Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

@Brian – I’m up to a streak of two now. W00t!

The Week

Beale Street Most weeks when I travel it’s either to somewhere I’ve been about a million times (Tampa), or some little podunk town in the middle of nowhere (Altus, OK). This week was a change – somewhere new and somewhere cool – Memphis, TN. I must confess Memphis is a place that held a little interest for me, but yet somewhere I don’t think I’d have sought out to go visit. Having been here, I can say I’m still not sure I’d go out of my way to come back, but I very much dug what I was able to see of the town.

IMG_0345 Memphis is of course famous for their barbecue, and I can attest there are BBQ joints a plenty here. I managed to stop by two, Rendezvous (which I’ll review below) and Corky’s. My trip to Corky’s was interesting mostly because of the fact that Matt Cain walked in than anything else (the food was good, but not up to the standard of Rendezvous, or even Famous Dave’s for that matter.

IMG_3463 Memphis is also famous for their blues, in particular on a part of Beale Street in downtown. This was the one thing I wish I was able to enjoy more of, but as I’ve said (and blogged) many times before, I just have a hard time going out and roaming around a town on my own. I forced myself to go to BB King’s to listen for a while, and I’m glad I did. Playing that night was Preston Shannon (and the Preston Shannon Band), and he put on a great, high energy show, even with the small crowd of a cold Tuesday night.

The highlight of the week was being able to see Ronda and Mark, friends from college who I’ve been able to keep up with thanks to the magic of Facebook. We went out to a churrascaria in downtown called Texas de Brazil (a chain). Food was good, conversation and friends were much better, though. The one part that did take a little adjusting to was listening to Ronda, who’s from Minnesota but has developed a full southern accent. She still has the same infectious laugh that she had in college, though. I had a fantastic time, even if it was my second dinner.

Yeah, that’s right – second dinner. One downside to having a smart phone of any variety is you start to depend on it, almost to the same degree you do your brain. If my iPhone doesn’t know it, then I don’t know it.[1] Any appointment that I need to remember, including outings with friends, I put into Outlook, which of course syncs with my iPhone. This time, though, I figured I’d just remember the fact that we had changed from Wednesday night to Thursday night. Big mistake. I went out to dinner at a nice little Italian place, went back to my room, changed into PJ’s and settled in for a relaxing night of reading my book. When I checked my email I got one from Ronda saying, “Sorry, we’re running late. We’re stuck in traffic.” Huh. Ok… So a quick change and I ran out the door to meat up with them for dinner. I think I’m still full from that night.

The Exercise

I don’t think eating BBQ counts as exercise, but if it did…

The Restaurant

IMG_3455 One trick I’ve learned is to ask my students where a good place to eat is; they usually steer me in the right direction. I of course asked where I should go get BBQ and without hesitation the consensus was Rendezvous. I knew I had to find good BBQ while I was out here, and while I won't be stringing a banner up and executing a carrier landing, I can safely say, "Mission Accomplished".

IMG_0342 The restaurant is two levels, with the downstairs seeming to be the more fun area. I settled in at the bar and was greeted by a friendly bartender who hooked me up with a Yuengling. I asked her if I should go for the ribs & shoulder or ribs & brisket and was told to go with the latter. She did not steer me wrong.

The brisket was out of this world juicy, tender and flavorful. As is normal, it was served on Texas toast (something I've never quite understood as I never eat the bread, but I'm just a Yankee so what do I know?) The ribs are "dry ribs", meaning they're not slathered in sauce before being sent out. They were incredibly tender (near melt in your mouth) with a nice crust of seasoning on top. The sauce (I went for the hot stuff) wasn't quite as hot as I was expecting, but it still brought a lot of flavor to the party. The slaw and beans that it was served with were both very good, but I didn't have much room for it with all the delicious BBQ in front of me.

Every now and then I'll find something that will ruin that particular item or cuisine for the rest of my life. This may have just ruined BBQ for me. Well, probably not - but pretty darn close.

The Travel Note

Drivers in different areas of the nation are, well, different. In Memphis it seems two basic concepts eludes everyone: claiming a left turn and merging at a yield sign.

Not once did I see someone (other than myself) roll out into an intersection while waiting to take a left. As Gallagher once told us, “Three cars go through on a yellow”. The only way that happens is if you go out and claim that left turn.

The other basic concept that was foreign to Memphians was using the lane that’s about to end to maintain speed and merge into traffic. The freeway entrance/exit by my hotel featured a line of cars stopped at the top of the exit ramp waiting for an opening, rather than maintaining speed and merging in.

The Five

With the holidays coming up, there’s a 99% chance this will be my last Friday Five of the year. I just don’t see me sitting down on Christmas day or New Year’s day to peck out a Friday Five. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you were going to make book on me not posting a Friday Five, I wouldn’t bet against me.

Upon looking back at my previous Fives this time of year, it seems I’ve developed a Christmas theme. If you know me at all, you know I’m all for tradition, so….

  1. Travelling full time makes it harder for me to realize when Christmas time is approaching. Because advertisers and start hawking their Christmas wares around October I wind up treating that much the same way I treat anyone on a city street – I just ignore it. With that said, though, I feel very fortunate to be able to be home for Christmas.
  2. My favorite Christmas movie by far is the original Miracle on 34th Street. If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to do so – in the original black & white[2].
  3. If you have any chance, watch the Christmas episode of The West Wing titled In Excelsis Deo. You won’t be disappointed. Bring Kleenex.
  4. Every year I keep talking about doing a Christmas movie marathon. Still hasn’t happened yet.
  5. Let’s be clear. There is no “war on Christmas”.

And with that, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. And thank you very much for reading my blog; one of my favorite four word phrases to hear are, “I read your blog”. Thanks.

[1] Well, my iPhone and Wikipedia.
[2] In deference to a particular reader who has a motherly themed blog, before television and movies were available in color they were available in shades of gray known, affectionately known as black & white.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Garlic Meatball Po’Boys

I made these up for a Super Bowl party years ago and they were a huge hit. I’ve done them up a few times since, and recently decided to do them up again, with pictures the whole way through. The process is very simple.

IMG_3433 Throw all the ingredients in a bowl. You may need a good butcher to find ground veal, though. (The beer is just for me, although you will need one for the recipe).

IMG_3435Make sure to chop everything up rather fine – mine wasn’t quite fine enough, but it worked out OK for the finished product. Inside of each is a small garlic clove (or a half of a big one).

