Tuesday, October 31, 2006


When is someone too old to trick-or-treat? Not at sixteen, according to my son. And according to the Washington Post, he’s not alone. It seems like kids old enough to drive still like to go door to door for free candy. Here is a quote from the Post:
Call them greedy, call them intimidating, call them the unwelcome elephants in the Snickers factory, but the teenagers who inevitably appear on Halloween doorsteps are grasping for more than a fistful of sweets.

"When you're our age, it's like it's cool again to go," explains Anna Karnaze, a 17-year-old junior from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, who went as a toilet-paper mummy last Halloween and plans to trick-or-treat as a pirate tonight.
According to my kid, it’s all about the free candy. Never mind that the scene is as social as much as it is greedy. I used to be the parent in charge of walking him around until middle school when he started venturing out on his own. Tonight he took the car to a friend’s neighborhood. We just warned him not to trick and drive.

He at least bothered to dress up. The jester’s hat and pirate shirt came from the Renaissance Fair, so he’s getting good use out of those impulse purchases. He also did his own make-up. That shows he has some pride.

Judging by the kids that have knocked on the door tonight, he’s not completely out of the demographic. This year’s crowd is skewing older, but so far most of the costumes are pretty good. It’s later in the evening when you get the lazy stragglers.

And best of all? Tonight we are giving out the leftover candy he got last year but never bothered to eat.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: How old is too old?

Bonus Cuteness: Every year we dress up my dog so he doesn’t scare the little kids when he greets them at the door. And the costume? A yellow and black yellowjacket, of course.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Lazy bloggers resort to quizzes. Yes, I'm being lazy. But these quizzes are intriguing. The first one is from Geekwif who can't figure out why her nerd score isn't higher. I wonder how mine got so high. I guess since I am an engineer, I would expect to be very nerdy (as opposed to dorky or geeky).

I am nerdier than 87% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

I don't remember where I got this second quiz but since it shows I should be an engineer, it's tough to argue with.

Your Career Personality: Brainy, Logical, and Efficient

Your Ideal Careers:

Book editor
Business manager
Civil engineer

The next quiz is philosphical. I really don't quite know what they mean by 'existentialist', but it could be worse.

You scored as Existentialist. Existentialism emphasizes human capability. There is no greater power interfering with life and thus it is up to us to make things happen. Sometimes considered a negative and depressing world view, your optimism towards human accomplishment is immense. Mankind is condemned to be free and must accept the responsibility.





Cultural Creative












What is Your World View?
created with QuizFarm.com

The final quiz is one used by kb on her Read/Think/Live blog where she cleverly associates social alienation with real aliens.

Alienation Test Results

Your Scores
Meaninglessness = 13
Cultural Estrangement = 19
Powerlessness = 15
Normlessness = 18
Estrangement from Work = 19
Social Isolation = 16

Scores should range between 5 and 25.
Scores from 5 to 11 could be considered "low,"
from 12 to 18 "moderate,"
and from 19 to 25 "high."

I think these results are the ones I should be worried about. None of these scores are less than "Moderate" and two are into the "high". I hope these quizzes don't bum you out, but they sure made me think.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Media Myths and Uniformity

Here is a picture of four of our five Chinese exchange students with some of the kids from the host families. As you can see, the kids all pretty much dress the same. I recently ran across an Alberto VO5 commercial that has been airing where two students at a Maoist-looking institution use hair gel to rebel against the system.

I showed this video to our guest and he seemed more perplexed than offended. He's pretty sure the actors aren't even speaking Chinese since he couldn't understand a word of the commercial. We asked if uniforms were required at his school. We had to explain the concept of uniforms by describing soldiers and doctors. He wasn't aware of any schools where kids wore uniforms.

Uniforms are the current faddish panacea for discipline problems in both urban and suburban areas. I'm not sure dressing alike solves the problems. My son wears a steady rotation of black tee shirts with jeans. If that's not a uniform I don't know what is.

One supposed advantage of school uniforms is that it avoids the cost of kids demanding expensive designer clothes. Have you priced school uniforms? Hello? A closet full of khakis and monochrome polo shirts is still clothes that have to be bought and laundered and replaced when they wear out. My wife gave our son the tee shirt she got from the local AppleStore grand opening. Cost to us: free. He gets all his baggy shorts and cargo pants at Kohls and if you ever pay full price there, you're getting ripped off.

If a kid won't go to school without the latest Amercrombie & Fitch or American Eagle (I'm old-school enough to remember when AE was business attire) that is a decision between parents and their children. School uniforms, like teen driving curfews and license restrictions, just allow parents to shrug their shoulders and abdicate their authority to The Man.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Dealers choice: Is the hair gel commercial trafficking in offensive stereotypes or just some clever social satire? Or: Do school uniforms make a difference? If China has abandoned them, why are we eager to adopt them?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

HoCo Hooker Update

Update (1/29/07): Brandy Britton committed suicide over the weekend according to a report by the Baltimore Sun.

