Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Random Thoughts 5/30/12

  • Wow, May is almost over and now church camp and VBS and sundry other things are upon us.  Our 16th wedding anniversary is Friday, which we'll celebrate with a night out at New Theatre with Grandpa watching the short people back home.  Brennan is going to Jr. High camp this year, which is a little weird.  Actually, he's a little weird, it's just surprising how quickly he's growing up.
  • With the onset of June, I'm now two or three months overdue to get my bike out.  Need.  More. Exercise.
  • Speaking of exercise, we've been saving money for a basketball goal.  I'm hoping we can make that happen in the next month, give or take, and if we do I'll blog some photos about setting it up.
  • The American Fitness Index actually put Kansas City toward the middle of the pack in fitness, which is unusual considering that Kansas City usually ranks among the most obese/least fit.  They ranked KC 29th overall (out of 50), well ahead of Memphis, Dallas, and Oklahoma City (50th!)
  • Get more information and register for our VBS here.
  • Dan Harmon, the writer and show-runner who recently got unceremoniously canned by NBC from the show he created, "Community," also wrote a movie called Monster House, which was also taken away from him and the ending was changed.  A 7-year-old girl saw the movie, starting having terrible nightmares, and then the mother wrote to Harmon.  Harmon immediately wrote back this brilliant response.  Simply brilliant.
  • I have all these notes and ideas for stories I haven't written yet.  But watching "successful" writers have their ideas hijacked and perverted makes me not want to publish anything in my lifetime.  I still need to write this stuff though, but in obscurity.
  • On my list of shows Shannon and I watch, we lost a few to cancellation.  More specifically, "Alcatraz" was canceled because it wasn't very good, "Awake" was fantastic but nobody watched it, and "House" ran for eight seasons and ended on its own terms. Ironically, we didn't start watching House until last summer, caught up via the local public library and watched the final season as it aired.
  • By the way, TV Forecast is a great iPhone app that gives reminders so I never forget to DVR a show.
  • I don't read young adult fiction, but this infographic about YA cover art is amazing.
  • Here's a list of 10 epidemically overrated books.  What a great topic about which to make a list.  And yahoo!  Twilight made the list!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hand Golf redux

Today I went up to church camp to work on our hand golf course.  Hand golf is a game we play, much like normal golf but with softballs, thrown underhand, into buckets buried in the ground.  It's easy to learn and a lot of fun.

Today we went and redesigned the course a little, making it a bit longer.  We dug up the old holes and replaced all 18 of them.  The new buckets are even color-coded, red for par 2, grey for par 3, and yellow for par 4.  The new buckets are also a little smaller, six inches instead of eight inches, adding a little more difficulty to the course.  We also replaced the old signs with nice, freshly-painted metal signs.  Most importantly, we play-tested the course to make sure it worked right.  Yup!  Works fine!

Thanks to John P. and Dustin (and Kelby too) for going with me and helping.  We might of gotten a little sunburned but it was worth it!  And special thanks to Joe S. for making our signs.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Random Thoughts 5/23/12

  • QuikTrip drinks for 69¢.  This is what makes it summer.
  • I think tomorrow will be the final Greek class that I'm teaching.  I've been teaching my willing student for almost two years, and he's been great, but most of that time was review.  The chief problem was that we were only meeting once per week; the textbook is designed for a class that's meeting four times per week.  I was also shocked at how much English I had to teach.  I was teaching a smart kid who gets good grades in school but I had to reteach a lot of basic grammar.  Actually, that will be his biggest benefit of having taken first-year Greek: a more comprehensive command of English.
  • Headline:  "Man divorces over wife's 550 house cats."  Yeah, okay, I can see your point.
  • What church management software does your church use?  I've been looking at (and praying about) a few different options, usually web-based and non-subscription, but the expensive ones have a lot of cool options.  Let me know.  iOS compatibility would be huge, by the way.
  • In 1995, 56% of Americans said they were pro-choice and only 33% said they were pro-life.  Now, in 2012, the numbers have swung dramatically the other way, with only 41% pro-choice and 50% pro-life.  And holding steady for the last ten years, at least half of Americans asked believed abortion was morally wrong.  Trends are heading in the right direction here; how often can you say that?
  • Mitt Romney has announced that he backs school vouchers and expanded school choice.  The problem with vouchers is that they work pretty much every time they're tried… oh, wait… that's the upside.  Of course the teacher's unions will fight this to protect bad teachers their union members.  But with vouchers, good teachers will have better employment options and bad teachers will be left behind in a competitive environment. 
  • Usually vouchers offer $8-12,000 for tuition at charter schools and private schools.  But could you imagine what homeschool parents could do with just a fraction of that money?  Let me make you a deal: give the typical homeschool family just $2,000 per student per year to buy books, computers, science, art, and music supplies and then stand back and be amazed.  We currently spend between $500 and $1,000 for all of our kids, out of our own pocket, after paying taxes that go to the public school, and we still do pretty well.  Vouchers would be like winning the lottery.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Random Thoughts 5/19/12