IMG_3436Quick dredge in flower (hang on to the leftover to make the roux later).

IMG_3437Brown them well. (One beer for the recipe, one for me.)


Browned the meatballs, made the roux (just keep stirring, just keep stirring, just keep stirring, stirring, stirring), and in go the onions.


Add the beer and water and simmer until it thickens.


After it thickens and you add the parsley it looks a bit like this.


The finished product. We do them up in normal rolls rather than a full French loaf. We also skip the mayo, just adding on a good spicy mustard. Insider tip – rip out a lot of the bread leaving just a little left (and the outer crust, of course), which will make eating them a lot easier. Serve with either the Abita Amber or, my preference, Turbo Dog.

Very easy to do up – probably about 20 minutes of prep work, and then the rest is simmering, stirring, and drinking beer. And boy do they make great leftovers.[1]

The recipe:

[1] So much so that Karin asked me to double the recipe for next time just for the leftovers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

None needed! W00t!

The Week

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I get to go to all the exciting places. This week, it was Alexandria, LA. I’ll give you a moment to figure out where in the world it is.

On the plus side, if you’re a regular reader of my blog you know I lived in Louisiana in a past life.[1] While I would have preferred a larger town, being in Louisiana for an entire week eating Cajun/Creole food was a dream come true. I may have gained about 10 pounds this week, and each ounce of it was delicious.

Being that I was actually in Louisiana, I was also able to sample some of the “local delicacies”, in particular boudin and cracklins. Boudin is essentially sausage made from dirty rice – very tasty. Cracklins are pieces of pig skin fried – yeah, not so much; I’m glad I tried it, but never again.

The Exercise

So I was in Louisiana….

The Restaurant

Oh gosh – which one to pick. I think I have to go with Robbie G’s. I wish I would have taken a picture of the place, but I think I can paint you a good mental image: Picture a small little restaurant along the side of a freeway in Louisiana. It’s got a good 10 or so neon beer signs in the windows, making you think it might be a bar. The sign above it is an old Pepsi sign that’s been used for another restaurant but repurposed for use here – but the investment in updating it involved a thin coat of white paint and the word’s “Robbie G’s” spray painted on it. The outside paint job looks as though it should have been redone about 7 years ago. The restroom is around back, separate from the building. Inside it’s all cheap wooden tables and chairs, with peanut shells scattered everywhere. The place feels slightly dirty, almost to the point where you think twice about actually eating the food, while knowing the food is probably going to be awesome. The wait staff is all very friendly, and calls you “honey”. That’s Robbie G’s.

It’s also exactly what I wanted to find when I found out I was going to small tow Louisiana. My only regret was that I had BBQ for lunch and was still rather full from that experience. I went for the grilled snapper, which came out very well seasoned and grilled to perfection. It was served with coleslaw (very tasty), boiled potatoes (those are hard to screw up) and corn.

If you find yourself in Alexandria, LA….

The Travel Note

Only in small airports… There was an earlier flight available out of Alexandria. The flight departed at 5:05, and I got to the airport at 4:30. Just the fact that I was able to get on the flight was a minor miracle; in a larger airport they would have laughed me out of the place. The cherry on the sundae was when the printer failed, so the agent wasn’t able to print out my boarding pass. Because she didn’t have time to fix it, she went out to the gate, printed it from there, and met me at security and gave me my boarding pass there.

The Five

Let’s see if I can do five random things about Jersey

  1. The origin of my nickname is a rather boring story. When I first got to college (arriving from Jersey) I fell into a group of friends where there was another Chris. Since he was left-handed, and we were so creative, he became Lefty and I was Jersey.
  2. The story of how I met Karin is just as boring. Somewhere in the mess of 10,000 people you meet when you first get to college was Karin.
  3. Having said that, I knew I was going to marry her shortly after we met. We were at a party once and I looked across the room and something just clicked inside of me, “That’s the woman you’re going to marry.” About two years later…
  4. Contiguous 48 states I have yet to make it to: Wyoming, West Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and maybe Maine. I may have been to the last one as a kid but I can’t remember.
  5. I use my phone as an alarm, and I have to put it on the other side of the room just to make sure I’ll actually wake up when it goes off. On more than one occasion I’ve turned off my alarm without realizing it.

[1] I don’t actually believe in past lives.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

I was working on Saturday and just didn’t get a chance the last two days.

The Week

I found myself in Tampa …. again. At some point I do start to wonder if it would just be easier to just get an apartment in certain cities. But on the upside I do have the city pretty well down, knowing where to go and where not to. On the flip side I find that I tend to get less adventurous when I’ve been to a city numerous times, as if I feel a need to visit the places I really enjoy, as if I’ll never be back again.

My luck at visiting people when I’m out there continues to be pretty terrible. As per usual I did get a chance to see Michael (although we didn’t make it over to the International Beer Garten). The surprise was the chance occurrence that Bill, who also travels full time for work, happened to be home. I’m always grateful for whatever opportunity I have to catch up with friends.

The biggest issue I had this week was insomnia which lasted a solid 3 days (Mon-Weds). I think a big part of it might be the previous week when I was in Vegas and then home (but still staying up until all hours of the night). The routine when I was battling insomnia was I’d fall asleep at about 10 and then wake up at 11:30p – and I mean wide awake, as if my body was saying, “Hey – there’s supposed to be a hand of Pai Gow in front of me.” Fortunately by about Thursday I was finally exhausted enough that I slept through the entire night.

The Exercise

All jokes aside, I think the biggest problem for me is knowing what it takes to lose the weight I had lost before, which is ironically turning out to be my biggest hurdle. I’ve been pretty well down that path before and remember how hard it can be at times. I also see Jumbo and Sheri and what they’ve been able to do, and the amount of willpower they’ve shown, and question if I have that type of determination.

Of course on the flip side I also remember how great I felt after a good workout, and how spectacular it was when people would say, “Hey, you’ve lost weight.” What I did find funny was they’d always say my face looked thinner, which makes me wonder how fat my face really is.

The Restaurant

Dinner with Bill brought us to Capital Grille, which is an upper range steakhouse chain. The place generally does a good job of exuding class, including a well apportioned bar with hardwood all over. The food, though, wasn’t quite as good as the surroundings. Their lobster bisque was very tasty, and their au gratin potatoes were also very nice, but the steak was good but not great. I’m glad that I can now say that I’ve been to one, but I don’t see myself walking back into one in the near future.