My favorite blonde, D-cup, over-educated call girl, Brandy Britton, is back in the news. This time, against her lawyer’s recommendations, she is spinning her eye-rolling tale of how $300 an hour is a fair price for her ‘companionship’ to the Baltimore Examiner. She explains that the 150 condoms at her house were necessary tools in her research into HIV transmission vectors. She also thinks anyone without nine bottles of lube just isn’t enjoying sex enough.

If you will recall from my last post about her, she waived a judicial hearing for what is a fairly routine charge to get jury trial. Regrettably, my jury service is over, because I’d love to be on that case even if my blog would cause a mistrial. I know way too much about her and the case that I shouldn’t know.

According to an Examiner sidebar article, sleepy Howard County has made 52 prostitution arrests so far this year. Most of these probably involve truck-stop hookers and shady massage health spas, not a woman with a doctorate degree operating out of a soon to be foreclosed on $400,000 home (that is the appraised value, fair market worth would be much higher) on a sleepy Wisteria Lane-like cul-de-sac. She has already rebuffed one plea bargain offer.

Her latest version of events include paranoid tales of police persecution and harassment. While it does seem odd that it takes eleven cops to raid one two-story colonial for a middle-aged woman armed only with Astroglide, I doubt that anyone is now bugging her living room. Her latest court date has been delayed, this time apparently by the prosecution. The only other new press is a letter to the editor defending her based on the Examiner article.

Several things about this case still don’t add up. One mysterious critical event in her chronology is the short marriage to her legally-declared abusive husband, Isamu Tubyangye. During that time, the cops seemed more than familiar with her address, having to answer at least 27 domestic disturbance and other calls. How he plays into the legal and psychological dramas at UMBC is still confusing as well as exactly when Brandy turned on the red light as Alexis.

This low-life has seemed to vanish off the face of the earth after pleading guilty to assault twice and serving jail time for it. The Examiner article says that calls to his Florida home went unreturned. That means the reporter is paying no attention at all to the comments section of my blog, which clearly place him in Australia. If the reporter had been around for the two days before I deleted the comment, he could have jotted down the exact street address.

Which brings up the small community of BrandyHaters that have been sympathizing with each other as well as posting new information about Brandy and her ex-husband. My Brandy posts have brought out commenters that keep adding to the dialog long after most blog posts have closed shop. These folk have gotten so cozy together, I almost expect them to start trading recipes. While most of the parties post anonymously, there seem to be at least a half-dozen regulars. They include:

  • The wife of her former boss
  • The wife of a former ‘client’
  • A close friend of her now-remarried first husband
  • The former girlfriend and baby-momma of her second husband
  • A friend of the second husband’s current girlfriend in Australia

Obviously, most of these people have a grudge or an ax to grind, but some of the links and research are interesting, if not likely to be admissible in court. For example, while most of Brandy/Alexis/whoever’s official websites vanish soon after I link to them, this page on an escort service site (NSFW, in case you need to be told) still has pictures from her Alexis days.

Prostitution is frequently referred to as a victimless crime. When a husband is spending thousands of dollars on a call girl, there are victims, just not the ones in the legal process. One commenter (perhaps the same one) also makes the point that sexually transmitted diseases from a sex worker are a risk to more than the john. Of course, this applies to any style of promiscuity, extramarital, commercial, or otherwise.

The story has a high titter factor, which is why the press and public (present company included) keep following it. But there are real victims and ruined lives littered in the wake of it. That is hard to remember when there is so much theater of the absurd surrounding this case.

As an aside, Luke Broadwater, the writer of the Examiner article calls Centennial High School “perhaps the best school in the best public-school district in the state” which means he agrees with my characterization of it as “the highest performing high school in the highest performing county in the state” when I first blogged about Brandy back in January. Just sayin’.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: None. This post will probably not have trouble attracting comments and there is enough whoring in Howard County going on without my contribution.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Chinese Diplomacy

This week we are playing host family to an exchange student from Beijing. As part of an effort to expand the teaching of Chinese in the United States, my son’s school has been trading visits by administrators between our school and a similar one in China.

As part of the next level of exchanges, five Chinese students are spending a week shadowing regular American kids as they go about their day. In my son’s case, that includes his typical weekly schedule of two marching band practices, a math team competition, a meeting of the rocketry club, and a band festival. Since our student listed math as his favorite subject, this should be a good match.

One of the first things our student said is “My English is not very good.” Well, it’s infinitely better than my Chinese, so we have to stick with English. When we talk to him, we try to explain things a couple of ways until some of the words we use sound familiar. His favorite word is ‘Oh”, so we are not quite sure how much of what we explain sinks in. When he really needs to get a point across, he’ll resort to a little pocket electronic translator.

My wife is in charge of debriefing and interrogation. So far, we know that his dad is a chemistry professor and his older brother is a high school teacher. He also has a little sister, so that sounds like a big family by modern Chinese standards. His textbooks in China are a fraction of the size of my son’s backpack-busting monstrosities. Their school day runs from 7 am to 5 pm and school vacation lasts about two months. He also understands the universal language of teenagers, video games.

