Earthquake vs. Fire

The Sharks have been eliminated from the playoffs on a gut-punch ending: A missed call by the refs led to a tying goal with thirteen seconds left in regulation time, then in the second overtime the puck took a bizarre bounce and landed on the stick of the only guy on the ice who knew where it was.

For the final, I think I have to root for Boston. I’d lean Canadian, but Vancouver has the Sedin twins, who think their little douchebag goatees constitute playoff beards. They are wrong. Boston, on the other hand, ran Joe Thornton out of town, much to the benefit of San Jose. I was really hoping for a Sharks-Bruins final.

Next year.

So I’m sitting a Goosetown, a local bar with a ‘dive’ leaning, not afraid to let the juke box get loud (Jane’s Addiction right now), which inexplicably has an excellent WiFi signal. On the big screen is San Jose’s other professional team, one I once saw in person. The San Jose Earthquake is playing the Chicago Fire, kicking a ball listlessly around a field.

That both teams are named after disasters that caused suffering and death is probably indicative of something. For a while this game was just goalkeepers kicking the ball back and forth. At the half, there had been exactly one shot on goal. The other four shots were off-target, but one of them hit both posts. Credit where due, that was a pretty damn exciting moment, and one that provides a payoff for the fan(s).

Overall, however, the level of play is pretty low. I’ve not seen anyone lying on the grass with a feigned injury, but that’s largely because defenders seem afraid of the ball. Set plays send the ball into empty space and passes are not crisp. Overall, there is a lack of hustle, and that’s what I can’t forgive. You can suck at a sport, but if you give it your all I’m with you. The game would seem a lot less tedious if the guys on the field showed more urgency.

So: Soccer without people lying on the ground crying like little girls (not little girls who play soccer – in this country those kids are tough) is not the only problem with the game. It may remain forever a mystery what soccer would be like if the best players in the world actually played like men, let alone like middle-school American girls.

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And then there’s Mikie

The real beginning of this blog, on Road Trip Day 1 of Muddled Year Zero, a happy occasion, also marks the end of my years with Mikie. The first two days of that road trip are the last time I ever saw the guy.

Had I been serious about this blog earlier, your opinion of me, dear reader, might be different. We had some times. Getting kicked out of Las Vegas and driving through Trona with two chihuahuas. Karaoke violence in Louisville, KY. Strong drinks and slurred words. Mikie and I, we go back.

I just heard from him recently, and this Kentucky Derby brought back memories. I’m just sitting here right now, thinking about all the things we did. Most of them, I’d do again.

Most of them.

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Refresher Course

The other night the light of my life was far distant, so I stayed up into the wee hours watching a Japanese cartoon. She’s not a fan of the idiom, so I took the opportunity to grab a few episodes. Heh. A few episodes. I had watched the beginning of the series long before, and all I remembered was that I was confused. This time I closed out the story.

I’m not going to name the show, though if you’ve already seen it, you’ll recognize it.

Pf. Like anyone is gong to read this and then, sometime in the future, while watching a Japanitoon say, “Dammit! Jer spoiled this one!” I shall forge ahead, then, and stop worrying about that stuff. The actual show really isn’t that important. My observations apply to just about every Japanitoon ever created.

The point of my ramble: This particular Japanitamation reminded me of a lot of things I need to take to heart as I lampoon the genre:

  1. People you like can die. No one is too important to take a bullet. The free pass that the main characters get in American dramas is the biggest weakness of the form.
  2. The name of the bad guy must be ridiculous, and western. Meet Mr. Monday Friday. Seriously. Personally I have a lot to learn, coming up with bad guy names. There’s something that holds me back, prevents me from turning up the ridiculometer to eleven. Mr. Monday Friday. Knives. The End of the World. Cumbersome names are quite all right, because…
  3. Mon…day… Fri… day… When you run out of dialog, Just find a key phrase for someone to say in an agonized whisper. Usually the name of another character, but let’s not limit ourselves: Stevo… Jobsu! or hu….mili…ating in…fect…ion

All that notwithstanding, I have to give the cartoon some credit for good writing. There’s a point where a guy is told, “if you go though that door your existence will be erased!” But on the other side of the door is truth, and our boy really wants to know the truth. He makes a decision, and a guy that up until then had been clearly one of the bad guys is redefined. That’s not a trivial storytelling feat. The incident also defines a rule of the universe that is critical to the conclusion of the story. Let’s face it, we’d all like to write a scene like that.

