturally. And she figured that if every child had a little birthday party -- where a parent brings in treats, drinks, maybe goodie bags -- she'd lose roughly 10 hours of total classroom instruction time over the course of the year.
    So what will kids get to do instead on their birthday? They will get to stand up in front of the class and share a passage from their favorite book.

    cupcakeIf you read through the comments that follow Eric's post, you see the people are pretty evenly divided between thinking this is a good idea or a bad idea. Eric thinks it is a great idea. Not only does it not steal instructional time away from the teacher, but it saves the parents from the pressure of preparing/buying treats and making sure any dietary restrictions are accounted for.

    Personally I think it is a solid ideal. Take your pick on the reason I support a ban on cupcakes: birthdays are already over-done in general, growing obesity, disruption for the teacher, etc. Any of them make for a sound argument to keep parties in the classroom to a minimum. I also read Eric's comments in light of the book I am currently reading The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.

    I'm almost done with the book, and had planned on writing about it here when I finished, but this cupcake brouhaha makes for a perfect connection to one of the points in Friedman's book. In the World is Flat, Friedman identifies a number of events and inventions that have made the world "flat" over the last 10 years - almost all of them technology related. This flattening of the world has had a profound effect on the economies of many countries - most notably India and China which have prospered greatly. Without going into to much detail, Friedman makes the point that when U.S. children who are in school today leave and enter the workforce, they won't be competing against the guy across the street or even the guy across the country. They will be competing for jobs with the guy in India, China, or who knows where else. It isn't just manufacturing jobs that are being outsourced to China and the like. As the Internet makes collaboration and transfer of work easier, more and more jobs can go where the brightest talent can be bought the most efficiently.

    Friedman's illustrations have scared the hell out of me when I think of the implications for my own children. If Ian, Emma, and Zoe are going to carve out a piece of the pie for themselves when they are adults, then they will need to work hard at developing and enhancing marketable skills that will make them unique. Not something that can easily be bought from India. It's enough that I want to push them to either find a way at excelling at something artistic (writer, illustrator, photographer, etc) or something that cannot be outsourced (surgeon). Working in America as part of the new flattened world will be all about offering service. Not just work.

    Friedman points to the failure of the U.S. elementary schools to train and prepare our children to enter this new marketplace. The U.S. still has the best universities in the world, but the enrollment at those schools is increasing with over-sea students who have had superior elementary schooling to put them ahead of American students.

    A stronger effort needs to be placed on schooling in the U.S. - especially in math and science. I say forget bringing in cupcakes on their birthday and have the student stand up and demonstrate their favorite math proof. Sure it may sound harsh, but the alternative is children ill-prepared to fend for themselves later on.

    September 14, 2006

    The New James Bond

    Found the trailer to the new James Bond movie that comes out this November, Casino Royale, on YouTube.

    It looks pretty good. I haven't paid too much attention to the film up to this point, other than knowing it is Daniel Craig's first go-around as Bond and that the tone of the movie is a sort of "Year One" affair. The film makers are going back to when James Bond was just starting out as a 00-agent and figuring things out. Think of it like Batman Begins for James Bond.

    Craig looks good in the trailer. He seems to have a rougher look to his Bond. More in line with Connery.

    iPod Killer?

    Microsoft officially announced the launch of Zune - their own portable digital media player that is planned to compete directly against Apple's iPod.

    The basics: It has WiFi, a 30GB hard drive, built-in FM receiver, 3 inch screen, and plays audio, video, and pictures. The Zune will support h.264 video (high-definition), MP3, AAC (but not protected AAC's from the iTunes Store), and WMA. It will come in black, white, and brown (?!?!?)

    You'll be able to buy music and videos from the Zune Marketplace and the WiFi will allow you to share your music with another Zune owner. They'll be able to play the song 3 times over 3 days and then they will get the option of purchasing the track from Zune Marketplace. I guess if they decline then the file won't work anymore.

    While I completely dig the larger screen, it looks a little clunky overall. And brown? I've seen plenty of comments from people saying they love the brown, and maybe I'm missing something, but I think brown looks horrible. I'm not sure if Zune will capture consumers imagination like the iPod has, even if it does support all sorts of file types and has WiFi. I guess time, and the marketplace, will tell.