The students and their teachers arrived Sunday afternoon after spending two days in LA sightseeing. To give him the full American home experience, we cooked a dinner of hamburgers and macaroni and cheese. After demonstrating the proper assembly of a hamburger on a bun, he took quite a while to make it all the way through a Trader Joes quarter pound buffalo burger with cheese, topped with lettuce and a tomato slice. My son occasionally polishes off two of these, but our Chinese friend thought just one of these was an awful lot of meat.

That may be the last home-cooked meal we give him. Our on-the-go weekday schedule tends to include a lot of fast-causal food like Quiznos and Chipolte. We’re not sure he’d be up to a full-sized burrito. Some things are just cruel to inflict on visitors from another country.

Breakfast today was toast and jelly, which he made into a sandwich, following the example of the hamburger from the night before. As we turned the corner on the way to school, his “Oh” seemed genuinely impressed with the size of the average American suburban high school.

A week is almost too short of a trip for this sort of thing, but we hope to give him and the other students a fair look at the life of typical American teenagers. We intend to get to a grocery store, the mall, and a night at the movies. We have tickets to a jazz concert by my son’s saxophone teacher and the whole group will spend a day doing all the touristy stuff in DC, then they are back to Beijing. Hopefully some American students will return the favor and visit there this summer. All the parents involved with the program have already volunteered to chaperone.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What should a visitor from China see to get a true impression of typical American life?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Are You Experienced?

I have been following Sue Trowbridge’s great multi-post account of her vacation in Vegas. I blogged twice about us passing through Vegas and while the city is full of spectacle, the most impressive display to me was the Fremont Street Experience. While the Bellagio fountains are stunning, they are not nearly as immersive or hallucinogenic as the Fremont Street show. In order to bring tourists back to the old downtown strip, the city has turned the original strip into a covered open air mall. Four times a night, the ceiling turns into a giant video screen three blocks long.

We caught the last show of the night which featured a stunning air and space spectacular. The show is nearly six minutes long and my video is a single shot with no editing. If and when you are in Vegas, make the trip downtown and catch a show you will never see anywhere else.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What is your favorite light show or tourist extravaganza?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Me And Travis McGee

Back in high school, a girl whose taste in books I respected (she was also a fan of Kurt Vonnegut and pre-movie Princess Bride) told me I should read the Travis McGee novels. Based on her recommendation, I spent one summer working my way through the seventeen book series. Part of the gimmick for the series is that all the books have a color in the title, making reading them in chronological order a tricky task. Early in the series, more than one book would come out a year, so copyright year alone wasn’t enough to figure out the sequence. Fortunately, the books are fairly self-contained and didn’t get much of a continuing storyline until late in the series.

Travis McGee, the anti-hero in rusted armor of the series, is a lanky beach bum who rights wrongs for people caught in legal gray areas for a 50% share of the net recovery. Despite this mercenary approach, Trav, as his friends and paramours call him, is an avenging angel that is always on the side of the underdog and the disenfranchised. It helps if the victim is attractive and sexually vulnerable. The books are full of the softcore obligatory sex scenes that were a fixture of trashy paperbacks of the sixties and seventies.

John D. MacDonald was a World War II veteran and an MBA’ed business refugee that cut his teeth in the same oversaturated post-war magazine market that gave Kurt Vonnegut his big break. MacDonald then moved onto the lurid cover paperback original scene before beginning the Travis McGee series.

What separates Travis McGee from Matt Helm and Remo Williams and his contemporaries is the sense of place developed form the Florida setting. While the first several books jumped around, the series eventually settled down to focus on the environmental and financial horrors in shady Florida real estate deals gone awry. The books are much more exciting than that synopsis makes them sound.

As a then-Floridian, I took particular delight in books that exposed the hypocrisy of the region. Behind the adventure there were always biting commentaries on whatever injustice MacDonald wanted to filter through his muscled alter ego. Travis eventually gained a retired economist as a sidekick, so that the more esoteric exposition could be plausibly revealed.

After I worked through the series, I read other novels by MacDonald and then I became more than a fan. I became an obsessed connoisseur. I started hunting down the yellow paged first editions of each book. I bought books about Travis McGee. I watched bad movies based on MacDonald novels. After college I had moved back to Florida and got wind of a semi-academic symposium in Sarasota on the by-then late John D. MacDonald and dragged my wife to it on a whim. There I met even more devoted fans of the man. Some had flown in from California just for the event. I had even started a now lost Geocities page that was to be the ultimate Travis McGee fan site.

Finally, on a trip through Fort Lauderdale I made it to the Holy Grail of McGee fandom, Slip F-18 at the Bahia Mar. This fictitious address at a real marina was completely imaginary until the developer actually built an F pier. The Travis fame forced the place to start numbering the slips from 101 to protect the privacy of the actual owners.

