Archive for May, 2008

Spider’s Lament

Earlier this week, my work computer ended up about three degrees short of fried. After some form of update happened over the weekend, things started snowballing to the point where the system had to be “re-imaged”. Yes, basically wiped and reinstalled.

All of my “personal” information – bookmarks, files, etc. were saved, but some of the “less obvious” information was lost. One of those “less obvious” items was my Spider record.

Yes. J.K. Rowling had her Minesweeper addiciton, and I have Spider Solitare. I don’t play it too often, usually either when I am t-totally bored, and have absolutely nothing else that I really want or need to do… or in the moments when it wouldn’t be too productive for me to try and start something, only to have to quit before completing it.

But I have played it enough (usually on Easy, although I have played some on Medium) to have played over 1,000 games (yes, while at work… but over an almost 2 year window) and ended with about an 81% win rate. So, I have started the count over, and will continue the quest…

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Las Vegas, pt. 2 (The Trip Continues…)

[This was originally started on 2/28/08.]

When last we left our escapades, we were skirting around on skates, being mindful of the toepicks…. wait, that would be the Icecapades… Let’s get back to Vegas! Right…

We were beat when we went to bed that Monday night. Since our bodies were still on Eastern time, we were awake by 7am onTuesday. (Actually, it took us until Friday, I think, before we even managed to start really functioning in “Vegas” time.) We were up and dressed by about 7:30 – and hungry! We made our way downstairs, trying to decide a) what we wanted for breakfast, and b) what we wanted to spend the day doing.

As the elevator doors opened, and we were walking into the lobby, Mary Catherine was amazed to see folks still perched at the slot machines – not a lot of people, but enough to make one go, “Hmm”. The depressing part, or the image that has stuck with me, was seeing a little old lady, nursing her alcohol – it looked like it might be a scotch or a darker mixed drink – puffing away on a cigarette (holding it between her fingers, a slight trail of smoke snaking away from a half-inch of ash, hanging from the end of the half-burned cigarette), her hands moving between pushing the “bet”and “Spin” buttons on the machine. Part of the Vegas stereotype, for sure, but a bit erie to see it at 7:30 in the morning.

We made our way around the lobby, grateful for the lighter traffic (and lighter cigarette-smoke cloud), and decided to have breakfast at Kahunaville. It was still early (they did not open until 8am), so we walked around a little more. Up a flight of stairs (or an escalator ride), there was a “$10 or Less” shop, and a tram to the Mirage, located next door. The tram didn’t start running until almost 10am, but we figured it would be a good thing “for later”. We went back downstairs, and had a very good breakfast at Kahunaville – and the interior setup (with a fountain wall, etc.) gave us a great vibe to start the day.

After breakfast we returned to the room, and got ready to go out for the day – getting cameras, etc. We made our way back to the tram, and shuttled over to the Mirage, where we toured through the “Sigfried & Roy: Secret Garden and Wildlife Habitat”. We spent a couple of hours hanging out, watching the few dolphins that they have swimming, or walking through and seeing all of the cats (white tigers, a panther, etc.).

From the Mirage, we made our way over the Caeser’s Palace, where we wandered around the Forum shops. The detail work was cool to see, and was very interesting when thinking that most of it was probably done almost 30 years ago! After wandering the shops, we headed back to our room, os we could get ready for dinner and our show – tickets to Cirque de Soleil: Mystere. Dinner was excellent food from the Steak House (inside the hotel) – we ordered a “skewer” meal (a meat skewer, packaged with two sides), with an extra side, and a dessert. Splitting the meal between the two of us, we still had some left over (but no fridge to keep it with, ach!) We then went around to the theatre for the show. Overall, it was pretty good, as an experience (and to watch some of the technical elements, putting on my “Theatre D&P” hat, were just plain awesome!), but not a style of storytelling that I felt comfortable following (in otherwords – no discernable plot, or through story, that was easy to follow). But it was a cool experience, nonetheless.

We called it a night after the show, and preparedfor the next morning…

We woke the next morning, still close to 7am, and prepared to do everything over again. We decided we would try something different for breakfast, so we walked down the strip, heading back towards Ceasar’s. We wandered through, checking out the interiors, and seeing what they may have to offer, but we were not really impressed until we were in Bellagio. During the planning of our trip, one of the doctors that Mary Catherine works with had suggested a place in Bellagio called “Noodles”… which is where we ended up having “brunch” when it opened around 11am. The food was good, and fuelled us through our walk and explorations of other properties, as we made our way back towards our hotel from the other side of the street.

