Friday, December 31, 2010

12 Decadal Highlights: Part 5

#1: Met A Girl

Fell in love.  Got married.  Five years later I'm still the luckiest man in the world.  I love you Laura!

Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

12 Decadal Highlights: Part 4

#3: So Much Work

I'm not sure if I'm proud of this, but I've worked for 9 different employers in the decade, including specific projects for at least 11 major clients.  See if you can guess which ones weren't part of the career plan (some left anonymous due to confidentiality or forgetting):

annuity agency
Round Rock Independent School District
Digital Motorworks/ADP
marketing agency

#2: Back To School

Sadly no grad school, but I took UT night courses for credit in WWII history and Civil Liberties.  WWII included about a dozen films and only three books - I'd rather have had them flipped, but apparently most non-standard students don't feel that way (probably not standard students, either).  Civil Liberties was exactly the kind of class I wanted - roundtable discussions each week, and flexibility (almost too much) in writing assignments.  I've taken a short break from formal classes, but anticipate returning soon.

TOMORROW: What's #1?  Filing my first auto insurance claim?  Nope.  Having USAA insurance?  Closer...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

12 Decadal Highlights: Part 3

#6: Hawaii

I left Hawaii on July 26, 1985, and finally returned in November 2003.  I had a week to explore old haunts, see friends again, and remember that the state hates me.  Not the government - just the state.  First it conspired with Minnesota to give me an ear infection on the flight there, meaning I had to avoid putting my head underwater.  No problem - who wants to bother with the beaches when you're in Hawaii?  Then our car got towed at the surfing competition, leading to a 2-hour search through ... um, interesting neighborhoods and several Hauli*-unfriendly people.  On the plus side, I visited the library of the Mid-Pacific Institute and remembered a musty basement smell I strongly associate with books.  Rereading that sentence, it might sound like I'm being sarcastic, but it was a truly wonderful experience.

#5: Stayed In Place

It's the first decade I stayed in one city (yes, I'm counting Pflugerville as staying in Austin).  Relationships are stronger, and I had to pack far less times than in the 90s.  The 80s only had one move, but it was across half an ocean and half a continent.  From this steady base of operations, I did visit several places for the first time: Seattle, Tulsa, Indianapolis, Vancouver, Gainesville, Banff, Disneyworld.  (I went near San Francisco for work, but I don't think I can claim it until I visit the Golden Gate bridge.)

#4: Real Estate

I bought a townhouse in 2003, when everyone said to invest in real estate because it "only goes up."  That hasn't held true so much, but in fairness, the condo did appreciate 24% in 4 years before we bought the house.  Owning a house has frequently made me appreciate renting, but I do enjoy having a place that is mine (and/or Laura's).

TOMORROW: School or work?  I reject the tyranny of the or!

*Native Hawaiian slang for Caucasians.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

12 Decadal Highlights: Part 2

#9: Exercise

Not that I didn't exercise before this decade, but this was the first time I made sustained efforts simply to exercise, even if none of them stuck.  My motivation to get to the fitness center before 6AM in 2003 was to set the TV to Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns before the FoxNews/CNN guys showed up - maybe a little silly, but it worked as well as anything.  I did more walking, biking, racquetball, weightlifting, and basketball (at various times) than I'd ever done before.  Speaking of which...

#8: Played for an undefeated team

In the spring of 2005, I played in a church league on a team of 5 leftover players.  Fortunately two of them had played junior college ball, and the other two were far better than I was.  We went undefeated (including some great overtime games when we had no substitutes) all the way through a 10-game regular season and 4 playoff games.  I was unquestionably the fifth-best of five, but my presence kept us from forfeiting a few games, and I contributed more than that on some nights - you know it's a fun team to play on when the double teams leave the tallest guy open. :-)  But my favorite undefeated team was...

#7: 2005 National Champion UT Longhorns

If your team's ever won a title, you know what I mean.  The rest of my viewing party gave up at 6 minutes to go down 12, but I had faith (although the kind that left me nervous enough to pace the rest of the game).  We drove down by campus afterwards to briefly join the celebration and the feeling was just amazing.  USC's hype and Vince's historic magnificence enhanced the experience incredibly (and made sure it will always repeat on ESPN Classic!).

TOMORROW: So many places, so little time.

Monday, December 27, 2010

12 Decadal Highlights: Part 1

On December 19, I had this grand idea to start a Top 12 list for the decade*, and post each of the remaining twelve days of the decade.  Life intervened, but five days is plenty of time.

DISCLAIMERS:  The list is not ordered by significance.  Also, I will forget important moments - tell me if I'm missing something.

