Friday, December 31, 2010

Saw This on Facebook…


I just saw this on a (single) friend's status:

…just heard from a buddy in central Minnesota. He says it has been snowing heavily for three days now. His wife has done nothing but stare through the window. If it doesn't stop soon, he will probably have to let her in.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Books in 2010

The beginning of my virtual library.
Here's a sampling of the books I read this last year. It's not all of them; I have stacks of half-read books at home and at the office that I'll have to finish in 2011… or 2012. And, of course, I read for hours everyday studying for lessons and sermons and reading the news and such on the internet––none of that is really represented here.

One of the key differences in my reading this year was the release of Apple's iBooks on the iPhone in April. Now I have a library in my pocket at all times. Now I'm chipping away at my reading three or four extra times a day, even if it's only for five minutes a time. The iPhone is a bit small for comfortable reading, but the ease of use and convenience is unparalleled.

  • Directions for Christian Living by Derek Prime, 1986. This was a nice little book covering the basis of the Christian from doctrine to Bible study to evangelism. We used it for a home Bible study.
  • Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne, 1926, e-book. This was my first proper e-book (not counting stuff I've read on the internet over the years), Pooh was the free book included in Apple's iBooks. The children's classic was sweet and adorable, in a strong and sentimental kind of way. But when read to a child, I'm sure it would be just right.
  • Before I Go by Peter Kreeft, 2007. I was a little disappointed with this one, as Kreeft is one of my favorite philosophy teachers and the subject – parting notes from a father to his children – is particularly dear to me. But 90% of this book was forgettable or perhaps under-developed. Oh, well.
  • War by Sebastian Junger, 2010, e-book. Junger is a masterful writer but after reading a few "modern journalist in a modern war" kinda books, I wasn't expecting too much. But War, an account of a company of American paratroopers in Afghanistan, is written with wit and insight and a very honorable point of view – not condescending or ill-informed. This is how I wish all journalists approached their topics.
  • The Well-Behaved Child by John Rosemond, 2009. We used this book for a parenting class at church; I highly recommend it. It's the wisdom our grandparents just knew but modern psychology forgot.
  • Eugenics and Other Evils by GK Chesterton, 1917, e-book. Chesterton was the preeminent British Christian apologist of the early 20th century that CS Lewis read and respected. This volume, about liberal "experts" wanting to control the breeding habits of mankind, sounds like it could be talking about the abortion issue today, even though it was written 90 years ago.
  • Helmet for my Pillow by Robert Leckie, 1957. The first of two WW2 books upon which the HBO miniseries, "The Pacific," was based, Leckie's book is very well written and an interesting memoir. Leckie was at Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, and Peleliu.
  • With the Old Breed by EB Sledge, 1981. The second "Pacific" book; in my opinion, Sledge's book is one of the best WW2 memoirs ever written. Sledge was at Peleliu and Okinawa.
  • A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887, e-book. This is the first Sherlock Holmes book, all of which I'm trying to read now in the order they were published. Being able to tap a word and get a dictionary definition is incredibly useful here.
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843, e-book. I read this Christmas ghost-story for the first time here after having seen several versions on film and TV. Something a little different in the printed version, Scrooge is almost immediately repentant in the book. His heart turns easily but he's still forced to suffer the visits of all three ghosts. In the film versions I've seen, it takes more prodding to finally get through to him.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In My Own Image

Every night this week, Brennan and I have been watching the extended-cut version of The Lord of the Rings movies. The four little ones go to bed, Mom wanders off listlessly, and 10-year-old Brennan and I settle in to watch elves, orcs, dwarfs, and hobbits for two hours.

It'll take us six nights (about 12 hours) to get through all three movies. Probably a little longer, because Brennan and I keep pausing the movie to check the maps of Middle-Earth. I've never been so proud. *wipes tear from eye*

In a lot of cases, I require the boys to read the books before I let them watch the movies, but I made an exception here. I'll probably have the boys read the LOTR books in high school, with the Hobbit in junior high. But Brennan's a little bit ahead of the curve, was getting bored with Harry Potter, and the Hobbit movies are coming out in two years… so I pulled the trigger on it. And he's loving it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When Recycling is Wasteful

Here's a fantastic Gregg Easterbrook article on a point about recycling that has always bothered me.  How does it make sense to pay (taxes) the city to pick up recyclable material?  Those items have value as a raw material, so why am I not being paid for giving away something that's still valuable (as opposed to trash)?