In tribute to Travis McGee, and to give literary stalkers like me a photo op, they placed a literary landmark out on the dock. In a moment of true geekdom, I made sure I immortalized my visit on film. In the next several months, I intend to recreate those heady summer days where I read the Travis McGee books as fast as I could get them by rereading them at a book a month pace. I will post a review or commentary or whatever you want to call it on The Deep Blue Goodbye soon.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Is there a regional writer that you like just because he or she writes about places you are familiar with?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

Last week when I wrote about getting out of jury duty (and be sure to read the update about the trial), I promised to tell the tale of the trial I sat on nearly twenty years ago. I was in college when I got the jury duty notice. I immediately called the courthouse and told them I was a student and was obviously too busy with classes for jury duty. They kindly rescheduled for my next quarter break. Since I worked alternate quarters that at least got me on the clock, so I was getting paid for the time.

They picked the jury in the morning, took us to lunch, and then started the trial. The first witness was the victim of the crime who told the basic events. He was working alone in a small clothing store when the defendant came in and browsed for awhile and picked up a shirt. When the defendant came to the register to pay, he instead pulled a gun out from under the shirt and demanded all the money from the register. To prove he meant business, he fired a shot over the clerk’s head into the wall. After taking the money, the guy left.

The clerk did all the paper work things you have to do after getting robbed. He called the police and gave a statement. They came out and took the bullet out of the wall as evidence. He called his friends and told them what a bad day he had had. They decided to cheer him up by taking him out for drinks.

When they got to the bar, the clerk was startled and made all his friends leave the bar. He told them that the guy that had robbed them was in the bar. The friends thought it was a put-on, but he refused to go back inside. Instead, he described the shirt the guy was wearing since it was the one that had been stolen from the store. His friends went in and confirmed a person matching the description was there.

They called over a beat cop and told the story. Some cops went in to apprehend the defendant and when they did, there was a small satchel next to him at the bar. Inside the satchel was a gun.

In summary, according to the prosecution, the defendant had robbed a store at gunpoint, stolen a shirt, and then wore the shirt the same day out to a bar and took his gun with him.

Then came the expert testimony. A forensic cop (this was long before CSI) said the gun found in the bar and the bullet in the store wall were the same caliber. He could not prove or disprove that that exact gun had fired that exact bullet, but it was clear he thought it did.

The star secret prosecution witness was the sales representative for the line of shirts that the defendant had stolen. They were a parody of Ralph Lauren Polo® brand except that the embroidered polo player was falling off the pony. The shirts were called Get Off You High Horse and were only sold in two stores in the Atlanta area; the store that had been robbed and another store about twenty miles away. The sales rep had never heard of her company’s shirt being counterfeited since it was a parody of a popular brand.

That was the end of day one. The judge warned us not to talk about the case to friends or family and not to do any research outside of the courtroom by visiting any of the sites described in the case. From chit chat with my roommate, I recognized the name of the store and the bar as being in a predominantly gay neighborhood. I assume the judge was trying to keep jurors from forming any prejudicial opinions about the victim, the store, or the defendant.

The next day, the defendant took the stand to present his side, which essentially covered the following ideas:

  • He wasn’t at that store because he had spent the day with his dad who was too sick to come to court to confirm the alibi.
  • He had bought the shirt a year earlier from a street vendor on Moreland Avenue, several miles from the store that got robbed. (I knew that was a lie because I worked on Moreland Avenue and the street vendor shirts were mostly crappy white bootleg Ralph Lauren and DKNY tee shirts. Not a polo shirt in the bunch.)
  • The gun in the bar wasn’t his and must have been left there by somebody else.
The defense had no other witnesses.

The judge addressed the jury telling us that we did not have to believe everything the witnesses said and that part of our job is to determine who is more credible.

We elected a foreman and the first vote was like 9-3 guilty versus not guilty. Most of the discussion was around what was “reasonable doubt”. The last hold out juror thought that what the defendant had said could possibly be true. The rest of just shook our heads in disbelief. If ever there was an open and shut case, this was pretty close.

We were given the evidence to look at, which included the gun, the bullet and the shirt. The shirt was well made and in very good condition. Inside the shirt there was still an “Inspected by” sticker. This finally convinced the hold-out that the defendant was lying.

One frustrating part of being on a jury, as opposed to watching a Perry Mason mystery, is that there is a lot of stuff the jury can’t hear. The lawyers were always going up to the judge and whispering. At one point something slipped out that inferred the defendant had threatened the victim to not testify. We were told to ignore that and we were ushered back to the jury room for about ten minutes while the judge scolded the lawyers.

After we presented the guilty verdict, we were dismissed. The court remained in session since there were some other charges that the jury wasn’t needed for. I skedaddled and enjoyed the rest of my afternoon off and came to a few conclusions:

  1. Crooks are really stupid. Especially the ones caught parading around in stolen merchandise.
  2. Some people will give anyone the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Trials, even simple ones, take a lot of time to do the simplest things.