#12: Collected Classic Comics

As a kid, I collected Garfield books, but this decade I bought a few collections that will endure as classics.  Complete sets of Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes sit next to the first 20 years of Dilbert and best of Foxtrot.  I have enjoyed many hours of hilarity and tragic snowman corpses.

#11: Fantasy Became Cool**

3 Lord of the Rings movies, 7 Harry Potter movies, and I saw all but one at their midnight premiere.  There's nothing like the energy of a full theater of anticipation (we'll ignore the Orlando Bloom fangirls who talked through all non-Legolas scenes - I'm still trying to forgive and forget).  I'd waited 15 years for the LotR movies, and they lived up to expectations - Gollum's still the creepiest, most intriguing character who ever snarled on the big screen.

#10: Writing

I'm not putting myself on a level with real writers (even nonprofessional ones who apply themselves), but I made my first serious efforts at consistent writing, and even more dangerously in front of an audience on these blogs.  The story I put on the blog in September feels like the apex, but the hundreds of smaller posts mean just as much looking back.

TOMORROW: Who won a national title over a team that had already been crowned the greatest of all time?

* I opted for the decade because, while this year has had its moments (12 Days of Birthday, taking my cousin's son to see his first Harry Potter movie at the theater, among others), I will not remember 2010 fondly.
** As cool as it will ever get, at least.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Aunt's Funeral

Yesterday my Aunt Sue's funeral included a long procession to the cemetery along Highway 29.  Along the way about half of the cars going the other way pulled over to the shoulder with their lights on.  We didn't need the room - it's just a tradition of respect for a funeral procession.  I don't know if it's a local tradition or a Texas thing, but I can't describe how much it touched me.  Reminded me of the scenes in Lion King where the animals kneel for Mufasa - not that this was homage to Aunt Sue, just respect for her and her mourners.  I'm not usually a fan of traditions, but I definitely saw the value here.

Sorry if this is a little incoherent.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Curmudgeonly Counting

I was listening to a pledge drive on the radio, and they had several "Challenge Grants" in which anonymous donors put up $5,000 or more if a certain number of callers make a minimum pledge.  Does anyone else calculate the ROI on these things?  One challenge offered $20,000 if 2,000 callers would pledge $360 in an hour.  That's a grant of 1/36, or 2.78%.  Aren't there bonds or CDs that would return more so you could just invest it and give the charity the total return?

I know these are mostly psychological ploys - each of the 2,000 donors can say their pledge was the key to $20,000 - but still.  Building up excitement with the fuzzy math seems even a little dishonest to me.  But I might just be being curmudgeonly.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Best of Flicks, The Worst of Flicks

I saw a few movies worth mentioning while on hiatus.

The Social Network: Excellently written story about the beginning of Facebook.  No idea if it's true, don't care, loved the script and the characters.  Well-directed, too, to keep the viewer moving along in what's basically a story about nerds and lawsuits.  My wife got to give me the "yeah, that's you" look many times, although sadly not in the getting-rich scenes.

Catfish: People lie.  Even on Facebook.  Even about sex.  That doesn't make them interesting.  I just saved you 90 minutes of your life - use it well.

Never Let Me Go: I've never thought of a movie as haunting before.  Good acting and writing, solid if predictable story, it's affected me more as I've reflected on it than it did in the theater.  If you don't like sad movies, avoid it (not spoiling the ending - the story is just relentlessly grim).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Scalzi's Thinking

John Scalzi is an excellent writer, and demonstrated that skill on his blog today.  You might not agree with everything, but you should check it out:

One bit of housekeeping: Sorry I've been gone so long, but thanks Joe for reminding me some of you needed reading material at lunchtime!  I'm planning on reviewing some books and movies, a personal exploration, some objective election information, and less-objective political thoughts.  If anyone has a preference, I'll try to get to that one first - just leave a comment.  Thanks for your patience!

Reperconcussions On My Mind

On Sunday, 5 head-shot tackles took out 6 professional football players, and that's just from the front-page bylines.  The carnage piled up until even the NFL has announced plans to increase penalties.  I hope the NFL is as concerned when a defensive player whines that the new penalties made him give up a game-winning touchdown.

The NCAA should be concerned.  Defensive tackle Eric LeGrand of Rutgers was paralyzed from the neck down after a special-teams hit on Saturday.  Penalties haven't been increased as these players volunteer for their schools and their teammates.  No guaranteed millions or ex-players' associations, although I believe (hope?) universities have a good track record of taking care of their own.

