Wednesday, December 13, 2006

would you like to take a ride in my _onda?

so sometime yesterday, between the moment i parked my 2001 Honda Accord in the garage across the street from my place of business downtown and the moment i walked back to it in the evening to transport myself home after a long day at work, some passerby became mesmerized with the "H" Honda logo on my car's trunk and decided that he absolutely just had to have it!

As Superintendent Chalmers once lamented to Principal Seymour Skinner upon discovery of the theft of his own 1979 Honda Accord's logo:

"Holy jumping Caesar's catfish! My H has been stolen! Awww, thats how people know its a Honda. Why would you drive a Honda if you cant show it off?"

once i laughed, but now i can share his pain.

honda shop says that the metal logo runs $16.72, who knows how hot the dealership coals will get for labor costs (the metal prongs that affix the logo seem to have been left in the trunk, so there's probably some extra elbow grease cost to get those out).

there are BMWs and Mercedes parked all around me every day, wouldn't either of those car emblems look better hanging from a gold chain?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

the self-confident waiter

probably a couple of months ago (when things were busy and blog-posting time was in short supply) my parents and younger sister came to Houston.

we all went out to eat that night at Houston's, one of our favorite restaurants in the area.

all together we numbered just five people.

our waiter provided us with adequate service; waters were refilled, ketchup was provided upon request.

when the check was presented, however, it was evident that the waiter believed strongly in the quality of his labors relative to our dining experience.

the waiter believed in himself so much that he wrote in an 18% tip and the total due on the receipt, as if the review of his service was a foregone conclusion.

unless Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed were sitting at our table in ghost form our group did not meet the typical 'large-party' status that usually endures an automatic gratuity.

maybe the waiter knew that Buddha is a notoriously cheap tipper (and he always passes it off like 'hey tips are just a fleeting material possession, the desire of which you need to relinquish". pfffffft)

T is for Trashcan

grace and i live in a nice apartment complex. it's not in the ritziest part of town, there are fancier properties out there, but i'd say ours is well ahead of most of the pack in Houston.

given the property's generally upscale appearance you'd think that it would attract (and rent prices would demand) more responsible and developmentally mature tenants.

this is not so.

as months ago when the grounds around our complex's eastern wall were vandalized by the aerial refuse of the The Dastardly Femme Discarder, so now is our very building being visited by the Vanishing Leaver.

The VL is some fellow tenant who either lives in our building or at least parks in front of it on a regular basis. About every week Grace and/or I will come home from work or an evening errand and discover his handiwork.

For whatever reason the VL, when exiting his/her parked car, feels compelled to leave a fast-food bag (assuredly full of leftover wrappers, cartons, and unwanted food) and paper drink cup neatly arranged between his/her car and the car in the adjoining space.

Grace's theory is that the VL is a closet fast-food eater who must conceal his/her secret shame from would-be disapprovers living in the apartment with him/her.

my theory is that the VL is flawed at a fundamental level. some derailment of the maturing process has to occur for you to lack the basic understanding and agreement that trash is placed in a trashcan.

an average of thirty steps from the parking spaces in front of our building would provide a round trip to the nearest dumpster and back.

this is not too much to ask.

Monday, November 06, 2006

no wire hangers, ever!! borrow a line from 'Mommie Dearest'.

grace and i have a healthy gift card balance with Bed Bath and Beyond thanks to generous wedding attendees (and yes, i still have one or two entries about the wedding, and the honeymoon, that i need to write but that will take more time than i usually have during work lunchtime).

some of those funds we opted to use to buy wood hangers to replace the miles and miles of cheap wire hangers that we have hanging in our closet (they that continue to multiply due to businesswear dry cleaning).

we started out actually receiving twenty of them as a direct wedding gift and, childish though this may sound, using them actually makes me feel like an adult. the concept of wire hangers in my mind is wrapped up in college dorm frugality and impermanence. solid wood hangers (now with ribbed trouser bar!) make the clothes hanging on them just kinda look better, there's a more satisfying 'clack' when you're rummaging through and you move one against the other. they make you feel like you're choosing your outfit for the day from a high-end clothing store at the mall (despite most of my clothes being decidedly not high-end).

at only $15 (or $10 for the savvy BBB coupon-clippers among you) for twenty hangers, i highly recommend buying several sets for your wardrobe. unless you get really crazy with them for some reason, they should last you a lifetime so it's a pretty cheap investment to spruce up your closet a bit. we just bought eighty more hangers this weekend and i'm waiting on the next load of washed clothes to be able to put them into service.

and yes, i am fully aware that enthusiasm for home accessories confirms without question my transformation into the Modern Wedded Male genus species.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Monday Night Debate, y'all

so MSNBC is discussing the nationwide political races; only interesting thing about that is that they preface the introduction of segments with this Monday Night Football -esque graphic of a red/white/blue donkey symbol on the left and a red/white/blue elephant symbol on the right of the screen that clash violently together in the center of the screen and explode.

reasoned discourse? who needs that anyways...

"Democrats, are you ready? Republicans, are you ready? All right, let's get it on!"

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Zake: for zo-zo Japaneze cuizine in Houzton

there are some streets in Houston that Grace and i drive down with some regularity based on where our known haunts and habits take us.

on one of these streets there is one of those restaurants, the kind that catches your eye but that you've never been to nor do you remember to think of when the time comes for eating.

well last Saturday night, when the question for where to go eat did arise, i did remember the name.....ZAKE!! it's some japanese cuisine restaurant located in a plaza (next to a Book Stop whose lodgings is an old movie theater, kinda neat, my good friend Steve would love it).

we noticed upon entrance that Zake was one of those restaurants that is trying to cultivate a hip, trendy image but doesn't yet have the clout or success to keep out homebodies such as ourselves. the place was long and narrow and divided into two halves: on the left the dining tables and bar, on the right some kind of lounge area. The two areas were separated by one of those dividers made up of multiple hanging strings adorned with colorful beads.

Zake's owners obviously subscribed to the theory that loud, pumping techno music aids digestion as the aforementioned beaded dividers were powerless to stop the lounge's somewhat-odd soundtrack (house remixes of "More than a Feeling" and "Owner of Lonely Heart"?) from spilling over into the dinner area.

Long story short: they got our initial drink order wrong (one water, one tea, and a Budweiser became two teas and an invisible bottle of beer, apparently), the sushi was tasty enough but sloppily prepared, and the entrees paled in comparison to what we could have gotten over at Houston's for the same cost (Grace's steak might have been competitive, at best, with my last known attempt to grill meat the George Foreman way; where were the new and/or mashed potatoes that the menu promised with my roasted duck breast??)

the only real enjoyment from the place came as we were waiting for the check:

as the current techno song hit its "this is the part where the drums cut out and the generic female singer does a minute-long vocal solo" bridge, i was able to mark for Grace the buildup to the return of the industry-standard backbeat, noting the slowly-growing volume of the rapid stacatto snare drum beats that always precede the eventual re-emergence of


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I wear jewelry now!

hey everybody,

been out for a while as there have been significant goings-on..uhm, going on. to recap it all (marriage, honeymoon) may take a while so i think i'll be breaking the whole story up into pieces or otherwise i won't have a new post ready until sometime next month.

Grace and I were married on the one-year anniversary of Houston's visit by Hurricane Rita, September 24th 2006! thankfully, no hurricanes attended the nuptials.

i guess i should start from the beginning, which i'll designate as the night of the Thursday beforehand, when our good friends Dave (one of my groomsmen) and his lovely wife Melissa drove into town to stay with us overnight.

dave and i are friends and hockey buddies from way back (way back meaning our college days at UT, circa my sophomore/junior year 1997); we used to play inline hockey up in austin but since my move to houston i'd made the switch over to goaltending on ice. he and i used the wedding as a good excuse for him to be able to come to town to see me play the sport in its true original form.

unfortunately our opponents that night didn't put up too much of a fight so it wasn't as entertaining as it could have been (neither did it do much to substantiate my repeated claims to him that the league has a lot of good players and that team defense is more of an afterthought). no flurries of shots, no demands on me to make a highlight-reel save, nothing.

during the various points of downtime during the marriage weekend, though, he and i did enjoy a good number of games of Winning Eleven 8, a fine soccer videogame for the original Xbox.

yes, i know, "soccer?" well up until recently i'd been captivated by online games of (unsurprisingly) NHL 2k6. over time, however, i'd gotten increasingly frustrated with playing opponents around North America who were less inclined to try and play a fair, honest game and more than happy to abuse those AI shortcomings that the game programmers failed to remove. instead of a somewhat realistic game flow of effective defensive coverage and opportunistic offensive zone passing to set up shots from prime scoring areas, a lot of the games i played quickly turned into me trying hard to prevent my opponent from getting to the one or two locations where a shot would guarantee a goal.

a good example is from the side of the net; any goalie worth his mask hugs the goal post when a puckcarrier is almost parallel to the goal line, however in NHL 2k6 the goalie tends to freeze up well off the post and allows players to score from basically an unguarded angle. the only real defense to this is to get the defender i control in between the puckcarrier and the open gap. i could do this most of the time but not always, so goals scored were inevitable. since i declined to stoop to such cheap tactics in return i found myself frustrated and losing more often than was deserved.

so one day i finished a frustrating game and said "that's it, i've had it" and traded NHL 2k6 in to the local Gamestop, picking up Winning Eleven instead and have since found it to be a much more enjoyable experience. Although there's no online play in this version, i've found the computer to be pretty challenging. also, the more wide field structure of soccer and greater number of players per team really makes demands on you to play a strategic game (looking for passing lanes, setting up runs on goal) and cuts down on the possibility of cheap 'exploits' in the game AI.

since dave is a soccer fan as well he and i had a great time playing on the same team against the computer; we'd boo the ref in unison when one of our players was tripped without penalty, groan in disappointment when a wide-open player kicked a shot too high or wide, and celebrated heartily on those rare occasions when we successfully navigated through the other team's defense to put the ball into the back of the net. the matches really felt like true soccer games: all about momentum and player position, low scoring, etc. every shot was as critical as it was rare; one good opportunity wasted could mean the entire game.

