Wednesday, December 26, 2007


As my loyal readers (all two of you) will know, Ann got me an awesome new Wii for Christmas. She really wanted to get Dance Dance Revolution to play. Being the loving and accomodating husband that I am, I agreed and purchased it for her.

I'm ashamed to admit that it's totally my favorite game for the console. It's actually a pretty good workout too - my legs have been sore for a week from playing that game. And to make it worse, my favorite song is "The Sign," that horrible techno-pop song from the early '90s by Ace of Base.

Does liking Dance Dance Revolution make me a bad person, or less of a man? Probably so. I'd write more, but I've gotta clear Disco Inferno on Hard.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tales of the Monkey

I've got a few more good stories to share about the Monkey, who just turned four last Monday. And believe me, he is in every way a four-year old.
  • With our recent travel to Canada, all of us being sick in some form or other, and other general busy-ness, we never got around to decorating the outside of our house. We put up our tree and other decorations inside, but we didn't do anything outside. We definitely live in the 'burbs, so our neighbors are quite prolific in their decorations, and our house tends to look a little bare. The other night we were driving home, and the Monkey was enjoying all the lights in the neighborhood, oohing and aahing over the decorations. Then he pipes up: "When we see a house with no lights, that's OUR house." As we turned the corner and saw the bare façade of our home, he said, "Yep, there's our DAAAARK house!" Next year, HE gets to put up the decorations.
  • The other night he said something about wanting a cat. I told him that, since we have Cappie (our dog), we're not going to be getting a cat anytime soon. He thought about that for a second and asked, "Will we die when Cappie dies?" I said no, we would still be alive when Cappie died. So he said, "Well, then when Cappie dies, I want to get a cat." It's good to see him have such loyalty for the family dog.
  • We took him to Chik-Fil-A for his birthday the other night. As we're going out to the car to leave, there's a guy leaning up against the car next to us, smoking a cigarette. I was just ignoring the guy, when the Monkey pipes up in a voice, loud enough for people in the next zip code to hear: "Pee-yoo! What's that stinky?!" I'm not sure if the guy heard us (although I can't imagine how he didn't), or whether he noticed me trying not to laugh hysterically, but about thirty seconds later he put out his cigarette and walked away. Ahh, to be as uninhibited...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Great news! Vanilla Bean's hips are doing much better and she only needs to wear the brace at night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The quest ends!

Today, the quest for that which I believed to be unattainable ends. I got my Wii!

About a month ago Ann offered to get me a Nintendo Wii for Christmas. I was excited, but knew they were hard to come by, especially this far into the shopping seasons. Store after store I went to said they were out and didn't know when they'd get more. Last weekend the Monkey and I happened by Fry's about half an hour before they were supposed to open. We weren't there to buy a Wii (no, seriously, we weren't), but there was a line of about 100 people waiting for the store to open. And they'd already handed out vouchers for all the Wiis they had in stock, and that was for the bundle pack, which cost about $240 more than the regular Wii. So half an hour before the store opened, they'd already sold out of the console bundle that costs almost twice as much as the regular unit! I pretty much gave up on getting one before Christmas at that point.

Then yesterday the Monkey and I were at Target and I asked the electronics person when they were getting more. She said they'd have them today when they opened at 8:00. So I showed up at 6:50 am, Thermos of hot chocolate in hand, and was 44th in line for one of their 96 units. By the time I walked out of the store at 8:30 I was cold and hungry, but I had my Wii! Hopefully it's worth it!

Sorry I've been late in posting again. It's been a crazy week. Vanilla Bean got croup on Thursday, but she's getting better now. Croup sucks.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Real women of genius

I had the privilege of spending last weekend with one of the most fascinating women I know. Ann's paternal grandmother, lovingly referred to as "Grandma Jean," is one of those people who has what can only be described as "spunk." When she was 18 months old, she contracted polio. The doctors told her parents she had pretty much no chance at survival, but through her mother's and grandmother's care, she pulled through. At the end of it, she was left effectively paralyzed from the waist down. When she was old enough, her father fashioned a pair of canes out of tree branches (which she still has today) and she learned to walk.

I can't imagine trying to live with a disability like that in today's world, much less 70 years ago when society was much less accommodating of the disabled. But it didn't slow her down one bit: she went on to have a career as a ham radio operator (not a hobby, a career), run her own seamstress business, get married, and raise two boys. Disciplining those two boys must have been difficult without being able to walk, but I'm guessing they received the violent end of those canes more than once.

So here's to a woman who, before women were allowed to do such things and with a potentially-limiting handicap, had a job, took care of her husband, ran a household, and corralled two kids.

Grandma Jean, you rock.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Open mouth, insert foot.

I was standing in the snack bar today and saw a coworker named Ron. Ron's a good guy, but he looked a little disheveled: flannel shirt untucked over nasty jeans, and he hadn't shaved in about a week. I said something to him about looking a little frumpy, and he mentioned that he was just holed up in his office doing programming. This confused me since Ron is an instructor, but whatever. I then threw a little ding his way about his not having shaved in a while. Keep in mind this was all in good fun, but for some reason Ron didn't seem to be taking it well. Then he said, "By the way, you know I'm Don, Ron's twin brother, right?"