We journied through a large, indoor mall near Paris. We strolled through Paris to findout where we needed to go to get to the Eifel Tower restaurant. We checked out the Venitian, to both pick up the tickets for our shows, and just to explore a little. In the process, we wandered through some of the shops at the Venetian – it was, honestly, a neat property to walk through.

We went back to our hotel and got ready for our evening out. Since we were going to be seeing Blue Man Group at the Venetian (hence, our explorations earlier), we decided to go for dinner over there, to make it a little easier on getting to the theatre. Blue Man was a great show – very different from what I was expecting, but a great show overall. I was a bit confused in the beginning, when they were passing out streamers of paper to everyone, pulling them from spools at the end of a row, and feeding them all the way across. I would recommend checking them out if you are into rhythm/drum based music.

After Blue Man, and a stop in the gift shop, we made our way back across to our hotel. It had gotten very cool, and there was a heavy wind blowing, which made crossing part of the street very interesting. We have since joked that it felt like we could have easily been blown over if we had baggier clothes on! Once we were safe (and wind-free) inside our room, we called it a night, for the next day was V-Day (and her birthday)…

But that’s another story…

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Las Vegas, part 1 (The Trip West)

[Originally started on 2/28/08]
Las Vegas. The trip origins go back to the early fall, when the collective “we” (me, Mary Catherine, and her friend Melissa) had talked about taking a trip to New York. The timing didn’t work out to try and go to New York (before it would be to friggin’ cold for southerners to by in the City), and at the same time, there was the Stage Hand’s strike putting a damper on a lot of shows. So, I just randomly said, “What about Vegas?” and Mary Catherine was excited. She had never been before, and I had only been way back in a former life (for a conference when I was the manager for an ice cream franchise – but I pretty much stayed in the Bellagio the whole time – about 3-4 days – and didn’t explore too much).

So, I planned the trip around Thanksgiving, for a February travel window. Mary Catherine’s birthday is in February, and I figured it would be a great way to celebrate it. Go me. We went out for a week (through a travel agent, the pricing was very reasonable, and included tickets to a show), and we stayed at Treasure Island – what better place for two Pirate alumni to stay?

We drove out to Raleigh on Sunday (2/10/08), so we could relax, and actually sleep, before catching the flight out. There is also the added benefit of using the hotel’s “Park and Ride” service to make the return that much easier. After a visit to Waffle House (right down from the hotel at about 7-ish AM on Monday, we hung out in the lobby, waiting for our 8-ish shuttle. And we waited. And waited. We had signed up the evening before, when checking in, to make sure we would have plenty of time to get to the airport and through security before our flight. I finally talk to a person standing behind the desk to ask about the shuttle – and it turns out to be the shuttle driver. He claimed to have done the route – but we had arrived in the lobby about 5-10 minutes before 8am, and never saw the shuttle out front…

I digress, though, since we did get taken to the airport, and we did make it through everything with plenty of time to spare. In order to get a later flight out, we had to do a connecting flight, instead of non-stop. Our connector? Through Chicago! I had been a little nervous with the way the weather had been (cold, and lots of snow flurries), but everything was fine when we landed – but yes, there was snow on the ground, but the sky was clear while we were there. We had lunch from McDonald’s – after debating how much overpriced airport food we wanted to get for a somewhat reasonable price. And we ate our food, sitting in the airport terminal, and watching the weather forecast on a television, and waited for our plane to be ready. At this point, it was almost 12 o’clock – but that was now Chicago time.

We flew out of Chicago for Vegas, and settled in for a slightly longer flight. Again, the flight went rather smoothly, and we landed without any issues. Mary Catherine watched our arrival through the window of the plane, and commented on our arrival when talking to her folks later, “It was like it came out of nowhere. We were flying over lots of open desert, and then we were flying over Vegas.” Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically what she said. As I am writing this, the trip was three months ago, and I think it’s pretty good that I’m remembering what I AM writing down, but I digress again.

An added benefit of going through a travel agent are some of the little “extras” that come with buying the packages through them. Our round-trip shuttle service from the airport was included, but I didn’t really realize it until we were standing in line, waiting for the shuttles. I saw a couple of people ahead of us in line with their forms, which prompted me to look closer at mine. We got our vouchers for the shuttle, “Just make sure to ask for return vouchers, and ask about scheduling the return trip” (call the day before to schedule, since it’s based on a timed route). The cool thing about riding the shuttle, since it was a multi-property run, was that we were able to see some of the “behind the scenes” areas – places that we otherwise wouldn’t have gone.