The Travel Note

I always find it interesting the different laws regarding alcohol sales that some places have, and often wonder about the logic behind them. For instance, when I was in Altus, OK I stopped by a liquor store to pick up a six pack for the room. I was a bit confused by the fact that there were no fridges in the place. Upon asking the clerk I was informed that because they sold beer stronger than 3.2% alcohol they weren’t allowed to sell cold beer. And while you can buy 3.2% beer at a normal convenience store or market they have to put it in a bag, but the liquor store doesn’t.

Seriously – who makes these laws?

The Five

With Christmas season approaching, I guess I should list off the top 5 things I want for Christmas.[1]

  1. A second tattoo. I’m currently working on this one, but if someone wants to fund it.
  2. Best Buy gift cards. Trust me, I’ll find something to spend it on there.
  3. A good bottle of whisky. In particular I’d love another bottle of the Laphroaig 10 cask strength.
  4. A smoker. Although I have to say I’m a tad torn on this one. Abram might be right in that it’s something I’d use about 5 times and then forget about.
  5. A wine cellar. Since plunking down the cash to get “free” shipping from we’ve found ourselves with a good amount of wine in the house. It’d be nice to store that somewhere other than the Harry Potter closet.

[1] This only includes things that are actually attainable. Sure it’d be nice to get a Lotus Elise but I don’t think anyone’s going to be buying me that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why BCS Has an Extra Letter

Once again college football season has flown by, and once again I feel like I’ve barely had a chance to watch any games. That feeling is of course despite spending nearly every available Saturday planted on my couch in front of my TV watching college football. But as the regular season winds down we start approaching the most unfulfilling time of year – Bowl Season.

Mind you, I’m not talking about games like the Humanitarian Bowl, which should feature Bowling Green vs Idaho. I love the smaller bowl games featuring teams consisting of players who know they’ll likely never make it to the NFL and thus leave it all on the field. It makes for great football.

No, the most unfulfilling part of the bowl season is the big bowl games, or more specifically the big bowl games we don’t get. Surely there will be a couple of great big bowl games, but the one that matters, the BCS Championship Game, will be contested by two teams selected by a couple of polls and a few computer algorithms.

Most any college football fan knows that the system of selecting a national champion is ludicrous. I can’t think of another college level (or even high school level) sport that operates in this fashion, selecting its top two teams based on a beauty pageant. But yet there are still far to many that defend this system, including some people that I otherwise respect.

When these BCS defenders make their arguments, they spread at least one, if not all, of the following three lies:

Lie Number 1: The BCS ensures that every game in the regular season matters.

This is probably the biggest lie of them all. This season is likely to be the biggest proof of how false this lie is. Barring something catastrophic, there will be 5 undefeated Division 1A[1] teams at the end of the regular season. When a one loss team gets snubbed from the championship game, the argument is simply, “Well, just win them all.” Five teams will have done exactly that – won them all.

Chances are, the two teams that will play in the championship game (Texas and the winner of the Florida/Alabama game) are the best two in the nation. But there’s really no way to judge that for sure without actually settling this on the field. And frankly I think TCU is probably the best team in the nation.

Although when confronted with the fact that a team can run the table and still be rejected, the defenders of the BCS move on to the corollary to the above lie, that the mid-majors (Boise St. and TCU this season) need to play a tougher schedule. That argument is also rife with misunderstandings.

First, mid-majors have a difficult time at best scheduling a top tier school. The top tier schools have nothing to gain by playing the likes of Boise St; just ask Oregon who went to Boise St. only to lose. A major school playing a mid-major is expected to win, so gains next to nothing if they do, and will drop precipitously in the rankings if they lose.

Second, there is one other undefeated team, Cincinnati, who is a member of a BCS conference. They’re not a member of one of the mid-major conferences looking to crash the party; they’re a member of one of the conferences chosen as worthy enough to be a part of the BCS. Yet despite this they’re going to be on the outside looking in.

Since the inception of the BCS, many teams have gone out in the regular season, won every game, and been denied any chance to play for the national title. How does “every game matter” if we’re going to turn away teams who win every game?

Lie number 2: Having a playoff system will cheapen the bowl system

This is the most laughable lie of the three. People making this argument seem to believe that if suddenly there’s a playoff system that we’ll realize that the GMAC Bowl doesn’t mean anything.

News flash: The bowls don’t mean anything! They’re exhibition games. They’re a reward for the team for having a winning season, a chance to play one last game, a chance for the school to potentially make a little money, and an excuse for students and alumni to (generally) leave for warmer climes for a few days.

Having a playoff system isn’t suddenly going to change this fact, or make people realize the fact that any other bowl besides the BCS Championship Game doesn’t mean a thing.

If you’re so concerned about preserving the bowls, then seed the 8 teams[2] across games in the top 7 bowls. Rotate it so every 7 years the bowl gets the national title game. Problem solved.

Lie number 3: The players need to study for finals

This is the most uneducated lie of the three. Division 1AA, Division 2, and Division 3, all of which feature little to no sports scholarships, all have playoff systems. These are the real student athletes, ones that attend their schools strictly to attend school. Yet they manage to find the time to study for and take finals. I think the kids that attend Division 1A schools can manage as well.

Truth: The reason the system exists is because of money

The BCS bowl games are big money makers. One of the rules about the BCS system is that the conferences that send teams to the bowl games share the money they make by attending the game. There are only 6 conferences that are official BCS Conferences, and thus are the only ones guaranteed to send at least one team each (if not more) to the 5 BCS bowl games. As a result, this is a guaranteed money maker for the conference every year. Outside conferences are allowed to send teams to the BCS bowl games only in certain scenarios; basically only if they are in the top 12, and even then there’s only one guaranteed slot.

The time has come for the NCAA to stand up and do what’s right for college football, and what’s right for all schools. It’s time to end the system that tells certain teams right from the beginning of the season, “Sorry, you don’t have a chance to win it all.” It’s time for a real playoff; a real championship.

[1] Sorry, I’m not bringing myself to call it the FBS.
[2] In my plan, all we need is the top 8 teams. 16 is nice, but a bit of overkill.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

Well, I had intended to post on 20Nov, but had just returned home from PDC and didn’t even crack open my laptop. Then of course last week was a week off, and I’m generally terrible at posting when I’m at home.

The Weeks

As I mentioned above I spent last week at PDC in Los Angeles, CA. In case I haven’t mentioned this to you before, I hate Los Angeles. Loathe. I hate it…so much… I-it-it-flame-flames..on the side of my face…breathing…breathle-heaving breaths…heaving….