    Oh, in typical Microsoft fashion they haven't announced when Zunes will hit store shelves or how much a Zune will cost. They just wanted to let eveyone know that Zune is coming out in the vaguely defined "this holiday season."
    zune images

    Kids and The Carpet

    The ChildrenI wish I could figure out what it is with our kids and carpeting. We've been in our house about a month and a half and the carpeting in the family room looks like it has aged five years already.

    Granted the family room is where the kids spend most of their time if they aren't outside or in the rooms. The toy box is in there, as is the TV and the table for coloring. But I didn't expect the carpeting to look so tired so soon. It's depressing.

    The previous owners also had their TV and toy box in the family room - but they only had one child, and he was still very young. Less than two-years old I think. So I guess the carpet really hadn't been stressed at all.

    Knowing how the kids worn down the carpeting through out our old house, let alone the family room, Heather and I put down some new rules when we moved into these new digs. It was our hope to save the carpeting from deteriorating too quickly. There are other improvements to the house I want to focus on right now. I don't want to be shopping for carpeting.

    Heather and my steps seem to be keeping the carpeting in the rest of the house in good shape, but the family room is looking rough already. We are considering going out to purchase an area rug to throw down in the middle to help preserve things and improve the look of the room.

    It just boggles my mind how rough these three kids can be on the flooring in this room.

    September 13, 2006

    Somewhere Someone Is Having a Party

    picture of meatSomebody in the Tri-State area (Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana) is preparing for one hell of a party. In the past week 350 pounds of porkburgers and hot dogs were stolen from the Cromwell Community Center in Cromwell, IN. and 350 pounds of meat, more than 100 pounds of cheese and a dozen cases of beer were stolen from a cheese factory in Marion, WI. The haul from Wisconsin included cheese carved into the shape of a wedding bell.

    I'm thinking that the two meat-stealing groups are making their way to Chicago and have plans for huge weekend blow-out. If you're stealing a cheese carved to look like a bell, you've got "party" on the mind.

    [via chicagoist]

    Apple Comes Out With a Whole Bunch of Stuff

    Leading up to yesterday's big Apple event, there was plenty of speculation on what new products, changes to products, or software would be coming from Steve Job and the minds at Apple. Most of the rumored items again did not materialize, but there were plenty of cool things announced.

    ipod shuffleThe iPod Shuffle was completely redesigned.

    Roughly 1" by 1.5", the new iPod Shuffle looks more like a lapel pin than an MP3 player. But even when it is that small it still houses 1GB of flash memory that holds up to 240 songs. A clip on the back of the player means you can stick it practically anywhere. The aluminum case means that it won't look dirty as quickly as the all white version that has been around for the last few years.

    What I like about this product redesign is that Apple has reduced the Shuffle to the bare bone basics of an MP3 player. There is a way to attach it to your person, a headphone jack for listening, and controls for playing music. There isn't any wasted space or unnecessary add-ons. Very cool.

    The designers at Apple must have taken notice on how popular the old iPod Mini remained when they were looking at the next version of iPod Nano. The Nano has essentially been redesigned to be a Mini in Nano clothing. From the aluminum casing and the rounded edges, all the way down to offering color selections, Apple has done everything they could to the Nano to make it "Mini-like" without actually scrapping the Nano and bringing back the Mini. The only thing missing is the snap-on clip that came with an iPod Mini.

    new ipod nano

    Hard drive is larger, the screen is brighter, and the battery lasts longer - but make no mistake, this is a Nano being retro-fitted to capture the iPod Mini Maniacs and lure them into upgrading to a Nano.

    The regular iPod got some changes, but they are really anything special. Larger hard drives, brighter screen, longer battery life - but no new features. Certainly not the widescreen iPod that constantly gets talked about. After the new Shuffle and redesigned Nano, the big news was iTunes 7.

    With iTunes 7 Apple has dramatically redesigned the software to make it easier to manage your music and videos, provide you a way to transfer music from computer to computer using your iPod, and improved the ability to back-up you iTunes collections. There are a ton of little features too. However, the big news about iTunes is that now through the iTunes Store you can buy full feature-length movies.

    Movies will cost between $12.99 and $14.99. You'll be able to watch them on you computer, iPod, or eventually using the new iTV product that will launch next year. Just like the TV shows bought through iTunes, you won't be able to burn movies to DVD and watch them on your TV.

    iPod with movie image insidePersonally, while the idea of buying the movies through the iTunes Store sounds cool, I really don't see the benefit in it right now. One, I like all the commentaries and extras that you get with movies on DVD. Until I can get those as part of a download, I probably won't bother. Two, until I can easily watch these on my own television I won't be downloading anything via iTunes. Sitting in front of my computer to watch a movie does not appeal to me, nor does watching a movie on a 2.5" iPod screen.