That's 7 people.  At least, in the headlines.  Even if that's all the injuries, a new study indicates damage at much lower thresholds.  Purdue University followed 21 high school football players, and while 4 had concussions, 4 other players with no evident symptoms suffered a greater decrease in cognitive function than the concussed players.  That's high school players with no symptoms.
"We've confirmed what a few other researchers have hinted at: There is something going on and it doesn't manifest itself with symptoms," said the article's co-author Larry Leverenz, a clinical professor in the department of health and kinesiology and an athletic trainer at Purdue. 
The study was too small for statistical significance, but doesn't it suggest we need significant studies?  If the Purdue study is off by an order of magnitude, that's still one in 30 players - 1-3 on each high school team, 3 on each college team, 2 on each NFL team.  And I don't think anyone thinks the effects are that rare.

I hope the NFL's new penalties work.  I hope they find a way to trickle down the effects to college and high school.  Until then, I hope people stop subjecting their children to these unquantified but KNOWN risks.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

93 Years and A Picture

A friend linked to this story about Germany's final payment this weekend on its World War I reparations.  Not World War II, but the war that ended almost 93 years ago. I knew Hitler stopped payments in the 1930s, but they resumed after WWII, and interest accumulated.  The original debt was 22 million British pounds, but the final payment alone will be 59 million.  There's a lesson about credit card debt somewhere in here.

If you have a second, go to the story and skim the page - you don't need to read anything, just look at it.

Notice anything?  How about a story about the 2010 German government paying reparations from World War I featuring a photograph of ... Hitler.  He's in the story, but anecdotally.  This feels like gotcha journalism, like showing John Geoghan (convicted child-molesting priest) in a story about the Popemobile, or Monica Lewinsky in a story about Chelsea Clinton's wedding.  There are very few legitimate reasons to dredge up the specter of Adolf Hitler, and almost all of them involve specific studies of WWII and its lessons.  Using him to capture readers' eyes is just repulsive.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Preteen Reperconcussions

I'm hoping this doesn't violate copyright by copying and pasting, but on ESPN today Tuesday Morning Quarterback Gregg Easterbrook (full column here) posted an excellent section that I want you to read and it wasn't at the top of the column.

Should Youth Football Be Banned? Reader Adam Gadberry of Birmingham, Ala., notes this testimony last week about possible national legislation on youth-sports head trauma. One motivating force is this report, which finds that concussion incidence is underreported. Another is this report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which finds rising incidence of sports concussions in those 12 years age or younger.
Here's some advice from Tuesday Morning Quarterback: No one under the age of 12 should play tackle football. The brain case has not finished forming at that age -- pediatric studies show that those under age 12 are far more prone to concussions than those over age 12, and also that head trauma in youth has longer-lasting aftereffects than head trauma after roughly age 16. There's an emerging theory that many of what manifest as concussions in high school or college actually began as blows to the head in youth football, when the brain and brain case are more vulnerable.Why the latter? My guess is the recent fad for youth tackle football. There have always been Pop Warner games, but youth tackle has exploded in popularity in the past decade or so -- because football is so popular, and because rising prosperity allows more parents to fund leagues.
Moms and dads, don't let your kids play organized youth tackle under the age of 12! At that age, play flag football -- kids learn just as much, with a fraction of the risk. Which raises the question: Should youth tackle football be banned via legislation?
One youth tackle organization just announced it was partnering with the NFL to promote concussion awareness among very young football players. Maybe instead the organization should disband. And why exactly is the NFL, which continues to claim for the purposes of show to care about concussions, encouraging those under age 12 to play tackle football in full pads?

Stop the Presses

The Kansas Department of Education has effectively defunded public school journalism in order to focus on “high-demand, high-skill or high-wage” jobs.  This decision fails on all three counts.

So many newspapers and magazines have closed that journalists face a difficult job market.  However, they will always, by any calculation, have more opportunities than professional athletes in any sport (even counting NCAA "amateurs").  Yet if Kansas had defunded athletics to save money, the howls would drown out all other news.  High demand isn't a universal bar for public school programs.

Some rags like the Pflugerville Pflag are so pathetic they litter my driveway with "free" copies to boost their circulation, but most journalists are very skilled.  On this story alone, journalists sourced, wrote, and published three easy-to-find stories that I found in two minutes.  Their communication certainly outpaced the Kansas Department of Education.  Journalism is absolutely a high skill.

Unfortunately I can't defend journalism as earning high wages.  Although it is nearly impossible to offshore actual reporting, people are committed enough to the profession that salaries stay low.  Sound familiar?  Most people say it about teachers, and I assume schools are interested in producing more teachers.  Like demand, riches are not a requirement for public schools, unless everyone who works for them is a failure.

Beyond the Department's "reasoning," journalism is important!  It's easy to forget in our hyperpoliticized echo chambers that journalists find politically/economically significant misbehavior, report stories that help us integrate and contextualize information, and earn specific protection in the Bill of Rights.  The job market won't reward deep-digging investigators over expositional blowhards - schools are our best chance to keep that tradition alive.