By the time we got to the hotel, checked in and settled, it was only about 4pm – but that is Vegas time! We had been up, easily, over 12 hours, and we were tired. We went downstairs for dinner, and ate at Pho, a Vietnamese restaurant inside the hotel. The food was great, and we tried Vietnemese tea (not so much… interesting flavor, but the tea itself was orange colored, and would definitely be an acquired taste). Over dinner, we talked about what we wanted to do during the week – during the days, anyway. After dinner, we went back up to the room, and slept. It was only about 7:30-ish, Vegas time, but after 10pm Eastern, and were easily beyond beat.

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Comedy… with Puppets!

We ended up having a discussion at work the other day, and someone mentioned having a deep rooted fear of dolls. She doesn’t mind scary movies, but give her any of the Child’s Play series, or the Puppet Master series, and it’s no good.

I mean, what is there to be scared of with this guy?

So, in all fairness, I sent this same person a couple of videos that I was exposed to over the weekend. Mary Catherine has been talking to me about this guy for a couple of weeks, a comedian ventriloquist. I thought some of them were hilarious, so I share them here.
His name if Jeff Dunham, and there are lots of videos out on YouTube. These are but two…

Peanut and Jose Jalepeno

And… Achmed the Dead Terrorist


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The 2 U Concert

[originally started on 4/22/08]
No, I do not mean U2, I mean two U’s, as in Keith Urban & Carrie Underwood. Mary Catherine and I went to the concert inRaleigh on Saturday, 19 April, and overall had a very good time.

We left early enough in the afternoon to have a very good dinner – we went to P.F. Chang’s at Crabtree for dinner before the show. While there, where we ended up in a both for about 6, all by ourselves, we “people watched”, and realized we were not the only folks with this same idea. After dinner, since it was still well before the doors would be opening, we wandered around the mall for a little while before heading to the venue.

It was the first time I have been to the RBC Center for a concert, and her first time at the facilities – period. The sky was overcast, to the point that it started sprinkling as we were making our way indoors. We wandered around, trying to find our section, and settled into our seats around 7, for a 7:30 show.

Visually, our seats were not that great. We were in wing seats, out to the side of the stage, instead of actually in front of the stage, so we didn’t have a clean look at the screen for the visuals (try watching your television from the side, and you’ll have an idea of how we were positioned). But, the Theatre D&P (Design & Production) side of me was actually quite happy with the seats. We were in a good position to watch the crew behind the scenes, doing prep for the next numbers (Carrie’s quick changes during her set, the booth she used was on our side of the stage, so we were able to see her pop in and out of the booth, etc.), as well as striking the stage to change over between sets.

Carrie did her usual standards – most of the songs that have been getting radio play, but as part of her encore, she did Paradise City (yes, that Paradise City, by a certain group recently mentioned). Mary Catherine commented that she nailed the song, too. And this was after she had been on stage for about 75 minutes.

During Keith’s set, which lasted about 2 solid hours, there was more of a rock concert vibe than a “country” vibe. To watch him play guitar was awesome… there was one part, late in the show, where he broke into riffs – AC/DC, Aerosmith, Deep Purple and others – but this was after watching him actually play a lot of his other songs. He is one of the few singers that I have seen that could also double as a lead-guitarist, so I was very impressed.

About 3/4 of the way through his set, Carrie came back out, and they did a cover of Stop Dragging My Heart Around (originally recorded by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty), and did it very well.

Another cool thing about Keith’s set, was the use of the stage. The setup included the main stage, with a long runway that connected to a small “island” stage way in the back of the venue. The neat thing that he did, was he split is set into three parts. The first and third parts were all on the main stage, but for the middle section, the entire band – drummer included – went out to the smaller stage. A great way to work the crowd, and give them a good experience for their money.

One of the other items that impressed me, from staging, was the video quality. There was not a lot of “special” videos as backdrops for the songs, but the actual video feeds, the way they were handled really seemed to have a high quality feel, almost like they could have been cut and sent to networks as an actual music video. I thought they were cool.

Overall, we did have a great time at the show. We got home really late (or, early), and actually wouldn’t mind seeing either of them again.