    Most movies are made to be watched on as big a screen as possible. 2.5" isn't a whole lot of space. Take for example the image Apple is using to promote movies on iPods - the one of Capt. Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. What is actually shown - the close-up of a smirking Johnny Depp - is actually a cropped portion of the larger scene. In the scene in question you should also see much of the ship Sparrow is on, Will Turner is seen in the background, and you are also treated to a wonderful shot of the ocean horizon. I remember the scene vividly because it looks so great - on my large TV. I don't even want to think about how all of that would look smooshed down into 2.5" of space.

    Regardless of my reservations about movies via iTunes, I'm anxious to download and install it at home. The other music management features and improved UI seem well worth the investment in time to get it up and running on our computer. The rest of the iPod products look great, but I'll stick with what I've got for now. Unless that widescreen iPod does come along, in which case I might have to put together a strong business case for the Mrs. on why I need a toy from Apple.

    We Need a Knitter

    To go along with the new Stormtrooper costume, I need someone to knit Heather a Princess Leia cinnamon-buns-hairdo wig.

    princess leia knit wig

    September 12, 2006

    Gotta Love the Irish

    My Grandpa just emailed me this joke and I wanted to share.

    An Irishman named O'Malley went to his doctor after a long illness.

    The doctor sighed and looked O'Malley in the eye and said, "I've some bad news for you. You have cancer, and it can't be cured. You'd best put your affairs in order."

    O'Malley was shocked.... but being a solid character, he managed to compose himself and walk from the doctor's office into the waiting room, where his son was waiting.

    "Well, Son," O'Malley said, "We Irish celebrate when things are good, and we celebrate when things don't go well. In this case, things aren't so well....I have cancer. Let's head to the pub and have a few pints."

    After 3 or 4 pints the two were feeling a little less somber. There were some laughs and some more beers. They were eventually approached by some of O'Malley's friends who were curious as to what the two were celebrating.

    O'Malley told them they were drinking to his impending end. He told his riends, "I have been diagnosed with AIDS."

    The friends gave O'Malley their condolences, and they had a couple of more beers.

    After the friends left, O'Malley's son leaned over and whispered his confusion. "Dad, you told me that you were dying of cancer....but you just told your friends that you were dying of AIDS!"

    O'Malley said, "I don't want any of them sleeping with your Mother after I am gone."
    laughing leprechaun

    Birthday Gift Idea

    My birthday is right around the corner. If you are stuck on what special something you should get me, let me offer this suggestion.

    The kids at Firebox.com are selling a Star Wars Imperial Stormtrooper costume that has been made using the orginal forms used from the 1977 film.

    How cool is that.

    stormtropper costume


    Now shoes and a gun are not inlcuded, but I know I can figure something out. All I need is the costume for every night to be the right time for Heather and I to play "Save Princess Leia from the Death Star!"

    Who-ha!

    Thoughts on September 11th

    Yesterday, after reading this New York Times editorial piece, I thought about - even began drafting - publishing my own thoughts about the attacks on September 11, 2001 and the state of things five years later. But I was having a difficult time putting my thoughts together in a way I felt good about sharing them through this blog, so I abandoned that post.

    Then I read the transcript of Keith Olbermann's commentary on the five-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks that he delivered on his show last night. You can read it here.

    It was then that I realized that if I couldn't find my own words, then at least I can point to other people's words that I believe do a solid job of capturing the thoughts and frustrations that I am dealing with when I think about the state of America in the five years since the terrorist attacks on our country.

    It was with great sadness that I watched on TV some of the memorials and documentaries of events that took place five years ago and recollected my own fears and feeling from that day. But watching those shows and reading the New York Times' piece and Olbermann's words stirred up the frustration in me on how our country has been guided since that day.

    To quote Olbermann:
    At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial -- barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field -- Mr. Lincoln said, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

    Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.

    Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground." So we won't.

    Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing instead of doing any job at all.

    And the New York Times:
    The war against terror we meant to fight in Afghanistan is at best stuck in neutral, with the Taliban resurgent and the best economic news involving a bumper crop of opium. Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11 when it was invaded, is now a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists.

    Where do I go from here? Where do we go from here? I don't know.