While I appreciate Kansas' effort to keep Texas from being the single foremost anti-education state, I hope Kansans elect officials to reverse this decision before it takes effect in 2013.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Register and Vote!!!

If you live in Texas, you need to register by October 4th - that's less than two weeks away - to vote in November's elections.  Even if you think the "important" races are sewn up (they might be), there's still a lot of close races for State School Board positions and state-level legislators, which affect education, property taxes, and other daily life far more than the Governor.  If you think you have nothing to lose in your precinct, let me know and I'll see what I can find.

Registration Information for Texas:

For readers in other states, let me know if you need registration information or motivation to vote in the midterms, and I can help you out, too.  No matter which way you want to vote, the country works better as it hears from more of us.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Watch this Walgreen's ad (skip to 21 seconds to avoid the pharmacist), and skip to the next paragraph, or here's the description: As the narrator describes flu shots, a happy couple comes out of Walgreen's wearing stickers saying "I got mine for HIM" ("HER" for the man).  Throughout their day, germy types sneeze on them and insist on shaking their hands.  When the couple get home, they walk straight in to the cribs and lift up their babies - the HIM/HER are the kids!  Aww.  Sweet.

Except they've been gone all day, LEAVING THEIR BABIES HOME ALONE IN THEIR CRIBS!!!  That's some old-school-don't-come-crying-to-me parenting right there.  But at least their flu shots keep them from infecting their children.  Still sweet?


In Reperconcussions news, TMQ leads with an excellent review of anti-concussion technology and strategies, and how the NFL isn't promoting any of it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Top 10 TV Shows

I found a "blogfest" started by author Alex J. Cavanaugh inviting people to list their Top 10 TV Shows.  I'm avoiding ranking because the categories seemed like more fun.  Add your own Top 10 in the comments.

If I Ever Snort Milk Out My Nose, I Will Be Watching One of These

  • Arrested Development: It rescued Jason Bateman from a career legacy of Valerie, launched Michael Cera, and made me afraid of hand-eating seals.
  • Family Guy: It has not just funnier one-liners, but more of them, than all other shows combined.  Also the only show to return to network TV after being cancelled for a full year.
  • Modern Family: Every episode so far made me laugh out loud, and actually developed interesting, sympathizable characters.

One Is Enough

  • Freaks and Geeks: Judd Apatow's movies usually go downhill after a hilarious setup, so the show might have soured fast after the first 18 episodes that made outcasts of every type cool.  Launched Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, and Apatow.

Not For Heart Patients Or Anyone Else Bothered By Sudden Shocks

  • Dexter: This rating might be due to the fact that I just watched Season 4 in one week, but no show on today produces season- or episode-length stories like Dexter.  You'd think a show about a serial killer would be one-note, but Dexter's growth combined with excellent guest stars (John Lithgow might have delivered the best performance I've ever seen) keep the story, and the viewer, jumping.
  • Veronica Mars: Definitely some mediocre stretches, but the pilot was the best premiere I've ever seen (even edges Firefly) for its gloves-off dive into the dirty side of 90210.  Kristen Bell was amazing, and when the writing was good, it belonged in the next 2 categories.

Aaron Sorkin Is The Man!!!

  • Sports Night: Probably the best two seasons of television that no one ever saw.  Unsurprisingly plenty of sports, but also fantastic comedy and interesting dramatic detours, including incorporating Robert Guillaume's stroke into the storyline.  Even the romantic angles were actually interesting rather than forced.  The excellent cast's chemistry didn't hurt either.  Netflix this.  No, not later - the list will still be here - go and Netflix it NOW!
  • West Wing: Even post-Sorkin, it eerily forecast most of the 2008 election storylines as early as 2005.  In the Sorkin era, it redefined people's hopes beyond reality for politicians, and was so full of incredible dialogue and scenes that any 5 minutes cut for syndication always includes people's favorite scenes.  Just a masterpiece.  Also my favorite use of music to reinforce the big scenes.

Except For Joss Whedon, Who Is THE MAN!!!

  • Angel: Before vampires were glittery mopers (gah!), Angel was a vampire with a sensitive side who was still, well, a vampire.  The story soared in Season 2 as Darla made everyone's lives more interesting, but Seasons 1 and 5 used a mystery-of-the-week motif that kept bigger stories going.  Joss' trademark dialogue and season arcs make this the second-most-rewatchable show in history.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Yeah, yeah, another high school show.  But when you're watching catchy, lightning-fast dialogue, or season-long dramatic soaps whose endings aren't universally happy, well, this show got the modern trends going.  And has the only watchable musical-special episode that I've ever seen.  The characters and stories linger with you far longer than you expect, and you still can't flip the channel when you find a rerun (that might just be me, but I doubt it).