The New York Times recently reported that unwanted appliances -- old washing machines and so on -- placed on the curb for disposal in New York City have been "disappearing." With scrap metal prices strong, what the article calls "thieves" have been driving along streets scheduled for used-appliance pickups -- in New York City, this happens by published schedule -- and taking away the unwanted junk before the city's officially approved recycler arrives. The "thieves" then sell the unwanted junk as scrap metal.

Set aside whether it's theft to take an unwanted item that has been discarded in a public place. New York City bureaucrats think so; they've instructed police to ticket anyone engaged in recycling without government sanction. Twenty years ago, New York City bureaucrats were demanding that citizens recycle whether they wished to or not, and imposing fines for failure to comply. Now if the average person is caught recycling, it's a police matter.

This issue is not the cleanliness of streets or the environmental benefits of recycling -- it's control of money. The New York City Sanitation Department pays a company called Sims Municipal Recycling about $65 million annually to pick up and recycle metal, glass and aluminum. Notice what's happening here? Recycling is supposed to make economic sense. If it did, the recycling company would be paying the city. Instead, the city is paying the company. Montgomery County, Md., my home county, imposed recycling rules saying they made economic sense. Now the county charges homeowners $210 annually as a recycling tax. If recycling made economic sense, government would pay homeowners for the privilege of picking up their valuable materials. Instead, New York City, Montgomery County and many other government bodies charge citizens for something they claim makes economic sense.

Recycling of aluminum makes good economic sense, given the energy cost of aluminum and the high quality of recycled aluminum. Depending where you are in the country, recycling of newspapers might make sense. Recycling of steel and copper usually makes sense. But recycling of glass, most plastics and coated paper is a net waste of energy. Often the goal of government-imposed recycling program is to use lack of understanding of economics to reach into citizens' pockets and forcibly extract money that bureaucrats can control.

Notice what else is happening here -- New York City pays a company millions of dollars to do something "thieves" will do for free. The "thieves" harm no one, and could save New York City taxpayers considerable money. But then bureaucrats wouldn't be in control. And surely no-show jobs and kickbacks have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with New York City sanitation contracts.

Not convinced?  Perhaps you're disturbed by my lack of faith in the environmental religion, refusing to pay my penance for the excess and wastefulness of America by recycling "no matter the costs."  Well, read this from a few years ago.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Obnoxious Year End Letter

Here's a bit of comedic genius from writer Gregg Easterbrook; it reminds me of those "most interesting man in the world" beer commercials:

Dear Friends, 
What a lucky break the CEO sent his personal jet to pick me up from Istanbul; there's plenty of room, since I have the entire aircraft to myself, to take out the laptop and write our annual holiday letter. Just let me ask the attendant for a better vintage of champagne, and I'll begin.

It's been another utterly hectic year for Chad and I and our remarkable children, yet nurturing and horizon-expanding. It's hard to know where the time goes. Well, a lot of it is spent in the car.

Rachel is in her senior year at Pinnacle-Upon-Hilltop Academy, and it seems just yesterday she was being pushed around in the stroller by our British nanny. Rachel placed first this fall in the state operatic arias competition. Chad was skeptical when I proposed hiring a live-in voice tutor on leave from the Lyric Opera, but it sure paid off! Rachel's girls' volleyball team lost in the semifinals owing to totally unfair officiating, but as I have told her, she must learn to overcome incredible hardship in life.

Now the Big Decision looms -- whether to take the early admission offer from Harvard or spend a year at Julliard. Plus the whole back of her Mercedes is full of dance-company brochures as she tries to decide about the summer.