    I could hope that new elections could bring change, but I have so little faith in the people running our governments at State and Federal level (Republican and Democrat) that I really don't know how much good that will do.

    I have faith in Barack Obama. But he seems to be one voice of reason and logic awash in a sea of special interest and pandering.

    It's really all rather depressing. I guess that might be another reason why I abandoned my post yesterday.

    AP photo of NYC on 9 11 2006

    September 11, 2006

    Now That's What I Like To See

    That was a much better football weekend. On Saturday, Notre Dame didn't have much trouble with Penn State. I didn't get to watch the game, but I did listen to it on the radio as I cleaned out and finally organized our garage. I installed a lot of shelving, moved some things up into the attic over the garage, and in general finally got that space into shape. It's been a mess since we moved in at the beginning of August. Now as soon as the weather turns colder and I can hang all the bikes up on the ceiling hooks I installed, I'll finally be able to park inside the garage again.

    But I digress.

    Notre Dame LogoThe Fighting Irish displayed the power and flash on offense that I was expecting to see this year. 41 points is always impressive. Quinn and the boys sounded focused and organized right from the start of the game. An extreme reversal from the season opener against Georgia Tech. What was even more impressive was the play of the defense.

    The first-string unit effectively kept Nittany Lions to just 3 points for three-plus quarters. It wasn't until the waning moments of the game, with a number of reserves in, did the Penn State finally score some touchdowns. That's how we need the defense to play every week if want to see Notre Dame playing Ohio State in January (and considering how well the Buckeyes took care of the Texas Longhorns Saturday night, I like OSU's chances in playing for the National Championship this year).

    This Saturday Michigan comes to play, and from what I can tell, haven't looked too sharp in their first two games against cream-puffs. I expect Notre Dame to deliver big in laying a massive smack-down on the Wolverines.

    The Bears were also impressive in their win this weekend. They shut out Brett Favre and the lowly Packers 26 - 0 and even displayed flashes of the big offense that Coach Lovie Smith has been claiming is in place. First series of the game for the Bears - 78 yards in 6 plays capped off with a 49-yard TD strike from Rex Grossman to Bernard Berian (I think Bernard's only catch of the day).

    rex grossman and the chicago bearsAfter that the scoring came from a lot of field goals as the Bears demonstrated that they have plenty of work to do on their red zone offense. Multiple times they were within the Packer's 20-yard line only to walk away with only 3-points. The Bears should have scored at least two more touchdowns on offense. Instead they got a second TD from the special teams unit when Devin Hester ran a punt back 84 yards for the score.

    Grossman looked good, Muhsin Muhammad looked good, Desmond Clark played well, even kicker Robbie Gould looked good. The defense, of course, was awesome in its dominance. It was a fun game to watch.

    But let's not forget that this was the Green Bay Packers we are talking about. Nobody was picking that team to amount to much of anything this season. So before we go fitting the Bears for rings, let's see how the team plays the next few weeks. But in the mean time, a win is a win and the Bears looked good doing it. Could I really have to legitimate teams to cheer for this football season?

    September 10, 2006

    Fenwick Beats St. Rita

    fenwick sealFenwick, my high school alma mater, beat #4-ranked St. Rita in football this weekend.

    While I am proud of the high school I attended, it's not something I dwell on. I'm not active within the Fenwick alumni community and don't make an effort to follow the sport teams or how the school is doing. Sure I read the alumni magazine that gets sent sporadically, but that's about it.

    fenwick footballHowever, I wanted to give the Friars of Fenwick a little love on the blog in recognition of toppling a solid football program in St. Rita. I remember back when I was attending Fenwick; St. Rita, Mt. Carmel and Brother Rice were always some of the top teams in the state. It didn't help that all three of those teams were in the same Chicago Catholic League division as Fenwick, ensuring a few sound beatings getting laid on our football team each year.

    Scanning the high school football rankings, I see many of the same programs from fifteen years ago are still in the top 20. But now Fenwick appears to have put things together on the gridiron and earned some respect from the pollsters. I'm sure yesterday's defeat of St. Rita will help Fenwick's cause as well.

    Nicely done boys. All the success this season. I will try to keep an eye out and see what Fenwick can do with this football season.

    September 08, 2006

    Re-affirming My Rejuvenile Status

    A couple of weeks ago Heather and I had brunch at our house and invited my family over to eat and celebrate Ian's and Emma's birthday. My mother, who has been tearing through her house in an effort to de-clutter and simplify, turned to me and asked me if I wanted my Nintendo game system.