Alas, not every conference can be in Gold Coast, Australia. What is nice, though, is being able to see new technologies, old friends, and, since I was in LA, The Standard. But beyond that, it was yet another conference; a good conference, but still another conference.

That was just the beginning to a couple of busy weeks. Friday when I got home involved running around town and getting things ready for our somethingth-annual PreThanksgiving dinner, which was on Saturday[1]. If you’re new to the blog, PreThanksgiving dinner is a chance to celebrate the holiday season (and in particular Thanksgiving) with local friends and family before everyone goes running off to spend it with their real family. The event takes quite a bit of work, most of it done by Karin, who does all the shopping, and Abram, who’s the kitchen bitch. I just show up to get the glory. This year we had a record 15 people attend. If I do say so myself, I believe this was the best year food wise.

As I’m sure this is the way the Pilgrims and Indians would have celebrated Thanksgiving if they could have, Abram and I went to Vegas for a guys “weekend” on Monday-Wednesday. I can confirm that a good time was had by all, but my lawyer has advised me to say nothing else.

Thanksgiving day was a very traditional dinner – steaks, with a salad and twice backed potatoes. Friday saw a dinner over at Jumbo’s as his family was in town. It also happened to be the birthday of yours truly – yes, I’m now 37.

At this point I’m probably supposed to wax poetic about my approaching 40, but as of this moment the only thing that upsets me about turning 40 is the fact that my 30’s have been so fun. I’ve loved being 30, and I’m interested to see what 40 will bring in 3 short years.[2]

The Exercise

Conference week and vacation. Yeah, like that was going to happen.

The Restaurant

My friend Susan, a fellow MCT, and I are both foodies and we wanted to find a great restaurant to visit in Los Angeles. We settled upon Providence, which is in Mid Wilshire (for whatever that means). We decided to go with the tasting menu, which is a nine course meal complete with wine pairings. The entire experience was fantastic from start to finish.

We started off with an aperitif that was the essence of three different drinks, including a mojito and a gin and tonic; two of them were essentially solidified jello balls with a liquid center that just exploded in your mouth. From there the menu meandered around to different items, including sea urchin in a soft boiled egg, veal, and salmon (which I loved even though I generally can’t stand cooked salmon). In fact, come to think of it, I can’t think of anything outside of the cheese course that I didn’t like.

The wine selection was fantastic. Each wine was introduced before the associated course. My favorite description from the sommelier was the use of the word “funk” to describe the flavor one of the grapes used for the sparkling wine added to it. Gotta love a sommelier that’s willing to use the word “funk” to describe a wine.

If you’re in the area, and you’re willing to drop a good amount of coin for a fantastic dinner, you have to check this place out.

The Travel Note

For the last year and a half I’ve had a Samsonite roller bag that’s served me very well. Unfortunately, it’s served me too well; both handles on the zippers have broken off. This leaves me in the market for a roller bag that can be used as a carryon. If you have a recommendation, I’d love to hear it.

The Five

I’m in a great restaurant kind of mood, so here’s my five favorite restaurants broken down by type[3]:

  1. Favorite high-end restaurant: Providence. See above.
  2. Favorite non-standard restaurant: Elemental, Seattle, WA. You’re doing the tasting menu – you essentially have no choice. The place is tiny – it’s like you’re in someone’s dining room. But you’ll have a fantastic meal.
  3. Favorite neighborhood restaurant: Parkhouse Eatery, San Diego, CA. One of my favorite brunches in town, and a relatively affordable and delicious dinner. And in this case you are in fact in someone’s house; granted a converted house, but a house nonetheless.
  4. Favorite seafood restaurant: Oyster Catcher, Tampa, FL. I think I may have mentioned this place just a couple of times, but I do love this place.
  5. Favorite place to gorge on enough meat to be stalked by PETA: Churrascaria Plataforma, Manhattan, NY. If you’ve never done a Brazilian steakhouse, the basic concept is this: start with a huge buffet. Then when you’ve had your fill of that, flip that little red disk next to you to green and prepare to be bombarded with guys with skewers of all types of meat. Back to red to slow down and digest, then lather, rinse repeat. Of the few that I’ve been to, Churrascaria Plataforma is by far the best.

[1] I will get the couple of pictures I took up later.
[2] I reserve the right to change my mind in the future.
[3] Completely arbitrary types

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Purposeless Marriage

Hi, my name is Christopher[1] and I’m in a childless marriage. Please know it wasn’t the marriage we set out to have. When my wife and I first started dating and while we were engaged we talked quite extensively about having kids. We even had names picked out.[2] We were going to be parents.

After getting married, we decided that we wanted to just enjoy being husband and wife for a while. After all, we were both essentially babies at the time; I was only 22 and my beautiful bride turned 21 two days after we got married. We thought, “Let’s be young and just be newlyweds.” A few years into our marriage we decided to escape Minnesota for San Diego, but just for a couple of years, after which we’d settle down somewhere central to our families and have children.

Then something strange happened.

We turned 30. We’d been living in San Diego for well more than just a couple of years. And we’d been married for over 10 years. And we were both very happy with our careers. And loved our lives.

We both are very conservative when it comes to children. We realize that having children is a lifelong commitment, and a commitment greater than that of marriage – after all, you can’t divorce your children. To raise children well they have to be the center of your universe.

Given that, not only would having children completely turn our lives upside down, we weren’t sure that we wanted that responsibility. We had carved out a very good life for ourselves, and really didn’t want to give that life up. So, we got a dog and we called it a day.

Karin and I love each other as much now as the day we married, if not more. I think we have a very good marriage, and I believe most of our friends would attest to that as well. Sure, we have some things that need to be worked on, but what couple doesn’t? The fact is we’ve walked through this world together for the last 14+ years, through some fantastic times and some troubling times, and looking back we wouldn’t change a single thing.

At this point, the well-adjusted among you are probably wondering, “Why does he sound like he’s giving a testimony in front of an AA meeting, like he’s got something to be embarrassed about? Everything seems pretty normal to me.” It’s a great question.

Recently J, a friend of mine who also happens to be in a childless marriage, brought it to my attention there are some that believe marriage is for one purpose – making and raising babies. Of course, the main purpose of the diatribe that the author, Katherine Kersten, goes on is another attempt to convince the world of the evils of gay marriage. I’ll give Ms. Kersten credit for at least making an exemption for people that are old, or those that are unable to have children.