Yeah, so here's this guy I've never met, and I was insulting his dress and personal hygiene. Way to go.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

City #2: Equilibria

Here's a shot of my second complete city, called Equilibria:
Equilibria is a small but incredibly diverse community. It exists solely to provide a haven for people of ANY religious persuasion to come, build their facilities of choice, and live in harmony with each other. As a result, there is every conceivable type of religious architecture represented. An example of this blend of sytles is shown in this shot of Religion Row:

In the foreground of this shot, you can see a Native American council hut on the right and a Spanish-style mission on the left. In the midground is a mosque just behind a Buddhist prayer wheel, across the street from the Buddhist monastery. Finally, in the background you'll notice a beautiful old Protestant church and a Japanese shinto pagoda.

One of the coolest buildings in Equilibria is the Catholic representative: the grand cathedral known as Our Lady of the Simulacrum:

I had to throw in this nightshot of it as well. You can't quite make out the graveyard on the right, but it's there. And it's haunted. No, seriously, it really is - ghosts, zombies, the works.
There's even a commune built a mile or so outside the city. I intended this to be a retreat - a place for those who needed to be away from the (relatively minimal) hustle and bustle of downtown Equilibria. Unfortunately, I discovered that the game mechanics don't support this idea very well. After building a couple of huts and a monastery, I found that the people living there were still having to walk to town for work and entertainment, and they didn't really seem to like that, leaving me with a handful of unhappy people. So I ended up having to build workplaces and venues in my "low-key" retreat. Nevertheless, I still think it looks cool, especially with the town (and the cathedral) in the background, so here it is:

And a couple of closing shots. First, this is my wind-powered generator facility, owned and operated by none other than BP (my wife's employer):

And finally, this neat picture of the monastery in Equilibria's Monastic District:

Next on the list of cities to create: a cyberpunk dystopian city of tomorrow! (Think The Matrix, but with less kung-fu).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

City #1: East Wallingford

Here's my first attempt in SimCity, called East Wallingford.

It's a small, tourist-oriented town in Pennsylvania, about three hours outside New York. It attracts primarily weekenders from the big city, although it also has a few frat houses for the college kids, as well as an elite private boarding school. Despite its highly-paid, trendy population, it likes to maintain a mid-20th century charm, with antique shops, old brick churches, and general stores.

I used this city primarily to gain the Sheriff achievement, which required a population less than 2900, a Spirituality usage score of at least 22, and any other trait (I chose Knowledge, to reflect the yuppy-style population) with a score of at least 85. With the Sheriff achievement, I got the Sheriff Monument which, when built in any other city gives me a Spirituality boost of 5 and a small daily income:

Check back soon for details on my next city!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gaming update

Last week I picked up a game I've been looking forward to the most over the last few months: SimCity: Societies. I've only played a few hours so far, but I'm already working on my second city, and over the next couple of days I'll post some bios and pictures of the ones I've been working on.

Let me say that this is certainly not the SimCity that's come before. Which is okay; on the Fun-O-Meter, the last SimCity game ranked somewhere between filling out IRS forms and having a colonoscopy. This is much more of a macro version of The Sims, making for a more casual and, in my mind, fun experience. It does away with most of the plots, long-term planning, and stress, and brings in more of the stuff I like: cool city perspectives, neat graphics, and low-key experimentation.

More to come later, but for now, here's a shot from the city I'm working on right now:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A father's bill of rights

Vanilla Bean took a dump in the tub again tonight. And despite her cute nickname, there is nothing pleasant about that.

So I've decided that this is the sort of thing that earns me the right to walk her down the aisle when she gets married. And I look forward to the day when my daughter is standing there, waiting for me to escort her down to the aisle to her beaming groom, and I can look into her beautiful brown eyes and say, "Sweetheart, I love you with every ounce of my being. And I proved that love to you on the evening of November 20th, 2007, when I scooped your poo out of the tub with a slotted spoon."

But maybe, just maybe, I won't mention this during the toast...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The power of words

Let me begin by saying that the intent of this post is not to offend anyone. If you know anything about me, you know that being offensive merely for the sake of being offensive is completely against my nature. I merely wish to present some ideas and hopefully spark some discussion.

I've been thinking about the power of words lately, especially given the scandals surrounding Michael Richards, Don Imus, and Dog the Bounty Hunter. Let me point out that I do believe that words have power, however, words have only as much power as we choose to give them. What if, instead of focusing on the fact that these individuals used words like "nigger" or "ho," and then bringing down the full might of our free press upon them, we were to completely ignore their actions, thus taking away the very power of the words they're speaking?

Let me give a couple of more positive examples to illustrate my point. The Constitution of the United States is, in its most basic form, a set of words written down on parchment. But the American people have chosen to give those words an enormous amount of power and influence because we feel that those words represent an important set of ideals. As a result, people have died to defend those words, and arguably the most powerful man in the world is tasked with defending and upholding those words.

Another example: the Bible. Again, in its most basic form, it is words written on paper. But we choose to recognize those particular words as spoken by God Himself, thus infusing them with the power of deity.

So when yet another celebrity uses a racial slur, and organizations across the United States condemn that personality and hold rallies calling for their resignation or firing, we are giving that word power. And when news organizations refuse to actually print the word, replacing "nigger" with "the n-word," we elevate it to the mystical. The word becomes, not only bad, but SO bad that our lips must not utter it for any reason at all!