  • I am planning to go up to church camp next Saturday (the 26th) to work on the hand golf course.  The holes need to be re-dug and the signs re-done.  If you want to help (and play a few rounds), let me know ASAP.
  • A few random President Obama thoughts:
  • Rev. Jeremiah Wright says of the Obama's: "Church is not their thing. It was never their thing."  Ya think?  He had a loose affiliation merely for the political benefits?  Really?
  • I still think President Obama had to have been born in Hawaii.  But I think he, like Elizabeth Warren, fudged his biographical information to suit his purposes in the moment.  In almost every situation other than running for President, being born in Kenya is way more exotic and interesting.  Hawaii, where he was actually born, is not only boring but disadvantageous because it makes people think of paradise.  A young Barack Obama, who aspired to political position in Chicago, lied to his publisher about being born in his father's homeland to make his "plight" more interesting.  But didn't we already know he was a politician?
  • Here's a short article on Obama, Karl Marx, and marriage.
  • Thinking about death can make you healthier.  Recent studies have shown that thinking about death leads to better health choices, increases helping behaviors, and helps us re-prioritize our goals and values.  I think mature Christianity does the same.
  • NBC hates their show "Community."  Last season they held off on renewal, brought it back late, and then burned off the episodes as quickly as possible.  Inexplicably they renewed the show for next season… but only for a half season… and they're moving it to the Friday night death slot.  And then they fired Dan Harmon, the creator, producer, and show-runner.  It's his show and they fired him without so much as phone call.  "Community" will be canceled before Christmas.
  • Just heard on the radio: "…when will the Kardashians' 15 minutes be up?"  Wow.  No doubt.
  • Word of the Day: "Nakba."  Nakba means catastrophe in Arabic.  Palestinians use it to describe Israeli "occupation."  In all honesty, it ought to apply the Arab Spring, which has toppled moderate dictatorships across the Muslim world, only to replace it with a version of the Taliban and Shariah law.  Arab thugs are bad but Muslim theocracies are a catastrophe for women and human rights.
  • Will the Big 12 gobble up several football schools, including Florida State, Clemson, and maybe Georgia Tech and Notre Dame?  It sounds crazy, especially for a conference that was hanging by a thread just a year or so ago, but this kind of scenario is being seriously talked about right now.

Confessions of a Bibliophile

Friday, May 18, 2012

How to Grill a Steak

I've heard a lot of advice over the years on how to grill, some advice good, some bad, some merely superstitious.  My own experience hasn't really helped; I've been overcooking bad cuts of meat for years.  So…

Here's almost everything you need to know about grilling steak.  Which cut?  When do I salt it?  What temperature?  One flip or many flips?  Other tips?  So many questions are answered right here at Serious Eats' Food Lab: How to Grill a Steak, the Complete Guide.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

All These Channels and Nothing to Watch

Everybody has a favorite television show or two, or ten.  My wife and I used to live and die by each episode of "American Idol."  Now we haven't watched it in two seasons.  We've had other favorite shows that seemed well-written and well-acted, yet fail to find an audience and get cancelled on us. 

But television is changing; other than live sporting events (primarily NFL games), ratings have never been lower and American viewers have never been spread so thin.  Gone are the days when over 60% of households were watching the finale of "M*A*S*H."  That episode got a 77 share, i.e. 77% of the televisions in use were tuned into that show.  Recent Super Bowls only get about a 67 share, and a lot of shows struggle to get 2 or 3 share each week or a 10 share for a highly anticipated series finale.