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Tunnel Vision

Back when I lived in Prague I used to laugh about the crappy service in pubs and bars. They don’t work for tips over there, so pissing off the guests really doesn’t matter much.

Right now I’m sitting at a place called BJ’s, which is practically part of the Apple Campus. My service today has been worse than anything I saw in Eastern Europe. The problem: tunnel vision.

For example: I am sitting next to the main thoroughfare to the kitchen. Every waiter and waitress passes my table regularly. Yet, when I wanted something, they all strode directly past me, steadfastly ignoring my increasingly urgent gestures. Finally I got the attention of a hostess, who stopped a waiter and asked him if I was his table. He shook his head no, eyes fixed on the stone tiles ten feet ahead, and pressed on into the kitchen.

The hostess then asked me, “do you know who your waiter is?” and I found myself feeling apologetic for not knowing my AWOL guy’s name. Anger at myself fueled my current state of indignation. The right answer: “I don’t give a fuck who my server is, and neither should you.”

I suspect my guy was on a break and hadn’t handed me off properly. He’s been very attentive, and even cool, since then. But I’ll tell you this: if I was manager of this place there would be jobs on the line. “Not my table” is no reason to ignore a patron. That I was ignored by so many people indicates that the problem is institutional. If I was owner, the manager’s job would be on the line.

As I was writing that last paragraph, my server came over, told me he was taking his dinner break, and introduced me to his stand-in. Chris will look out for me, I’m sure. My needs are modest. But I still have the feeling that it’s just Chris. If he’s tied up, I’ll be out of luck.

Update: Unlike my previous cry in the wilderness, this one was answered. I got a message from the manager of the local BJ’s, taking my message very seriously. He even asked to meet me personally next time I come in, but I’m not sure I want that level of attention.

It is a sign of good management to take criticism as valuable feedback and use it constructively.

Now with Extra Extras!

I’ve seen a few car advertisements lately, and one thing’s for sure: they’re sure putting a lot of gizmos into cars these days. But where some people see “cool feature”, I see “distraction” and “point of failure”. Electric windows were bad enough, now it seems I’d be hard-pressed to find an automobile that doesn’t tie my shoes for me and tell me how devilishly handsome I am.

If I were king of an auto company, every new proposed feature my marketing whiz kids threw at me would have to answer these questions:

  1. Does it add weight to the vehicle?
  2. Does it divide the driver’s attention?
  3. does it require an instruction manual?
  4. Does it increase maintenance costs?
  5. How many different ways can it break?
  6. When it breaks, how will that affect the owner of the car? (Crash? can’t roll up the windows? Can’t unlock the door?)

I don’t know if there exists a new car (within reason) that I would prefer over my ten-year-old, already-too-fancy car.

Drink What Now?

It’s Thursday, and I blew off a free concert (with free beer!) thrown by the iTunes group to have a little beer-blogging time. It’s been tough, lately; they keep putting hockey games with the local team on Thursday nights, and the bar fills up and it’s hockey so it’s intense — and, well, fiction doesn’t happen.

Tonight, things are calmer.

The bar features a pretty wide variety of beers on tap, from the basic American lame-ass beer to some nice microbrews. This spectrum is not broad enough for two guys at a table near mine, however. They are drinking Old Milwaukee. From cans.

ADDENDUM: On one the TV’s here in the bar, I just saw an ad for “Badass American Lager”. Genius. Now you can say “badass” — and believe you are one! — while you drink like a pussy.

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Nose Pull-Open Thingies

Over the past few years I’ve become an increasingly noisy sleeper. The primary cause is allergies; once the congestion starts there’s just no way to sleep quietly — whether I breathe through my mouth or through my nose, my sweetie will have something to keep her company on sleepless nights. She also has a lot more sleepless nights.

I’ve been taking allergy pills for a long time. I don’t think Claritin has any affect on me at all; I certainly couldn’t tell any difference on nights I forgot to take the little pill. I switched to a different one whose name I can’t think of right now, and it seems a little better, but not much.

Recently I decided to try a mechanical solution to my (and my sweetie’s) woes. Nose pull-open thingies (NPOTs) are basically pieces of plastic that you tape to your nose. The plastic acts as a spring and pulls your air passages open a little wider.