Nicholas is his same old self, juggling the karate lessons plus basketball, soccer, French horn, debate club, archeology field trips, poetry-writing classes and his volunteer work. He just got the Yondan belt, which usually requires nine years of training after the Shodan belt, but prodigies can do it faster, especially if (not that I really believe this!) they are reincarnated deities.

Modeling for Gap cuts into Nick's schoolwork, but how could I deprive others of the chance to see him? His summer with Outward Bound in the Andes was a big thrill, especially when all the expert guides became disoriented and he had to lead the party out. But you probably read about that in the newspapers.

What can I say regarding our Emily? She's just been reclassified as EVVSUG&T -- "Extremely Very Very Super Ultra Gifted and Talented." The preschool retained a full-time teacher solely for her, to keep her challenged. Educational institutions are not allowed to discriminate against the gifted anymore, not like when I was young.

Yesterday Rachel sold her first still-life. It was shown at one of the leading galleries without the age of the artist disclosed. The buyers were thrilled when they learned!

Then there was the arrival of our purebred owczarek nizinny puppy. He's the little furry guy in the enclosed family holiday portrait by Annie Leibovitz. Because our family mission statement lists cultural diversity as a core value, we named him Mandela.

Chad continues to prosper and blossom. He works a few hours a day and spends the rest of the time supervising restoration of the house -- National Trust for Historic Preservation rules are quite strict. Corporate denial consulting is a perfect career niche for Chad. Fortune 500 companies call him all the time. There's a lot to deny, and Chad is good at it.

Me? Oh, I do this and that. I feel myself growing and flowering as a change agent. I yearn to empower the stakeholders. This year I was promoted to COO and invited to the White House twice, but honestly, beading in the evening means just as much to me. I was sorry I had to let Carmen go on the same day I brought home my $14.6 million bonus, but she had broken a Flora Danica platter and I caught her making a personal call.

Chad and I got away for a week for a celebration of my promotion. We rented this quaint five-star villa on the Corsican coast. Just to ourselves -- we bought out all 40 rooms so it would be quiet and contemplative and we could ponder rising above materialism.

Our family looks to the New Year for rejuvenation and enrichment. Chad and I will be taking the children to Steamboat Springs over spring break, then in June I take the girls to Paris, Rome and Seville while Chad and Nicholas accompany Richard Gere to Tibet.

Then the kids are off to camps in Maine, and before we know it, we will be packing two cars to drive Rachel's things to college. And of course I don't count Davos or Sundance or all the routine excursions.

I hope your year has been as interesting as ours.

Jennifer, Chad, Rachel, Nicholas & Emily

Merry Christmas

God bless you and yours on this Christmas Day!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve Service

We're having a Christmas Eve candlelight service at our church at 6pm.  Please arrive a few minutes early; the service itself will be about 30 minutes of prayer, worship, and devotion.

We encourage you to bring your family and friends.

UPDATE: I was asked if we were having a reception afterward (coffee and cookies, etc.).  We will NOT have that this time but will be dismissed quietly to return to our homes and our family celebrations.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Random Thoughts 12/21/10

  • It's takes everything I've got to not let my wife let the kids open their presents before Christmas.  If it wasn't for me, our presents would have been opened the first week of December.
  • After several days to think about Tron Legacy, I've decided that it was better than I first thought.  Movies make an impression as you watch them, either satisfying you or not.  I'd give a Tron a 5/10 for story and 10/10 for visuals and music as I watched it.  Then you have "the-morning-after" impression that asks whether that story made any sense at all.  I'd give a Tron 2.0 a 7/10 or maybe an 8/10 for being a coherent story.  But then you have the captured-my-imagination factor, where you find yourself thinking about the movie days later; I'd have to give the second Tron a solid 9/10.  I keep thinking about what might happen next.  Was the story a little light?  Was there perhaps a little too much exposition?  Were the boardroom bad guys completely absent in the second half of the film?  Yes, yes, and oh yeah, I forgot about those guys.  But the concepts, the mythology of it all… it's kind of intriguing.  I'd actually welcome another sequel. 
  • Words with Friends for iOS is on sale for only 99¢ for a couple of days.  That means no advertisements!  Shannon, Dustin, Grandma, and I all play, as well as several of our friends.
  • Tanner had some friends over Saturday night for a birthday sleepover.  One of the poor boys got sick and we've been living with the flu time-bomb ever since.  Well… BOOM!  After 36 hours of the whole family feeling kind of icky, Graham threw up all over our hallway and bathroom.  They'll probably fall like dominoes now.
  • If the New Orleans Hornets NBA team moves to KC, I'd be okay with that!  I heard Bill Self express some hesitation with the notion because right now the top dollar for basketball in KC gets spent entirely on KU, KSU, and MU with no professional competition right now.  If we got an NBA team, the financial pie would be further divided.  But I'd still love to see it, if it could possibly happen.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Random Thoughts 12/18/10