Why is no one watching?  Before 1986, there were only three major television networks and cable was in its infancy.  Now most homes have dozens, if not hundreds, of channels to chose from.  And that's just regular television.  Add to that Netflix and RedBox and YouTube and video games and a lot of non-programmed television is being watched.

Also consider that with digital video recorders, like TiVo, viewers can "time shift" a show, i.e. record it and watch it later -- delayed by a few minutes or several days or weeks.  We watch most of our shows time shifted to avoid the commercials, a practice which then causes advertisers to insert commercials into the show itself.  The next time you see a blatant product placement in a show or one of those little advertising banners across the bottom third of the screen, that's the fault of TiVo users.  Sorry about that.

So what does the future hold?  Here are some new trends I think we'll see more of:
  • Targeted, non-optional commercials.  Commercials based on your age, gender, location and buying habits will appear in ways that you can't avoid.  You won't be able to fast forward thru them or they will occur in or on top of the show itself.  And more product placement; scenes will take place in a Pizza Hut with the actors drinking clearly-labeled Pepsi and wearing Nike branded clothing.
  • Pay up front.  Whether thru subscription (Netflix and cable) or pay per view/purchase (video on demand and iTunes), traditional commercials may have trouble paying for what they used to pay for.  Truly free TV is dying.
  • Democratization of programming.  You may think that we decide what show survives now but actually television executives decide this based partly on ratings but also on costs and personalities and personal preferences.  But after shows get canceled, DVD sales sometimes reveal a surprise cult following (eg. "Firefly," which was canceled in its first season but has a huge following a decade later).  If those fans could have paid that money up front, the show never would have been canceled in the first place.
  • Original content from more sources.  First the networks, then premium cable, and then basic cable channels produced their own series.  Now DirecTV, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and other outlets are getting their own original shows.
  • Mini-series.  For generations, American shows have been locked into generating 20-24 episodes per season.  But cable channels are discovering that that number is too expensive and too watered down and have found success with shorter seasons.  Six to twelve episodes per year seems more financially and creatively affordable.
  • Reality TV is here to stay.  Sorry but reality TV is cheap.  You don't pay writers, you usually don't build sets, you don't hire actors, you just film and edit.  Granted, I like "Survivor" but most reality programming is complete trash.

So, what's on TV for next fall?  Ugh.  Not much but there could be a few gems amongst the train wrecks.
  • NBC is trying to reboot "The Munsters" of all things, called "Mockingbird Lane."  I'm not saying this could never work, but wow that seems like scraping the bottom of the barrel.  
  • We had a couple of our new shows canceled.  "Alcatraz" was interesting but not very well done.  "Awake" has been fantastic.  Good acting and great, deep writing but no audience.  Both shows got the axe.  I taped and never watched "Terra Nova."  It died in its first season also.
  • Some older shows got canceled, like "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "CSI: Miami," and some old shows ended on their own terms, like "House."
  • "Grimm" got renewed, in spite of occupying the often-doomed Friday-Night-Death-Slot, where "genre" shows go to die.  Next fall, "Community" will move to Friday as "Grimm"'s lead-in; I think NBC wants to bury that show there.
  • Somehow, "The Office" got renewed for one more season.  It's too bad more shows don't plan their end better but success leads to "how long can I milk this thing" mentality.
  • There's a new show called "Revolution" from J.J. Abrams.  Abrams was the reason I watched the disappointing "Alcatraz" but the premise here is a world where electricity "stopped working."  If this show can't pass a 9th grade science test I'm gonna have trouble with it.
  • Cable channels still know how to avoid the big dogs and air their shows in non-peak slots.  Shows like "Mythbusters" and "Deadliest Catch" are barely a month into their current season and others, like "Falling Skies" don't even start until mid-June.  They'll all be mostly wrapped up before the fall season (and football) gets under way.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Random Thoughts 5/15/12