BONUS!  Current Top 10

  1. Dexter
  2. Family Guy
  3. Modern Family
  4. Lie To Me
  5. House
  6. Leverage
  7. 30 Rock
  8. The Office
  9. Stargate Universe
  10. Community

P.S.  A coworker pointed out the Christa Miller Effect - every show she's on is hilarious.  I'm not sure if The Drew Carey Show, Scrubs, or Cougartown belong on either list, but their peaks rival anyone's.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Through the Looking Glass

My church meets every Sunday morning in an aerobics/meeting room at the Clay Madsen Recreation Center.  The room has a wall-to-wall mirror behind the speaker, which we cover with a light curtain to mute the reflections so that they don't distract us.  Behind our main seating is an open section used to greet arrivals with breakfast tacos.

This morning, during one of our worship songs, a woman took her fussy baby back into that area, followed by her elementary-school-age daughters.  In the open area, the girls danced to the worship music - nothing formal or even elegant, just enjoying and really participating.  I could only see ethereal reflections through the mirror's curtain, but their motion conveyed a pure celebratory response to the worship.  I envied them - dancing's certainly not my mode of expression, but to get caught up in praising God like that ... that's what I hope for every time, and witnessing is a pretty good compromise when I can't achieve my own immersion.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Help Wanted

No particular thoughts today, so why not advertise?  I'm looking for leads/partners in:

1) Racquetball!  I have a membership at Clay Madsen Recreational Center, and will take on all comers.  I'm open to other locations, but would rather not pay too much per match.
2) Basketball!  I play (usually) in a Thursday night group.  If you're interested, contact me for details.  If you know of other local games that I could join, I'm interested.
3) Reading the Koran!  A coworker and I decided to do this, and I found a Yahoo group to add structure and discussion.  This is a secular study, not looking to convert anyone to or from Islam, just trying to understand it better.  If you're interested, go to  

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I read this article on the most common dying regrets as reported by a hospice caregiver.  Her list doesn't apply to me - the only one I connect with is expressing my feelings more.  (If I'm missing something, especially spending time with you, let me know!)

What would I regret If Tomorrow Never Comes*?  I definitely want more time with everyone, and there are activities I want to do - reading and travel come to mind - but nothing I would feel remains undone or lacking.  I'd love to take a mulligan on some past choices, but none require me to make them right.  It doesn't hurt that my spiritual beliefs leave me expecting to see what's important (ya'll) in Heaven, and I have a feeling I'll be able to find out the ending to The Wheel of Time (might even get Robert Jordan's version of the last book!).

When I think about regret, I get a nagging feeling I might be overlooking/repressing/ignoring something, but I have no clue what it is.  Am I unusual in not feeling any regrets?

*I grew up in the 1990s listening to Garth Brooks, and am not (too) ashamed to admit it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


The main post is below, but I have to lead with today's Reperconcussions story:  Notre Dame's quarterback stayed in for seven plays to finish a scoring drive although he had been hit so hard HE LOST VISION IN HIS RIGHT EYE, although it came back later.  Seems like a failure in judgement on his part rather than coaching pressure, but is another example of the everyday dangers in football. On the plus side, he says it feels a lot less serious than the concussion he got in high school.  No word on if his eye agrees.

And now the main event:
I gave a friend some not-100%-positive feedback yesterday on a group he leads (not work-related, but otherwise I'm not giving details).  Even worse, I didn't have a solution to offer, just complaints, which I don't like.  But I thought it would be good to get my thoughts out there, and the conversation went very well.

Today he blogged a rant savaging complainers.  He didn't mean to include yesterday's discussion, but I'm realizing how nervous I am to bring up other issues, in case they're in the next category that will result in a rant.  I don't even know how I want to bring up this one, and I speak up a lot - is there a way to tell how this will impact quieter people?  Especially the people he's describing?

I hope I'm uniquely overreacting.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Real-Time Reperconcussions

When I first blogged about quitting football, I figured I'd say my piece and be done.  But after two weekends of real games, there are already two stories (probably more I haven't seen) that reinforce my decision.  As I find these in the future, I'll tack them to the bottom of my posts - I don't want to let myself out of too many writing days with this issue.

1)  A Penn football player committed suicide last spring.  His autopsy revealed early-stage chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head, and which has been tied to depression.  Experts had thought this was limited to NFL-level play.

2)  The Philadelphia Eagles had 2 players who suffered concussions, but were sent back on the field temporarily.  The team wasn't being malicious or (probably) negligent, but it demonstrates how little we know about head injuries, and how ill-prepared even the top level of football is to deal with them.