(Well, that's enough posting for this entry. i suppose since this story is really about the marriage et al i should probably start talking about all those proceedings. next time!)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

been quiet

sorry for the blog silence, all you loyal readers; just so happens that in less than two weeks i'm going to be forcing Grace to change from an easily pronounceable one-syllable last name to my more colorful, customer-representative-confusing two-syllable multi-consonant family name.

with such necessary planning going on and work being busy in anticipation of me being away from the office for a week, i haven't been of the mind to put any thoughts to word online.

stay strong, i shall return.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

danger & intrigue in the parking lot

Date / Time: Sunday August 27th 2006, mid-morning.

Location: my apartment complex.

Grace and I were heading out for Sunday lunch and errands. As we finished our descent from the staircase that led to and from our second-floor apartment, we spotted a piece of litter in the middle of a vacant parking space in front of our building.

on first glance the piece of trash, a styrofoam to-go dinner box, seemed like just the usual 'hey i'm a jerk who has no respect for public property or my neighbors, i'll throw this on the ground instead of putting it in a proper refuse bin' occurrence, but closer inspection revealed a scenario not so mundane.

written in pen atop the box:


possibly the most cryptic thing ever written on non-biodegradable material.

was this box once stored in an office kitchen refrigerator, the stern warning penned to the attention of some repeat office lunch stealer?

or was the box situated in that spot by a lurking resident who placed it there as some sort of twisted psychological experiment and then retired to his window to patiently observe, Grace and I among his unwitting test subjects?

whatever the diabolic cause for the box's existence there, some wild beast chose to ignore (or more likely, could not read) the posted warning and chewed its way through a corner of the box to get to the tasty sausage links apparently housed within.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

my how the times have changed

(click on the image for a larger size you can actually read)

(10/5/06 EDIT: acclaimed blog reader 'person' tells me that this article may be one of those newfangled internets pranks and not a genuine artifact of 1950s U.S.A. misogyny)

Housekeeping Monthly article from the 1950s on how to be a 'good wife'. funny how concepts so absurd today were probably dead-serious sensible back then.

some of the gems:

"catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction"

"remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours"

"never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you"

"don't complain if he's late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night"

"don't ask him questions about his actions or question his have no right to question him"

and of course, the coup de grace:

"a good wife always knows her place"

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

MSNBC - All Access!

as much as i lump Fox News, let me throw a shot at MSNBC courtesy of MediaBistro:

so.....define "breaking news"to me again.....

you blew it, MSNBC, you didn't tell us the style of clothes he was wearing!

priorities are screwed up and the modern media is a mockery, can't we get back to Walter Cronkite giving us the straight story?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

the social bobcat in action

so back on June 8th my good buddy Andre' (from way back, like kindergarten way back) came down to Houston to snap a few in-game pictures of me as practice for his burgeoning professional photography career. here's his website:

AMG Photography

lots of good shots there, some of the Dallas Stars in the sports section (even some rugby, sweet!)

Andre was quick on the subsequent developing and touch-up of my action shots but, as per usual, i have been slower than lazy dirt in actually posting them to this site. allow me to remedy that at this time.

Setting up for the faceoff:

The ready stance:

Solid form on a left toe save:

Frozen in mid-save, going to cover the low areas through a screen:

Covering the left side, vigilant, like a hawk:

Kick save, and a beaut':

Eye of the tiger:

The goalie moonwalk:

Fighting through another screen:

The goalie and the out-of-focus enemy butt:

Believe it or not, this was a save, not a goal:

Some of that old-school stand-up style:

well there you go, pictures of me covered in all sorts of bulky equipment. just what the public was clamoring for.

many thanks to Andre for taking the time and effort to get such great action shots. i'm glad i'll have some evidence to show my kids that their dad was crazy enough at one point in his life to put himself directly into the path of a hard projectile traveling at high speeds.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

more fox news text fun

Fox News' quote of President Bush, on the subject of this morning's thwarted airplane bombing attempt (it's surreal to be living in a time when something like that can be mentioned so casually, but then again i suppose the world's always been a bit, uh, tumultuous from the get-go):

"Bush: They're Better Not Be Any Leaks In This Case"

damn you Fox News for your continued assault on the esteemed pillars of accuracy and grammar. you are a major US news organization, not a second-grader.

seriously, Fox News typemonkey, just slow down before you enter in the message. take a deep breath. relax. then type.

maybe it's not typemonkey's fault, maybe the text is sent down in that shoddy state from the head office or something and typemonkey is merely faithfully replicating it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

kneel before M. Night, puny mortal

with Lady in the Water having been recently released, the thought has resurfaced that i'd be a bigger supporter of M. Night Shyamalan's movies if he wasn't such a maniacal egomaniac.

every single one of his movies/TV ads/trailers seems required to have his name splashed all over the intro before you even get to read the title. every movie he's made has him in a cameo role of varying length (i believe they have been getting lengthier with each film).

i'm no pyschiatrist but it seems cut-and-dried from viewing his work product that there exists in him some significant personality issues / emotional baggage.

the thing is, i've generally liked his movies and i see enough of the elements of care and hard work in the films that i don't mistake him to be a talentless hack masquerading as a top-tier director; what i don't get is why he can't get out of the way and let his work reflect on his abilities implicitly.

it's not as if every newspaper / entertainment magazine / TV show connected to the film industry doesn't already report extensively on new films and who is directing them. M Night, if you took your name out of the film credits entirely, people who saw your movie and liked it would still go "Good job, M Night Shyamalan"; those who didn't like it would say "Poor showing, M Night Shyamalan".

Rampant egotism, whether the byproduct of some desperate need for attention/acceptance or whatever, is to me one of the most unattractive personality traits a person in civilized society can have.

i only wonder how early it began for him.

i can imagine a young M Night, dripping wet, walking up to his parents in the living room and saying to them: "Mother, Father, prepare for a shocking twist on convention! I give you..... M Night Shyamalan's 'A Poop In the Bathtub'. "

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

fox news ticker monkey: at it again

staring at Fox News TV this morning and the headline scrawl below the latest footage of the Israeli - Hezbollah conflict reads thusly:

'Hezbollah Says It Will Not Except "Humiliating" Truce'

Except... i don't really know what to say, these goofs have moved from mildly amusing to pathetically inept.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

mr. rogers tackles greek mythos

when i was a lad my parents, being both wise and good, directed much of my early-age TV-viewing to PBS's educational fare. The classics: Sesame Street, Electric Company, Reading Rainbow, 3-2-1- Contact, and Mr. Rogers.

while The Count bored into my brain a love of numbers and Levar Burton gave me the scoop on the latest and greatest kids' literary works to be enjoyed, Mr. Rogers seemed to set his agenda around social manners and courtesy; this is not to suggest that the Muppets were having knife fights a few blocks away on Sesame Street but that he was one of those particularly gentle beings who was well-suited to help mold children into Good People.

in addition to being a man who conversed with puppets, Mr. Rogers was also a bit of a songwriter. "won't you be my neighbor" is, of course, the standard of his works. most of his songs covered the basic gamut of kids' issues (learning to share, how to express your anger in an acceptable manner, etc.) but i wonder now if ol' fred slipped in some trickier issues as prepwork for the mentally dizzying roads ahead into teenagery and adulthood.

for example the other day a cloudy memory resurfaced of one of his other, somewhat less well-known tunes: "I'm Going to Marry Mom"

i can't recall the setup exactly (the prince of the kingdom of make-believe tells the queen he's going to marry her?) but mr. rogers must have anticipated such a pyschological grenade in drafting this song to kindly open childrens' eyes to what was a little off about this well-intentioned but misguided expression of affection.

lyrics went something like ( and i think the tune was remniscent of "Ol' Gray Mare"):

(kid saying to Mom) when i'm grow up i'm gonna marry you... many years from now

(Mom pointing out to kid) you can't marry me, i'm married to your Dad


it's a heartfelt declaration from the kid; genuine and pure as the driven snow, but still a bit creepy (through no fault of his own, being young and many years away from the complex realities and education of pubescence)

the rest of the song story eludes me; might have ended with the kid singing:

"ok Mom, well i'm gonna go kill Dad"

but i suspect our cardigan-sweatered host left it to Jim Morrison a few years down the road to complete the examination and expression of the Oedipal complex through song.

one can only wonder if Mr. Rogers attempted to enlighten youngsters on other greek mythological constructs...

does the bathtub-oriented fear addressed in "You'll Never Go Down the Drain" share its emotional roots with that felt by Odysseus towards the ship-swallowing Charybdis?