Words are a gun, but we are giving those who would choose to use them the bullets. What if we chose to withhold those bullets, allowing racists and bigots to wave around scary but, ultimately, harmless weapons? If the media want to report on it, tell us what was really said; don't hide behind this thin veil of calling it "the n-word." We all know what word you mean. Calling it "the n-word" only gives it even more power.

Or even better, don't report it at all. Ignore it, and then ignore those who would choose to use these words. I know far more than I otherwise would have about Michael Richards and Don Imus because they chose to use racial slurs. If they'd simply been ignored and sidelined, their words would've ended up in the ether, unheard and useless. And isn't that the whole point?

Please, I'd love to hear thoughts or discussions on this one.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Some days it's not worth writing...

Some days you read something that makes you think you shouldn't even be writing yourself. Today is one of those days. Instead of writing anything myself, I'm just going to post a link to a friend's blog. Read it. No, seriously, read it... it's that good.

And leave a comment. She likes comments.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

When does a hobby become an obsession?

I've been thinking recently about how obsessed people often become by their particular hobbies, and the amount of money they can sink into them. I've decided that no matter what you do for recreation, you can find someone else who is way better at it, who spends way more time at it, and who has put way more money into it.

Here are a few examples:
  • Ann and I enjoy scuba-diving. With the presence of two kids it's not something we get to do much anymore, but we still enjoy talking about it and looking forward to getting back into it. But whenever we've been, we always run into "those" people, the ones with the multi-thousand dollar underwater cameras, wearing several thousand dollars worth of gear, and they're on their seventh scuba-diving trip. That year. And it's only April.
  • One of my long-time hobbies is computer gaming. Keeping decent hardware takes a non-trivial amount of money, and games easily run between 40 and 60 dollars. A standard computer game can take up to 20 hours to complete (although I have one that I've spent, embarassingly, over 100 hours on (curse you, Oblivion!)). But I heard a podcast a while back about a guy who'd spent about 2,500 hours on an online game called Guild Wars. And the game had only been out for a year and a half or so. They figured out that this guy had to have spent around 5 hours every day for a year and a half to log that many hours.
  • This afternoon the Monkey and I went to Fry's. In the parking lot, they had guys showing off their pimped out cars. You know the ones I'm talking about, with the custom rims and paint jobs and a sound system that sounds like he's performing nuclear warhead tests in the trunk (and the driver always has a Bluetooth headset). There was one guy who had an Excursion (base price, probably around $40,000) with a blue and orange paint job (I'm guessing several thousand dollars), an XBox mounted into the dashboard, a video screen in the dashboard, another small screen over the backseat, and then two ENORMOUS videos screens over the back seats (probably 15-inches each). So that's FOUR SCREENS in the car, twice as many as I have in my house. Then he had the sound system in the trunk, with a huge sub-woofer. I'm guessing the entertainment system alone was several tens of thousands of dollars. And of course the entire car was detailed and spotless. But it gets better: right next to the Excursion was his motorcycle with an identical paint job, and right next to that was the helmet for his motorcycle, with an identical paint job. So the whole setup had to have been well over 100 grand.

So how is it that somebody goes from saying, "I enjoy swimming underwater," to "I'll spend every spare dollar and hour I have to have the best gear, so that I can swim underwater"? How does someone go from, "I'll enjoy a couple hours of video-gaming every now and then," to "I will forget about having a life in the real world, so that I can have a life in this simulated world"? And how on EARTH does someone say, "You know, I don't think my kids really NEED to go to college; what they need is to be able to play their XBox on 15-inch screens in the back of the car, while I ride my matching motorcycle next to them!"?

Maybe I'm just getting old and crotchety...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Give the people what they want

I've already had two requests for more details on my slapping-someone-upside-the-head story, so here it is.

We're travelling to Canada at the end of this month to visit Ann's family. Unfortunately, three days before our intended return, I have an extremely important meeting at work I need to attend. So I need to switch my tickets to allow me to return early, leaving Ann, the kids, and her parents in Canada for the rest of the week. There's a fee incurred with this switch, about $100, plus another sixty dollars or so for a shuttle to the airport, and since I'm having to cut short my own personal vacation for work reasons, I asked if the company could cover the cost of changing the ticket. No big deal, right?

My boss had no problem with this, and agreed that the request was justified. My secretary had no problem with it. But the travel coordinator didn't appear to understand the concept. Apparently, since this was outside the bounds of normal travel expenses, it was too hard for them to understand. They needed specific details on what day I was leaving, what day I was returning, and what flights I would be on. They asked whether my family could take me to the airport to avoid the cost of the shuttle. I responded with a very terse "No," and then waffled and sent another e-mail explaining that it would be about six hours out of the way for them, and that the mileage costs that the company would have to reimburse me for would be more than the actual cost of the shuttle ticket. They asked specifics on car rentals and how I would be getting around. Finally, after two days of this back and forth, they approved the cost. You'd think I'd asked them to solve world hunger or something.

Besides all this, we have a personal friend who is making some, if not poor, at least very immature choices about her lifestyle and the types of people she associates with, and the effects of those decisions tend to trickle into our lives a little. It makes me want to grab her by the shoulders and say, "What are you thinking? How in the world does that seem like a good decision to make?"