I feel good that a criminal went to jail as a result of my civic duty, but it’s not an experience I’m eager to repeat regularly.

Blatant Comment Whoring ™: What would have given you reasonable doubt about this case?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hilary and Faye: Friends Forever

Don't ask me how, but the other day I ran across a Xanga page that sounded familiar. Sure enough, it was the page of Hilary Forth, who is the only daughter of my hero, Ted Forth. I had to clean up some of the ugly Xanga HTML, but here are some of the highlights from the past year or so.

Date: August 30, 2005
Mood: Bummed Out
Listening to: Wake Me When September Ends (Kidz Bop 9)

School really sucks. It seems like every year is the same as the last one over and over again. This year, though, I finally entered middle-school. That’s when the trouble started. All the older kids said I looked like Cindy Brady, and I don’t even know who she is. My mom who is really cool, but kinda sarcastic tried to make me feel better, but my parents are both sort of dorks, so it didn’t help much. I tried to wear my hair different but it just looked stupid.

Date: September 10, 2005
Mood: Confused
Listening to: 1985 (Kidz Bop 7)

Mom is some sort of big business woman and she just got a promotion, but now she has to work with her old boss who she really hates, so that sucks. My dad hates his job and gets mad when I say I don’t even know what he does. He tries to explain it, but it seems he spends most of the time just avoiding the jerks he works with. My point is that they’re grown-ups and have no clue what I’m going through, even though my dad tries to act all cool and everything. He acts like a big hero, but I don’t think the neighbors like him very much.

Date: February 2, 2006
Mood: Blah
Listening to: Miss Independent (Kidz Bop 4)

My mom talked me into taking some lame afterschool class after she saw this picture I drew. She acted all impressed, but she couldn't even tell what it was. I knew it was just her trying to get me out of my mood. But then I met Faye. Faye is an artist too and she dresses punk or goth or something. You know, all that crap you can buy at Hot Topic but your parents don’t let you. I don't think Mom likes her very much. She keeps telling Faye to "lose the 'tude."

Date: Febuary 9, 2006
Mood: Experimental
Listening to: Seasons of Love (Rent Soundtrack)

I’m glad I finally found a friend that likes me as I am even if her hair is all spikey like that guy in class that is always listening to “Rent” all the time. Faye tried to get me to cut my hair, but then changed her mind, saying she likes me better “femme”, whatever that means. I don’t think it has anything to do with feminine hygiene like we got told about in Family Life class. I don’t even have my period yet, so I don’t get it.

Date: March 3, 2006
Mood: Thinking
Listening to: Nobody's Home (Kidz Bop 8)

Faye’s mom is never home so after school she hangs out with me at the neighbor’s house until mom and dad get home. Mom and dad carpool together. It’s my mom’s stupid idea on how to save money for their fancy-schmancy trip that got ruined when Kitty got sick. Then the refrigerator broke and that blew the budget again. I don’t think they’re ever going to get to Paris.

Date: March 27, 2006
Mood: Hungry
Listening to: The Anthem (Kidz Bop 4)

Faye wants to start a band, but the only instrument we own is the clarinet. Why couldn’t my dad have played something cool when he was in high school like the saxophone? So Faye eats over at our house a lot since her mom just gives her candybars. Faye says we’re just like the Cleavers, but I don’t know who they are. I wish mom would let us get basic cable back. I hate her and her “budget.”

Date: March 30, 2006
Mood: Annoyed
Listening to: Boys Don't Cry (The Cure - my dad's)

Fay and I named our new band New Delhi Monkey Gang. At dinner my dad was trying to act like he knew all about music and stuff and asked Faye who her “influences” were and she said Sleater Kinney and LeTigre. My dad had never heard of either of them. He thinks good music ended with The Cure. Not that they’re bad but how about something from this century?

Date: April 1, 2006
Mood: Annoyed
Listening to: Toxic (Kidz Bop 6)

I just wish my parents would like her a little more. Mom puts her purse on top of our new refrigerator whenever Faye is around. And when Faye wants to spend the night, my parents change the subject until it’s too late to call her mom and they have to drive her home.

Date: April 22, 2006
Mood: Sporty
Listening to: Let's Get Started (Kidz Bop 7)

I liked hanging around with Faye but softball season is starting and my parents coach the team. Our team really sucks. Last year we didn’t win any games and the other parents acted like jerks, but none of them would volunteer, so we’re stuck with my folks. I thought Faye would quit being friends with me, but my mom somehow talked her into joining the team. Faye says sports are kinda cool after all.

Date: April 25, 2006
Mood: Morbid
Listening to: Girl Next Door (Kidz Bop 10)

Faye thought it was really cool when Ole Man Gezelter died and they called an ambulance and everything. Mom wouldn’t let me see the corpse, but Faye still thought it was cool. She said she saw an ambulance once when her older brother OD’d, but they just sent him to some tough-love camp. She doesn't talk much about her family. She says its just one big Springer episode.