One can only theorize, though we might have more certainty to that question's answer had Fred also penned the song "Your Ship's Crew Will Never Be Devoured By Scylla's Six Heads".

Monday, July 17, 2006


so Grace and i went with her sister and brother-in-law this past weekend to take in a day of Texas summer heat at Houston's only waterpark that I know of that's still in operation, Splashtown USA (Six Flags' Waterworld having gone the way of the dodo when they ripped it down along with Astroworld).

Splashtown was part of some fairly fond memories of my high-school days in Houston, close enough to our suburbs to be a reasonable trip but far enough away to make it seem that I and my friends were really doing something with that particular summer vacation day.

hit the tube slides, cruise around on the lazy river for a while, back then it seemed easy to figure that the better part of a day could be spent there. in the mid-90s they'd just opened up a new ride, Space Rapids (tube'ing down totally enclosed pipes, your sudden change in direction or elevation only pointed out by tiny track lights), and through the haze of old memories it seems that endless fun was promised and delivered upon by the park.

so as with almost all re-visitations to things once known long ago my reunion with Splashtown eleven years later, while still exceeding government-mandated minimum fun levels, was a bit of a letdown.

right off the bat, the privilege of parking in their unpatrolled lot was $10 (can't recall what the price was in 1994/5 but i'm going to guess $5). as we forked out the cash, i had to wonder at what price point for parking would i just turn the car around and go home? the park knows we already have $80 worth of non-refundable tickets on hand, isn't the cost to temporarily place our vehice somewhere just a question of park executives doing some scientific testing of how high they can set the price before people start refusing on general principle?

think about it for a second:

at what price would you pay but be annoyed about it all day, to the point where you vow never to return?

at what price asked would you say 'no thank you sir' and leave, unused tickets in hand?

$15? $20? $25?

my side theory is that the max price point is much higher when you have a family and young'uns in tow (hmm, let's see, pay $30 for parking or leave and have my kids cry and hate me for a month for being so cruel as to bring them to the brink of water fun and then take it away abruptly...)

once we arrived in the park it was time to store all of our personal effects in a rental storage locker.

the last time i was at a park where i used a storage locker (probably 4 - 5 years ago), the process to rent was this: get two to four quarters out of your pocket, insert quarters in locker coin slot, open up locker, put your stuff in there, close door, take the key and fasten it to your swimsuit with the attached safety pin, and go.

my time away has seen the evolution of rental locker technology, as Splashtown apparently sunk its money into new electronically locked lockers. go to a locker kiosk screen, select a locker number , create an access code, and use the access code to get into your locker at any time throughout the day.

the good part? not having to worry about losing the key, being able to go back as often as needed to the locker.

the ridiculous part? being asked to pay $9 for the service.

it's sort of an escalating price trap scenario: first the park execs run you through the parking lot decision with the unused tickets in your hand. once you've sunk the cost of the tickets and parking and you're in the park ready to go, then they hit you with the storage locker costs. gotta store your stuff somewhere , right? it'd be a total drag to make someone hold onto the stuff and wait below each time someone wanted to ride, right? how then can you think that $9 is anything but a trifle for the luxurious convenience provided?

after our valuables were stored and we were collectively $9 poorer, our committee of four voted unanimously to avoid the third price trap, the only one that was really voluntary: tube rental.

for $6 you could rent your own single tube, or $12 for a double tube (which could only be used on about half the rides). we decided to be part of the cost-savvy masses that stand in line for the 'community tubes' available at each ride. it wasn't like this was Astroworld and we were facing 1 - 1 1/2 hour lines to get on the ride, we could sweat a few extra minutes in the tube queue.

all costs dispensed with, we took a survey of the park to begin our ride adventures and the thing i noticed first was that in the eleven years since my last visit the park had added only one ride (and from the looks of their website it appeared to be a recent development), the Tornado. apparently they blew their park infrastructure budget for the past decade on the high-tech lockers.

this wouldn't be so terribly bad if i hadn't recalled just how few rides they had to begin with. discounting the kiddie areas there were about five or six attractions to frequent and almost all (save the new one) were showing the early stages of neglect/disrepair. the environment had the look and feel of one of those old mini-golf courses that for years had been under the ownership of someone interested in milking as much out of it, with as little additional investment as possible, until the whole thing cratered. the faded paint, the small town square with unutilized stores, the palpable undercurrent of slow decay, it had it all.

the one ride mentioned earlier, Space Rapids, which was the new deal during my last go-around, seemed the worst for wear. the total-darkness 2001: A Tube Odyssey experience is ruined a bit when you fly past an unrepaired hole in the cloth ceiling, harsh sunlight pouring through and reminding you that you're basically just doing an impression of a hairball being washed down a sink drainpipe. furthermore, in my high school days i didn't remember the interior climate of the sealed tubes being comparable to that of the Amazonian jungle primeval. it was like being wrapped up in a fire blanket of thick, hot, muggy compressed air.

one of the attractions that wasn't much declined in quality from my old days was the good old death-wave pool. i have a hard time maintaining a favorable balance of fun-to-terror in there when the whole pool is packed like sardines and the waves really start going. in life at any one given moment you should really only have to worry about one of these things at a time: A) drowning, B) getting kicked in the groin. the death-wave pool does not afford such luxury.

so the rides were dilapidated and few; who cares, right? rides were never the integral part of the waterpark experience anyways.

now this is what people expect from a waterpark in decline:

-Bikiniwear exhibited by those least fit in terms of age and/or physical fitness

-Parenting of small children hovering somewhere between absenteeism and criminal negligence

and of course we weren't disappointed. on the latter item, the first case we saw was the most compelling.

we'd all wandered into the picnic table area near the center of the park, not really making our minds up all that quick about what to do next. to our right we saw a little white boy, maybe four years old, crying his eyes out. there were personal effects on the table that might have belonged to his parents, though in truth there was stuff on all the tables (seems some of the less theft-fearful patrons found a way to cheat the high-cost locker dilemma).

a quick scan around the area revealed no adults with an attentive eye on the bawling tyke. as our group mulled over whether we should, y'know, do something for him, the kid stopped crying a little, got up from the table and (with some admirable pluck and initiative) proceeded to haul ass away from the picnic area down one of the adjoining walkways. no passive actor subjugating himself to the hand of fate, by god, he had a plan.

he got about thirty feet away and, seeing no parent rush to reclaim him, we figured the parents were indeed A) MIA and B) worthless , so we chased after the little guy. i think at one point he turned around and picked up his pace when he saw two unfamiliar Asian women, Grace and her sister, in hot pursuit. he was about a hundred feet from the last location his parents probably could have thought him to be when we flagged down a Splashtown employee and informed him what we'd seen. to his credit he seemed concerned and caught up to the kid who, if unimpeded, seemingly would have trekked across the whole park. last we saw the employee was leading the boy by the hand to the lost/found office for him to wait away the time in a scary, non-watery, non-fun place until the effect of Budweiser on his parents' brains wore off and they actually started attending to their basic responsibilities.

despite all the complaining and witnessing of the erosion of society detailed above, we all did manage to enjoy a day out in the sun, a diversion from the usual routines. would i go back again? hell no.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ann Coulter, please go away

the TVs at my office are always tuned to Fox News and lately Ann Coulter has seemingly been a guest multiple times on each different Fox talk/news show.

ostensibly at the beginning she was doing the usual tour to promote her new book...and i guess her continuing presence is still promotion, although now she seems to be asked for her opinion on current news instead of having her talk about the book ( i don't know for sure, the audio's always off, i have to go on the little blurbs they type out at the bottom of the screen)

i'm tired of looking at her shrew face; as far as i can tell she's a parasite who enriches herself off of others' political frustrations at the expense of the overall social health and unity of the nation.

buy my book, where i discuss how liberals are stupid and worthless! grr, don't you hate liberals as much as i do? i heard they eat babies!

how long has political identification been going through this Jerry Springer phase? seems as though rational, constructive discourse has gone the way of the dodo; all we have nowadays on the news is the republican/democrat version of 'yo face so ugly when you was born doctor slapped yo momma'.

i realize there are probably liberal /left-leaning inciters of the public's passive aggression as well, it just seems as though Coulter's marketing machine is making her shrill voice louder than most over the public media landscape. maybe it's that i'm deep in the heart of conservative talk radio country; can anyone from a blue state confirm that Ann has a liberal counterpart out there also spewing vitriol that adds little to nothing to (or actually detracts from) the greater good?

who knows, Coulter might not even believe what she says, she's just savvy enough to have picked up and cashed in on the divisive vibe that America's being giving out for the last five or so years. give em what they want to hear, watch the bank account grow, take all the money and move to some island, leaving behind a decidely less healthy country. parasite...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

the eternal divide

the real test of who you are, the issue that ends friendships and rends families asunder is this:

in what stage of ripening do you consider bananas fit for consumption?

some, such as myself, prefer that point at which the banana peel is bright yellow but comes off the fruit with only minor resistance; fairly solid with a clean flavor, ideal for slicing.

others would contend that you must wait until the peel has picked up a few brown spots, when the fruit is a little mushier. to me, at that point the banana is practically worthless as the fruit picks up some weird sour flavor and smell and is also aesthetically displeasing in its mushiness.

ignoring my bias above, you should ask yourself: on which side of the line do you fall?

and if for some misguided reason you say that you like bananas when they are still green, when the banana peels cling doggedly to the fruit and break off unexpectedly during attempts to remove them, when the fruit itself is nigh-impenetrable by human teeth, then may god have mercy on your soul.