And now, I will step down from my soapbox. Wow, these Internet rants are kind of therapeutic. I feel better, even knowing that it's quite possible no one will read this! I'll have to do this more often.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

You ever have one of those days when you want to slap someone upside the head for being stupid?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Vanilla Bean did well at her appointment. She still has to wear the brace, but surgery's looking unlikely. Thanks for the prayers!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Prayer request for Vanilla Bean

Vanilla Bean goes in on Monday for another checkup on her hips. We're praying that the right hip socket will be well-seated. The best news of all would be that she can stop wearing the brace entirely, in which case she can start doing things like sitting up, rolling around, and so on. It's possible that the doctor will just tell her to keep wearing the brace, or she might even need surgery. But we should know more in a few days!

Monday, October 29, 2007

This is a new one...

I saw a car today that had an interesting bumper sticker, something along the lines of "My good dog is a graduate of PetSmart obedience school."

Now, if you want have the "My kid is an honor roll student..." sticker, fine. Not my style, but I can at least understand people wanting to brag about their smart kids. If you even want to have the "My kid is a student at Weaselchum Middle School," I guess that's fine. I'm not sure why that'd be something you'd advertise on the back of your Excursion, but whatever.

But no one, I repeat, NO ONE, cares where your dog went to school. And maybe I'm the first one to break this to you, but no matter how smart your dog actually is, he can't read the bumper sticker.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Meat tea

I had a conversation with the Monkey the other day about what he'd done in preschool that morning.

"I played in the kitchen."

"Oh, really? What did you make?"


"Did you make some tea for Daddy?"


"Was it black tea or green tea?"

[Lengthy pause]

"What color is meat?"

"Um, well, I guess meat is red."

"I made you red tea."

"You made me meat tea?"


"That's disgusting."

"Yeah, it was disgusting tea."

Friday, October 19, 2007

The mysteries of languages

I'm reading a book right now called Breaking the Maya Code. It's about how the Mayan script was deciphered during the first half of this century. The first part of the book has been primarily about the history of writing and how they relate to scripts in general.

I've read a couple of books about this subject recently and have become more and more interested in how language and writing have driven events in history, and the way in which they play a fundamental role in how we think. I've become convinced that language itself is a critical element in defining how our brains work.

Here's an example from my own recent experience. In parallel with my readings, I've been on a couple of trips to Japan. The Japanese script is, to put it lightly, completely foreign to me. The combination of Chinese logographs, a native Japanese syllabic script, and a Roman alphabet seems completely obtuse and overly complex to my Western mind. I noticed tons of people texting from their cell phones on the subways in Tokyo (actually talking on your phone in the subways is frowned on), and was interested in how a script that has literally thousands of characters could ever be used on a cell phone. During a dinner, I asked a Japanese counterpart about this and he pulled out his cell phone to show me. He said that when you type, you use the syllabic script, writing the words syllable by syllable - for example, you might write the words "cell phone translation" as "ce-lu-fo-nu-tra-nu-sla-sho-nu", or something like that. So for what in English would be a twenty letter phrase, you'd have a nine-character line of text. That's probably way simplified, but you get the idea. Now here's where it gets weird. He told me that in the syllabic script, the words can be pronounced, but they have no meaning. So at this point, the software on the cell phone takes over and makes a prediction as to what the phrase is in the Chinese logograph text - where each character would represent an entire word. So now you're down to only three characters.

This idea of a script communicating sounds but not meaning is what I had a hard time understanding. Here's my (again very Western) metaphor for comprehending it. Imagine if your cell phone didn't have the capability to input numbers. So if you wanted to write the number "42," you had to type out "f-o-r-t-y-t-w-o." Now imagine that the words "forty-two" don't actually convey the significance of the numerical data, so the text prediction software takes over and makes a guess that what you really want to type is "42."

So here's my point - that's a completely foreign and bizarre concept to me. I've got to think that someone to whom that makes sense thinks on a completely different plane than I do.

Now imagine that, instead of a co-worker sitting next to me in a sushi bar, it's a Mayan who lived 3,000 years ago in the mountains of the Yucatan peninsula. That way of living, way of writing, and way of thinking would have to result in a lifestyle that someone living in the suburbs of Houston could never come close to understanding.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eating Japanese - the results

Well, apparently you CAN gain weight on just fish and rice - and noodle bowls, pork knuckle, green tea Kit Kats, Korean barbecue, and American breakfasts. As of Sunday morning, I was at 195.5 pounds.

Time to call Weight Watchers...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Eating Japanese - Friday

Well, the American breakfast reigned again in the morning. I should clarify that it's not really a breakfast you're actually likely to find in America: the sausage, toast eggs, and ham are standard enough, but they're complemented by potato salad and a greens salad with thousand island dressing.

Lunch was at a Korean barbecue restaurant. Korean barbecue is sort of like Mongolian barbecue, but you cook the meat yourself at a little grill at the table. The one I went to last time I was here was better, with a big buffet-style selection of meats and vegetables. This place was a little nicer, but we just ordered steak and there wasn't much of it.

Dinner was really good at a little hole-in-the-wall yakitori restaurant in Tokyo. Yakitori is just little grilled skewers of meat or vegetables. They brought out our chicken selection, which included regular chicken-breast meat, but also had skewers of skin and gristle. The gristle one was especially weird; it was basically just the little part at the end of the bone that no one ever eats. Well, my co-eaters weren't too excited about those skewers, so I ate them myself.