[edit 5/13/08]: Oh, something else that I had forgotten when I originally wrote the post… During one of the songs (I told You So, I think, but not 100% sure), while Keith and his band were playing, some other people were filing onto the stage – all wearing various marching percussion pieces (snares, quads, various size bass drums, maybe even a couple of quints)… Anyway, near the end of the song, Keith shouted out, “Tusk”, then the drumline kicked in. I thought, maybe they were going to cover Fleetwood Mac’s song, but I think it just ended up being part of the drum break from the song. What was really cool, though, is the fact that the drumline was from NC State’s Marching Band. Being the former band geek that I am, that was just a very cool moment, and I feel so silly that I forgot it in the first place. But I have now posted it, and the universe shall right itself, stars shall stay in the heavens and the moon will continue to revolve around the earth.

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Age and Wonder…

[originally started on 3/10/08]
Or, “How I Reflect on Age Across Blogposts…” Now that I have cleared the 200 post mark…

I have done it, albeit slowly, and with a lot of bumps along the way. I have finally crossed the 200 post threshold. I remember when I first crossed the 100 post mark, and I was very excited – I had been posting at least once per day, while I was at work, and was doing quite well.

The first 100 too me about 5 months to hit. The second hundred, over a year, and I am about 2 months into the third hundred (with four to five posts currently sitting as “drafts”, like this one had been, until now).

With the first 100, I still had the enthusiasm and naivety of a beginner. Not that I am not still enthused about doing this – I am – but I am not strictly concerned with random posts. I am not trying to surf the web looking for things to comment on (as easy as it may be) – I don’t really have the time to do that at the moment (but I might actually increase that, now that I am a bit more comfortable letting the words flow out).

But I’ve changed. I am still looking at things in terms of post count, but that’s too narrow. That’s a quantifiable way to measure things, but it’s the writing progress that matter a bit more to me now. The quality, over the quantity, so to speak.

The only way to improve as a writer is to actually write. And I think I have come a long way since I started posting regularly. I hope it doesn’t take me another year to finish this third 100 posts, but the time won’t really matter, as long as the level of writing (the flow and feel) get better.

However, here’s to crossing the 200 mark (even if I am about two months late)!

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Making the Grade

The semester has finally ended, and the grades have been posted. As the dust settles, I can see two grades on the horizon… They are emerging like the heroes from an action film, cosmetically bruised and bloodied, but otherwise fine despite all of the other events that have transpired.

I have officially passed my first two Graduate classes. I got an “A” in my Special Studies in Film course (focus: controversial film & literature – the source of several of the movies that I have “recently watched” over the last few months).

I also got a “B” in the Script Writing class. On one hand, I am a little bummed out by the “B” – I wanted to get “A”s (as was noted in my Resolutions), but I am also realistic. I didn’t actually complete my script, not did I do any revisions for the segments that I have completed. I also went through about a month of no writing, which directly impacted my final page count – I could have easily gotten almost 100 pages, had I done about 10 pages per week during those “off” weeks. On the same side, it was the first time I actually tried my hands at writing a script, so getting a “B” was a realistic expectation.

But the semester is over, and life is continuing… and (as can be told by the deluge of posts) I am getting some “pent up items” well under way. Oh, and for the record, I am able to retake the Script class up to three times, for credit, as a graduate student. I do plan on taking it again, and I do anticipate getting an “A” in the future.

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Life of a Comic (book)

[post originally started on 3/10/08]

I used to be a comic book kid. I wasn’t a raging, had-to-have-every-issue-I-could-get-my-hands-on type (but I was probably pretty close). There were only a handfull of titles that I “had” to get (X-Men, and the spin-offs – 2099, Unlinited, Uncanny, etc. – Wolverine, Spawn – once I got into it, starting at about issue 5, I think… And Transformers, and even GI Joe for a little while…). Okay, like I said, I was pretty close to crazy about some titles. Then there were others that I added to my subscription (you know, those things that local shops will provide, sometimes even throwing in the backer-board and clear polybag to help protect the book) simply based on the story line.

When I was growing up, there was a shop called “Comic Book Zone”, and the owner closed up shop and moved right as I was starting to get into comics. The next closest shop was in the next town, about 15 miles away, and was not a place I could normally get taken to (usually, it would be asked on the random trips over there… but not enough to warrant a subscription – although I did ask!)

A few years later, there was a used book shop that opened up in an older house, called the “Book Swap”, and I began to be a frequent visitor. It didn’t hurt that the shop was not that far from my house, and also along one of my paper routes, but I digress. She expanded from being just a used book shop and started carrying gaming supplies and comics (she even had a room upstairs that we could use for gaming, but that’s another story). When she started offering subscriptions, she also included copies of a quarterly magazine that included information on titles and story lines that would be “coming soon” – so I could add those to my subscription, especially if it was a “cross-title” story arc.