  • The Chiefs have been in KC for 50 years.  But it's only been forty-some years since a championship.  So we've got that going for us.
  • 7-Eleven just took over the Texaco Starmart in my neighborhood.  I'm not sure if that's good or bad; QuikTrip dominates the KC market while 7-Elevens are pretty scarce on this side of town.  But 7-Eleven has big gulps and slurpees, so…
  • Our church cookout is tomorrow night at 6:30.  Please be there and bring a side-dish.  The meat and drinks are provided.  Everyone is invited!
  • The Big 12 might be expanding, perhaps to Florida State and Clemson.  But rumors are swirling about Georgia Tech, Louisville, Cincinnati, and even Notre Dame.  It's not that I wouldn't take Notre Dame, but I think the value of the Irish to a conference today isn't a fraction of what it would have been 30 years ago or more.  I'd hate for the Big 12 to be the conference to finally land Notre Dame only to see them fade into mediocrity.  But then again, legacy and prestige count for a lot in college sports.
  • Good news: the architect who designed the proposed Eisenhower memorial in Washington D.C., who planned to depict the president as a dreamy, Kansas farm boy (instead of as the Supreme Allied Commander in WW2 or President of the United States), has agreed to change the memorial.  Sort of.  He'll add a couple new statues of Ike, as a general and as president.  The Eisenhower family complained bitterly about the underwhelming misrepresentation involved here and the commission has agreed in principle to the improvements.  The Eisenhower statue here in KCK is of an elderly Ike fly fishing.  Again, not exactly the uniformed victor on a rearing steed.  Are memorial designers feeling apologetic for winning wars?
  • Jostens just announced they are moving about 80% of the remaining jobs in Topeka to Tennessee.  When I was in high school Jostens was one of the companies that made class rings (including Shannon's), prom paraphernalia, graduation diploma covers, and such.  All the production is leaving Topeka.
  • About 50 underclassmen declared for the NBA draft at the end of June.  There will only be 60 players taken and this group has to compete for spots with almost 20 eligible foreign players and scores of eligible graduating seniors.  Just like every year, about half of these young men are getting really bad advice from greedy advisers and family members.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Random Thoughts 5/12/12

  • Happy Mother's Day tomorrow!  My life is richer thanks to the mom who raised me and the mom who raises my children.
  • So is "Castle" ruined now?  It got renewed for another season but have we just lost one of the key reasons for watching it in the first place?
  • Here's a long video, but a good one, where a former Soviet citizen tries to convert a young American (an Occupy Wall Street protester) to capitalism and conservative thinking.  Just let that soak in for a minute.
  • I didn't notice at the time but my blog post about the KC Zoo getting penguins was supposed to have a video.  You can see a short video about the upcoming project here.
  • True: the Saturday Night Live you watch today will never be as good as the SNL you watched ten years ago.
  • This is your weekly reminder that man-made global warming is a hoax.  It's bad science, it's politically motivated, it's predictions are NOT happening, and cold weather kills more people than warm weather ever will.  See you next week!
  • Here's an incredible video of baseball-sized hail hitting a neighborhood two weeks ago with an article explaining why bigger hail falls faster.  We had hail like that several years ago on a Sunday morning; it looked just this but the video doesn't capture the sound effectively.  The hail blew out the back window of my car (like the one in the video) and damaged a lot of roofs in the area.
  • PBS doesn't allot quite enough time to air the BBC's "Sherlock."  So what got left on the cutting room floor?  See here.
  • Does anyone really think the President's views evolved?  He obviously thinks the culture has shifted enough that he can openly state what he has probably always believed about homosexuality and marriage.
  • We just passed 3000 coalition deaths in Afghanistan.  I didn't hear anything about it.  15 times this year, an Afghan soldier (or Taliban dressed as friendly soldiers) have attacked American or allied forces, resulting in 20 deaths, including an American just the other day.  It's only a minor footnote in the news.  Over the twelve years of conflict in Afghanistan, 65% of American deaths have happened in the last three years, under President Obama.  Why isn't any of this making the news?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

KC Zoo Gets Penguins!