About halfway into the hour-and-a-half train ride back to the hotel, things started to go wrong down south, if you know what I mean. It was a loooong ride back, and an interesting lesson that, just because they serve it to you and you can actually eat it, doesn't mean you should.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Eating Japanese - Thursday

American breakfast again in the morning. For lunch, we went to the cafeteria at the space center and I had a pretty tasty tempura dish.

But the highlight of the day, nay, of the week, was dinner tonight. We had a social party at a very traditional Japanese restaurant. We ate sitting on the floor, and the food was amazing. A Korean stew, tempura, sashimi that melted in my mouth, sushi that was SO good, lotus root - you name it, it was out on the table. Oh, and three Japanese beers and a cup of delicious sake (so I'm feeling nice and relaxed right now.

I can't imagine that I've lost a single pound with the way I've been eating, and there are still two days to go.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Eating Japanese - Tuesday and Wednesday

Sorry for the late update. My Internet connection last night was honked up and I couldn't do my posting. But I'm back in business now.

Yesterday was a rather untraditional eating day. I had the American breakfast in the hotel. When you've got a full day of meetings, you just can't eat fish and nato beans for breakfast. Lunch was at a really good restaurant. I had pork tempura with rice. The meat was a little fatty, but when you deep-fry something it's hard to go that wrong. Dinner was very unconventional: a pork knuckle with cabbage. The meat itself was pretty good, although it was extremely fatty.
American breakfast again today. For lunch I ate at the cafeteria and had a really good noodle bowl with a very spicy broth.

The highlight was dinner today, when we went to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. These restaurants are really fun because you can try a ton of different kinds of sushi, and it's effectively all-you-can-eat. You just grab whatever you want as it goes by on the conveyor belt and then they just count how many plates you have at the end and charge you accordingly. I ate about twice as much as anyone else, at 17 plates. A couple of those were cake, but I also had some bacon sushi, as well as prosciutto sushi. All topped off with an Asahi beer.

But the badge of honor came at the end of the meal, when I finally tackled a sushi obstacle I've avoided for years: sea urchin roe, or uni. Unbeknownst to me until I just looked it up on the Internet, the sushi is actually made from the gonads of the sea urchin.

Let me just say that I'm cool with respecting other cultures and accepting other's viewpoints. But there is no way anyone can think this stuff is good.

First, there was the seaweed wrap. I know, I know, normally seaweed wrap is fine. But given the other flavors that accompanied it, it didn't really help things. Then there was the cucumber. I'm not a big fan of the cuce, but it was part of the dish, so I left it on there.
Then there was the uni (or "urchin 'nads") itself. My experience is that the three important parts of food are taste, texture, and appearance. This stuff is a solid zero for three. It looks like brown mustard, or possibly a dirty diaper after the baby's been eating brown mustard. It has the texture of watered down mustard. And it has the flavor of FREAKIN' URCHIN GENITALS. The dish came with two pieces, so let's just say I only ate half the dish. And the girl sitting across the table was getting ready to dodge sixteen plates worth of spew.
But, I can now die happy knowing that I've climbed the Mount Everest that is sea urchin roe. More tomorrow...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Eating Japanese - Monday

Started off this morning with the Japanese breakfast: poached egg, rice, miso soup, baked salmon, kimchi (pickled vegetables), dried seaweed, and green tea. It also had nato beans, but that stuff is so nasty I can't eat it. Imagine a mad-scientist hybrid of soybeans and snot, and you've got something slightly less gross than nato beans.

Lunch was awesome: a noodle bowl with pork, onions, and sesame seeds, with an egg broken into it and allowed to cook. Really really good stuff, although Ann probably wouldn't like the post-meal garlic odor.

I did cheat with a French crepe with bananas and whipped cream in it mid-afternoon.

Dinner was interesting at a little hole-in-the-wall place run by what appeared to be a mom and her daughter. I had broiled ray fin. Yes, the fin of a ray.

It was served, interestingly enough, with a side of mayonnaise. It was actually quite good, very salty with a distinct ocean taste. The texture was a little strange, not meaty, but more like a soft cartilage, which I guess is what it is. The mayonnaise went really well with it, offsetting a lot of the overt saltiness.

I did find the last few bites a little tough to muscle down. A little bit of ray-fin goes a long way.

I think I'll end up getting the American breakfast tomorrow morning since it's gonna be a long day. But we may be going to the "I dare you to eat that" restaurant in the evening - that should be an experience.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

First day of Japanese eating

Okay, so today pretty much consisted of airplane food (seriously, does it HAVE to be that gross). We did get some good dinner: chicken skewers, salmon and tuna sushi, potstickers, that sort of thing. Tomorrow is tourist day in Tokyo, so I'll probably try to find some cool weird stuff there.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Japanese eating experiment has begun. As of weigh-in this morning, I was sitting fat 'n' happy at 193 pounds. Bring on the fish eyes.

Monday, October 1, 2007

All in the name of science

This Saturday I'm leaving for a week in Japan. In the interest of the biological sciences, I will be conducting an experiment on myself. I will do my best to eat a strictly Japanese diet for an entire week, and see if I gain, lose, or maintain my weight. In the interest of full disclosure, I will weigh myself on Saturday morning before I leave and post it here. During the course of the week, I will try to eat strictly Japanese, although I will probably eat a lot of it. I'll post what I'm eating, and then when I get back the following Saturday I'll re-weigh myself and post the results.