Monday, September 13, 2010


There goes my consecutive streak (I also lost my QRANK streak!).  No particular reason, although posting my Thad story last week got me out of my daily routine.  But that was then, and I'll pick it up and keep moving forward.  No plans to "make up" for the lost weekend, but I'm open to multiple posts when inspiration hits.

Now, on to a less meta- posting.

Traffic, like fortune, favors the bold.  What it does not favor is the white Yukon who, after driving with an empty lane to her right for a good quarter-mile, swerved into the lane just as I got to her back bumper in said right lane, THEN flipped her turn signal on.  She did this twice.  If she'd tried it a third time, I might have let insurance teach her a lesson.  Grr.  Arg.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New Reperconcussions

Interesting perspectives on NFL concussions and other injuries from former players:

Story, Part The Final!

The story began here and continued here.  Now that you'll have read the entire story, please let me know any suggestions for a title or any way to improve it.

Letus flew Sir Thad back to the cave where they’d fought, wanting to show him something it had found.  When Thad dismounted, Letus walked to a large box and tore off the cover to reveal a human skeleton.  Princess Penelope’s coronet had even been laid across her skull.  Sir Thad turned on Letus, drawing his sword.
“How could you do this?  What about your promise?” is what Thad planned to say, but the dragon attacked so quickly, disarming him and breaking his right leg that it came out as, “How cou-aaaahhhhh!  My leg!”
The dragon started licking its lips faster.  “Let us speak of our relationship, of which you know nothing!  First, I can breathe a heatless blaze, which you noticed makes metal glow.  This is my real fire.”  Letus snorted a small stream of orange fire at Sir Thad’s foot, producing crispy evidence.  Thad tried not to cry out, but leaked a whimper.
“Second, no magic can connect people.  While you focused on attacking me, I sliced Penelope’s nose –she couldn’t even tell what had happened.” Something hit Thad in the chest, and fell into his lap.  It was a tiny dried husk that had completed his wife’s face years ago.  “I’ve had to look at your snout trophy all this time.  This has been my trophy, and you will look at it while we play.
“Third, I was so pleased Penelope didn’t like me.  I was ready to enchant your discord, but you let the skies come between you far better than my insinuations could.
“Fourth, let us speak of the dragon way.  We taste more subtle flavors.  Specifically, fear and despair suffuse the body with such delectable chemicals that – well, why eat anything otherwise?  You both smelled delicious many years ago because you were so very scared.  But now, now you’ve got so much more to lose, and layer your horror at the other’s suffering on top of your pain.  She was my greatest feast so far, but each bite of you will be good enough to drive me mad!”
While Thad’s story continued for several days, this story ends here.  No reason to make you, dear reader, tastier dragon bait.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Story, Part The Second

The story began here.