    (Ian's ears perked up from all the way across the crowded and noisy room.)

    a picture of the *type* of system we have - not a picture of the my brothers actual NESThe game system in question was an original Nintendo Entertainment System from circa 1985 that shipped with Super Mario Brother and Duck Hunt (not the version that also had the crazy robot). I reminded my mom that the NES was actually my brother's, not mine, and that she should talk to him about it.

    (Ian's ears lay back down at this point)

    But while visiting my mom over Labor Day weekend I got to thinking. My brother is up in Wisconsin starring in another play. He obviously won't be getting the system any time soon. Plus, if my mom has it now, it means that he isn't too interested in it. Otherwise he would have it with him (the system basically connects to any type of TV in about thirty seconds and is a great way to kill time - something that could be useful in Wisconsin).

    I've got a son who loves video games, and currently has an infatuation with all things Mario. Why not take the system to our house and let Ian (and Heather and I) play with it until Kevin makes a decision on what he wants to do with it.

    screen shot from super mario brotherSo that's what I did last Monday. I gathered the game, the controllers, the gun, and all the games my brother had gotten for the system (more than I remember) and took them over to our house. I set it up in our office with a spare nine-inch TV that we have and we were off.

    It's been a lot of fun playing these old games this week. Tetris, Duck Hunt, Spy Hunter, RC Racing (I haven't bothered with Teenage Mutant Ninja Heroes or Tiger-Heli - I didn't like the games when I was 16, why would I like it now?) - they're all still fun and take me back to when I was younger and things were simpler. Every night after putting the kids to bed I slip into the office and play a little Super Mario Brothers 2 or Spy Hunter before knuckling down to wash dishes or take out the trash.

    My memory hadn't served me well in one aspect; I thought my brother only owned Super Mario Brothers. He actually has Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario Brothers 2. I had been combining them together in my mind, but they are very different games in terms of design and functionality. For Ian it's a boon. He gets to play two different Mario games, not just the one that I had told him about. For me, it's rediscovering that I really liked playing SMB 2 a whole lot more, although Super Mario Brothers does have a simple charm to it.

    screen shot from super mario brothers 2Emma really enjoys Duck Hunt. She gets as much joy out of hitting the ducks as seeing the dog stand up and laugh at her when she misses. She also things it's fun to play as the princess in Super Mario Brothers 2, even though she doesn't make it very far into the game. Heather is also a big Duck Hunt fan.

    I'm not sure how long we will have the system or whether it will keep Ian's and Emma's interest, but I think we will have some fun with it for awhile. More challenging and graphically advanced games can be found on the web, but there is a simple joy in playing these games exactly as I remember them from my teenage years. It's fun nostalgia.

    That Girl Is Sassy!

    emma in her pink cowboy boots


    You can read about Emma and her new pink cowboy boots on Heather's blog.

    September 07, 2006

    How Superman: The Movie Should Have Ended

    It's the end of the first Superman staring Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman, not the most recent one from this summer …

    Wiat for the great Batman cameo at the end.



    From the kids at howitshouldhaveended.com. They've also got new endings for Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and other favorites.

    LEGO Star Wars Fever - Catch It!

    I don't know how things are being treated where you are, but at our house September 12 is being celebrated like a minor holiday. (Well, technically just Ian is treating it like a holiday, but I have a tendency to get caught up in his excitement.)

    lego star wars ii imageThe reason this day is so special for Ian is that on Tuesday, 9/12 LucasArts will release LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy video game.

    The first LEGO Star Wars video game drew its storyline and structure for game play from the Episodes I, II, III and featured the locations, vehicles and characters of the Star Wars universe rendered completely as LEGO toys. It was a monster hit. Ian saved up his money to buy the Gameboy Advanced version of the game and it remains one of his favorite games to play even now.

    When it was announced that a sequel game would arriving and that it would feature the storylines and characters of the classic original Star Wars trilogy of movies, it was a no-brainer guessing which game would jump to the top of Ian's "wish list."

    Sure enough, the kid has been sitting on some of the money he received for his birthday back in July in anticipation of the release of LEGO Star Wars II this fall.