Friday, June 30, 2006

nacho lolita

so, with my jetlag / travel cold combo receding by last week's end, Grace and i decided to revel in our shared love of collecting souvenir admission tickets to places packed to the gills with idle pre-teens by spending that Friday night at the local cinema watching the exploits of Nacho Libre .

we showed up about ten minutes prior to the start of the previews (a heartwarming underdog story involving Marky Mark and 1970s Philadelphia Eagles football? it's like Rudy for cheesesteak lovers) and settled in to the end of a mostly-full row, leaving a two-seat buffer (the negative space everyone in a theater naturally seeks to put between themselves and the presence of stranger elbows...) to my left and one to Grace's right.

a few minutes passed uneventfully before my buffer seating (which was admittedly in excess of the required amount) was halved by the introduction of a new would-be Jack Black viewer to the second empty seat on my left.

White, seemingly in his mid to late -40s, bearded, seated alone, outside of the movie's key demographic.... it rang a bit odd against the senses but not to the point of being a perceptible or bothersome disturbance.

until i noticed him rest, on the seat 'twixt he and i, his coat...

who carries around a wool coat in the summertime?

in the summertime in Houston, humidity capital of the world?

surely the coat couldn't just be for saving a seat in a theater; other means such as "excuse me that seat's taken" are readily available... my "something's awry" meter ticked up one notch.

a few minutes pass and then, with the noise of the impatiently bored crowd chatter increasing, Mr. Beard leans forward from his seat and waves vigorously, cautious but eager in his motions, to someone below.

waving, to flag someone down, to let them know where he was. but waving to whom?

my passive curiosity was unsettlingly answered moments later when our row was entered by, and the seat immediately to my left occupied by, a 12-to-13 year old girl dressed in a Friday-night short denim skirt.

at this point the "awry" meter is going off the charts and the social environment of the moviegoing experience for Grace and me irrevocably changed for the worse; what before to my left had seemed a simple case of "bachelor's night out" had morphed into some discomforting MySpace hook-up.

now, having a real-life version of Steve Buscemi in Ghost World and his young bird sitting near you in a theater is offputting enough but we didn't understand yet just how bad the supplemental movie-going experience was going to be until the previews got underway. i feared some sort of creepy "coat over the laps / disappearing hands" impropriety when the lights dimmed but what grace and i instead endured was the other, more common type of movie disturbance.

the girl.... laughed.... at everything. loud, and long, and clear just like that chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. (or was it some rotund doctor they visited, i can't remember. floating around in the air, laughing incessantly, was there some sort of drug reference going on in that movie? anyways...)

good jokes, bad jokes, things on screen that weren't really proffered as jokes, all of it was indescribably hilarious to her brain. before you dismiss me as a crotchety 29-year-old i will state that, despite the low number of laughs/guffaws/chuckles that actually escape my own lips, i do find and enjoy a lot of humor in the world.... but the mad jester Comedy is going to have to bring the grade-A stuff if he craves my true laugh reactions.

though i internalize most of my humor appreciation, i don't expect other people to conform to my tendencies, neither do i begrudge them their laughs at what they think is amusing. a comedy at a theater full of people like me would suck due to the fact that there'd be little to no ambient laughter echoing after the funny bits, just a bunch of guys smiling a little and thinking to themselves 'hey... that was pretty clever'.

i only ask for a bit of good judgment in discerning what's really, at its core, funny. the junior-higher to my left failed to show she had such judgment; let me try to describe her comedy-view adequately:

there was a preview for an underwhelming-looking animated film entitled Barnyard, where ugly-looking farm animals secretly walk upright and talk just like humans but must hide their
anthropomorphism from the people on the farm. (note: written by the guy whose previous brainchild was Kung Pow: Enter the Fist)

at the end of the trailer we're shown some clips from a sequence in which the animals , barnside and in the midst of partying to previously unforeseen levels of heartiness , use human mannequin arms through the barely-cracked barnyard door to pay for and receive the pizza delivery that they'd presumably ordered over the phone (with money presumably lifted from the farmer's wallet at some point....oh, no admirable animals these...).

but oh no! one of the animals loses his grip on his mannequin arm and it falls to earth at the delivery guy's feet. will this suspicious development cause the animals be found out, their secrets revealed all for the want of some circular cheese-covered dough? (i don't quite recall but i assumed the pizzas didn't have ham or anything on them that would give the film a sadistic fauna-cannibal angle)

no, it seems that the delivery guy's natural reaction to a disembodied plastic arm, which he previously believed to be either a real or prosthetic limb connected to a living person, is joy as he claims it as his new possession, excitedly crowing "whoooooooooo!! alright, i got an arm!" in triumph to the other delivery guy in the car as he walks away from the barn.

first off........what? mannequin arms are a prized commodity among pizza delivery guys?

secondly....when has pizza delivery ever been a two-man operation?

the punchline to this scene, the scene used to end the trailer and give you lasting impressions of the movie to intrigue you until its release for viewing, makes no sense. it is not comedy. it was a completely random reaction. no substance, nothing.

maybe the trailer failed to capture the intricate "delivery guy's quest for a mannequin arm" subplot that serves as the centering backdrop to the gag; if so, shame be to the trailer editors, we were all unjustly cheated. regardless, what was shown on screen during the trailer was unworthy of praise by laughter in any form or quantity.

Junior High, naturally, found it to be an aggressive assault on her funny bone.

further exacerbating the laugh riot, at the end of the trailer the pizza delivery wingman apparently validates the first delivery guy's elation at finding the mannequin arm prize by leaning out the car window, wagging his fingers in some fashion, and rejoicingly singing (and i quote): "deedly-deedly-deedly-deedly" in some kind of grim Bill S. Preston / Ted Theodore Logan mockery.

this , of course, prompted from Junior High the first of many demonstrations over the next couple of hours of a rarer variation of movie disturbance: the "repeat what you just heard the movie say" or "plainly state to someone else nearby what actions just took place onscreen".

Junior High swivels to face Friendly Uncle and , through her hysterics, apes Pizza Wingman's celebration. what effect this had on Uncle Overcoat i'm not sure but it was at this point that all hope was extinguished for me that A) grace and i would know a moment's peace during the movie and B) that this guy was just her dad. it may have been a while since i was that age, and for the record i was never a girl, but i'm pretty sure that that age for girls is prime "embarrassed to be seen with the parents" territory, not "leaning heads in close together in a public place while clasping hands and laughing".

from that point on and throughout the movie we were served with a constant artillery run of laugh bombs from Junior High punctuated by spastic limb movements and "he got run over by the bull!" points of clarity.

because i liked the smooth combination of Jack Black, Napoleon-Dynamite goofy vibe, interesting filmwork in capturing Mexico's vistas, and Danny Elfman / Beck music (this is my mini-review by the way), i was still able to enjoy the movie though i believe that grace's fatigue (she had spent extra time at the airport that day due to missed connections, general airline snafus, etc.) made the ceaseless peripheral braying a little too much to bear for her to leave any room for enjoyment of the film's finer moments.

the movie ended and we left; i'm not sure what happened to Lonely Bachelor and the Justin Timberlake Fan Club Member (bah, that's probably too dated a reference, who do the kids like these days....) but hopefully she comes to her senses and starts hanging around with guys her own age and renting DVDs at home in lieu of weekend rendezvous with creepy older men.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

that band, the one with chris cornell and the Rage guitarist....

there's a hole in my brain right where the name of that band, the one with Chris Cornell from Soundgarden and the bald guitarist from Rage Against the Machine (the one that goes wicky-wicky-wick on his guitar in every song), would ordinarily go.

i liked a lot of Soundgarden's songs, they could write some pretty interesting minor chord progressions, and Chris can belt it out, but was not really much of a Rage fan, no axe to grind against them, just not a fan.

for reasons unconnected to that history, i'm just not a fan of that Band Whose Name I Cannot Recall. whenever i hear one of their songs, which are fairly prevalent over the radio, i feel lethargic and uninspired. i'm sure there's a lot of talent in the group, but the product of that talent in this case happens to be droning vanilla mush.

if the fate of the world depended on my being able to remember The Band's name, we would all be doomed.

someone might post a comment with The Band's name. i will read it, say 'oh yeah that's their name' just as i've done a thousand times when they say it on the radio, and then the name will drop into that black hole in my brain and be lost again. it is futile.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

not deadbeat, just worldly

i haven't posted since june 5th but i doggedly assert to you now that i haven't gone the path of the deadbeat blogger, i've just been on a trip with the company to Amsterdam and Crete.

of course that only accounts for the time between last Thursday night and this recent Monday afternoon so the rest of the absence before that remains largely unexplained.

i'm still here and have a story from that timeframe, it just involves pictures that i was waiting to receive and post. plus i'll have the recap of my first European adventure sometime after i shake off this jetlag/travel cold combo.

rest assured i'll quickly return to my rock-solid one-post-per-week rhythm soon.

Monday, June 05, 2006

bestest president ever

so Fox News' Neil Cavuto, on his daily show, today posed the question:

"Will the world remember George W. Bush as a great president?"

