Archive: November, 2003

A chilled-out Thanksgiving

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 28, 2003, 3:56 PM | comments: 1

Stephanie and I went exactly nowhere for Thanksgiving, and I was thankful for that. She made turkey, her world-famous mashed taters and stuff and we ate it here with a nice glass (or three) of wine. No families, no traveling, just us. It was fabulous.

And being a grown-up and all, we started the day with pie. Yeah, that's right, pie first. Andes Mint Cream Pie from Schwan's, in fact. Yummy.

Beyond that, we watched a few movies, some Animal Planet and napped. It was one of the best days of doing nothing I've ever had.

Now I must resolve to eat right and exercise... just as soon as that pie is gone.


Florida sure is nice this time of year...

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 24, 2003, 4:42 PM | comments: 1

I really love going to Orlando in November. It's so refreshing considering the weather just starts to get cold here in Cleveland. I posted a few photos here.

The first reason for the trip was to stop by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) trade show. There's generally not a lot of new things to see from year to year, but it's a good networking opportunity for someone who runs the world's most popular amusement/enthusiast Web site (www.coasterbuzz.com).

The rest of the time there is all about hanging out and enjoying a theme park or two. We stayed for the second year at Universal's Royal Pacific Resort. There are so many things I like about that place. It's a nice setting, the rooms are nice, it's within walking distance to the theme parks and CityWalk and it's just an overall secure and semi-upscale environment. Yeah, you pay a little more (actually a lot more), but it's worth every penny. You get to bypass the normal lines on all of the rides as a guest too.

The first night we were there we hit Medieval Times. If you've never been, you should most certainly go. It's dinner and a show, only without any silverware. The food is quite good, and the horse, jousting and fighting stuff is pretty good. You basically get a knight who represents your section, and you cheer him on in the tournament, while a somewhat light story plays out.

As usual, our knight sucked ass. He got his ass kicked. We really wanted to be in the next section, because the drunk guys there cheered the loudest and were having a damn good time. Being the only drunk guy in our section, I had to try and compensate.

The show itself is around $50 a person, and that includes your food and two beer refills (if you're old enough). Naturally I needed to supplement that with a pitcher. By the time you add in extra beverages, the photos they sell you, the tip and souveniers, it's pretty much a $100-a-person affair. That's cool though. I'm on vacation.

The next day we hit Universal Studios after a visit to Steph's grandparents' place in Kissimmee. It was the first time I had been there since the month it opened back in 1990. There was a lot of new stuff I had not yet seen. Most of it was pretty unremarkable. I thought Twister was pretty cool, and it was cool to finally see Earthquake (which was closed and being tweaked when I was first there). The rest was pretty much just there. the MIB ride was kind of fun, though I think my gun was busted. I had the lowest score in the car. We left after about four hours and hit the NASCAR Cafe for lunch.

Food is an important part of the vacation to me. I love to stuff my face. NASCAR is pretty average stuff with pretty average service, but it hit the spot when I was hungry. Can't argue with that.

After a nap and some TV, we eventually hit CityWalk. It's Universal's answer to Disney's Pleasure Island in many ways, though I think there are fewer clubs and no Cirque du Soleil. We stopped in the lower level of Motown to hit the DDR machine. It's an attention whore's dream. Five songs for a buck right there where everyone comes in for CityWalk and the theme parks. Drawing a crowd is not difficult.

We landed at the Italian place for dinner, which was strikingly average again. Last year it seemed better. Our waitress wasn't very on top of things either, and even though we tend to overlook certain things when she has a cute package, it wasn't going to happen this time. She sucked.

On Saturday we finally got to Islands of Adventure, the park we were looking forward to the most. There are so many things right with the park that it's hard to think of where to start. The park has something really for everyone. Our only annoyance for the day was that they don't let you out beyond Seuss Landing or Marvel Superhero Island until the park has been open for an hour.

There's a lot I could tell you, but let me stick the more important things. First off, Spiderman is still the best dark ride anywhere. There is no other ride that can mix live action and 3D film as well as Spiderman. It's a real work of art.