    To help drum up interest and raise awareness of the release of the game (like that is even necessary), Star Wars has been running little features on their Star Wars Kids site that shows you how to draw Star Wars characters as they appear in the LEGO video games. The combos I've seen up to the point have been interesting, though a bit mismatched, until today. Darth Vader and Luke. Father and son. That's something nice.

    how to draw lego luke and lego darth vader finished drawing

    September 06, 2006

    I Want Little Nemo in Slumberland

    Little Nemo was a Sunday newspaper full-color comic strip that ran at the turn of the century (1905-1913) which featured a young boy named Nemo and his strange and bizare dreams. Each Sunday's strip featured a different dream of Nemo's, and finished with him waking up in his bed.

    Although a the scripts can be a little hard to comprehend, Winsor McCay's artwork is without peer. It is McCay's gloriously detailed and vivid artwork that has made Little Nemo a classic comic strip and treasured work of art. Each piece is simply beautiful to look at.

    Last year comic collector and publisher Peter Maresca collected 110 of the original Little Nemo in Slumberland strips and published them in a over-sized hardbound volume. Each strip chosen for the book was digitally restored to it's original (or close to original) glory.

    Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays sold out of its original 5,000 copy run, and second printing were ordered. In the meantime, the book won a handful of awards for design and content.

    Now Maresca is preparing to print a second volume of Little Nemo comics. It will sport the same wonderful design and contain more fully-restored comic strip treasures from McCay's fertile imagination.

    Both books run around $120 each, so they are pricing investments. But I would love to own a piece of this comic art history.

    September 05, 2006

    Super Hero Fight!

    superman vs batmanFinally, a good use of the Internet has been found. Instead of arguing ad nausem in your parent's basement about who can beat who, now we can let the world decide.

    Who would win in a fight: Batman VS Superman

    SuperHeroFight.com lets users decide the outcome of this and plenty of other super hero match-ups. Built around the same concept as the old "Am I Hot or Not?" website, you can kill plenty of time choosing winners in the different match-ups.

    My one complaint? The site seems to heavily favor Marvel characters. It took me forever to find a DC character and I consider it a minor miracle that I stubmled on Batman vs. Superman combo.

    First Days of School - 2006

    This year the first day of school became an even bigger event at our house because Emma was preparing to attend her first year of pre-school. As the summer wound down, she became increasingly excited about when she would finally get to go to school like her big brother. She frequently asked about when her first day was, asked about her teacher, wanted to know how many days a week she would go to school, and in general was thoroughly ready to become a schoolgirl.

    Ian First Day 2006Her anticipation hit a fever pitch the weekend before the grade school classes were scheduled to begin when the school had its annual Meet and Greet Teachers & Ice Cream Social event after the 10am Sunday mass. After meeting Ian's Second Grade teacher and seeing his room, Emma finally got to see the pre-school classroom and meet her teacher, Mrs. Voirin.

    Emma already knew, in a manner of speaking, Mrs. Voirin from Ian's days in pre-school, but now it was Mrs. Voirin giving Emma her full attention as a new student in her class. I think Emma enjoyed it.

    Now for Ian, the beginning of school has become a bit old hat. He enjoys school - don't let him try to tell you otherwise - but he still goes through the typical mechanics of decrying the arrival of the school year and the death of his summer free time. Also considering that he is going into Second Grade sort of took some of the allure of the new school year. Pre-school was the beginning of going to school. Kindergarten was the beginning of being away at school all day and eating your lunch there. First Grade was - well, First Grade. No longer a Kindergartner, he was a full-fledged grade schooler. After those three big events, going into Second Grade seemed rather routine.

    However, Ian's suited up and went off for a great first day. The only problem was that it wasn't Emma's first day also. At the school the kindergarten and all higher grades start about a week before the pre-school. Not sure why they do it this way, they just do. So when Ian went off for his first day on 8/22, Emma was left sitting at home until 9/1 when the pre-school started. Luckily Heather and my coaching through-out most of August had Emma prepared for this. I think she would have preferred to start the same day as her big brother, but if she had to wait she would do that as well.

    Emma First Day 2006Typically I take the morning off and take Ian to his first day of school. It's just one of those Dad things I like to do. However, considering that I had recently started a new job and was a little pressed from taking too much time off right away and I wanted to be able to take Emma to her first day, there didn't seem to be much choice when Ian's and Emma's first days were on different days. So I skipped Ian's first day for the first time. He didn't seem to mind. I know starting next year it won't be a problem any more, as they will both start school on the same day.