One point that Ms. Kersten does make is that a child has a better chance at being “well-adjusted” if the child has two parents in a loving marriage. I don’t think anyone would argue against that. And because I’m feeling beyond generous at the moment I’m even willing to temporarily concede the point that if the child has a father and a mother all the better.[3] But where Ms. Kersten loses me, and offends me to no end, is when she says the “purpose” for marriage is child rearing.

I’m left with the following question – now what do I do, Ms. Kersten? Do I divorce my wife, since clearly our marriage has been rendered moot? Should we have a child even though we don’t want to actually have one?

Please, Ms. Kersten, tell me – what do I do with my purposeless marriage?

Ms. Kersten, marriage isn’t just about having children. It’s about committing to another human being in front of friends, family and God, that you will always be there for that person for the rest of their natural born lives. It’s about saying, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Legally, it carries with it the rights to speak for ones spouse when they can’t speak for themselves, as well as coming with the responsibility to share what was accomplished during the marriage should things go horribly awry.

Or, put simply, in deference to you, Ms. Kersten, it’s about love.

[1]No, really, it is
[2]Chaela Wynn for a girl and Joshua Patrick for a boy
[3]I don’t for a second actually believe that. Two loving parents (of any gender) are the best any child could ask for. A very close second is a single parent who loves the child to death.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

I had to work on Friday (again), so I just didn’t get a chance to peck one out.

The Week

This week found me in Tampa for a second week. As a result Karin came out to visit instead of me going home. He had a fantastic, if quick, weekend together. Saturday was off getting a really nice dinner at Malio’s. Sunday morning was brunch and then me doing laundry[1]. That night we went up to IBG to hang out with Michael and his family. The next morning she headed back to San Diego.

The rest of the week was pretty mundane. Work, dinner, sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The Restaurant

Karin and I had planned on going to Charley’s for dinner on Saturday. Alas, we couldn’t get in. After a little searching through Yelp, we settled on Malio’s, a steakhouse. Located in an office building, they’ve done a very nice job with the space they have. They also have a nice patio are that over looks the Tampa River.

With the economy doing what it’s doing, and the fact that they just opened up the new digs, they’re offering some fantastic deals on their steaks. Karin and I both settled on the New York strip, Pittsburgh rare. While the steak was cooked perfectly, it wasn’t as tender as it should have been. The sides, however, did shine. Their au gratin potatoes (done up with crab meat) were out of this world, and the green beans were sautéed with bacon, almonds and pearl onions.

They also have an extensive wine list that features many affordable options as well as the $1,000 bottles.[2] Their drinks were well made; my Manhattan was near perfect, and Karin loved her lemon drop. Their bourbon selection was also pretty solid, which made a fantastic dessert for me.

The one thing that did drag down the experience was the service. While the waitress was pleasant, she wasn’t overly friendly nor attentive. We sat for a good half hour with empty plates and a waitress nowhere to be seen. Even after requesting our check and having it taken away from us, we still sat with empty plates in front of us. Anyone who knows me knows how rare this is for me – I only left about 15%.

The Exercise

<Insert clever excuse here>

The Travel Note

I’ve been very lucky over the past couple of years. Not once had I fallen ill or had need to go to a doctor or dentist. Well, until this past Thursday. I lost a filling in a tooth, which sent me off to the dentist.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about a single payer system for healthcare[3], but I will say this much – getting my insurance flipped around for a single dental visit in Tampa was a pain. I had to add the Tampa dentist on as my primary, and come the beginning of December I have to switch it back to my San Diego dentist. It should be simpler than that.

The Five

I’m a simple man. I really am. I don’t need a lot out of life. Even when I order food and drink, I generally want simple. Here are the top five simple things I always have hard time getting.

  1. Water without ice. High near impossible. Even if I say, “water, no ice”, I’m getting ice at least 50% of the time.
  2. Whiskey without ice. Again - “<insert bourbon> with just a splash of water”. Way more often than not, ice in the glass. In fact, on Saturday night I ordered the same thing in two different bars and had to stop the bartender from pouring it on ice both times. The second bartender even had the gall to imply that it was my fault, forgetting the fact that at no time did I say “ice” or “rocks”.
  3. Black coffee. The number of times I’ve had this conversation is innumerable:
        Me: Black coffee, please.
        Server: Do you want cream or sugar?
        Me: No.
        Server: So, black?
        Me: <sigh>
  4. Anything without cheese. One of the little things I avoid (like it makes a huge difference) is cheese.
  5. Beer in a room temperature glass. This one really isn’t even worth the battle. Anyone who likes good beer knows it’s supposed to be served in a room temperature glass – especially bolder beers like IPA’s and stouts.

[1]Do I know how to show a girl a good time or what?
[2]Another of my biggest peeves is wine lists where you can’t find a bottle for under $80. I like wine just as much as the next guy. That doesn’t mean I feel the need to throw down a bill just for a bottle with dinner.
[3]I hope to do a blog posting on that later. We’ll see if it actually happens.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What is a Vet?

Every year for Veteran’s Day, an email list I subscribe to sends out the following email. It’s a great reminder of those who have served, and today I want to post that here.

Recently Karin and I were in Tampa, and we happened to be staying at the hotel they were holding the Marine Ball at, which is a celebration of the Marine Corp’s birthday, which is November 10th. There were Marines in full dress uniform, and women in very pretty dresses. There were also Marines in full dress uniform in wheel chairs and on crutches, a chilling reminder of the sacrifice they made and others are willing to make.

If you know a veteran or someone currently serving, thank them today. Politics or your thoughts about the wars we’re currently fighting or how we’re fighting them really don’t matter.

With that, here’s the essay from Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC – What is a Vet?

Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye.  Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg - or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul’s ally forged in the refinery of adversity.  Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem.  You can’t tell a vet just by looking.

What is a vet?

He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn’t run out of fuel.

He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.

She or he—is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.

He is the POW who went away one person and came back another—or didn’t come back AT ALL.

He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never seen combat—but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other’s backs.

He is the parade—riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.

He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean’s sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket—palsied now and aggravatingly slow—who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being—a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You.  That’s all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot, “THANK YOU.”

Remember November 11th is Veterans Day.

“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.  It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.  It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.  It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

I was actually working Saturday, so I couldn’t get my brain to understand that Friday was Friday.

The Week

I found myself in Tampa this week, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is usually a good chance to see friends. Of course, having said that, the only friend I generally tend to see out here is Michael – although that’s not bad because it usually involves a trip to the International Beer Garten. I was also staying in downtown, which is really just all commercial district. At some point I need to make it over to Ybor, which is the “fun” part of town.