.....i'm going to stick my neck out here and predict "no".

politics aside (and for the record, some internet quiz i took told me i'm some particular type of centrist, thank you), GWB has screwed up way too much to be considered "good", let alone great.

feel free to come back in twenty years or so (is that the right amount of time passed for people to start remembering old presidents?) and post chiding comments if time and history prove me wrong.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fun with numbers - the Space City Ice Station way!

so i, from time to time, like to supplement my weekly league hockey activities with a separate night spent at my rink's pick-up hockey session, where backchecking and defense are myths and the goalies typically are made to work harder than James Brown on tour. mostly i attend these for practice, to work on my skill set; other times it's just for fun or to satisfy the hockey jones in those weeks when it can't be sated by one league game alone.

normally these games go off without a hitch; i call ahead to put my name on the goalie list, head out there in the evening, suit up, make some saves, miss some saves, drink some water, suit down, drive home, shower, sleep, alarm clock, snooze, snooze, snooze, get up and go to work.

this week's pickup, however, did come with a hitch thanks to the rink personnel playing fast and loose with their math.

let's put down some numbers here:

1 - the number of goalies that can, within the rules of hockey, defend a net at one time

2 - the number of nets in a hockey game setup, one on each end of the rink

4 - the maximum number of goalie spots per pick-up session, as shown on the sign-up sheet and stated on the rink's website

90 - number of minutes of gametime per pick-up session

if we take the number of gametime minutes (90) multiplied by the number of goalies on the ice at one time (2) we arrive at 180 total goalie gametime minutes per session.

if the maximum number of goalies (4) show up, two goalies are assigned to each net and each goalie plays for 180 / 4 = 45 minutes and sits for 45 (the remainder of the 90-minute pickup session). usually in this case the goalie will play for 15 minutes , sit for 15 minutes while the other goalie plays, and repeat until the session is over.

this 50/50 split between playing and sitting is what i refer to as the 'maximum rest/play threshold ratio': playing time must equal or exceed the amount of time spent at rest.

my personal opinion is that 3 is the optimal number of goalies per session as it creates a 2:1 ratio of gameplay to rest; play for 20 minutes, sit for 10.

now...... when i showed up to the rink for pickup this week, it was to my chagrin that i saw a total of 8 goalies signed up for the night's session in a baffling disregard of the rink's own stated rules.

applying our earlier formula: 180 gametime minutes / 8 = 22.5 minutes of gameplay for each goalie with (90 - 22.5) = 67.50 minutes spent sitting on the bench.

this results in a goalie spending three minutes at rest for every minute that he plays. in a word, unacceptable (made even more unacceptable by the fact that we were told the session started at 10 pm but an earlier league game did not finish until 10:30)

considering the high-schoolish, part-time status of most rink employees i figured it must have been some boneheaded mistake by a teen who could care less to properly count for $6.50 an hour.

however, one of the goalies (a friend i met through a goalie message board who recently moved from Minnesota to Houston) sent an inquiring letter to the rink's manager the next day and received this in response:

"I knew we had quite a few goal tenders trying to sign up, but certainly didn't expect them all to show up. That is the problem we've had in the past, which set us up for last night. It has not been unheard of for 4 guys to call in and none show up to play. I knew we had a full roster of high-end skaters, so we gambled on the goalie side, and obviously got bit. We started working on how to solve this last night, and will announce a new policy in the next day or two. I expect we will have some type of reservation charge to hold a spot at least, if not simply charge a fee for goalies to play"

so the rink decided to risk having a good number of goalies come out for an unhealthy portion of gameplay-to-rest to benefit some "high-end skaters"? not hard to see which position is the red-headed stepchild in this hockey family.

as far as goalies signing up and then not showing, i could understand some type of informal blacklist for repeat offenders but i have to this day not found any precedent for making goalies pay to play pick-up.

Fact #1: for hockey players, shooting on a goalie, even a terrible one, is infinitely more challenging and entertaining than shooting on an empty net or jersey tied to the top of the crossbar.

Fact #2: goalies are generally given a free ride at pick-up sessions because A) they have had to buy all of the expensive equipment and B) because of Fact #1, a pick-up session with goalies attracts more paying players than one without goalies.

in short, we generate revenue for the rink by showing up and drawing larger groups of paying players; our compensation has always been a pass on the pick-up fee.

if they do come out with a pay-to-play policy for goalies i'm curious to see how well it goes over. i feel the growing need to unite the community of goalies to boycott.... "A Day Without a Goalie"

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Update: Fox News still hiring third-graders to prepare its onscreen news captions

seen just this morning on FOX News onscreen text describing the potential impact of recent White House personnel changes on future government election results:

"Latest White House Shake-Up Affect On Upcoming Elections"

there's no time to waste: i must travel to Fox News HQ , sit down with the broadcast manager, and give him or her a lesson on the differences between "complimentary" and "complementary" before they do a news feature on what wines go best with steak!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Goalie camp - final days 6 & 7; the return of the teacher and the coast to the finish line

so i'm late on goalie camp blogging.... so you'll get the wrap-up of the final two class sessions in one fantastic post!

session #6 brought about the end to Wilkie's absence ( though only a day gone it still means i only got 86% of the professional instruction that i paid for; kindly refer to my day-five rant in an earlier post)

turns out he was up in Utah to be a spectator to some juniors training camp or something. our trickle-down learning benefit from this came from him telling us that apparently the coaches to the next NHL stars are now advocating a new position for the trapper (the glove that looks like a oversized baseball mitt) in the ready stance where the trapper opening faces down toward the puck instead of up and out. i suppose the theory here is that you'd want to point the pocket of the glove toward teh area from which the puck will be heading toward you, i.e. down toward the ice level where the puck is. hey, if it's good enough for the almost-pros i'll sure give it a shot.

as per the other class days (day five excepted) we mixed in one new drill with three other old ones for four total stations of work. the new drill for day six was the 2 - on - 0 .

the "2" refers to the number opponents (one with the puck) skating in on net with the intent to score, "0" refers to the number of your defensemen who didn't screw up somehow on the ensuing play.

for a 2 on 0 to occur the opponents had to get past both defensemen, who probably either were caught napping or who made some flat-footed attempt to stop the puckcarrier and were summarily circumvented. this kind of situation is a tough one for the goalie as the two opponents, with enough time and space in the zone, can stretch out the potential shot angles.

not only does the goalie have to worry about staying in between the net and the puck on the current puckcarrier's stick but he also has to contend with the possibility of the puck being suddenly moved to the other opponent who is likely all the way on the opposite side of the zone. if the pass is made the goalie usually has to scramble over to get in between the net and the puck's new location, often giving up proper gap control in depth to maintain the angle (and of course, students, we know that being too deep opens up many more and bigger holes to shoot at!); even after a successful scramble the puck might be played right back over to the first puckcarrier, requiring another frantic scramble to the puck's newest location.

even if the original puckcarrier never passes at all and takes the shot, the goalie is still at a disadvantage as he usually gives up some depth on the puckcarrier to hedge against the pass and also has his concentration partially diverted to the presence of the other opponent.

all in all, 2 on 0s are a bad, bad thing and do not endear defensemen to their goalie when they are allowed to happen frequently.

....i said earlier that we only mixed in one new drill but i take that back now, we also worked on dump-ins (i'm guessing that this or the 2 on 0s would have been week five's new drill).

a dump-in refers to the opponent shooting the puck into the offensive zone (the zone with the net they want to score on, the one i swore to protect), usually along the end boards, to put the puck behind the net and send guys chasing after it as part of the appropriately-named "dump-and-chase" strategy. the idea here for the offense is to force the defending team to beat the offense to the puck. at best, the offense gets to the puck first and starts the play from behind the net, a more dangerous spot for the goalie than you'd first think. at worst, the defending team gets to the puck first but at that point is usually collapsed deep in its own zone. overall not a bad play choice for teams with quick offensemen who can race quickly to the puck.

the goalie often has the best chance out of any of the defending team to get to the dump-in first. as the puck is shot down and around the end boards he has to leave his crease and travel behind the net to the back boards to stop the puck and look to move it to one of his defensemen for a counterattack up the ice. easy enough in theory but in practice it's almost pathetic how difficult it can be to move a mere six feet in enough time to stop the puck.

the dump-in drill consisted of one man at the blue-line (the line marking the beginning of my defensive zone) who would shoot a puck around the boards behind the net; goalie had to leave his crease and go to the back boards to stop the puck, move it to a defender, and then get back in front of the net to field a shot from another offensive guy in the middle.

ideally, you want to get your whole body against the back boards to form a wall through which the puck cannot pass; with the speed of the dump-ins , however, i found myself lunging with the stick more than a few times. not much more to say about it than that, i was pretty tired from the other drills by the time i got to the dump-ins so i kinda half-assed it.

near the end of the session, in lieu of breakaways, Wilkie introduced the shooter-goalie fitness challenge: shooter would set up in the slot area (middle of the zone about ten to twelve feet out from the net) with five pucks and fire them on net in rapid succession. goalie stops as many as he can, when the dust settles the shooter owes three push-ups for each save that the goalie makes and the goalie owes three up-and-downs (going down into butterfly and back up) for each goal that is let in. i did pretty well on this one, four out of five saves on the first go-around and a full five for five on the second series so my workout was rather light.

fast-forward to this recent Monday, before the start of day seven:

i got out on the ice about twenty minutes before the start of the session so i could skate around and take a few warmup shots. the rink was having some sort of open-ice session where a few scattered people were milling around. one of the groups out there was what appeared to be a young dad and his kid of about four years of age (i'm a bad age guesser); obviously not a hockey player yet as the kid could barely skate and was actually in a rented pair of figure skates, but the dad did have him in a helmet and carrying a plastic hockey stick in his hands. after a while they waddled over near the net so i put a puck out there for him to shoot at the goal. he could barely move the puck a few feet so i think the first "goal" i let in i actually had to reach back and swipe at to knock it the full way in. did that a good number of times, a fun chance to give the kid some positive goal-scoring imagery and let me make some goofy super-slow missed save attempts.

day seven was "goalie's choice" day; at the end of day six Wilkie had asked us to bring in on paper our choice of preferred drill to run for the last session. i turned mine in , which read: "2 on 0s; for the love of god please no more pokecheck drills".

turns out i was one of about two people who remembered to turn in a suggestion, so we ended up doing these:

1) 2 on 0s - i actually regretted the decision to propose this because, although i did want to practice more on them, the monkeys who represented the attacking twosomes did not know how to recreate the pace or accuracy of the play. in general a 2 on 0 has to result in a shot fairly quickly as your defense should be charging back to hurry them up; with the practice monkeys, however, they skated around slowly, made some bad passes, and generally spaced themselves poorly. on top of that, the second twosome pair would usually start their "rush" even while you were down from making the save on the first twosome. overall.. blech.