You know something? Those suckers work. We started with the CVS brand, and the first night was completely different than any I’ve had in months, if not years. There were two bits of adjustment; it didn’t take long to get used to the piece of plastic taped to my nose, but an area inside my right nostril was irritated, and that lasted all night.

I have a theory about that, if you will indulge me. My right nostril is very small, and pinched almost shut. (I’m not sure, but I think that indicates I have some cold-weather heritage influencing my nostril-size genes.) If I inhale sharply though my nose, the right nostril closes down completely. The irritation, I believe, is a result of air making contact with parts of my nose that almost never feel the arid kiss of the atmosphere.

NPOTs are more expensive than pills, but Costco carries a name-brand version in bulk, and bang-for-buck they kick the pills’ tiny corn-starch asses. Then there’s the added bonus that you’re not altering your body chemistry, or introducing an agent into your bloodstream that we might realize years from now is bad for you. (There’s the adhesive to worry about, I suppose, but I’ll take the chemicals on my skin over the chemicals in my blood any day.)

If breathing at night is an issue for you, give NPOTs a try. You (or your companion) might just thank me.

Must be a Very Long Train

I’m traveling to beautiful scenic Lawrence, Kansas this summer, and I thought I’d see if taking the train was an option. On the plus side, the Southwest Limited passes right through town; if I flew I’d have to arrange transport from Kansas City. On the minus side, traveling by rail in this country is pricey. Back on the plus side, a stop in Santa Fe for a few days is trivial – the train goes through Lamy.

As I perused my options I came upon this table:

The Southwest Chief

Note that, depending on how I reach Los Angeles, the Southwest Chief departs at different times. The back end of the train catches up with the front end over the course of the journey; the arrival time is almost the same.

Sometimes a movie maker will see a shot in a film and have to ask, “how did they do that?” Most of the time, a question like that is a compliment. But here I am, a Web/database guy, asking, “how did they do that?” and it’s with a disbelieving shake of the head. Who on this planet would design a system that allowed such inconsistency? Trust me, it takes extra work to get system behavior like that.

Don’t tell the people signing my time sheets every week, but this stuff is not that hard.

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Getting Ready for the Game

The Sharks are about to take the ice against the Detroit Red Wings. They won the first three games of the series, then lost the next three. Tonight the series ends, one way or another.

Honestly, I’m not sure I can watch.

Hey! Let’s make this a live blog, as long as I can stand it.

6:11 – whoever that was singing the national anthem was awesome. Nothing too fancy, just nailed it. I got a little misty

6:15 – strange circumstances – puck in the corner, neither team wanted to touch it first. Not sure why. A shark touched it and the whistle blew, a face-off ensued.

6:16 – My pizza arrived. Looks good!

6:22 – a couple of big hits, including an open-ice check, have the crowd going.

6:26 – a break in the action. Neither team has looked dominant so far. Goat cheese pizza is working well.

6:34 – here we go! Sharks’ first power play!

6:35 – had a good shot, but Miller (Red Wing’s goalie) could see it all the –

6:35 ! ao! oo! Goal! Good guys take the lead!

6:37 – Bullshit! totally bogus penalty against the Sharks.

6:38 – aggressive kill – Sharks get a line change! Looking really good.

6:39 – almost a short-handed goal! Hard to tell its a power play.

6:41 – and when the power play ended, things got scary. Detriot was tipping the ice pretty dramatically. I found myself hoping for another San Jose penalty.

6:42 – Type not fixed intentionally: Detriot.

6:47 – Good guys having really trouble getting the puck through center ice… oh wait now they’re attacking well. Live-blogging hockey is tough.

6:48 – Goal! Rookie Logan Couture shows once again that he can friggin’ skate!

6:50 – end of first period. Sharks 2, Red Wings 0

— Intermission —

6:53 – I’m not sure whether this live-blogging thing is worthwhile. My main goal is to keep myself a little more detached from the game, but I’m not really coming up with any insights that might encourage readers to follow in real time or relive the game later. I’m thinking interesting stuff, but until I master stream-of-couscious no-look typing I think that hockey blogging might be outside my skill set.

6:55 – I will say that Rookies makes a pretty good pizza. I had the Kelly’s Goat, individual size, and it’s was mighty tasty, and much larger than what usually passes for an individual pizza around here. Amazingly, with the place packed to the gills, the service actually doesn’t suck tonight.