To keep it interesting I've added a poll out on the sidebar where you can vote on what you think the outcome will be.

One quick story about that. Last time I was in Japan, I got the American-style breakfast most mornings I was there. Eggs, toast, sausage, pretty normal stuff. Towards the middle of the week, I got the Japanese breakfast, thinking that'd be a cool thing to try.


They brought it out and it consisted of a bowl of rice, a small piece of baked fish, a bowl of miso soup, an egg in some form I've never seen (I think it was poached), and some pickled vegetables. Anyone who knows me knows I like my breakfast - this looked like some kind of cruel joke. Needless to say, breakfasts were all-American after that.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gaming update

So Casey convinced my to buy the Orange Box, so I tried out Team Fortress 2 for the first time. I was reminded why I don't play multiplayer games: everyone's better than me. But this one was pretty fun, the art style is awesome, and there were enough different classes that I might stick to it long enough to actually get GOOD. It was a little buggy, with lots of graphic and sound glitches (it might also have been due to a slow Internet connection), so hopefully that will get ironed out once it's out of beta. We're headed up to College Station today for a couple of days, but maybe I'll get a chance to do some more gaming this weekend.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Know thyself

As Chilon of Sparta said: "Know thyself." And I've come to a horrible, gut-wrenching conclusion about myself. It's something that is undeniable and unchangeable, something that I will probably spend the rest of my life having to come to terms with.

I am completely and totally uninterested in sports.

I really am. Couldn't care less. And it's not because I haven't tried. I've actually read Football for Dummies. I attended Texas A&M University, where during the fall semester you can't walk ten feet without being told that you WILL love Aggie football. I've gone to baseball games. I've even watched ESPN and gone to Super Bowl parties. I've really, really tried.

But I just don't care.

Sports don't do anything for me. I have zero desire to sit on my couch with a bowl of potato chips and watch football on Sunday afternoon. I can think of nothing more boring than sitting through a nine-inning baseball game. I'll watch the Olympics, but only the far-out weird stuff, like the luge or fencing. And once the match is over, it deletes itself from my mind immediately.

And I'm not saying I'm uninterested in sports like some guys are. Even if you're not a big fan, you usually follow your local baseball team or cheer on the Americans during World Cup soccer. But I really don't care whether the Astros win. I don't lose a wink of sleep over whether or not the Texans win (which is good, since they suck). And I certainly don't care about the stats, abilities, or paycheck of individual players. And I really do just watch the Super Bowl for the commercials.

So I am forced to the dark halls of geekdom. I'll wear the facade at work, and gripe about how Donovan McNabb can't throw a ball, or argue whether Nolan Ryan was the best pitcher of the '90s. But deep down, I'm thinking about the next computer game I'm going to play (SimCity Societies) or what sci-fi movie I'm most looking forward to (I Am Legend). So forgive me if I show up at your football party and seem more interested in the french-onion dip than the game. Because I really do love french-onion dip.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It can happen so fast...

We were at a party today and the Monkey was playing in the pool. He's become much more adventurous in the water lately - unfortunately his swimming skills don't necessarily match that adventurousness. I could tell he was trying to swim over to look into the filter by holding on to the edge. I turned around to talk to Ann for a moment, and when I looked back the Monkey was in the middle of the water, kicking his legs as hard as he could, his head going under.

Looking back, I realized that the first thing that went through my mind was a realization that I hadn't been looking away long enough for him to be in serious trouble. Then, embarassingly enough, I recall doing a quick analysis of what was in my pockets that would be lost by jumping into the water (my cell phone and two key fobs). At that point I realized I was gonna have to get a little wet. I ended up jumping down onto a step up to my knees and pulling him out. He coughed up a little water but overall was fine. Scared the poop out of Ann and me.

Two lessons from tonight. Don't even look away for a minute - at this age they can get themselves into serious trouble VERY quickly. And second, make sure you've checked in with your spouse on who's responsible for watching the kid. These are the moments you hear about on the news when the dad says, "I thought SHE was watching them!" In this case, I knew I was the one watching him, but if I'd stepped inside for a bit or been distracted for any length of time, it could've been too late.

I cuddled up with him a little longer during bedtime tonight. And apologized profusely to Ann.

The yin and the yang

How can raising children be simultaneously so much fun and so frustrating. The Monkey can do the funniest, craziest, most interesting stuff one minute and then push absolutely every button I have the next. I've lost count - I think he's up to five spankings today already, and there's plenty of time left. But then he'll do or say something that makes me throw back my head and laugh.

I can't wait until they're teenagers and get so much easier. Right? Right?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Disappearing languages

I read a fascinating article in the New York Times today written by John Noble Wilford titled "Languages Die, But Not Their Last Words." He was reporting on a study performed by National Geographic and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages to document disappearing languages. There were several cool things in this article.

First, let me point out that, despite what most people probably think, English is not the most spoken language in the world. Not by a long shot. Mandarin Chinese is spoken by something like 950 million people - roughly one-sixth of the entire Earth's population. Coming in at close ties for second and third are Spanish and English, with roughly 332 million and 322 million speakers, respectively.

That being said, I'm amazed by this idea that languages are literally disappearing. It's interesting to think of the extinction of something as intangible as a language, but there are literally languages in the world that only one person speaks. And once that person dies, that's it.

