Friday, October 30, 2009


I started drinking coffee when I was 12. Living with my dad and grandparents for a while after my dad divorced wife #3, we used to sit around the table in the winter and Grandma would make a pot of coffee. We'd have cookies that she would make, and everyone would chat about our days. I started with milk, but wanted to fit in so I asked for coffee. I drank it then like I drink it today, one cream, two sugars.

My dad bought me a coffee maker for my 18th birthday so I could take it to college with me. It sure came in handy, as whenever I had to pull an all-nighter, I would take my coffee maker down to the study room at the end of the hall in our dorm. It was while I was in college that I discovered good coffee. There was a Gloria Jean's in Crossroads Mall in Portage, and I would occasionally splurge on a pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain or some other outrageously priced coffee, just to see how the other half lived. Now, overpaying for coffee is a national pastime. Stop at any Starbucks to watch.

When I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, I had to quit drinking the real stuff. I switched to decaf, but unless you make it at home, it's not usually that good. Almost every time I order at a restaurant, it tastes like it's been sitting for hours. Sometimes, the wait staff tell me that my palate is correct, they apologize, and make a fresh pot. A couple of years ago, though, we were on vacation in Gulf Shores and Magi's dad had some decaf in his office that was just out of this world. It was from Royal Cup, a coffee service and distributor in Alabama.

We have tried various methods of taking coffee to work. We've made it at home and used air pots to keep it warm, French presses to make it on site and while camping, and our newest coffee maker seems to do a pretty good job, making the coffee and putting it directly into travel mugs. But a recent stop at Starbucks gave me the opportunity to tri their new instant coffee called VIA. I know, instant coffee stinks, but this is actually good stuff. Tear a packet open, add eight ounces of hot water, cold water, or milk, and voila! It's good coffee, if a bit pricey. I won't drink it every day, but man, if I'm living out of a tent or at a boring in-service at work, I'll have an option that I'll look forward to using.
No, they didn't give me any for free, either, not that I would be opposed to that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Does Borders Know Anything about Teachers?

This ad came with a subject that said, "Teachers, Save on Holiday Gift Giving."

We can save big on gift cards and the discounts are incremented in purchase sets of $20,000. Uh, yeah.

Question of the Day

Superman's heat vision was invisible before the Crisis. Is it still invisible? I notice that artists draw him with these insane red eyes all the time now when he's mad.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Lost Symbol

I read The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown this week. Dan Brown is also the author of The DaVinci Code. Even if that fact hadn't been explicitly stated on the cover, I would have been able to tell quickly by reading the first few chapters.

In his previous book, Brown paints an opening scene with a dead man in the center of a round room with clues. This book features an amputated hand in the center of a round room with clues. In his previous book, Brown describes in detail the symbolism in the art and architecture of Rome. In this one he describes in detail the symbolism in the art and architecture of Washington, D.C. In his previous book there was a secret society called Opus Dei operating to protect secrets. In this book there is a society with secrets (the freemasons) operating to protect secrets. In his previous book, Brown describes a singularly focused villain, steeped in ritual and obsessed with his target. In this book, there is a singularly focused villain, steeped in ritual and obsessed...Okay, do you get the point yet?

This book WAS The DaVinci Code. It is so similar in structure and plot, that Brown refers specifically to the familiar beats of his previous work whenever (and it happens often) his hero, Robert Langdon encounters identical situations. I could almost hear Dan Brown, as Chris Farley saying, "Remember that part in the DaVinci Code where Langdon does X? That was awesome. I think I'll do it again."

I admit that there's only so many ways you can go with a hero with such a limited scope of expertise, and that just means perhaps it's time to write about something else. If you liked The DaVinci Code, you should like this book. But only if you enjoy reading books twice.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Lost" in Space

My buddies are big "Stargate" fans. I hated the movie so I never watched the TV show. They have followed all of them, so there must be something to them. Having recently switched to Comcast for my television service, I started checking out the On Demand feature when I needed something to watch during my daily exercise yesterday. Since the newest Stargate TV show had been a topic of conversation at dinner the other night (I thought it would be an appropriate time to use the restroom since I hadn't seen it) I gave the pilot episode of "Stargate: Universe" a shot.

I liked the show well enough. It's just that I'd seen it before. The premise is simple: There are stargates that go to various places and planets and people on Earth have figured out how they work...mostly. The stargate in this show is on a planet that has unique properties seemingly designed to operate the mysterious "ninth chevron." I'm guessing that the other eight have been solved in previous incarnations of the show. Young Eli Wallace, a normal civilian video gamer, solves a puzzle in a game. Of course, it turns out to be the key to an alien code that the smartest guys on Earth couldn't figure out, so they embedded it in a video game to find someone smarter than they are. Eli is recruited to join the Stargate folks on the alien planet in exchange for health care for his mother. If that doesn't say something about our health care system, I don't know what does. This is just a little bit like "The Last Starfighter." Eli is played by a previously undiscovered clone of Jonah Hill, because he is most definitely a Jonah Hill character. He is the awkward smart guy with no confidence, formerly known as the comic relief.

Eli finds himself on the alien planet, consulting with Dr. Smith--I mean, Dr. Rush. Dr. Rush is the scientific genius who twists the stargate experiment to his own ends and no one knows whose side he is on. I fully expect he will call someone a "bubble-headed boobie" before all is said and done. Dr. Rush is also a retread of Baltar, from the newer version of Battlestar Galactica, with his hairstyle, sideburns, and British accent.