Date: June 6, 2006
Mood: Relaxed
Listening to: Accidentally In Love (Kidz Bop 7)

This weekend Fay and I just hung out and watched movies. She says my dad’s gladiator movies are so gay, but the guys just fight each other, so how can that be gay? My Blockbuster card is youth restricted so I can’t get the R-rated movies like Basic Instinct and Bound, so we rented Fried Green Tomatos and A League of Their Own.

Date: July 12, 2006
Mood: Creative
Listening to: Rush (Aly & AJ, Into The Rush)

I don't think our band is very good. I think we should go sound like Aly and AJ or Rebeccah, but Faye wants to just play new songs loud and heavy. She says that The Go-Gos couldn't play their instruments at first either, but now Gina Schock is a great drummer.

Date: August 31, 2006
Mood: Angry
Listening to: What's Left Of Me (Kidz Bop 10)

Faye got mad at me when we lost softball game. She says I threw a bad pitch. I say she missed the catch. We both say my dad screams like a little girl. She tries to hang around the other girls on the team, but they call her “Butch”. My dad watches that movie all the time and says that Robert Redford is dreamy.

Date: September 9, 2006
Mood: Moody
Listening to: Bad Day (Kidz Bop 10)

It’s the first day of school again. I hate the fifth grade. It’s like all the stuff I learned last year all over again. My mom keeps bugging me to see if I’m okay. She’s not happy unless she is right and I’m miserable. She sent Dad up to my room to talk to me. He kinda missed Faye too. At least to help open pickle jars.

Date: October 3, 2006
Mood: Friends again.
Listening to: Cool (Kidz Bop 9)

I said "hey" to Faye at school yesterday, but I thought she just ignored me. I was just bouncing a basketball against the garage door and Faye came over. She's going to show me how to make a basketball slingshot. Maybe I can get her to join the basketball team too. Faye’s favorite player is Sheryl Swoopes. The gym teacher says she’ll let us stay after class and practice until tryouts and even give us private lessons. That would be really cool.

Me again. Reading over a year of Hilary's thoughts makes me realize that kids have their own way of showing friendship. They meet, hang out, start bands, join teams, have fights, and get back together. A good friendship goes unspoken. Good friends don't need apologies, they just pickup up they left off. I think Hilary and Faye will be best friends forever. Or at least as long as the youngest Forth is in the fifth grade.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dodging A Bullet

I got called for jury duty this week. Nobody likes jury duty. I have served on one jury way back when I was in college and it was a unique experience, but I was not eager to repeat it.

As I’ve mentioned before, Howard County is a pretty low crime area. We get maybe five murders a year as compared to Baltimore City where five murders in a week is a cause for celebration. Many counties around us have gone to one day/one trial pools, but the number of jury trials in Howard County doesn’t warrant that. Jury duty in Howard County puts you on call for a week.

Since Monday was Columbus Day, I got a pass for that, but I had to show on Tuesday. They made the appearance time 2 pm, which struck me as odd, but at least I got in a half day of work. They had called a pool of 81 people for a single trial. I was hoping it would be for Brandy Britton, the post-doc hooker, but her court date wouldn’t be until the 24th, so I was out of luck. I would have killed for the chance to explain to the judge why there was no way I could be impartial.

The defendant was accused of stabbing his girlfriend. He was a middle-aged scruffy looking guy and had worn a ratty denim jacket for his court appearance. The dozen or more witnesses were all either cops or medical personnel. Now I understand the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing, but it didn’t seem it would be that hard to prove. When the judge said the trial would last three days, I got nervous in the service. I did not want this trial.

They asked a bunch of questions and we got brought up individually to explain our answers. I tried three gambits to make myself unappealing short of outright lying.

  • I knew one of the witnesses. His son and my son both play saxophone in the high school band. They asked if that would affect my level of trust in his answers. No.
  • I had been on a previous jury. It was nearly twenty years ago for armed robbery and I voted guilty. Hopefully this sour me for the defense.
  • Economic hardship. My company does not pay me for jury duty. I am allowed to make up the time with overtime or take vacation. The judge thought poorly of this excuse and when about 30 people got sent away I wasn’t one of them.
Then the potential jurors got called up individually for selection. The defense struck about every other person and was up to candidate number 56 when the jury and alternates finally got picked. Since my number was 71, I was home free.

The selection went until 6:30 which meant we were the only people other than security and housekeeping left in the building. In the four hours I was there, I managed to get about two hours of work done, take a nap, and read a couple of magazines. They didn’t call me for the rest of the week, so I am home free for the next five years. Yay, me.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Tell a jury duty horror story and I will tell the tale of my one and only trial next week.

Update (10/14/06): Here is the story of the trial I would have been on. The guy ambushed his wife and attacked her with a machete. A machete.