The Exercise


The Restaurant

They serve food, well bar food and pizza, so I’m going to give props to the International Beer Garten. They have about 40 taps, and a huge bottle selection, meaning regardless of your taste in beer you’ll find something – unless of course you drink yellow fizzy stuff. When I was there on Wednesday they had a rep from Stone Brewery there, which was a tad weird – in Tampa meeting up with a rep for a San Diego brewer. Their food is normal bar food, although I’m here to tell you their pizza is out of this world after about 6 beers. It’s well north of Tampa, but worth the trip if you’re a beer geek.

The Travel Note

If you travel at all check out TripIt. It’s a fantastic service that tracks all your travel information. Uploading your trip is as easy as forwarding your confirmation email to I’ve found that it can read just about everything, and does a great job of collating data together. For our Australia trip I went San Diego to Tampa to Houston to Brisbane to Houston to Home, on two different airlines. TripIt was able to put everything together into one trip. If you’re willing to pay for the pro version, you’ll get text alerts 24 hours before your flight, 4 hours before your flight, and upon landing. It’s great being able to walk off the plane, open up my phone, and see the text with my gate information.

The Five

Karin asked me the other day how to send an email with a shortcut key. She’s pretty savvy, but, like most users I’d say, only knew about the normal ones (Ctl-C, Ctl-X, Ctl-V, Ctl-Z (undo), Ctl-Y (redo)). So here’s five shortcut keys on Windows everyone should know.

  1. Ctl-Enter – sends an email from Outlook.
  2. Windows Key-E – opens Explorer
  3. Windows Key-D – shows the desktop
  4. Windows Key-Arrow – In Windows 7 this moves a window around
    • Up arrow – Maximize
    • Down arrow – Restore or minimize
    • Left arrow – pin to left side of screen
    • Right arrow – pin to right side of screen
      • The left and right are especially nice if you need to see two windows easily on one screen
  5. Windows Key-R – brings up the Run menu (not really needed outside of Windows XP)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Zune and Xbox 360

One of my favorite features of the Zune software and an Xbox 360 is the ability to stream music from my PC to the Xbox. My favorite feature when it works.

Recently I upgraded to the Zune 4.0 software[1] and was unable to play my songs any longer. The issue was with the Zune Pass[2]. Fortunately, there is a reset tool that’s available to fix this. If you can’t play your music any longer on your Xbox, try this:

After running the tool, I opened up the Zune software, played a few songs, and gave it about 30 minutes to download whatever licenses it needed. After doing that, everything worked just fine.

[1] Software that puts iTunes to shame.
[2] A fantastic offering from Microsoft - $15/month for all the software you want, with the ability to download 10 DRM-free songs per month.

(The Sometimes) Friday Five

The Excuse

I’m typing this on Thursday but I’m no declaring victory quite yet…

The above was typed on 22Oct. I hadn’t quite finished up my posting, figuring I would get it posted when I got home. Well, when I got home the urge to install Windows 7 overtook me. I figured I’d finish/post it on Sunday. Then I realized on the plane that I didn’t have this posting on the newly installed OS. And then I came to find that much of my hardware wasn’t working correctly. So that took all my time earlier this week when I would have been finishing this and posting it.

The end result is I’ll be posting a two week update.

The Week

This week Last week was a bit of an odd one for me scheduling wise. Usually I’m gone for a collective 5 days, but this week it was just a quick two day trip to Boise, ID. This meant that I was able to spend Saturday (most of it) and Sunday doing what I love to do on fall weekends – sitting on my couch watching football. It was everything I thought it would be and more.

The one exception to my football watching was on Saturday when Karin, Donna and I went to see Toy Story 1 and 2 in 3D. I have to say that my first 3D experience since the 1980’s didn’t leave me with any greater “wow” feeling than it did 20+ years ago. It may just be me, but I have a pretty strong inclination that this will befall the same fate as it did before.

Being home on Monday night also meant being able to go out with friends to watch the game at San Diego Brewing. Little things like that are certainly what I miss the most while on the road. Unfortunately, of course, the game didn’t turn out quite the way I would have have liked. I may do a blog posting on the Chargers season (and future beyond that) later, but right now my emotions are still a bit raw.

The trip, like I mentioned, was to Boise. I’ve mentioned many times before that I love Boise, and this trip helped solidify it. I described it to Abram earlier this week as “Burlington, only with a lot less hippies.” If I were to ever consider moving back to a small town that had seasons Boise would certainly be at the top of the list.

Speaking of small towns, one thing I don’t often think of is the price difference between a larger metropolis like San Diego and a much smaller one like Boise. On Wednesday night I took a trip to Famous Dave’s (have I mentioned I love Famous Dave’s?), settled in at the bar and was informed that it was happy hour and all drafts were $2. Not crap beers were $2 – all drafts. And they had about 15 to choose from, including a fantastic local IPA. $2 for a pint. You just don’t see that elsewhere. San Diego Brewing, for instance, will do $3.50 pints of their own brews, but not of others. At $2 a pint it becomes about on par (if not cheaper) than buying (good) beer in a store.

The trip also reminded me how much I miss fall. I miss the crisp air, leaves turning, and the memories that type of weather brings back. I have talked to more than a small handful of people who have moved away from San Diego because they miss the seasons, and I do understand that. San Diego doesn’t really have seasons. More of just a summer to spring and back again. I’ve had a couple of people try to convince me that the seasons are just more “subtle.” Nah – there just aren’t really seasons.

That was last week, when I thought I was in a small town. Boy was I wrong. This week I was in Altus, OK. If you’re not sure where Altus, OK is, well, you’re probably normal. But in case you’re curious, it’s in the middle of nowhere, or as Abram put it, it’s the city of Nowhere, in the county of Nowhere, in the state of Nowhere. You can see it on a map here.

Altus is a town of about 20,000 people, and was chosen by the Air Force for a base specifically because it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s the training base for large aircraft.

Needless to say, I didn’t find very much to do during the week. In fact, when I asked my students about where to go for dinner I was met with a blank stare for a good 10 seconds until someone said, “Well, um, there’s an Applebees”. Not really the answer I was looking for. In any event, I did find a couple of places to eat, one which I really loved (see below), and another that was just OK.