6:57 – The Sharks were the better team in the first period, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some scary moments. That’s one of the things I like about Hockey — even when a team is dominating, a careless moment can carry an enormous cost.

6:59 – watching a replay of the first goal – it was a perfect pass. Thornton held the puck for an extra half-second before sending it to Setoguci, and that made all the difference. Another thing I like about hockey – the assist is almost as big a stat as a goal. Even the stats emphasize team play. (Brief moment to contrast with soccer.)

7:02 – I think I will maintain radio silence for the second period. We’ll have to wait and see about the third.

7:11 – except to say this: the Sharks are disorganized and sloppy right now. I’m watching the seconds tick by, waiting for the hammer to fall.

7:48 – end of the second period, happy the bad guys only scored one. I don’t want to know how much time the puck spent in each end; by the time the Sharks got it out of their zone all they could manage was a line change. Then the game was right back in front of their net. The last ten minutes of that period were rough to watch.

8:02 – still intermission. I’m at my own little table, and the group next to me doesn’t have enough chairs. The man standing has his back to my table. While I feel for a sports fan with no place to sit, the guy is very tall. My table is also tall, but not tall enough. The dudes ass is right here. I wish one of his shorter friends would offer to stand for a while.

8:05 – come on, Sharks! Play like you’re behind!

8:08 – Here in the bar, the cchant is on: Let’s go Sharks! It’s getting loud. Let’s go Sharks!

8:09 – shot off the pole! Aaaaaargh! (the best sound in sports)

8:11 – whoever wins this game plays in Vancouver on Sunday. I wonder who the Canucks are rooting for.

8:19 – Danny Boy(le) with the penalty kill hit of the game. Sweet!

8:22 – I didn’t see a penalty there – I think Detriot just got rooked. The good news for them: San Jose isn’t penalty killing anymore.

8:28 – hard to think in here right now. Sweet goal set up be Setoguchi. 3-1 Sharks.

8:30 – ah, shit. How many times have I see all the sharks on the same side of the ice? 3-2 game, six minutes to go.

8:39 – here it is. Detriot empty net. It’s on!

And I can breathe again. Sharks win. The final minute in a close hockey game is the best minute in sports. No timeouts, the guys down by one pull the goalie and throw everything they have on offense. A lucky bounce and it’s anyone’s game. make that game seven in the playoffs, and the intensity is that much more. Fans of both teams are having heart attacks ever fifteen seconds or so. This game was no different. As the clock ticked inexorably down, the Red Wings had their chances.

It’s far more fun to win a nail-biter than a blowout. When the Sharks cleared their zone with four seconds left, at last we could cheer.

This might be the last game for some great hockey players. Detroit is getting long in the tooth, and their captain and several other stalwarts may hang up their skates after this season. The kids will be all right, though.

Which leads me to wonder: Who will hate the Sharks? They are a young franchise, so they don’t have those ancient, traditional rivalries. They’ve knocked Detroit out of the playoffs two years in a row now; it would be a sign that they’ve arrived if Red Wings fans started saying “I hate the Sharks!” Is there any other fan base you’d rather be hated by?

I think that’s all for me tonight; I’m supposed to be writing right now. The downside of the good guys’ victory: more thursdays of hockey instead of internal exploration.

This is a Terrible Mouse Pad

I don’t know why I left my little mouse pad in Prague. Sure, I was on the brink of having overweight bags, but the thing took no space and weighed practically nothing. I was confident, I remember, that once I got here I’d be able to pick one up for free somewhere. Mouse pads are like cheap flying disks in my mind; they are things you just don’t have to pay for.

Months passed, and then years, and I’ve been wearing the finish off my desktop with my unpadded mouse. Then my sweetie started having trouble with her mouse, and changing mice didn’t help. Her mouse pad was old and losing contrast, and the mouse’s laser was not tracking well. So, off to the mouse pad store we went.

Mouse pads cost about six or seven bucks, which is six or seven bucks more than I wanted to pay, but it actually is an important piece of equipment, so as long as I was spending money on one, I figured I’d get one that kicked ass. And there, hanging amongst the others, was a mouse pad that cost two dollars more, but looked to be awesome. It was the Bahama Pad Co. Always Smooth Micro-fiber mouse pad. For one thing, it didn’t have a photo on it. For another, it looked like it would be durable and provide a good surface for both gliding and for the laser, for years to come.