Also, the crime scene is about a half mile from my son's school and the attempted murder occured within an hour of me dropping my kid off for class.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Racing and Rowing

Last week I wrote about visiting the same region of Vietnam as was on The Amazing Race in this post. This week's episode was even more amazing to me since they went to some of the exact same places we had been. The first clue was at a statue of Lao Tse in Hanoi. They had rigged the statue to say the clue out loud rather than have the contestants just pick up a written clue. This was easy to do because the park that this statue is in is used for morning aerobics every day at 5 am. Bright and early, dozens of women come out every morning to wiggle what they got to the latest pop tunes. It’s way more Jane Fonda than Tai Chi.

Then, as I predicted from the previews, the show went to Halong Bay, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The bay is littered with tall limestone islands that look like mossy dragon teeth. The racers had to climb one of the island rocks and then search for a clue inside a mammoth cavern that we had also visited.

At the detour, they had to either make a delivery to a floating village or pull up cultured pearl nets. Only one team went to the floating village, and it is truly entirely free floating. Each building is it's own boat or barge and none of them are on stilts. The village is in the middle of the sheltered group of islands and is only accessible by boat. If you look at the video, you can see one of the large tourist junks docked to one of the houses.

We didn’t see any pearl farms, but we did watch an elderly couple row around checking their fishing nets. The old man sat in the bow of the boat while the wife rowed. If you saw any of the Amazing Race episode, you will remember how hopeless most of these teams were trying to row the boat. I wish I had a video clips from the show that I could mash up with the footage I have of this lady effortlessly maneuvering the boat all by herself.

I’m always joking with my wife that since we like to travel, we should sign up as a team for The Amazing Race. She thinks that would be a ticket straight to divorce court. After seeing all the bickering angry couples on this episode, I’m inclined to agree.

Watching this episode really brought back fond memories of our trip to Vietnam. But I’m glad I went to Halong Bay as a pampered tourist rather than as an exhausted reality show contestant.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Who would you take with you as an Amazing Race partner?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Going Viral

The other day something happened to my blog that I had always hoped would happen, but never thought it would happen to me. My blog started getting linked by blogs I had never heard of. My blog had gone viral.

About two weeks ago, I was writing a post about Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It was a snarky sarcastic summary of the first episode. In a desperate attempt to pad the post a little bit, I threw in a drinking game based on the well-known Sorkin clich├ęs and a few things I saw in the episode. I had never written a drinking game before but knew the format well. You pick repeated phrases and situations and make fun of them. The archetype of this goes back to the old Bob Newhart show where you had to drink everytime someone said “Hi, Bob.”

I figured there was some group out there that authorized and vetted the various drinking games on the internet, but there isn’t. After I posted the drinking game, I did a Google™ search for “Studio 60 Drinking Game” to see how my effort compared to the prior art. The only serious match I got was a thread on the Television Without Pity forum board for Studio 60 where they were running a drinking game thread with about 40 comments. Most of them had been posted before the show aired and were based on Sorkin’s other series. In a mild breach of message board etiquette, I made an on-topic comment and included a link to my drinking game. That brought in about a dozen rubberneckers over to my site, which is typical for when I pull that kind of stunt.

The giant entertainment blog Defamer noted that NBC had put up a parody site called Defaker that pretended the pilot of Studio 60 was real and summarized the first episode as if it were written by a gossip blog complete with screen captures as paparazzi photos. To make it look and feel real, the blog had an unmoderated comment section. At first the commenters (some of which had to be shills or sock puppets) were playing along with the conceit that it was a “real” blog about a “real” show. Then the hoi polloi arrived and things got ugly. People were trashing the show and even more, the fake blog. I did my comment and run plug and that brought in another couple of dozen hits. I felt pretty smug about my guerilla marketing since the whole fake blog was pulled just a few days later and any future blog whoring opportunities there were now lost.

A few days later, I noticed that I was getting a lot of hits from two entertainment blogs, namely InsideSoCal.com and TVTattler.com. These sites had linked to my drinking game and were bringing hundreds of readers. Then later that same day, Defamer itself gave a link and traffic shot through the roof. The next day a blog called PopCandy run by USA Today also linked to the game. Instead of the typical 100-200 visitors I get, I spiked at over 3000 visitors. Once the word got out, about another half-dozen blogs linked to my game. The most flattering to me was from Zentertainment written by Sean Jordan which I used to read nearly ten years ago when it was an e-mail subscription list.

Since then, my traffic stats have been doing their inevitable exponential decay back towards my core group of readers. I’ve always fantasized wondered what it would be like to be linked to by Boing Boing or Digg or Wonkette. Now I know. It’s not as big a thrill as I expected. Viral phenomena on the internet do resemble their biological metaphorical cousins. In my case, it caused a brief fever and a quick return to my normal state. A “stickier” meme would eventually spread to dozens of site and cause a permanent build in traffic like Where The Hell Is Matt?

I’m happy with my fifteen minutes of rather minor internet fame, but it’s not going to change my life or my writing style. I write about what I want and it’s up to the blogosphere to decide whether or not to pay attention.