One thing about travelling to more conservative states is the bizarre alcohol laws they have. Because I had a mini-fridge in my room I decided to stock it with a six pack. Stopped by a liquor store and found that they had no beer fridge. After settling on a six pack I asked the clerk if they had any cold beer. I was then informed that because they sold beer stronger than 3.2 they weren’t allowed to have cold beer. I also learned that if you buy 3.2 beer in a grocery or convenience store that it must be in a bag, but not in a liquor store. Really – who makes these laws, and what good do they think it does? Although Oklahoma does have a 21 and up law when it comes to sitting at the bar which I do appreciate.

The Exercise

Ron asked about this when I posted a picture of dinner to Facebook. Does working through a few ribs count?

But again – that was last week. This week I managed to get in a couple days worth of exercise. Journey of a thousand miles and all that…

The Restaurant

One restaurant that my students did recommend was Tommy Joe’s BBQ (not Tommy John’s, that’s something completely different). Apparently the story behind the restaurant is Tommy Joe had a trailer that he made and sold BBQ out of, before making enough money to buy up a building. I had a three-meat combo which included ribs, brisket and turkey. All of which were outstanding, even if the ribs were a bit too salty. The sauce they had was fantastic, with a heat that wasn’t overpowering but really built up to let you know that it’s there. Next time you’re in Altus, OK…..

The Travel Note

I guess you should be clear in the type of room you ask for. I apparently forgot to ask for the non-leaking room. When I was in Altus a pretty good storm came rolling through. I slept through the storm up to the point where I started getting splashed on. A leak had formed through the smoke detector in my room. I’m here to tell you that packing up your room at 2a to move to another room is not fun.

The Five

I’ve got travel on the brain lately, so here’s the five places I want to visit most:

  1. Japan – Anywhere in the Orient, really. The area, culture, history all fascinate me.
  2. Ireland – For obvious reasons.
  3. New Zealand – With a little luck we’ll be headed out there next year (if Karin says “yes”).
  4. Hawaii – Can’t figure out how we haven’t made it over there yet.
  5. Vancouver – I’m not sure how I’ve never managed to take the quick jaunt up there considering the number of times I’ve been to Seattle.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

None needed. W00t! I typed this out on Friday, I really did. I just forgot to post it.

The Week

You need be careful about getting excited when you see cities on your schedule sometimes. On my schedule it said “Chicago”. In reality I was in Schaumburg, IL, which is about 30 miles east of downtown Chicago. Which also meant that there was really no chance of getting downtown to explore unfortunately. You win some, you lose some I guess.

If anyone’s interested, Schaumburg, IL is a suburb. And really, little else needs to be added. There’s an Applebee’s, there’s an Olive Garden, there’s a <fill in chain here>. The one fantastic thing is there’s a White Castle. I do love White Castle.

The Exercise

You’d think at some point I’d either start working out again or get rid of this section. You’d think.

The Restaurant

Not really a restaurant, but I gotta give props to White Castle. Yeah, they do terrible things to your digestive track.[1] Yeah, they’re terrible for you. Yeah, they’re little more that grease spots on a bun, summed up by the following story:

Driving back to Duluth from the Cities. We stop at White Castle, a place Karin had never been to before. We’re cruising along and Karin is being the perfect copilot – I finish one and she hands me the next. That is until suddenly she stopped. Concerned about what was happening I glanced at Karin who had opened the burger in her hand and was looking down at the floorboard.

Me: What happened? (may have been panic in my voice)
Karin: I think I dropped the patty.
Me (laughing): No, it’s still there.

But boy howdy do I love White Castle.

The Travel Note

I’m glad to see Continental starting to offer DirecTV on their flights. Now if only they’ll add internet access.

The Five

When I boarded the plane for home tonight I found out that Continental is no longer offering pillows and blankets on their flights. Below are five thoughts for the airlines.

  1. If you’re going to charge me for something, make it for something above and beyond the normal expectations for a flight. If you’re going to charge me for a meal make it decent food. I don’t mind paying for DirecTV access, but I do mind for checking my bag.
  2. I’ve heard that adding RFID tags to enhance baggage scanning and limit lost bags would cost about $1 per bag. If you’re charging $15ish for the bag, toss in the RFID tag.
  3. Pillows and blankets can’t cost that much. If you’re trying to save weight pull the SkyMall catalogs.[2]
  4. Everyone should move to electronic boarding passes. I love the convenience of using my phone as my boarding pass, as well as the added security.
  5. Be realistic about delays. If the equipment isn’t going to land until 40 minutes before it’s scheduled to take off again, it’s not leaving on time.

[1] Worst flight ever was when I had 8 slyders before boarding.
[2] Unless, of course, you’re Jonathan Coulton.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse:

If it’s posted on a Tuesday does it still count as a Friday Five?

The Week[s]

Of the many issues that I have, I have a hard time buckling down and undertaking huge tasks. As a result, dealing with everything from Australia drove me away from blogging in general, and I’m having a hard time getting back into it. But here I am, and with a little luck I’m back to stay.

I last posted a Friday Five on September 4th, so I guess there’s quite a bit to get caught up on. I’m sure you’ve all seen the Australia posts by now, but that was of course the biggest bit of adventure[1] that Karin and I had. In case you couldn’t tell we had an absolute blast and I can’t wait to go back (maybe next year??)

While Karin was able to go home after Australia[2], I wound up flying out to Tampa, FL. The Tampa trip was productive both on a professional and personal level. The week was just a good work week, and I was able to see a couple of good friends of mine on more than one occasion. Being able to see friends is probably one of the best things about travel, and probably the most powerful drug for beating back homesickness.

Because going home after that would be too good for me, I flew from Tampa to Houston. Houston was, of course, well, Houston. For whatever reason the last couple of trips out there haven’t been fruitful when it comes to getting together with anyone, something I hope changes in the future.

After Houston was a week at home. In San Diego, CA. Without work. It was everything I thought it would be and more. I was able to go to the Chargers game on Sunday[3]. We had picked up three wines from Australia on our trip which we were able to share with friends on that Friday night, as well as exchange stories with Brent and Ron who had gone to Europe over the same time Karin and I were in Australia. It was just fantastic.

This past week I was in (…wait for it…) Houston! Despite my best efforts, it was another work/home/work/home week in Houston.

The Restaurant

In Tampa exists one of the best (if not *the* best) steakhouses I’ve ever visited – Charley’s. I must admit that I’m a bit jaded when it comes to steaks. I’ve got access to Iowa Meat Market which offers up some great dry aged steaks, and a grill that I can get up to over 700 degrees; I can make a very good steak at home, better than most steak places. But what I don’t have is a wood fire grill. Their steaks are wet aged, and then tossed on this grill imparting a smoky flavor that is just out of this world. It’s the densest, richest steak I think I’ve ever had.