It is awful. I tore open the package when I got home, laid it down, and moved my mouse across it. There was a lot of friction. The motion was smooth, but it took (unscientifically) five times the effort to move the mouse across that surface of that pad than any slick surface. Was it because my mouse is relatively heavy and sank into the pad? No, the light of my life reported that on her wired mouse the friction was outrageous as well. No getting around it; this mouse pad sucks.

Unless you have a hover-mouse (Note to self: invent hover-mouse), stay away from Bahama Pad Co.

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Not Your Typical American Pre-School

Would you want your kid to go to this preschool?

Near my workplace is a chinese preschool. I may be preserving a stereotype here, but it’s pretty obvious that some parents have a different attitude toward the early childhood years.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this. Are the kids allowed to have fun? Best outcome: they have a blast learning chess and calculus (or whatever they teach in preschool), carry that love of intellectual challenge into their adult life and form the heart of America’s next generation of scientists and engineers. Worst case: soulless zombies emerge and sterilize the planet.

In Lieu of Sports, Let’s Talk NBA

I’m at a sports bar, but tonight’s hockey is over and they have to show something on all these hi-def tv’s, so why not NBA? It resembles a sport in many ways.

One thing about the NBA: it’s about the personalities. It’s not Team A versus Team B, it’s Star A and his faithful sidekicks versus Star B and his scrappy companions.

I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the game, but I’ve picked up a few things about the league thanks to writers who are able to make the activity sound way more interesting than it actually is. One thing I’ve learned: Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers will never lose through lack of effort, and he’ll never sit when he can play. You have to respect that, even when sometimes he probably should sit. He would rather lose actively than win passively.

So tonight sports gave way to the NBA, Dallas vs. Los Angeles. I don’t know the numbers of any of the stars, but I watched the ebb and flow of the game with slightly-unfocussed eyes and… I couldn’t spot Kobe. Dallas was winning and I could imagine no scenario which would keep Kobe off the court but one: he was hurt even worse than he was usually hurt (the dude has played through some shit). In response, Dallas has a bunch of tiny little guys running all over the place. They’re fun to watch, even if they aren’t terribly effective.

Interruption from my story: NBA refs are watching a TV monitor to review a call. Really? The only thing this little game has going for it is its flow (until the endless timeouts at the end). Now you want to introduce video review?

To continue the interruption: This game is woeful. It’s close, but only because neither team seems to be able to stop being stupid. It’s not basketball, it’s 1-on-1, 1-on-1, 1-on-1, 1-on-1, 1-on-1.

Back to the original topic. Kobe Bryant is not playing at the moment. He’s sitting with a towel over his shoulders, between men who are obviously not his teammates. So I gotta figure he’s hurt pretty bad. And I have to think he’s not close to his teammates. No sort of “I’m with you all the way, boys!” vibe coming from Kobe’s seat away from the rest of the team.

As I’ve written this, the Lakers have come from behind and overtaken the kids from Dallas, without one of the best players in the history of basketball. And I wonder if, to Kobe’s credit, he knew he wasn’t the guy tonight, and put a towel over his shoulders and sat one row back.

Kobe Bryant hasn’t done much over the years to earn my respect (rhymes with: rape charges settled with money), but if he can learn when to sit during a basketball contest, accept that there are others who can do better (at least for a moment) then perhaps further growth is possible.

But seriously, that’s not going to happen.

What I Want to Say Right Now

“Excuse me, but can you stand farther away from me until your perfume drops below the bleeding-eye, exploding-nasal-passages level? The guy in the mohawk next to me is hurting too.”

This is the worst since I was in Sam’s Place, so very long ago. I’d link to that episode, but I’m hurting right now.

I Hope I’m Wrong

As the first period of tonight’s Sharks-Red Wings hockey match came to a close, the Sharks were leading 1-0. Detroit is a good team, however, and I knew they would not go gently into that 3-0 deficit.

“The next team to score will win,” I told my beer. It’s not a prediction I make often, but I’m right more often than I’m not. Alas, it was Detroit who scored next, tying the score at 1 apiece, on what appeared to be a pretty dubious penalty. So it goes.