Other interesting rides included Dr. Doom's towers, the Jurassic Park River Ride, the Caro-Seuss-el and Cat in The Hat. So many of their rides are based on familiar rides or concepts, and taken to a much higher level.

Dueling Dragons are together the best roller coasters in the world. Individually they'd certainly be among the best inverted coasters, but it's having them together that makes them so special. The queue and stations are great, and the way the two trains interact is great. Very well done.

We almost didn't get to ride Hulk, as it went down mechanical about an hour before closing. It opened back up, we hit the Universal Express line, and got right on. We sat in the back seat. The launch is very cool (if not the most inefficient means to launch a train), and the first half of the ride is a lot of fun. The rest just feels like it kind of wanders around. I don't understand how it can be the best ride in some of the polls, because it's pretty average to me in terms of sit-down loopers. It's not a bad ride by any means, but it gets more attention than I think it deserves. It's in dire need of new springs or wheels, or both, because it bounces around entirely too much for a B&M ride.

We capped the night off with a little hot-tubbin' and beers back at the hotel, followed by dinner at Motown. They have some of the best damn barbecue sauce anywhere. It's really good stuff. They have a half-chicken and ribs combo that no one human can actually eat (well, sholdn't eat), so Steph and I split that. Good stuff indeed! The only negative was the really crappy service (again). We had the same problem last year. It's not the restaurant, because we watched this cutie in the next section be all on top of things for her tables.

Tired after a long day, we jumped on the boat back to the hotel and tried to stay up and watch SNL. We got an hour into it before we fell asleep.

I really enjoy being in Orlando. I hope to back again next year, and maybe even spend a little more time down there. I'd like to get back to the rat and visit some of those parks, maybe even spend some time at Busch Gardens again. If it weren't so damn hot in the summer, I'd even consider living there. I suppose you'd get used to it. Overall, we had a good time, and we were both the happiest we've been in awhile.


Why the US Postal Service sucks

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 19, 2003, 3:10 PM | comments: 0

I had to go to the post office yesterday to pickup certified mail from my former employer regarding insurance continuation. Aside from feeling like they were still wasting my time, I waited a half-hour in line. I shouldn't have had to, but my idiot carrier couldn't follow the directions on their own form about when to redeliver.

So I'm standing there and seeing their rates to ship stuff, plus all the up-charges to get a signature or track it. What a rip-off. With UPS I can ship a one pound box, require a signature, insure it up to $50 and track it online for just under $5. Hell, I can even print the label online, and UPS will send me printer labels and even envelopes.

The USPS could be a money maker for the government, but instead is a drain. It's time to get real supply chain and technology experts in there to fix things.


Opportunity is a knockin'

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 18, 2003, 1:01 AM | comments: 1

I'm almost a little disturbed at how positive I've been lately, and I often stop and wonder if I'm not over-compensating for something.

But the truth is that there's just so much to be thankful for and be excited about. Every morning I get to wake up to this amazing woman for one thing. I guess not having to go to a day job I start to appreciate more all of the things she does. School, friends, mother to the cats, puts up with my bastardishness... that's a lot of work!

I'm going to Orlando for a few days. Had I known I wouldn't be working, I think we would've stayed a few more days, but I'll take it anyway. In three nights we've got two days at the Universal parks (staying on-property), Medieval Times, hot tubs, beers and many good times.

I got all of the kids I wanted for my volleyball team, save for the second-string D.S., which is easily replaced by another one. Actually, I'm waiting to hear from one of the middles, but if she bugs out there's another one that got cut from another club (for totally illogical reasons) who happens to be 5'11" and is a total animal on the net. I can't lose.

Still waiting to hear back from a company I've been interviewing with about a third and final interview, but if that all works out I'm looking at some serious cash, serious benefits and hopefully very satisfying work. It's a gig that, for the first time in ages, sounds like something I might enjoy even if it's not working for myself.

I'm writing a book proposal and two chapters to shop around to publishers. The subject is kind of a "technique" book for ASP.NET, something for the kids who are transitioning from other platforms or not familiar with the really powerful stuff the platform has to offer. I don't know what it might pay, but who cares. If I sell the book I'm a fucking author and using my degree for something. Aside from a few freelance articles in trade rags, I'd get paid to write again.