  • Happy 9th Birthday, Tanner!
  • 'tis the season for programmers to update their apps. I've had twenty or more iPhone apps receive updates in the last three days. That's way more than usual. I check the App Store for updates almost every day and get a handful each week. But recently, everything is getting updated, expanded, bug-fixed, or otherwise improved. Yay! In the old days, you bought software and you were stuck with bugs and other shortcomings. I really like apps that get regular updates; it feels like loyalty… and encourages the same in response.
  • My wedding band broke! It just broke. It's always had a couple of cracks on the inside, but I just noticed tonight that it's cracked clean through. I basically haven't taken it off for 14 and half years (except for a few months when I dislocated that finger). It's only 10K, which means it's 5/12 gold and 7/12 plastic, I think.
  • I finished Intolerance the other night. It was a three and a half hour silent film released in 1916 by D.W. Grifith. I'd been avoiding watching it for two or three years now, which was silly, because it turned out to be quite a bit better than I thought. That said, it was still a very long silent film.
  • Rock Chalk Jayhawk! Go Josh Selby! His first game and he scored 21 points off the bench to lead the team, including the game winning shot in the last thirty seconds. That'll work!
  • I'm reading Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I've seen several different versions of this on television but I've never actually read the book… until now. It's really good, especially on iBooks where I can instantly pull up a dictionary when necessary.
  • Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens

    Unlike some famous talk show hosts, I'm not giving anything away (sorry!). But here are a few of my favorite things in 2010.

    • Werther's Original Caramel hard candy
    • Diet Mt. Dew
    • Jack Link's Jalapeno Carne Seca beef jerky
    • bd's Mongolian Barbeque (sic)
    • Chick-fil-A's chicken sandwich (hold the pickles)

    The Well-Behaved Child by John Rosemond
    War by Sebastian Junger
    With the Old Breed by EB Sledge
    The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

    Drudge Report
    Brand New
    Bible Gateway
    Cult of Mac
    Life Hacker

    iPhone Apps
    • iBooks
    • Games like: "Words with Friends" (think Scrabble by mail over the internet), "We Rule: Quests," "Pocket Frogs," and "Tilt to Live"
    • Blog Press
    • IMDb

    • The BBC's "Sherlock", "Dirty Jobs," and watching "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" with my boys.
    • Jayhawk basketball
    New Theatre Restaurant
    • The NFL, "NFL Films Presents," and fantasy football
    • FOX News, the History Channel, and old movies on Turner Classic Movies


    • QuikTrip
    • Apple's iPhone 4
    • Apple's iPad
    • Cycling and playing basketball

    WW2 Vet Watches Film of his Rescue

    [Sorry for using a flash player iPhone/iPad users; it's all I could find.]

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    An OK A.D.

    Kansas just hired a guy named "Bubba" from Oklahoma (Tulsa) to be their new Athletic Director. Hmmm… there's a joke in there somewhere.

    iPad Forever

    I literally have people running up to me at church and saying, "Guess what I just got for Christmas! An iPad!"

    And I understand their excitement.  I don't own one (yet) but I played with one for five days before delivering it to my grandmother – which has been a great success, by the way.   I've seen children and IT guys, grandparents and teenagers just sit down and start using it.  People want to stand over your shoulder and just watch you.  Because it works.  And it's beautiful.  And people go "Ooh" and "Ahh" and smile a lot.