Another interesting finding by the study is what areas of the world are seeing the fastest disappearance of languages:
  • Northern Australia
  • Central South America
  • North America's upper Pacific coastal zone
  • Eastern Siberia
  • Oklahoma and the Southwestern US (seriously, Oklahoma??)

Australia has 231 spoken languages - and it's the least populated continent in the world! (No, I'm not counting Antarctica). There are 113 languages in central South America alone. And when you consider how many years it takes a language to form and develop, it seems weird that they would literally come down to one speaker left.

So what does this mean? Is this just a necessary artifact of the small world that we now live in? What will these numbers look like in a hundred years? Are we converging to a world where most everyone speaks a handful of languages? Based on a very rough calculation, I'd say a little less than half the planet's population speaks one of ten or eleven languages. So in a century, will it be 90%, or more? Will everyone be speaking English, the language of international commerce and the Internet? Or will it be some international hybrid of Chinese, English, some Romantic languages? I hope the cursing's in German - German's great for cursing.

And what should I teach my children? Should I focus on languages that are useful here, like Spanish and French? Or should I teach them to live truly internationally, by learning Chinese, Bengali, Hindi and Arabic?

Or maybe it's just time to go to bed...

The greatest of holidays...

For those who don't keep up with the important stuff, today is official Talk Like a Pirate Day! It's endorsed by Dave Barry, so it must be real. So I would encourage you to draw your cutlass, powder your flintlock, and prepare to shiver me timbers!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

City Life

I ordered another city simulator off eBay, this one called City Life. It's interesting, although it has a distinctly different feel from most city simulators I've played. Usually, this type of game is about establishing an economy and product flow: you build a wood-cutting camp, which delivers the wood to the timber mill, which takes it to the furniture factory, which sells the furniture at the market. Ditto for grain-to-bread, honey-to-candy, whales-to-lamp-oil, whatever. City Life has a different take on the genre. The primary goal is to balance six different cultural classes, ensuring that each has the jobs, residences, and leisure activities best suited to its own desires. At the top of the run are the "elites," represented by gray areas, and at the bottom are the "have-nots," represented (interestingly) by black squares. Now how's THAT for a social commentary.

Graphics are pretty bad though. Look like something from 2003, not 2006.

Here's a screenshot of my city so far:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The moments we cherish the most.

As the years with the kids come and go, I'm sure I'll remember the classics: going to school for the first time, learning to drive, weddings (hopefully in that order). But here are two stories about the Monkey that I think will also stay in my memory.

We're trying to teach him good table manners: not to spit at the table (seriously), to speak in a soft voice, to try some of all your food, that sort of thing. The other evening he took a grape, shoved it between his glasses and his eye, and waved his head around saying, "I can't see! I can't see!" As a guy, my first response was to laugh uncontrollably. But, of course, I had to respond as a parent and reprimand his bad manners. Unfortunately, those two responses were in direct conflict with each other. Ann had the presence of mind and self-control to suppress her laugh instinct enough to ask him to remove the grape from his glasses. The best I could do was cover my face with my hand and not snort milk out of my nose.

The second story took place while I was putting the Monkey down for bed the other night. He has a book with pictures of everyday objects and the associated word in French. We usually read it by him pointing at the picture and me pronouncing it in French. He pointed at a doll house and I read the title as "maison de poupée." He immediately giggled and said, "Hee hee... poopie."

That's MY boy.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I'm not ready for these questions!

At breakfast on Sunday, the Monkey asked what happens to old people when they die. He asked if they all go to Heaven. Ann told him that if they aren't God's friend, they go to a place where God isn't. The Monkey responded, "Like our house?" Ann responded that God does live in our house, but that He's invisible. I was starting to get confused myself at this point, but fortunately he dropped that line of questioning.

So is it normal for a three-year old to be asking questions like that? Man, I thought potty-training was tough...

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Not the best of news

We found out yesterday that Vanilla Bean has something called "hip dysplasia." Basically, the joints of her hip don't fit together correctly and the ball is not seating properly in the socket.

It's hard to know at this point how serious the condition is. The doctor didn't tell us much in the way of a prognosis, either because he didn't want to overburden us or because he doesn't know. For now, she's wearing a harness that keeps her legs in a position that might force the joints together. We go back in two weeks to see if she's made any improvements and talk about what the next step is. Best case scenario: she wears the little harness for a few months, the joints slide back together, and everyone's okay (that's the scenario to pray for). Worst case: she has to have surgery and wear a cast for several months, and her crawling/walking development could be delayed.

So far, Vanilla Bean is taking the news much better than Mom or Dad. But, like every other problem that's come up so far, we'll figure this one out too. Once we get used to it...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Psychology of numeracy

There's a recent article on written by Clive Thompson regarding something called the psychology of numeracy. Basically, it boils down to the idea that humans are very empathic towards small groups of people who are in need, but not proportionally empathic to large groups of people with the same need. To quote directly from the article: "we'll break the bank to save Baby Jessica, but when half of Africa is dying, we're buying iPhones." I suspect this is why all those "save the starving children" commercials always showed individual kids - it's harder to ignore one face than to ignore many.

This idea extrapolates out to things like disease research as well. We're ready to spend bajillions of dollars to prevent things like SARS, which is (at least so far) VERY harmless in the grand scheme of things. And yet, every year, millions of people die because they don't have access to something as simple as clean water.