Still, I am now the “I Feel Lucky” hit for “Studio 60 Drinking Game” and I expect to get a small spike in traffic every Monday night when bored viewers go websurfing for drinking games. I’ll be playing along at home too.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Battlestar Voyager

My favorite television show, Battlestar Galactica, made the cover of Entertainment Weekly. The article compared it favorably to 24 and Lost and other mainstream continuing storyline series. The third season of BSG starts this Friday at 9 pm and I am psyched to see last season's stunning cliff-hanger resolved. Since I didn’t start watching it until the second season, it’s immune to my show killer curse.

Previously, my favorite science fiction show was Deep Space Nine. Ronald Moore, the producer of BSG, worked on DS9 as part of his tour of duty in the Star Trek factory and was responsible for many of its grittier story arcs. Moore got lured from DS9 to Voyager by his former writing partner Brannon Braga, where the two split in a very public acrimonious falling out over the direction of the series. Moore’s side of the story is here. Brannon Braga was too busy running Enterprise into the ground to comment.

With this backstory in context, Battlestar Galactica can be read on the meta-level as a huge “Frak you!” as Moore schools the world in how to do a show about hopelessly lost spaceships. A side by side comparison shows how BSG has it all over ST:Voy.

A sinister being strands a rag-tag group of space travelers on the wrong side of the galaxy and they have to spend several seasons searching for Earth.Sinister robots destroy all of humanity except for a rag-tag group of spaceships that have to spend several seasons searching for Earth.

The Leader
Captain Janeway tries to hold together separate factions while upholding the sacred values of the Federation like obeying authority and wearing tight spandex.President Roslin, the former Secretary of Education, tries to hold together separate factions while upholding the values of democracy like torturing enemies and fixing elections.

Tattoo-faced Commander Chakotay redefines wooden.Craggy-faced Commander Adama redefines stoic.
The difference between stoic and wooden is an Emmy and an Oscar nomination.

Hottie Robot With A Number For A Name
Seven of Nine is part robot and doesn't relate too well to humans.Number Six is all robot and relates all too well to humans.

Hot Shot Pilot
Tom Paris is a renegade pilot with long-standing issues with his military dad.Lee “Apollo” Adama has long standing issues with his military dad, the captain.

Hot Tempered Tom Boy
B’Elanna Torres, a former Maquis rebel, has a hard time following Federation rules.Kara “Starbuck” Thrace has a hard time following anyone’s rules.

The Doctor
A hologram that can’t understand human feelings.A traitor that doesn’t have any human feelings.

Comic Relief
Neelix is a rogue trader that can’t ever close a deal.Ellen Tigh is a floozie that has closed way too many deals.

Most Abused Button
No matter how many aliens Voyager encountered, by the next episode, the ship was shiny and clean again.Pay attention to those time stamps at each commercial break or you will never know when or where the story is taking place.

My personal theory is that Ronald Moore, after being fired from a great franchise in decline, found the challenge of taking a silly franchise (and face it, the original Battlestar was cheesy beyond belief) and making it great too wonderful of an "I told you so" chance to pass up. After all, revenge is a dish best served cold.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What is your favorite science fiction series, past or present?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Amazing Race In Vietnam

Vietnam Rice FieldI’ve been watching The Amazing Race since about season 3. I love the exotic places they travel to and the occasional complete ineptness of the contestants. My wife has drifted away from the show, but this week I made her watch since they traveled to Hanoi.

My family visited Hanoi last year as part of our whirlwind vacation through Vietnam. I have an entire separate blog about that trip called Asia Trip 2005. The blog is pretty much on hiatus right now since I have covered most of the pictures of Vietnam from my Flickr account. I have a lot of video footage from the trip and I will post some short clips if I ever find the time.

The traffic in Hanoi was as bad as the show made it out to be. There are very few traffic signals and most vehicles don’t stop for anything. Like one team observed, crossing a street is an enormous game of Frogger. You just start crossing and dodge scooters until you get to the other side. If anything, the footage in the Old Quarter didn't quite capture the crowded chaos of the markets.

We did not go to the “Hanoi Hilton” prison like the Amazing Racers did. My father was an F-4 pilot during Vietnam and knows people that spent time as prisoners of war. We were wanting to see Vietnam as it is today, not relive the horrors of the war. Based on the footage from the show, I’m glad we made the decision we did. The prison looked very gruesome and inhumane and I feel horrible that anyone had to live in those conditions.

We did take a trip through the countryside past many villages that look just like the one where they had the detour challenge. The weather is incredibly hot just like a few of the contestants noticed.

We were traveling through the rice fields during the harvest season and saw a lot of activity in the paddies. Most of the work is still either human or animal power, although industrial farm equipment is starting to become more common. I will vouch for the authenticity of the location. Compare my picture for this post to the official picture from the Amazing Race website.

From the previews, it looks like next week they will move on to Halong Bay, which is a geological unique area of stunning beauty. Most of my blog posts for the Hanoi area date back to last August, but feel free to read the whole blog from the start.