Thad held his ground, thinking what to do.  “You’ll kill me as soon as my back is turned – I don’t see another way.”  But he didn’t mind a non-fatal solution.
“I can tie our lives together – whatever harms you harms me.  Not only can I not attack you – I have to protect you.  I will be your servant as long as you live.  And when you die of old age, you will finally slay me.”
“Why?  What do you gain?”
“Fifty, forty, even ten years is better than dying today.  And perhaps in time we can find a solution that allows me to survive my natural lifespan, and fulfill your chivalrous goals as well.”
“What will the process do to me?”
“Nothing.  Nothing at all.  Unless one of us is injured, in which case the other feels it.  I don’t plan to let anyone harm either of us.  Trust me.”  The dragon smiled and licked its lips again.  Obviously it was nervous Thad would continue the battle.
Thad considered the offer, looking for loopholes.  Finally, he said, “You shall never hurt a human unless I order it.  On that condition, I accept.”
“Let us proceed,” said the dragon.  After a moment, it said, “It is done.”
Thad’s nose suddenly smarted, and his shoulder blade felt like someone had yanked it out.  He verified his nose was in one piece, and asked, “Can I help your wing?”
“No, but dragons heal much faster than humans, so it won’t hurt for long.”
“I suppose if we’re connected, I should know your name.  I’m Squire Thad.”
“I am Letus.”
Thad noticed he was standing next to Letus’ cutoff snout, and picked it up as a trophy.  As he turned to leave the cave, his fatigue caught up to him and he almost fell.  “Squire Thad?  Perhaps I could offer my service as a steed.  Have you ever flown?”  Thad had never considered flying, but quickly agreed and settled on Letus’ back.  “Let us fly!” Letus cried, and soared out of the cave.
Thad was instantly addicted to flying.  He couldn’t get enough of the eagle-eye view, seeing the rivers and farms spread out below.  He forgot where he was, soaking it all in, and realized that he was higher than any human had ever been.
“Princess Penelope!” Thad suddenly remembered.  “Can we find her from up here?”  They spotted her still running down the mountain, and landed just below her.  She didn’t flee, which Thad found impressive, but instead picked up a large rock and cocked her arm ready to throw.  Thad dismounted to approach her.
“You – you’re in league with that monster?!?”  Penelope screamed.  Thad explained the surrender he’d negotiated, and took her back to the castle on the dragon’s back.  Penelope couldn’t decide if she feared the altitude or the dragon more, but she definitely hated flying.
On her return, the Duke announced Princess Penelope’s engagement to her rescuer Sir Thad, to their shared surprise.  The match turned out to be a good one, though, and Thad and Penelope passed several years in wedded bliss, sharing only one lingering bone of contention – Letus.
After his first taste of flying, Thad spent as much time as possible soaring through the clouds.  They accomplished a lot for the Duke, hunting down criminals, patrolling the borders, and even fighting off another dragon that settled nearby.  Through it all, Letus obeyed Sir Thad’s every order, not even singeing the hunted criminals.
At home, however, the dragon was a difficult housemate.  Letus only ate live meat, and always tormented its food, setting the prey free only to catch and torture it in gruesome ways that don’t need repeating here.  When asked why, Letus only said, “Let us eat in the dragon way.”
Penelope also grew upset over Thad’s flying.  Most days, he was in the air more than on the ground, and despite Letus’ demonstrated reliability, she didn’t trust it.  And Sir Thad always found more missions to keep him in the air.
One day, Sir Thad came home to find that Princess Penelope had left.  Her note said that Thad always chose Letus over her, and she was getting out of their way.  Thad was struck speechless, and he couldn’t even look at Letus, much less fly.
After several weeks, Letus convinced Thad to try a short flight to lift his spirits.  As they lifted off, he did feel better, more at home, more peaceful, and decided that this might not be the worst life.  But it still hurt.
Letus flew Sir Thad back to the cave where they’d fought, wanting to show him something it had found.  When Thad dismounted, Letus walked to a large box and tore off the cover to reveal a human skeleton.  Princess Penelope’s coronet had even been laid across her skull.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Story, Part The First

I don't know if I have words for how nervous I am to post a story here.  Hopefully it will keep your attention until the conclusion on Thursday.  Feedback welcome as always (ducking and covering).

            Squire Thad trudged up the slope.  “Riches and glory!” the criers had declared.  “Grateful damsels!  Free training!”  Somehow they left out the suicide missions.  He looked up the mountain at the cave issuing a thin stream of smoke, a gingerbread house for chivalrous meat shields everywhere, and wished he shared their sweet tooth.
Thad had had the bad timing to request a test for his knighthood just before Princess Penelope’s guards ran into the throne room.  They described a vicious dragon swooping down, snatching the Princess off her horse, and carrying her into the mountains.  Duke Tetzel and his court eagerly assigned Thad the rescue as his test, promising to praise his efforts in a ballad.  Or at least a eulogy.
He noticed the smoke had stopped coming out of the cave.  Assuming his presence was known, the squire abandoned stealth and strode in.  Torches burned all around the barn-sized cavern’s walls.  Princess Penelope lay on the ground, in front of the green dragon whose eyes focused on Thad.
“Welcome!” bellowed the dragon.  “Let us hear why I should kill you today instead of a slower, more painful, more amusing demise.  Every second your answer bores me will add a week to your agony.  And hers.”  The dragon rested a claw on the Princess’ neck.  Thad saw her eyes moving frantically, guessing she was paralyzed.
Thad held his sword high and advanced.  The dragon’s eyes widened as it regarded the sword, and it licked its lips.  Was the reptile nervous?  Or just hungry?  Suddenly the dragon’s nostrils spewed blue fire towards him.  The flames enveloped him, but the sword glowed brightly as Thad realized the blaze wasn’t burning him – it didn’t even feel warm.
Encouraged by the sword’s apparent protection, Thad launched himself at the dragon, who snaked its head back away from the glowing blade.  Thad ducked a swinging front paw, but the dragon followed through and its surprisingly sturdy wing bowled Thad over.  Thad rolled to his feet as the dragon turned to deliver the same 1-2 punch from the other side.  This time Thad ducked the punch, then jumped and caught the wing mid-swipe.
As the surprised dragon reared up, Thad jumped from the rising wing onto the head and swung his sword down.  The dragon ducked mostly below the blade, but the still-glowing sword cleanly cut off the tip of its snout.  Thad poised the sword directly above the dragon’s eye to skewer its head when it cried, “The Princess’ life is tied to mine – if you kill me, she also dies!  Let us try to reach a different solution!”
Thad looked down at the Princess, who eyed him even more frantically.  Penelope appeared to be missing the tip of her nose.  “Release her!” he ordered the dragon, and the Princess jumped up, grabbed her nose, and started wailing.  “Magically, too!”
“It is done,” said the dragon, nervously eying the sword.
“Prove it!” ordered Thad. The dragon poked a claw into its forearm until blood welled.  The Princess’ arm remained intact, and she ran out of the cave.
As Thad tensed to drive the sword home, the dragon convulsed its neck, throwing him to the ground.  He quickly arose, brandishing his sword, but the dragon had retreated.  “Let us see if we can find another way to resolve this matter,” hissed the dragon.  “Your Princess is safe, and you obviously have the power to end the truce at any time.”
            Thad held his ground, thinking what to do.