I guess when I add it all up there's a lot to be positive about. The fact that just two weekends ago we had an insanely bad weekend with a lot of misery makes all of this stuff that much more exciting. Life throws some good stuff at you from time to time. The rest of it you have to make happen.

Florida sunshine, here I come...


Kissing Jessica Stein

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 15, 2003, 3:10 PM | comments: 0

HBO is having a free preview weekend, so on HBO Signature last night they showed Kissing Jessica Stein. I have to say that it's one of those movies that somehow totally escaped under the radar yet could be one of my favorite films.

The reasons are many, but let me first give you a summary. A cute 30-year old girl gets tired of dating losers, so she answers a personal ad from a girl who is also interested in experimenting with another girl. Slowly she gets over her hang-ups and it becomes a real relationship.

The surprise about the movie is that it's not just some stupid novelty film about two girls getting it on. In fact, that's the last thing it is. The film explores the many different levels of relationships and how people fill the needs that those relationships serve. People need certain things from other people, whether that be friendship, love or sex. I think the movie challenges where you get those things from. The gender and traditional roles need not dictate the relationships.

There are some other things the movie does too. For example, if you happen to be homophobic, I think it shows you that same-sex relationships are still first and foremost about real people with real emotions for each other. That certainly wasn't the intent of the movie, but you do get that out of it.

The neatest thing about it is that the leads wrote the screenplay and produced the movie. For a couple of women to feel that strongly about a story and get it made in the Hollywood boys club is pretty impressive to me. As someone who has this back-of-the-mind idea that I could write a screenplay, that's kind of inspiring.

Bottom line is that the film makes a very short list of less-than-popular movies that I really like, and it makes a fine addition to the DVD collection.


It's volleyball time!

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 10, 2003, 12:42 PM | comments: 1

Had my tryouts for volleyball last night. Holy crap... as long as all of the kids accept our offer, I am going to have one amazing stacked team.

Junior Olympic ("JO") volleyball is organized under USA Volleyball, the people who float our Olympic teams. USAV has regions, in our case, the Ohio Valley Region. Then in the juniors program, there are clubs all over the place and each club floats one or more teams, broken up by age division, 12 through 18. There is further distinction starting with 14's where they're either open or club, open being the more competitive teams that try to go to nationals.

I coach 17 open, which is in many ways the "varsity" level. 18's are hit or miss, because there are fewer girls interested in playing as by that time they're either graduating high school or know where they're going to college, so they don't need to be noticed by recruiters.

Last night I was astounded at the talent that showed up. I get to keep my setter from last year, because she was playing up a year. I've got this defensive specialist (DS) who is a complete animal, so she's my libero. I've got two, maybe three outside hitters who can hit quick stuff, and two slightly more average middles who at the very least are tall enough to block like crazy.

Now take into consideration that I run a swing offense. In the swing, the hitters all approach from the middle of the court to hit virtually anywhere on the net. When they go in motion, it confuses the hell out of the other blockers, often giving them a clear shot to hit wherever they choose. I used this system last year with shorter, more average hitters, and we did pretty well. I can only imagine what these tall girls will be able to do with it.

Bottom line is that I've never left a tryout this excited about the year's prospects. The only issue now is that after we make the girl an offer (our club director will call tonight), they have ten days to accept or decline. The reason for this is that, unlike high school, the girls can tryout for as many clubs as they want. This entire system makes club ball far more competitive than all but the best high school teams.

First practice is in December... I can't wait to get started!


The babes of TechTV

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 9, 2003, 12:17 AM | comments: 6

It's a silly crush, or crushes I guess, but I love the women of TechTV. Many of them are not only cuties, but they're smart geeks too, which is hotter than sheer physical attraction alone.

My favorite is Morgan Webb, who hosts X-Play. Other favorites include Sarah Lane on The Screensavers and Cat Schwarz on Call for Help. I also really dig Jessica Corbin on TSS, though she's less geek and more uber-TV producer. Gotta send props to Laura Swisher on Unscrewed too.