Such was the case with Spiderman. I will admit it – I’m not a die-hard fan of the web-slinger. At least, not when I was fifteen. I got the entire “Maximum Carnage” story arc when it first came out. I read through it way back, but it has been sitting idle in a box, plotting ways to spawn symbiotes to cause mass destruction.

But it has been years since I really “read” comics, and I’m still not about to go out and get into new subscriptions. I’ve picked up a few titles recently, mostly graphic novels or trade books, sort of playing catch-up in some ways (I finally discovered Sandman last year, nice way to be behind the curve). Mostly, though, it been in context of thinking as a writer, to look at different books to see how the layouts work, in a writing context. To see how the scripts might flow.

And I’m tired of having so many comics, with no plans to read them (geez, most of them have been in the box for over 10-12 years), so I decided to pass them on. I went through my comic collection (all of 1 long-box, but still), and sifted through the titles, putting together a stack of titles to give to my nephews – through my sister (so she can use them as incentives, etc. instead of just plain giving them to the kids). My oldest is almost 10, and has started getting into some regular books and comics.

I used to collect the comics, partly for story, but more for possible future value. I wasn’t planning on being able to buy a house with them, but expected some increase in financial value. I’ve gotten past that thought, and have gone to the point that it has to be something I am really interested in, in order to warrant keeping it. Or something I might want to try to use as a writing experiment. It’s not the financial value of a book that is the key, is the enjoyment that can be gotten from sharing them. I’ll probably pass on a lot more of my comics over time… but not until the kids get older…

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I don’t like robberies very much. The physical stuff, fine, it’s “stuff”, emotional scarring aside from knowing someone else has been fondling the property. However, it is when someone is trying to “rob” another (through guilt) of their right to have an opinion that I get really frustrated.

I have a friend who had somewhat recently posted something on her blog, voicing her frustrations over something that had happened at church. It wasn’t a really huge thing (looking at it superficially), but in a way, it was something big. When people go to church, they expect to have the plates passed, and they expect to hear the Word of the Lord. Besides the readings (Old, New and Gospel readings), there is also a Homily (Protestants call it a sermon) that generally relates to or expounds on things mentioned in the readings. The particular instance that she had mentioned, instead of a full Homily, she was disappointed with getting a very brief Homily, and a very long statement about the church’s capital campaign.

We get it. It’s something that “the company” (a contracted 3rd party that helps to raise manage the funds, I’m guessing) “requires” that the announcements be made. I do agree, though, that right after, during, or in place of part ofthe Homily is bad timing.

But the point is that she had stated her opinion on her blog. At no time did she specifically mention names, places, or any other information (like Dragnet, names had been changed to protect the innocent). In due process, a few other members of the church discovered the blog, and the posts, and “got stupid”. Quite literally, actually. They took offense at someone stating their opinion, about disliking something that happened, and tried taking her to task over it. These individuals also escalated it, bringing things to the attention of one of the Priests.

She mentioned that “she was robbed”… and now she has been. She voiced her opinion on a site that is hers (not sponsored or endorsed by the church), and now she has been “strongly encouraged” to censor what she posts. She has been robbed of her opportunity to voice her opinion.

As a side note, part of the “Conversion Story” posts that I had submitted to her (specifically, those where I expressed my disappointment in a few items from this year, also, equally non-specific for names and places) were also victims. For those that want things to run a certain way,that’s fine. But if your skin is so thin that you can’t take someone’s opinion with a grain of salt, then you need to go find as deserted island to isolate yourself on.

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Guest Blogging… redux

[originally written on 3/20/08]
As I mentioned earlier, I am writing a couple of posts… “guest blogging” over at the Pillars

It is going to be a series of posts, and the first one is already live. The others will be coming soon. I plan on “recycling” this post (changing the date, to keep it “current”) as I update the links (in the event I post a LOT of other things between the updates).

Here is Part I.

Here is Part II.

Here is Part III.

And here, I will be going back to work.

[edit on 3/27/08]: I have finished parts two and three, and am waiting for Ebeth to have a chance to generate her posting of them before I update the links. There will likely also be two more in the series, which will be updated/completed soon.

[edit on 3/28/08]: The link to Part II is complete.

[edit on 4/9/08]: The link to Part III is complete. There will be, potentially, two more installments, which are currently in the works.

[edit on 5/7/08]: The links for Parts II and III have been removed. It’s a long story for another post, but I will be reposting all parts here, when I get them completed…

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