Monday, September 6, 2010


This article challenges the common wisdom that our schools need smaller classes.  Everyone wants them, but there's not much data proving their benefits, and maximum class sizes are killing state budgets (especially California) and having indirect effects like driving more great teachers out of the inner city.  If the article omitted or misstated anything, please leave a comment - I'd love to know more.

It makes sense to me that stretch goals are going to be even more difficult in the current economy, and more so the longer it lasts.  Non-profits are taking a hit, and all levels of government are running out of money.  Education will take a hit unless we pay for it, and, well, we suck at paying for things.  I'm getting depressed at not seeing a way out, so I'll stop here.

Programming note: I'm trying something a little different this week.  I wrote a short story a while back, and I'll throw it out here in 3-4 parts.  The prompt was "dragon, knight, and princess," so you can probably guess the genre.  Feel free to ignore it if it's less bloggy than you want, but I wanted to include it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

This One's For Eric

As you wish (4th comment on this post).  You'll have to trust me that I did this correctly without references.

Learning the order that each state joined the union reminded me why trivia excites me.  50 dates don't matter, but seeing how the slavery dispute required one new Southern state for each Northern one from 1803 to 1837 is a powerful illustration.  Or how the Mexican War required bringing in Florida and Texas in 1845, with the Whigs then admitting only Midwestern or West Coast states until the Civil War.  I didn't understand the cluster of 6 states in 1889-90, so I found out that Benjamin Harrison added them to bring in Republican voters and Congressmen.  That's the kind of information that makes trivia special.  To me, at least.

1787 Delaware Dover
1787 Pennsylvania Harrisburg
1787 New Jersey Trenton
1788 Georgia Atlanta
1788 Connecticut Hartford
1788 Massachusetts Boston
1788 Maryland Annapolis
1788 South Carolina Columbia
1788 New Hampshire Concord
1788 Virginia Richmond
1788 New York Albany
1789 North Carolina Raleigh
1790 Rhode Island Providence
1791 Vermont Montpelier
1792 Kentucky Frankfort
1796 Tennessee Nashville
1803 Ohio Columbus
1812 Louisiana Baton Rouge
1816 Indiana Indianapolis
1817 Mississippi Jackson
1818 Illinois Springfield
1819 Alabama Montgomery
1820 Maine Augusta
1821 Missouri Jefferson City
1836 Arkansas Little Rock
1837 Michigan Lansing
1845 Florida Tallahassee
1845 Texas Austin
1846 Iowa Des Moines
1848 Wisconsin Madison
1850 California Sacramento
1858 Minnesota St. Paul
1859 Oregon Salem
1861 Kansas Topeka
1863 West Virginia Charleston
1864 Nevada Carson City
1867 Nebraska Lincoln
1876 Colorado Denver
1889 North Dakota Bismarck
1889 South Dakota Pierre
1889 Montana Helena
1889 Washington Olympia
1890 Idaho Boise
1890 Wyoming Cheyenne
1896 Utah Salt Lake City
1907 Oklahoma Oklahoma City
1912 New Mexico Santa Fe
1912 Arizona Phoenix
1959 Alaska Juneau
1959 Hawaii Honolulu

Sorry about the formatting - best I can do in Blogger.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


A friend at work turned me on to Daemon by Daniel Suarez.  In the book an Internet virus impacts the real world by controlling electronics and bribing/forcing/tempting people to act on its behalf.  It was fun with some interesting ideas, and will make a great movie some day, despite fairly flat characters.

The second book, Freedom(TM), pulls an Empire Strikes Back to supercede the original as the virus attracts more participants to its videogame-like real world culture.  The virus incents players in ways I didn't anticipate, and left me wondering what could be incorporated into the real world (and if I would want to).  I love books with ideas that demand further discussion and experimentation, and Daniel Suarez delivers.

P.S. I know my reviews are short - I want to convey lingering big-picture impressions, while not spoiling surprises.  Feedback is welcome, if you would find something different more helpful.