The stargate experiment is interrupted by an alien attack. It's probably not relevant who is attacking, but it is critical to the plot that the planet is attacked, and so it is. Dr. Rush is ordered to set the Stargate to return the people on the base to Earth, but he decides to push forward and sets the Stargate to go to wherever the ninth chevron is supposed to take them. So, the ragtag assembly of military personnel, scientists, politicians, and bureaucrats escape into the Stargate and end up on an ancient space ship. The ship is travelling at faster-than-light speeds, and in short order our heroes find that they are several galaxies away from Earth on a course away from it. And their doctor is dead. It's too bad they couldn't have borrowed an Emergency Medical Hologram as long as they were borrowing "Star Trek: Voyager"'s (formerly "Lost in Space's) plot anyway.

The story is told in clips alternating between the present and flashbacks to the past, not unlike "Lost." The only difference is that the flashbacks on this show serve no other purpose than to tell us where the characters came from. They do not, upon first viewing, reveal anything about the characters that would advance the plot.

I'm going to watch this show because a few of the characters intrigued me, even though we've met before. I'll be interested to see if they move further away from their archetypical doppelgangers or closer to them as the plot advances and the characters grow.

I am not naive enough to think that borrowing doesn't occur between television shows. I guess, though, that I am too familiar with the source material and too cynical because I recognize the source of so many plot structures and character types. I hope more episodes will change my mind about it because the real "Lost" doesn't start until January.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Sponge

Sera sings. She sings a lot. From "Twinkle, Twinkle" to "Old McDonald" she has a repertoire of standards that is unmatched. But more and more often she rewrites the lyrics to suit her. Improvisation is the name of the game with my daughter on the morning drive.

But the cutest thing ever happened this morning on our way to daycare, when in the midst of a classical rendition of "Old McDonald," out came this gem, from the musical stylings of Nathan Fillion:

"Stand back, everyone! Nothing here to see..."

Magi looked at me and asked, "Did you hear that?"

I admitted that I was lost in thought and my inner filter had been turned on. "No, what?"

"Sera, sing that again."

From the back comes the tiny, sweet voice: "Stand back, everyone! Nothing here to see..." I laughed. Magi laughed. Sera, not knowing what was funny, laughed with us.

My daughter loves her "Captain Hammer Song," as she calls it. We play the soundtrack to "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog" whenever we're on a trip that's longer than an hour and I admit, I enjoy belting out Captain Hammer's signature piece. I didn't realize she had been listening that carefully, but now I'll have to make sure I'm leaving out the juicier parts of the soundtrack. I really don't need my three-year old going to daycare finishing her cute little song with the exclamation, "Balls!"

Friday, October 09, 2009

Math is Hard

"Math class is tough" was the actual phrase that the 1994 Teen Talk Barbie doll uttered, but "Math is hard" will do for our purposes.

I'm crushed over the end of the Detroit Tigers' season this year. The Tigers had a seven-game lead on September 6, and the Minnesota Twins caught them on the 161st game of the season. They remained tied through the last game and had to play a 163rd game on Tuesday, which the Twins won in extra innings, 6-5. The Tigers finished second to the Twins for the third time in four years on the final day of the regular season. It's something to behold, reading fan reaction to the end of the Tigers' season. Words like "collapse" and "choke" dominate the message boards and blogs. But when it comes to actually understanding how baseball works, you have to have a basic understanding of mathematics, which most sports fans apparently don't. Math is hard.

To win a division of Major League Baseball, a team has to win more games than the other teams in the division. It doesn't matter if the games are won and lost in April or October, because they all count the same. I keep reading about how Miguel Cabrera was drunk on the morning of a big game with the White Sox during that final weekend. I don't question that his state of mind was the reason he went 0-for-11 for the series with the White Sox, but I do question that it was a big game. They're all big games. Angry fans are writing that the Tigers went 11-16 after September 6, which was the date of their biggest lead over the Twins. They fail to mention, however, that they were coming off a six-game winning streak in which they swept both the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays. When you take a look at the normal split of September/October, the Tigers were 17-16, above .500. But some people never let facts get in the way of a good story. Math is hard.

To really look at the season objectively, all we have to do is take a good look at July. In July, the Tigers went 10-14, losing no fewer than six games by scoring only one solitary run in each. In five consecutive contests, the Tigers lost by a score of 2-1 in four games. Five relievers from the bullpen lost games in that month. Not only were our starters not getting any run support, but our bullpen couldn't hold leads and we couldn't score late in games when they did get run support. One could easily argue that the season was lost more in July than October, but it would be lost on the media and angry fans. Why? Math is hard.

If the Tigers had won any one game that they lost during the season, there wouldn't even have been a one-game playoff in the Metrodome. Any one misplay gets fielded cleanly leading to a loss, or any swing and miss on a hanging curveball that a batter should have knocked out of the park for a walkoff win and the whole season could have a different complexion. It didn't come down to the last game, last series, or last anything of the season. In a 162-game regular season, any one loss turned into a win would have given the Tigers the divison title. But there are some people who just can't see past the heartbreak of that final week. Why? Because math is hard.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

No Wonder...

It's no wonder we didn't get a really good view of the new Enterprise in the Abrams movie. It's ugly.