    And this is the first generation of the device!  I can't wait to see it evolve over the next couple of years.  I really think the iPhone 4 is a huge step up from previous iterations.  How much more amazing will be the iPad 2 or 3?

    Anyway, in celebration of how Apple got it so right, here's a great little article from Wired on why you don't want to buy a Windows Slate tablet computer. 

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Random Thoughts 12/13/10

    • The OH-58 Kiowa helicopter just can't get replaced.  It's been in service since the 1960's but every time the Army tries to develop a new scout helicopter, the new helicopter goes over budget, gets canceled and leaves the old Kiowa to get modified and continue the job.  Here's a great article about the history and the future of the Kiowa (including cut-away diagrams).  The Kiowa's next upgrade, the OH-58F, will lose the distinctive mast mounted sight but keep the helicopter flying for another 15 years.
    • I want to know why I have the Bibles of three members of my household in my office, left behind after church Sunday.  Was it too cold to carry our Bibles home?  Or have we just abandoned all pretense of using the Bibles at home during the week?
    • I'm about half-done with Sebastian Junger's War, which covers Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta, OP Restrepo, and the Afghan war in the Korengal valley, near Pakistan.  It's a good read by an excellent author.  By the way, this is the third or fourth digital book that I've read this year and the first one that I've purchased through the iBooks store.  The iPhone isn't the best medium to read on, but it's not bad.
    • Number three in the nation, Kansas, gets the most highly ranked recruit this Saturday.  Point guard and NBA prospect Josh Selby will play for Kansas for the first time against USC.  Normally I listen to Saturday midday games on the radio in my office, but I might run home for that one.
    • We now have all the Christmas presents for the kids and about 90% of them wrapped.  I really enjoy wrapping gifts for the kids and do nearly all of the wrapping myself, in my office, away from prying little eyes.
    • Brennan was grounded for several days without television, video games, or anything electronic.  His only form of entertainment we allowed was reading books and he did Monday's school work several days early out of sheer boredom.  Today was his first day of freedom; I found him quietly playing the Wii on the big screen at 5am.

    AFI's Top Picks of 2010

    The American Film Institute announced its top-10 movies and its top-10 TV shows.

    AFI certainly doesn't always appeal to my tastes, but it generally does better than, say, the Academy Awards, for instance.  In fact, I just started watching my last film on AFI's top-100 movies of all time list, the three+ hour, 1915 silent film, Intolerance.  When I knock that one out, I will have seen all 100 films on the list and 90-95 of them are what I would consider great films.  The Oscars are a smaller sample size each year, but they always feel 50-50 to me and driven by fads and popular mood swings.

    So here's AFI's list for 2010.

    Black Swan
    The Fighter
    127 Hours
    The Social Network
    The Town
    Toy Story 3
    True Grit
    Winter’s Bone
    The Kids Are All Right

    I've not seen any of these (yes, I'm the one person in America who hasn't either Inception or Toy Story 3) but I have five of these on my urgent to-watch list.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Nerd Cred

    Tickets for a midnight showing, first to see Tron Legacy on the largest non-IMAX screen in the state of Kansas!

    Location:Russell Ave,Kansas City,United States

    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    Words with (Former) Friends

    When you play a "z" on a triple letter in a triple word, scoring 129 points in one move… people stop playing.

    Sorry, Dustin!

    Wednesday, December 08, 2010

    Starting with Champions

    Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, and Kentucky.  For the next three years those four teams will play each other to open the college basketball season.

    In 2011, KU plays Kentucky.
    In 2012, KU plays Michigan State.
    And in 2013, KU plays Duke.

    It's amazing!  Each year, two of these teams will start their season with a loss.  How often has that happened before?