My daughter is going to be thrilled.  The Kansas City Zoo's next big project, due to open later next year, is an indoor/outdoor penguin exhibit.  My little girl loves penguins!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Random Thoughts 5/7/12

  • Mother's Day next Sunday.  I see Jose Pepper's in my future…
  • Every film reviewer on the internet has produced an Top-10 films list, which almost always includes classics like Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, etc.   But this one is the first one I've ever seen with Aliens in the top spot.  Actually, Aliens (1986) does appear in a lot of top-50 lists, but #1?  Wow.
  • My Top-10 films, as I see it today, but guaranteed to change tomorrow or the next day:  
10) Forrest Gump (1994), story-telling by way of story-telling… perfectly done.
9) Singin' in the Rain (1952), perhaps the best musical ever made, with extra points for film history buffs.
8) The General (1927), with apologies to Charlie Chaplain, this is my all-time favorite silent film.
7) Schindler's List (1993), devastating portrayal of a tragedy, though other holocaust films could be listed here.
6) Gone With the Wind (1939), powerful, epic, and iconic.
5) The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03), perhaps the best trilogy and most faithful literary adaptation ever made.
4) The Godfather, parts 1 and 2 (1972, 74), the pinnacle of the both mobster movies and multi-generational bios.
3) Seven Samurai (1954), perhaps the best action movie ever and my favorite non-English film.  Your favorite action movie is probably copying this one.
2) The Shawshank Redemption (1994), the top prison movie and a powerful ode to the human spirit.  The best film ever to not win a single Academy award.
1) Citizen Kane (1941), everybody says so but this is the definitive psychological postmortem on film.
  • Speaking of movies, I took Brennan to his first midnight premiere last Thursday night to see The Avengers.  I was blown away.  This was the best comic book movie I've seen in years (absolutely on par with Christopher Nolan's recent Batman movies, but less dark).  It does help to have seen some of the good-but-less-than-spectacular Marvel movies first, specifically Thor, Captain America, and the Iron Man movies.  But the real reason for its greatness is that The Avengers was written and directed by the great Joss Whedon.  This guy has written some the best (and funniest… and nerdiest) dialogue ever put on screen.  He's one of my absolute favorite writers.
  • Did you catch the Obama campaign's "Life of Julia" on the internet this week?  Yeah, that's not creepy at all.  Re-elect President Obama, ladies, and the government will take care of you from cradle to grave!  Who needs personal responsibility?  Or a man?  The government can be your parents and your husband all rolled into one!  Weird!!!  Can you get more Marxist than this?!
  • Note that the slideshow doesn't say anything about years 42-65.  That's when she's being punitively taxed to pay for other entitled children demanding handouts "Julia's."

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Biggest Nerd Ever

If my brother and I were rolled into one, this is what we/I would be doing in Mom's basement instead of being married to a girl.  Fortunately I'm not musical and Dustin doesn't have the geek creds.

This guy does four minutes of John William's famous Star Wars theme music using only his voice, recording 90 different tracks.  It took him 300 hours to put this together.  You've got to be kidding.  You have to watch it; he's so into it.  And it's so ridiculously unnecessary (and kind of amazing) that it's funny.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Random Thoughts 5/1/12

  • Happy May Day.  Go hug a communist protester or, better yet, tell them to get off their lazy behinds, get a job, and pay their debts like the rest of us.
  • Now that "spiking the football" is a significant part of the President's daily interactions with us, let's talk about it:  On what planet does any American president not go after an Osama bin Ladin? Like Romney said, "Even Jimmy Carter would make that call."  And now we're starting to get hints (via leaked memos and such) that this President had to be talked into it, and pushed off the responsibility for the raid on Admiral McRaven… until after it was already a success.  I have a feeling that years from now President Obama is going to be cast in a completely different light in this moment of history than how he's presenting himself now.
  • The first three players drafted by the Chiefs this year almost weighed a combined 1,000 pounds (a nose tackle and two offensive linemen).  The fourth player was a 5'9", 187 lbs receiver/kick returner.
  • The Chiefs didn't draft a safety but five of the fifteen undrafted free agents they signed were defensive backs, all between 6'1" and 6'3".
  • What can geek dads watch with their budding nerd-lings while they wait for the next season of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars"?  They watch "Tron: Uprising," an animated mini-series on Disney XD, coming in June.
  • We watch "America's Funniest Videos" every week to show our kids how NOT to act.  Or we take them to Walmart; we'll either find an example or the kids will provide their own.