It's a great world where geeky girls can be popular and on your hot list.


Getting into video games again

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 7, 2003, 11:46 PM | comments: 3

Back in 2001 when I last lost my day job, we ran out an bought an X-Box and Gamecube (this was shortly after they were released). We wouldn't buy a PS2 until a year later, but the point is that we've got all three consoles.

So this time around, we haven't bought many games other than Dance Dance Revolution in the past year, so all of the great games are now bargain priced around $20 or so. We snagged Final Fantasy X because I'm familiar with previous games from back in the day, and I knew it would take some time to play. Got it "free" on exchange from some CD's we sold, duplicates since we got married.

I also picked up Kingdom Hearts for $20, because the idea of Disney and Final Fantasy characters in the same game seemed just fucked up enough to be interesting. It had good reviews when it first came out as well, so why not? Played for about an hour so far, and so far I like it.

Steph also picked up the Enter The Matrix shooter for the PC. It's supposed to fit into the story line, so that should make it cool. What sucked about it though is that she fucked around with it for an hour just to install the fucking game. It had a patch to download, and then when she started it, the gamma and brightness were too low so you couldn't see anything. The best part? The settings for them are outside of the game itself, with arbitrary numbers, so you have to set it, then back out of the game if they're not right. Nice job, Atari!

So in any case, it's kind of fun to play some games again. There are so many I'd like to still pickup... Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime and Fusion (yeah, we have a Gameboy Advance SP too), Outlaw Volleyball, Simpsons Hit & Run, and maybe even Tony Hawk 4 now that it's a bargain title, just to see what the big fucking deal is.

Yes, there are some advantages to being unemployed (if I can call myself that... I do still have some income). Life ain't bad at all.


Do you know who your friends are?

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 6, 2003, 4:22 PM | comments: 1

The funny thing about coming upon hard times or a difficult situation is that you can generally tell who your real friends are at that time. Even though there might not be anything they can actually do about your problem, they ask anyway, and you know by their sincerity that they'd help you out in most any way.

I think you can generally divide "friends" into two groups. The good group helps you out, and they tend to keep in touch even when circumstances prohibit you from seeing them on a regular basis. The other group is only around when they need something from you. The only problem is that it isn't always apparent until you've got more needs than instances to give that you see the difference between the two groups.

I tend to be fairly self-reliant, but how do super-needy people get along through life with friends like that? Maybe those are people in that second group?


Unemployed again

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 3, 2003, 3:57 PM | comments: 3

Well, here I am, without work again. It's seriously weird, and I'm a little alarmed that I'm not more concerned than I actually I am.

Steph is fond of making lists, so here are the pros and cons of being unemployed...

Cons:

  • No income. That's a bummer.
  • Lack of routine.
  • Crappy economy.
  • No eating out three or more times a week.
  • No buying crap I don't really need.

Pros:

  • No getting up before 7 a.m.
  • No having to deal with morons incapable of running a company.
  • More time to work on projects that are important to me.
  • The potential to develop my projects into real revenue streams (like this site).
  • More time to continue learning about my craft.

Breaking it down like that gives you a little persepective. It all comes down to money, really, and money should not have such a strangle-hold on people.

So here begins a new adventure...


When life throws shit at you...

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 2, 2003, 10:38 PM | comments: 0

Word on the street is that I'm losing my job this week. The timing, naturally, couldn't be worse.

I was laid off about two years ago and it really tore me apart. Truth be told, things never got that bad financially, but it really fucked with my head with regards to self-esteem and such. This time I'm trying to resolve to not let it bother me. I kinda saw it coming for one thing, and for another I've tried to teach myself that a job working for someone else does not define who I am.

The other serious issue is that there's enough stress in my house right now, and we certainly don't need this on top of it. We had a family emergency, the cat is still sick on and off, Steph has her PhD candidacy exam coming up and to make things really exciting, the holidays are nearly upon us.

One thing became very clear to me though this weekend. Things could certainly be a lot worse. As usual, this could be viewed as an opportunity.