2) butterfly slides - this drill i liked and i'm glad someone picked it (or that Wilkie picked it for us, who knows) ; pucks on both sides of the net and goalie had to push off from one post to the opposite side in a half-butterfly to make a save on what would be a shot after a pass through the crease. very entertaining and i'm getting better at it all the time

3) up-down saves - nothing more here than an endurance-save drill for the goalie where you drop into butterfly and get back up to field a shot, repeat four more times. the second series you got to drop on your stomach and recover back up for the shot..... fun! actually it was pretty fun.

4) dump-ins - just as crappy as last week.

one final hurrah of breakaways at the end of the hour and that was it, goalie camp complete! i eagerly await my gold-star-labeled certificate of participation in the mail.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Passive aggressive justice!

a couple of years back when driving in Houston i'd noticed a billboard asking local citizens to rat out their fellow Houstonians who are driving cars more damaging to the environment than the average passenger vehicle. you know the type, the ones with black or white smoke billowing continuously from the tailpipe; this phenomenon is defined by a handy Texas government website as "a result of incomplete fuel combustion...usually caused from improper engine operation".

back then (and now) i thought it was a good idea; some yutz mucks up our air because he isn't keeping his car properly maintained? i get my oil changed regularly and go in for interval service checkups, why isn't everyone else on board with the program?

the answer of course lies somewhere within the triangular boundary of economic status, laziness, and "jerk syndrome". some can't afford it (that's why they're driving the busted-up hoopty in the first place), some can't motivate themselves to get out to the shop and fix things, some are aware that they're laying down a Spy Hunter - like smokescreen but eh, my daddy didn't hug me enough when i was a kid so forget you man you can just "BACK OFF" like my Yosemite Sam mudflaps tell you, and countless combinations of the three forces.

technically it is illegal:
"State law under Section 547.605 of the Texas Transportation Code prohibits motor vehicles with excessive visible smoke emissions from operating on Texas roadways. Law enforcement authorities statewide may issue citations, punishable by a fine of not more than $350, to the owner of "a vehicle that emits visible smoke for 10 seconds or longer"

but there aren't enough cops on the road to catch all of the polluters so the government deputized all us do-gooder citizens to help out. all of this said i never followed through with a report until earlier this week on my drive in to work when i trailed behind a smoking car for a good ways into downtown, thought to myself "time to take action, citizen" and boldly copied down the car's license plate to ensure accurate reporting! once at the work desk i made my way to the online government website for reporting smoking vehicles and passed along the information (license, date/time/location) .

so what, did i discover, was the end result of my efforts?

to quote the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's site:

"The extent of the action taken by the TCEQ regarding smoking vehicle reports is the mailing of a notification letter to the registered owners of the reported vehicles. The letter notifies them their vehicles were reported to be observed emitting excessive visible exhaust emissions. It also encourages them to make repairs, if needed.... and inform vehicle owners that they can be ticketed for operating a smoking vehicle on Texas roadways"

a notification letter and gentle encouragement to have your vehicle properly maintained: take that, you no-goodnik!

really, what should i have expected though?

"Officer Kentz, we just received another anonymously-submitted report of a car emitting excess exhaust"
"Roger that, I'm heading directly to the suspect's place of residence to commence standard stakeout procedures. Requesting backup"

unrealistic both due to manpower constraints and that, if actual enforcement was part of the program, you'd end up getting a visit from the cops about your car, whether smoking or not, courtesy of your vindictive ex.

so overall i feel like a contributor to the government program equivalent of a homeowners' association, sending passive-aggressive notices to code violators, letters that will be summarily read, disregarded, and thrown away. considering that the product of the whole process seems to be limited to some paper trash destined for a landfill, did i just end up hurting the environment through my civil vigilance? oh the irony

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Of ziplines and kettle corn

Grace and i headed up to Austin last weekend to hang out with her sister and brother-in-law and go careening through the trees at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours.

now i, during my college and post-college years in Austin, never really strayed much to the southwest of the city but there's some really nice-looking hill country out there. this zipline tour happened to be nestled out there in a very scenic area filled with the titular cypress trees as well as shallow rivers and rockbeds.

the cost was a bit steep for what amounted to about a forty-five minute nature tour but the experience was fun nonetheless. i suppose the general rule is that cost increases proportionally to the height at which the nature is observed; in our case we were about forty to fifty feet above ground so we hit the middle somewhere between national wildlife park admission fees and a helicopter tour.

on the Sunday of that weekend i ran off to hang out with a good friend from college who so far has decided to stake his claim in Austin; got to watch a bit of HD playoff hockey (Anaheim vs. Colorado) on his mammoth TV so the day was a plus for that alone right there.

grace and her sister and brother-in-law , in my absence, ran off to the annual Old Pecan Street Festival which happened to be underway. the main objective for her was to secure some genuine kettle corn straight from an honest-to-god kettle; if you've never had it, it's quite good, popcorn with a little bit of sugar and probably something else unhealthy. light and sweet

after a time, my buddy rich fell asleep on his couch (the inevitable crash after his late-night adventures at a poker game the previous night) so i took my leave and set out to the heart of downtown Austin to locate grace and the gang. i've never been to the Old Pecan Street Festival before, don't know what its origins or theme really is, but as i stood on 6th street waiting to rendezvous with grace & company (man, how did anyone coordinate before the advent of cell phones?), i realized it had many of the same qualities possessed by the other Austin festivals i'd been to in the past (eeyore's birthday, 40 acres fest, etc.)

namely, you know you've arrived at an austin city festival when you're walking along and a hot summer wind brings with it, overpoweringly direct to your nostrils, the musky aroma of body sweat and patchouli.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Goalie camp day five draws the ire of the bobcat

so as good as the fourth day of goalie camp was, day five took a nosedive in quality of equal amount. for the most part this was due to the fact that our goalie coach, well, was not there.

"in Utah" was the succinct response from our temporary coach to inquiries as to the whereabouts of the goalie coach best suited (and appropriately paid) to teach us.

i can understand an emergency absence; hockey does take a backseat at times to family and business. what i'm less willing to tolerate is having to show up for a session painfully short on goaltending theory discussions, whether old or new topics, and long on being fed through the same old drills we learned in weeks prior.

maybe Wilkie, due to the Utah business, didn't have time to talk through the day five lesson plan with his helpers; i hold that as a possibility so no points deducted there.

even without any new material, though, i would have expected the assistant coaches to put at least some thought into the activities for the day. the biggest evidence of unpreparedness came when the temp coach split us up into four drill stations; no big surprise there except that stations one (which I started at) and four were exactly the same drill.

now, we have been through enough days and enough different drills that a number of options were open for #4 to avoid making us run through the same drill twice within the hour. when it came time for my squad to hit #4 i took the liberty of requesting that we run through the butterfly slide drill (an exercise from last week that i personally wanted to work on). after a moment's pause the guy in charge found no reason why we couldn't do just that.

all in all, i was a little pissed off at the situation and was a little surprised that i was the only one that seemed to take notice that we got hosed this time around on our netminding educations; we basically did goalie study hall for an hour.

Wilkie might offer us another week to make sure all of his planned topics are covered but i'm not really holding my breath, just look to make some gains in the next two sessions.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Goalie camp the fourth

for reasons unknown we only had seven goalies in attendance at this week's camp, down from our full class of twelve; the missing five were a mix of adults and younger ones as far as i can recall. they may have all just collectively missed a day but i'm hoping they wimped out for the remaining sessions, more coaching time for me!

this week's camp in particular was a good one for me as it addressed some positional concerns that i had and also gave me the chance to see some training tools in person that i had only read about previously.

i actually got suited up and onto the ice about fifteen minutes before the session started so i had the chance to do some warmup skating laps and stretching. after that some of the coach's shooters were out so i stood in net to let them take some shots and also get myself accustomed to the speed of the puck.

about five minutes before the session started, the coach came out, skated over and asked me more about one of the concerns i had detailed in my introductory email to him weeks ago; considering the length of the email and the time lapsed i was impressed and appreciative that he had the presence of mind to recall it and follow up with me.

in my post on day three of the camp i'd discussed angles and depth; this particular concern was the proper depth to use against puckcarriers who are to the side of the net below the faceoff dots. in past games i'd always felt uncomfortable even though having the puck that low and to the side is normally a good thing as the angle to the net is very sharp and doesn't give the shooter much of an option from there. i felt handcuffed between staying on my feet and feeling that shots to the left and right of my feet would be difficult to stop and going down in the butterfly to block low but leave the upper areas open or even giving the puckcarrier an opportunity to move around me into the slot area and an open net.