So I pose the question: why would God build us this way? Why would God make us so able to relate to individuals, but be unable to extrapolate out that feeling to large groups of people? If we see a news bit of one person being persecuted in a foreign country, why don't we feel millions of times worse for the ongoing genocide in Dharfur? If we feel sympathy for a single disfigured child in Iraq, why don't we feel many, many times worse for all the child victims of war violence?

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that support and help for the Baby Jessicas or Youssifs of the world are misplaced. I'm simply wondering why it is that people like to focus those feelings on individuals, instead of "spreading the love", so to speak.

Monday, September 3, 2007

With the faith of a child...

Tonight, the Monkey asked me what happens to us when we die. Not really wanting to get into a discussion about the need for redemption with a three-year old at 7:45 at night, I said, "Well, if we ask Jesus to be our friend, we go live with Him." He thought about this for a second and said, "I want to ask Jesus to be my friend." So we prayed together, him repeating after me: "Dear Jesus. Thank you for loving us. Please be our friend. Amen." This was immediately followed by a serious conversation about why Creamy Dog (his favorite stuffed animal) is stuffed with beans.

I don't care how many theology degrees you have, how many C.S. Lewis books you've read, or how many years you've been a missionary: your faith can never be as full and complete as that of a three-year old kid who just wants Jesus to be his friend. How often do we bog ourselves down in needless complexity when it really, really can be that easy?

Friday, August 31, 2007

Gaming update

So I think I've decided that I really like city simulators. They're slow-paced, you get to create something that looks really cool, and they don't tend to be system hogs.

Civ IV just didn't really capture my attention, so two days later I picked up Caesar IV. It's good, although it certainly has its flaws, especially compared to 1701. The colors are very brown and blah, as opposed to 1701's vibrant and cartoon-like qualities. Also, the cities in Caesar IV have been very space-limited so far, so you feel fairly constrained to building in a very set fashion.

Next on the list to check out: City Life. The screenshots make it look really cool. I downloaded the demo and will check it out tonight.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Some things I've learned from my superiors

It's been an interesting week. The acronym "HML" will forever be etched into my memory, and not in a good way. I've learned something from this whole process. If you ever have to communicate something complex to a large group of people, do so in as few words as possible. In implementing this HML process at work, I composed an e-mail telling something like 300 people what time the briefings for the sessions were. I sent it to those people's manager for him to forward on. I had worked very carefully to make sure the e-mail was concise and worded simply so that people would get the simple message of when the briefings were going to take place. This manager then added MANY MANY words to the front of the e-mail. So, of course, when the plebs got the e-mail, they didn't read the whole thing, so they missed my part about when the briefings were. So now I'm trying to implement a process that no one knows anything about.

And finally, here's a pet peeve: people who complain about gas prices while driving a GIGANTIC SUV! If you want to complain about gas prices while doing everything you can to cut down on gas consumption, fine. If you want to drive a soccer-mom Excursion, that's your right. But you don't get to DO BOTH!

Guess I'm a little ginchy today.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Picked up Civilization IV today. A little ashamed that I've never played that series, but Casey assures me that I'll love it. Find out tonight.

Friday, August 24, 2007

About the title of the blog

"Tales of the Electric Monk" is a rather obscure reference to a character in a Douglas Adams book, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. The Electric Monk "is a device that believes things to save the owner the trouble" (ref. Wikipedia).

That all being said, the name really doesn't carry any significance beyond the fact that it sounds cool and it's a weird semi-sci-fi reference. It's a name I often use for activities where a cool name is required, such as laser-tag or fantasy football.

So, the bottom line is that this blog is called Tales of the Electric Monk simply because I think that sounds neat.

A blog of my own!

This blog is created with the sole intent of giving me a place to write some thoughts down and, maybe someday, have someone read them. I don't currently intend to advertise this anywhere, but who knows? I just thought it might be interesting to have a place to write some stuff down from time to time, do a little journaling, and a website seemed as good a place to do it as any other.

I live near Houston, Texas. I work in the manned spaceflight industry, which is amazing, but also just feels like a job from time to time. I love reading, computer games, and more than any other thing on this Earth, my family: my beautiful wife Ann (not her real name), my hilarious 3-year old son the Monkey, and my gorgeous 3-month old daughter Vanilla Bean. And no, those aren't the kids' real names either.

I'm a devout Christian, although I'm wary of the presumptions that often come by being labeled as such. My core beliefs are few but firm: I believe in the greatness of God and in the saving power of His Son Jesus Christ. I believe that man is by nature a sinner, and that only a sinless sacrifice could breach the gap between God and man. Jesus was that sacrifice. I believe in the sanctity of life. I believe that the best way to teach people about Jesus is to act like Him. Everything else is pretty much up for debate.

I like to consider myself a fairly open-minded person about most things. That often makes me feel wishy-washy in that I'm easily swayed in my opinions, but I'd much rather come across as wishy-washy than a belligerent know-it-all.

I love science and what it teaches us about the universe. Unlike many Christians in today's society, I'm not threatened by science as I believe it is continually revealing to us a Creator way more clever than we give Him credit for.

On the lighter side of things, I also love the Star Wars movies, sci-fi, electronic gadgets, and all other kinds of geeky things.

So this blog will be about whatever strikes my fancy. If you find the subjects interesting, please feel free to stay, post some comments, visit for a while.