    Tuesday, December 07, 2010

    Random Thoughts 12/7/10

    • I believe that the iPad experiment with my nearly-86-year old grandmother is a success.  Grandma had very limited computer experience, so the only real hitch has been overcoming the learning curve.  But with the iPad, the learning curve is so gentle that she had adequate control over the basics in the first few days.  I had a second training session with her recently and reinforced a few principles and answered a few questions.  She seems to have a viable long-term solution to her computer needs.  I highly recommend this to others.  If my grandmother can go near-zero experience to emailing, blog-reading, and playing online scrabble with me, I'd say the transition is doable for most seniors.
    • This is what medical test results should look like.
    • Today is the anniversary of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into World War 2.  Today is also the birthday of my niece Hannah, the oldest grandchild in our family.
    • "Sarah Palin's Alaska" is about the best television show on air nowadays.  It's chock full of family values, good work ethics, and various American values.  I've heard a lot of criticism for Palin doing a reality TV show (it's really more of a travelogue) but, politically speaking, most folks are going to like her more after watching this.
    • KU plays again tonight.  Go Jayhawks!
    • DreamWorks Animation is all about the sequels.  They have planned out their animated franchises and, as long as they each continue to make money, we might see four Madagascar movies and up to six Kung Fu Panda movies.  The How to Train Your Dragon movies, based on a series of eight books, is planned for three movies.  Think about it, I could be buying a holographic 3D digital download of Kung Fu Panda 6 for my grandchildren.

    Monday, December 06, 2010

    Arkansas Wedding

    I went yesterday to a rare Arkansas wedding where the bride and groom weren't already related.  We drove four and half hours yesterday to Eureka Springs, the strangest and remotest little town in Arkansas.  Shannon's friend, Wendy, got married and Shannon provided the cake (her first wedding cake creation).

    It was the best tasting wedding cake you can imagine but the layers did settle a little bit on the long, winding road onto the Deliverance back lot.  The "sand" was brown sugar and most of the seashells were homemade chocolate candy.

    After the wedding and the consumption of the wonderful cake, we drove four and half hours back to KC, reducing the number of teeth in Arkansas by half.

    Other Arkansas facts:
    • If a married couple gets divorced in Arkansas, they can remain brother and sister.
    • Arkansas divorces and tornadoes have the same effect: someone loses a trailer.
    • The most popular pick up line in Arkansas: "Nice tooth!"
    • How do you know an Arkansas man is married? There are tobacco spitting stains on both sides of the pickup.
    • How many Arkansans does it take to eat a 'possum?  Two; one to eat it, the other to watch for cars.

    Friday, December 03, 2010

    This is Tron

    A half-dozen of us old married guys in our thirties and forties are getting together this month to watch the new Tron movie. It's geek-ness at its finest. Actually we may very well be the only married guys in the entire theater, but when the movie starts, we'll be in nerd-vana.

    It's not that the original Tron movie was all that great – it had its flaws – but for those of us who remember what it was like to be a nerd before the internet was in every home… before the Matrix movies… before Pixar and ubiquitous computer animationTron was groundbreaking.

    Imagine a world inside the computer. Another you, living in a virtual cyberspace. Now with WiFi, broadband internet, Facebook, laptops, "Farmville," email, smart phones, MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, like "World of Warcraft"), and a solid 30 year history of video games in our homes, it's not that far-fetched. In fact, sometimes the challenge is getting our loved ones to come up for air, they're plugged in so much.

    But in 1982, most of that was pure, mind-blowing science fiction. It shaped our imaginations and then it (in some ways) came true!

    Thus Disney's dorky little movie way-back-when has had a profound place in the hearts of us nerds. So imagine what we thought when we saw this a year or so ago:

    Whoa! Yes please, more of that would be fine! And did you see young (1980's) Jeff Bridges at the end?! How did they do that?! Now the reviews are starting to come and the reports are very, very good. Now we need to see this…

    As long as our wives let us.

    Thursday, December 02, 2010

    Happy Hanakkuh, Iran!

    Ha!  Take a look at this building in Iran, the headquarters of the Iranian national airline, Iran Air.  The building was built by Israeli engineers before the Islamic Revolution of 1979.  Apparently, no one had seen a satellite image of the building during the last thirty-some years.

    Look closely now… right in the middle…

    Take that you Islamo-fascist anti-Semitic nutjobs!  Over thirty years and you've only just now noticed!  Ha!