Wilkie had me stand out at the side and look at the net from a shooter's perspective while he set up in a standing blocking stance near the goalpost. even without any goalie gear on he took away almost all of the available angle just by standing right next to the goalpost. moving out from the post toward the puckcarrier was a case of diminishing returns; not much additional angle was removed and instead the risk of being stranded on a puckcarrier deke or pass to the center was much greater.

the big takeaway lesson here was that movement around the crease is less of a semicircle and more of a horseshoe. From the center area moving left, tracking of the puck is done in an arc to maintain proper depth; however, after the puck passes below the faceoff dots you can generally move backward straight to the goalpost and remain in good position.

to reinforce the concept Wilkie had a few shooters carry the puck in on the side to down low and then attack the goal laterally. By using the concept Wilkie had outlined, I could discourage shots from the sharp angles and force the puckcarrier to move to the center; being near the goalpost made it easier for me to drop down and slide laterally to follow him and stop the play on net.

as it stands this was part of the lesson plan that Wilkie had for the day; to instruct the class he set up a traditional goaltending coach's exercise, which was to tie ropes to each goalpost and hold them in one hand tight while skating around the zone. The ropes showed the possible range of angle that a puck could be shot from at any position on the ice that would result in a goal (similar to what i discussed in camp #3 post as well) ; goalies were made to adjust their depth and angle to the ropes as the position of the ropes changed.

Wilkie also went into the concept of the butterfly slide and backside leg recoveries.

The butterfly slide is the motion of sliding laterally across the ice in a butterfly position to follow the puck around the zone when you do not have time to recover and shuffle or if you are anticipating a low, quick shot. Most often the butterfly slide is used to follow the play after an initial shot & rebound, and is also one of those techniques that i find much easier to do in a game situation without thinking than when i'm in practice and focusing on it deliberately. One of the drills we did consisted of shooters on both sides of the net; the goalie would hug one post and then push off to butterfly slide toward the shooter on the opposite side to cut down the angle of the shot.

Backside leg recovery refers to the technique of recovering from a down stance onto your "power leg", the leg that needs to be used to move you toward the puck's position. For example, if i went down in a butterfly and made a leg pad save that rebounded the puck to my left, i would need to first get up on my right leg; with my right skate back on the ice and under my body, i am in position to push off to the left in a butterfly slide to regain angle position to the puck or, if time permits, to regain my normal stance and shuffle off to the left.

With fewer goalies around we each had more time in the drills and by the end i was pretty beat, especially with the last drill we did. i'm not sure what it's called but it involved putting about a bajillion pucks in a semicircle about a foot outside the crease and having a shooter fire any puck he wanted at any time and forcing the goalie to make as many saves as possible. it was a great scrambling drill but holy moley was it tiring.

all in all a great session and the best part was that i really put the new concepts learned into action at this week's league game; having finally seen for myself how little net i gave, just by standing on the post , to shooters attacking on sharp angles , i played much more confidently and controlled the play in those situations much more often. now if my defense could just understand why it's a bad idea to constantly allow opponents to screen me and hang out on the backdoor of the crease...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Goalie camp - day 3, shuffling around and gazing with telescopes at the stars

day three of seven of the social bobcat's goaltending camp is in the books, and it brought..... pretty much more of the same: drills, drills, drills.

this past monday's camp focused primarily on two different aspects of goaltender movement: telescoping and shuffling.

telescoping is the act of moving out toward the puck or backwards toward the net and is the cornerstone of good gap control.

in a standard goaltending matchup (goaltender vs. single attacker) you can think of there being two "gaps" in play: the distance between the puck and the goaltender and the distance between the goaltender and the goal itself. (or think of a straight line from the goal, A, to the puck ,C, with the goaltender as some point, B, between the two)

the greater the distance between the puck and the goaltender, the more time the goaltender has to react to a shot on goal. to an extreme, if the goaltender planted his feet on the goal line the goaltender-to-puck gap would be maximized all the time and the goaltender would always have the most time possible to react to a shot. this method wouldn't be too practical, however, as a standard goal measures four feet high by six feet across; most people can't fill up twenty-four square feet of space, bulky protective gear or not, leaving numerous large holes for shooters to target. with the speed that hockey pucks can achieve, playing a 100% reaction-based goaltending style won't get you too far, sometimes you need to just be a wall that the puck hits.

the way to reduce these holes is through, you guessed it, adjustment of the goaltender-to-goal gap. as you travel farther out from your net toward the puck your body covers more of the net, same as how holding your hand up to your face covers more of your computer monitor than if you place your hand against the screen.

the trick in proper gap control is to figure out just how far you need to be from the goal and from the puck at any given moment. you want to be out from the goal far enough to reduce the amount of the goal that the shooter can see (called "cutting down the angle") but don't want to be so far out that you overcommit to the current puckcarrier (mind you, there are usually four other guys in the zone who would also endeavor to put the puck past you into the net).

visualize a triangle between the puck and the two goal posts: the puck can be shot on a line anywhere inside of this triangle and, unless impeded in some way, a goal will result (unless of course it's shot over the top of the net itself).

Your friendly neighborhood goaltender can maximize his level of coverage without overcommitting to the puck's current position by telescoping out to where his body touches the edges of the triangle (for most modern-style goalies, where the feet would touch the triangle edges while in the butterfly position). By doing this the netminder can ensure that a puck shot on net will at least be in reach of his limbs, upper or lower, giving him a chance to make the save; a puck shot any wider will miss the net entirely.

So what have we learned? Telescoping is great and a good example of geometry and physics in the real world. But.... it doesn't get the save made by itself.

I've found that opponents have the nasty habit of not staying still while play is going on; one guy moves around the attacking zone to my left with the puck or passes it to another guy in the center of the zone who passes it off to yet another guy down to my right or maybe back to the first guy on the left. They keep changing the size and shape of my puck-to-posts triangle! It's really quite impolite as it requires me to make sudden changes in my physical location and angle as well; with all that gear on it can get quite tiring.

When making these positional changes, the goaltender wants to maintain the uniformity of his stance and be "square to the puck" (meaning he is between the puck and the goal with his body perpendicular to the line between the puck and the center of the goal line); this maximizes the surface area width of the body between the puck and goal. since shots can be fired on net at any time, it's best to be ready for a shot at any time and in the right position. if you moved to your left by turning your hips to face the new spot you wanted to be in, you'd open up a lot of net and also not be ready to react to a shot; the way to move around and stay ready is to shuffle like a madman (assuming that madmen shuffle in the way i'm about to describe).

Shuffling is nothing more than facing forward and pushing off to the side with your right skate (to move left) or left skate (to move right). The goalie does this motion from his crouch stance and the upper torso remains motionless; all movement is from the hips down. With a series of small quick shuffles the goaltender can track the puck around the zone while maintaining a solid mass between the puck and the net. of course, on some long-range passes where the angle of attack changes sharply the goalie must abandon the shuffle and make a quick skate over to the new puck location, but for the most part the shuffle is his bread n' butter.

so there you have it, making saves is as easy as telescoping out and back to adjust to the puck's distance from the net and shuffling laterally to accomodate for the angle of the puck relative to the net.

..... and maintaining proper stance and balance.....and monitoring the puckcarrier while noting the locations of the other opponents in the zone.....and noting the locations of your own teammates in the zone.... and tracking an inch-wide , 3" diameter cylinder in flight and telling your various limbs what to do to stop it..... simple!

(and hence my attendance at goalie school)

still waiting..

a brief note here:

i don't know if the hiatus, the introduction of American Dad, or some other factor is to blame but another Sunday passes and i'm still waiting for Family Guy to be cleverly funny again, as in the days before it was canceled and brought back to life by DVD sales and Cartoon Network reruns. the first episode when they came back was great (i recall a subplot with Mel Gibson) but the quality has been steadily rolling downhill since that point.

i still DVR every episode and watch but i wonder how long it'll be before Seth and his crew make me stop caring about Family Guy the way my enthusiasm for the Simpsons eventually waned into nothingness.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Vanity, thy name is license plate

ok people, anybody have any insights into the minds of people who thrill to the idea of having vanity license plates on their cars?

to me, the concept of a vanity plate has its own tinge of egotism right out of the gate, trying to make some personal declaration in seven letters or less to make your mass-produced car 'unique'. seems the people who are as drawn to this medium of expression as moths are to the flame are generally (or at least appear to be, as far as i can tell from their stamped-metal communique) elitist snobs or "wooo! PARTY "a-holes or some combination of the two.

you've all seen 'em: license plates like RICH DR on a Mercedes, 2FAST4U on a Mustang or 58 MPG on a Prius hybrid, something that says, "generic traffic audience, i feel that my status/condition is in this specific way superior to yours...i am trumpeting my awesomeness to the world!".

the notion was recently brought to mind by the presence of two separate vanity plates in my apartment complex this past weekend.