    So Heather and I took them both to school on 9/1. Ian ran off to go see his friends and get in line, and Heather and I took Emma over to wait to go in to her classroom. There were plenty of parents with cameras and big smiles. And there were an equal amount of kids with apprehensive looks on their faces and big backpacks. Mrs. Voirin took all the children inside and invited the parents in to watch the first five minutes of class.

    Just like Ian had three years ago, Emma strolled right in with issue and took to following the teacher's instructions. No tears. No complaints. She hung up her backpack, found a space on the floor with her new classmates and eagerly waited for class to begin.

    Heather and I hung around for a few minutes. When it was time to go Emma flashed us a huge smile and waved goodbye. All was good. The only one crying was Zoe, who was expecting ice cream when we left the pre-school classroom (as she had a little over week ago when we were there for the Meet and Greet Teacher event).

    That night Emma told us that she had made two friends at school, and one other friend out on the playground. She couldn't remember any of their names, but that's okay. Making three new friends on her first day of school isn't bad.

    I've uploaded some other photos from the first days of school to my Flickr account (including Zoe hamming it up for the camera). Check out the slide show.

    September 03, 2006

    My Deck Killed Me This Weekend

    The new house we recently moved into has a wonderful deck out back. It's very roomy, with plenty of space to incorporate some nice furniture and a grill while still leaving room to walk around. The deck is enclosed by some very custom and very nice looking railings. Plus there is accent lighting placed on all the major posts around the fence that make the deck perfect for entertaining at night.

    What Heather and I learned after moving in was that the previous owner was known to some on the block as "Nice Deck Andy" because of the quality and presentation of the deck. That's how nice this thing is.

    wood stainNow Heather and I don't want to be known as "Nice Deck Heather" or "Nice Deck Brendan," but we still want to preserve this clear asset to the home. That's why this weekend we set out to stain and seal the entire deck - including the railings.

    Early Saturday morning - after I had cut the grass - I set about prepping the deck and preparing the stain/sealant we were going to use. I had chosen a redwood stain that was semi-transparent. It looked like the previous owners had used a dark stain - like a redwood - but you could still clearly see the wood grain - hence the semi-transparent quality of the stain I purchased. I waned to match pretty closely with the color they had already done. Heather was a little skeptical of the color that I had chosen - she didn't want a deck that was too "red" looking - but I assured her that this wouldn't be the case.

    The railing that "Nice Deck Andy" had done were quite fancy. Andy was a semi-professional carpenter - or at least he had the hardware in his basement to be one. When we viewed the house when shopping, I was very impressed with the quantity and quality of woodworking equipment he had in the basement. It was a setup that would revival Norm Abram on The New Yankee Workshop.

    All those tools are gone now, but Andy's handiwork was left behind. The railings on this deck were clear custom jobs that Andy had worked on in his basement. Every individual rail post was customized. It looks beautiful and I'm glad we have it. But these customizations made staining this deck a royal bitch.

    All counted, it took Heather and me working together is took us five hours to cover all of those posts and railing pieces. I worked around the outside, doing not only the railings but also the massive 2x10 planks that were used along the underside of the deck to cap things off. At times it seemed like it was never going to end - rail post after rail post after rail post - and I was standing up for all of it.

    Despite all the aggravation of the railings taking nearly three times longer than I had anticipated, I kept holding on to the notion that the railing would be the only difficult part of this job. The actually deck floor was going to be a breeze. I'd be done with it in thirty minutes. My ace in the hole was the fact that I had a sprayer I had used to spread sealant on our deck at the previous home. So even if the railing did take a lot longer than I estimated, I would make up a ton of time when I get to simply spray on the stain/sealant. The race was taking long than expected, but I was going to close quickly.

    That didn't work out nearly as I had planned.

    I filled up the sprayer with the available stain/sealant, chose the correct nozzle per the instructions, pumped the sprayer up, and squeezed the handled. What came out looked like brown blood splatter from a cheesy horror movie. There was no way I was going to use the sprayer to apply the stain/sealant. So it was back to the brush and hunched over as I applied stain/sealant to the entire floor of the deck. That was another two hours.

    Luckily Saturday's weather was a perfect for being outside all day. Which is exactly where I was from 9am (when I started cutting the grass) until 7pm when I had finished cleaning up and finally entered the house.

    exhaustedThat night my lower back was sore from all the standing and hunching that had gone on and the back of my neck felt a little sore from sunburn - but other than that I felt okay. It didn't stop me from watching Notre Dame struggle through the first half against Georgia Tech before they demonstrated some talent in the second half in order to take the lead and hold on for the win.