Vanity Plate the First: "BAK OFF" , as seen on a black(?) Porsche Boxster.

now you'd expect the driver of a small, sporty car to center his license phrase more around the near-mythical levels of speed and handling that his car grants him but this particular owner strangely decided to go with an "i'm a badass" theme you'd normally see on a 4x4 pickup jacked up on huge tires. i don't want to imply that this combination of car and plate points to one or more personal insecurities but... hmm, i don't know how to end that thought.

another element worthy of mention here is that the driver obviously wanted to brand his driving experience with this phrase so badly that he was not deterred when he found that the correct spelling variant "BACK OFF" was already taken.

Vanity Plate the Second: "NOWUSE", as seen on a blue Toyota Supra (with big spoiler and exhaust pipe? you bet!)

i assume that the message here is intended to be "No Wussy" (unless we're actually being encouraged to 'now use' some unspecified product); what is unclear is whether the driver is stating that he himself is not a wussy or that wussies (wusses?) should refrain from challenging him and his ride in any racing competitions, the outcome of which would surely result in their embarrassing defeat (and further sprial into greater depths of wussydom).

i, of course, could very well be wrong about these particular drivers (and maybe the others as well); they could be great people, caring parents, conscientious community members. still, i can't say i'd ever envision Mother Theresa having driven around from one charitable mission to the next sporting a "2HOLY4U" plate.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Goalie camp - day two

week two of The Goaltending Miseducation of the Social Bobcat started with me and my fellow goalie tutees being split up in mini-groups between four different stations:

1) butterfly save drill - assume the butterfly position (for those that aren't in the know, this is the save selection that positions the knees together and legs splayed in a manner that has no practical value other than within the narrow confines of hockey, see here) in front of the goal and proceed to direct low shots out of harm's way with the leg pads; the second portion of the drill had the shooters taking shots in any direction and height, to test your ability to make reaction-saves from the otherwise blocking position

2) shooter ID drill - goalie sets up facing his own goal with his back to two shooters; on command, goalie turns around and looks for the shooter with his stick raised, then advances out to cut down the angle of his shot on net.

3) pokecheck drill - goalie stands in front of his goal; three pucks lie on the ice about fifteen feet away. on command, goalie skates hard out to the pucks and executes a diving pokecheck, sliding on his stomach and knocking the puck a good distance away with the blade of the stick. goalie must then skate backwards to his crease and repeat until all pucks are properly dispatched. goalie must then skate backwards and cut off the angle of a shooter to the side of the net who fires three quick shots that the goalie must ward off.

4) post-to-post drill - with two shooters about fifteen feet out and on opposite sides of the net, goalie practices shuffling sideways from post to post, then advances out from the right post to the shooter on the left, or vice versa, to cover a shot on net.

As luck would have it, I got pegged to start the drill cycle in the most exhausting of them all, #3 pokecheck drill , or as i call it , "the Social Bobcat comedy routine"; i think on my first run through i whiffed on all three pucks that i was supposed to have elegantly directed away from danger. this is not a move that i have practiced much or utilized often in a game; to grasp the coordination of motion required, think of it as a one-handed pool cue shot executed while you're sliding on your stomach.

to make matters worse the coaches at that station decided that on our second time through we had to begin the drill by dropping on our stomachs and rolling over before getting back up to race out and jab at the pucks; i fared better on the puckstriking the second time around (got 2 out of 3) but was so winded at the end that i really didn't get back on angle to the shooter who was firing pucks at the net.

the other drills went fine (with the exception of one yahoo in my group at the #2 shooter ID drill who didn't seem to understand the concept of taking his turn for a decent number of shots and then stepping out to let others have a go at it.

i think Wilkie is doing a good job with introducing various drills but i do think that one of the first couple of sessions could have included the basics: mechanics of a good stance, butterfly recovery, etc.; i don't know about the rest of the students but i'm looking for a personal evaluation and discussion at some point, not just to be a participant in a goalie obstacle course. Will have to wait and see if we get some of that personal instruction later on.... if not i don't know if i'm going to get out of this camp what i was looking for.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My office's restroom design defies the natural laws of men's restrooms!

The men's restroom in my employer's office has a critical flaw in its design: two urinals.

As any conscientious male knows, there are certain buffer zones of personal space that should be honored when concerning the act of relieving one's bladder.

For example, if you enter a three-urinal restroom and find all unoccupied, you would select either the leftmost or rightmost station; this allows any subsequent urinator to occupy the urinal on the far opposite side. In this way proper proximities are established and each man can go about his business in a relaxed state.

What if, you say, you enter a three-urinal restroom and find stations 1 and 3 occupied? The buffer zone rule can actually be waived here; it is acceptable to use the middle station #2 because, in this case, there are not one but two other persons besides you in the immediate area so the unnerving "it's just you and me" effect is no longer a factor. Still, if I encounter this setup I generally move on to any unoccupied toilet stalls as I consider it the most courteous option.

There are many more established rules (different variants of "# of stalls vs. # of occupants") but they're too lengthy to discuss here; back to my office situation.

The problem with my office's design is that the two-urinal setup eliminates entirely the buffer-zone or multi-person options; they might as well have just installed only one urinal as the second one is effectively rendered ineligible for simultaneous usage under the proper guidelines.

To make matters worse, the area in which these two urinals are stationed is enclosed by thick walls on either side, further amplifying the "too cozy two-person" factor and increasing the chances of "can't-pee" syndrome when you step up to one of the stations in the otherwise empty set and someone else, ignorant of the rules, sidles up to the other station shortly thereafter.

"Can't-pee" syndrome, or "inrelievicus latrinum stat", is one of the world's true Catch-22's: you need to relax to put an end to the syndrome but every palpable second in which the syndrome is in effect raises the awareness of its existence to both you and your unwanted urinalmate, thereby raising social discomfort and preventing the necessary relaxtion process.

In addition, more of my coworkers than what I would have imagined seem to be unaware of the basic rules; because of the greater potential for sidling urinalmates I am thinking of bypassing the urinal section entirely in favor of the toilet areas during future visits.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Social Bobcat goes to camp!

I've been amateurishly goaltending for about seven years now and in that time any development in the art and form of preventing cylindrical objects from entering a netted area has been solely due to my own trial-and-error process and a couple of books read on the subject.

There are numerous aspects to playing the position - stance, angles, depth, gap control, to name a few - and I've always felt that since the only teacher I've ever had (myself) is far from a master in the subject I could benefit from getting told how it is by someone with a few more years in the game than me.

Normally this hasn't really been an option. To clear up a common misconception, Texas (outside of Dallas at least) is not exactly a hotbed of hockey activity; further to that point, the goaltending population is a narrower niche than the regular player population so goaltender-specific training camps are few and far between. When there are any scheduled in nearby areas they're usually week-long all-day affairs; since I'm a working stiff with an 8 to 5 job those camps, while they would be beneficial, are generally ruled out unless I chose to spend half of my vacation days on one (plus they tend to cost a lot of money).

So for years I toiled alone and begged, borrowed, stole as much technique as I could from printed material and by observing other goalies around me. Fate did dole out some kindness to me recently, though, in that the rink where I play brought in a former minor pro goalie to teach a mini-camp of sorts for seven weeks, every Monday for 1 - 1 1/2 hours in the evenings after work.

This past Monday was the first session; I was a bit surprised that the South Houston area managed to produce eleven others besides me who craved goaltending wisdom. About half of them seem to be high-school age and younger; no five-or-six-year-olds in attendance which was a little disappointing as little tykes in goaltending gear are pretty cute and funny to watch. evidence shown here:

Watch that five-hole, little guy!

The instructor, Paul "Wilkie" Wilkinson, has been playing since age five and was at one time a deprecatingly self-described "door-opener" in the big leagues (read: perennial backup goaltender who sits by the bench door and doesn't play unless the first-string netminder is out). Seems like a good guy who really likes the sport and wants to help us out; still, I don't expect him to be a miracle-worker with me, the guy only has seven combined hours to play goalie doctor and he has eleven other puck-targets to work with. He does seem to have things organized, though; lesson plans have been promised before each day's session and some time off the ice afterwards to discuss drills , skills, and what have you.

First day was pretty general; we split up into four groups of three for some basic stick deflection drills (shooters shoot low to each side and goalie has to redirect the puck to the corner, then shooters shoot high and the goalie has to catch, drop, and redirect on the glove side or redirect in the air on the blocker side). After that some endurance drills that left me a little out of breath by the end of it; nothing like five quick up-and-down butterfly saves followed by a sprint to the center red-line and another up-and-down butterfly cycle.

At the end of the session we divided the group in half and started doing shootouts, with the shooters skating in on the goalie in net and endeavoring to score. As long as the goalie kept turning pucks away he could stay; once one got by, he's out and time for the next guy to test his mettle against the encroaching snipers. I did pretty well on this; during my two stints in net i turned away about three or four each time , either through an active save or playing my angles/depth well enough to force shots wide.

After the session, Wilkie said he'd like to be able to learn more about each of us and to that end we could send him an email about our backgrounds and desired goals for the camp. He may have regretted making that offer as I put together a mammoth 1,955 word essay on my background, perceived strengths/weaknesses, and goals; he's yet to respond, hopefully due more to lax e-mail checking than to me having freaked him out with my enthusiasm.

Will post updates as the weeks (and my l33t g0ali3 ski11z) progress.