    That whole story changed when I tried to get out of bed this morning. The lower back pain was still there (maybe even slightly worse), but now the lower back was joined in its song of pain by all joints in my shoulders, arms, and hands. My knees were pretty tight too. My body screamed for me not to get out of bed. Unfortunately it wasn't a day to listen to my body. It was my turn to get up with the kids so Heather could catch up on here sleep, and we wanted to take the kids to the zoo.

    As I moved around things loosened up, but the pain didn't go away. For the rest of the day whenever I sat down I could feel my body collapsing into the seat with hopes of never having to move again. It was rought. All I could think about was when the kids would be going to bed so I could sit down and do nothing. That's what my body wanted to do.

    A couple of years ago I would have been able to jump right up the next day and go to work on something else. Now a day of hard labor practically puts me in bed for the day.

    Am I that out of shape? Or is just my age catching up with me? Whatever it is, I don't like it.

    The deck looks great though. And Heather loves the color.

    September 01, 2006

    Why I Should Avoid Pre-Season Football

    The Chicago Bears finished up the pre-season last night with a 20-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns. What was most notable about the game was the ability of Rex Grossman and the first team offense to finally get into the endzone. Rex hit a wide open Desmond Clark in the endzone for a touchdown at the beginning of the first quarter. The successful scoring drive was made possible thanks to Rookie Devin Hester's 54-yard punt return. It doesn't hurt when the play of Special Teams puts the offense in the Red Zone as a starting point.

    Rex and the first team offense returned for a second series and were able to move the ball close enough for a Robbie Gould 27-yeard field goal. Promising, but not exciting. It was all the scoring that the Bears would need, and the Bears defense held Cleveland to just 7 points and 185 total yards for the game.

    photo of chicago bears cleveland brown game from chicago tribuneYou'd think I'd be excited about the prospects of the new season, considering Rex's and the rest of the team's performance last night - but I'm not.

    The Bears haven't exactly been impressive looking in the four pre-season games this year. They finished 2-2, the back-up Quarterback (Brian Griese) has looked better than the guy Head Coach Lovie Smith insists is the starter (Rex Grossman), and overall the offense hasn't looked as great as the coaching staff has claimed they would be this season. Sure the defense has been good, and probably has the potential to be great again, but that's nearly a given in Chicago. What we want is a little scoring to go with all that solid defense Chicago puts on the field. The offense's performance in the pre-season games hasn't done a whole lot to convice Bears fans that improvement has been made.

    Maybe Lovie has been holding them back in the pre-season. Maybe it really does take four games for Rex and the offense to find their grove. In which case, they should come out with guns a blazin' on September 10 when the open the regular season against the Green Bay Packers. I have a hard time believing that, but I guess time will tell. While I hope for the best, my fear is that we are in store for a regular season record that reflects the pre-season record: .500

    In the meantime I'm not looking any farther out than this Saturday evening when Brady Quinn and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame open the season against Georgia Tech on ABC at 7pm. One of the things I love about the college game is that there is no pre-season. There isn't all this sitting around for a month watching your team play - and have it mean nothing - and building up or dashing your hopes for your favorite team before the season even begins. That's what pre-season ball can do.

    With college it's just about the games. For the last month there's all sorts of talking and posturing about which teams will be good and which teams will be great, but it's all just predictions - hearsay - hot air. Nobody knows anything for certain, because nobody has actually seen the teams play as a unit against a different team. Therefore hope continues to spring eternal inside of fans all across the country. And when the teams do start playing, the games actually count for something. So there isn't any only playing some players for a quarter or a half. It's all of your best men on the field going 100% to win the game.

    So that's what I am really looking forward to right now. The Irish offense showed great talent last year and are returning plenty of starters on offense in a system they have grown even more familiar with over the last seven months. The defense, the clear weak spot of the Irish team, is also returning a number of starters. Hopefully the veteran element will translate into a solid defensive crew that will allow Quinn and offense to build a lead and sit on it. Coach Weiss is still calling the shots. Quinn still has a great arm. I'm excited about the Irish's possibilities this season, and because there haven't been any pre-season games to build up doubt in my mind - I can bring that excitement when I watch the game Saturday night.

    This is gonna be great.