Oh – and they make a great Manhattan that they serve in a frozen martini glass tableside – because they’ll fill it up to the top, have you take a sip, and then top it off again. My kind of place.

The Exercise

I’ve been about as good with that as I have keeping my blog up to date.

The Travel Note

Last Sunday I went to the airport with about 40 minutes before my flight was due to board. I had secured my upgrade already meaning that I’d be able to cut the security line and be on the other side within about 10 minutes tops. That was, until, I got out of the car and realized I didn’t have my license. This is where living near the airport comes in handy, and that San Diego has such a small airport. I was able to go from the airport to home, run inside and grab my wallet, and drive back to the airport in just under 20 minutes total. Got to the other side of security and on the plane with enough time to spare to have a preflight drink on the plane.

The Five

After Dave (Jumbo) forwarded me an article from Men’s Journal – The Top Five Beer Towns in the U.S. – I knew I had my next five, which is the five best beer towns I’ve been to.

  1. San Diego, CA – This is an absolute no-brainer. San Diego has one of the (if not the) best collections of microbreweries in the world. There’s some debate as to whether or not the double IPA was invented in San Diego, but regardless it was perfected there. But despite what some may try to tell you, there are many non-IPA’s to be found, including my favorite stout from Green Flash which they age in used bourbon barrels.
  2. Brisbane, QLD – Everywhere I turned there was good beer available. It was mostly in the form of lagers and more traditional ales, but it was all fantastic.
  3. Burlington, VT – Home of Magic Hat and the Vermont Brew Pub. The Brew Pub gets a special nod from me for not only making great beer, but for serving it at the right temperature – around 40 degrees and in a room temperature glass.
  4. Athens, GA – I was blown away by the selection of microbrews in this area. Between brewpubs and microbreweries there’s a lot of good beer to be had in this college town.
  5. Boise, ID – You’d have figured that a town such as Boise wouldn’t feature good beer, but as I’ve said before – Boise’s a surprisingly hip town. While there are a couple of chain brewpubs in town, there are also plenty of good local brews to be had.

[1] I’m such a geek I nearly typed out AdventureWorks.
[2] Big ups to Sheri here for being willing to go pick up Karin.
[3] Bigger ups to Donna for scoring the sweet tickets.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Australia Redux

IMG_6399 Ok, I’m finally done. I’ve blogged about our trip in three separate installments, and have uploaded the pics – all 456 of them. I’ve split them into three libraries to make viewing them a bit less daunting.

Australia Part 1 – Brisbane
Australia Part 2 – Gold Coast
Australia Part 3 – Brisbane and South Bank

And if you want to revisit all of our adventures:

Australia Part 1
Australia Part 2
Australia Observations

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Australia Observations

In my experience, going to a westernized English speaking country is like going to a slightly different version of the US. I mean, when you get right down to it, Canada is really US North, only in metric with a funny accent. But Australia was certainly very different, or at least as different as a westernized English speaking country can be.

First up, as I’m sure you all know, they drive on the left side of the road. Even after a week as a passenger I just couldn’t get my brain around this. It was just too weird. The most dangerous part for us was trying to remember what direction to look when crossing the street. I couldn’t remember which way, so I’d just look both ways regardless of what side we were heading towards.

IMG_6656The beer there is fantastic. I don’t think I had anything at all that I didn’t like. And, no, Fosters is not available anywhere as best as I can tell – it’s simply a cruel trick they play on us Yankees.

One thing that Australia/New Zealand does very well is make wine. Trying to stay local we always had a wine from one of those two countries, and really didn’t find a bad bottle. They all come in screw cap bottles, which I’m still trying to get used to.

There isn’t a such thing as all-you-can-eat Internet access in Australia. Thus it’s high near impossible to find an open wireless access point, although McDonald’s does have them. Of course, ironically enough, my iPhone refused to connect to any cell towers out there but Karin’s worked just fine.

The sport situation is just weird. I understand Australian rules football because of the early days of ESPN, but I’m not sure that I understand rugby – they just throw around the ball and pound each other. Cricket is a complete mystery to me. They also have this thing called net ball, which, as best as I can tell, is simply an excuse to broadcast hot girls wearing tight outfits playing something that resembles basketball.[1]

Language is a funny thing. Getting used to the local accent was fairly straight forward, although there were more than a couple of times where my brain took a good 10 seconds trying to process what was just said to me. They do have a good handful of colloquialisms, though:

  • They say “mate” as often as you’d think
  • They don’t ever say “throw a shrimp on the barbie”. In fact, they don’t call prawns shrimp, they call them prawns.
  • Chockers means packed or stuffed.
  • Stuffed means tired.
  • They pronounce the “h” in herb.[2]
  • Appetizers are called entrees.

IMG_3361US chains are everywhere. We generally avoided them, but there are times when you just need something quick to eat and there’s not much else you can do. The local slang term IMG_3362 for McDonald’s is Mackers. Burger King is known as Hungry Jack’s, and I can tell you a Whopper is a Whopper the world around. And yes, you can find a Starbucks.

They’ve got their currency done (almost) right. They’ve eliminated the penny rounding everything off to the nickel. They have one and two dollar coins (no bills for those). Their paper money is different colors, different sizes, and made of plastic. Yes – plastic. Makes it near impossible to tear and washable giving it a longer lifespan. It’s also much harder to forge. The one thing that did get me though was the coins. They have a 20 cent piece (not a quarter), and their sizes are off (the dollar and two dollar are the smallest of the bunch).

[1] I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.
[2] Because there’s a flippin “h” in it. (Yeah, I’m censoring that joke)

Monday, October 5, 2009

I’m not dead yet!

OK – So I haven’t been around lately. I’ve been distracted by life. Nothing serious, just friends, Rock Band and Mafia Wars on Facebook[1]. There will be a Friday Five this week (I promise). Also later this week I will have all my pics up from Australia.

Thank you for being patient.

[1] I’m never forgiving you for this Abram.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Australia (Part 2)

Picking up from where we left off

IMG_3400 My TechEd schedule was very conducive to sightseeing. There wasn’t a single day where I worked later than 3p. Wednesday I was in for about 3 hours, done by 2p, and it was off to the beach. The sand was remarkably soft and fine, and the sun was just fantastic. We did witness one of the lifeguards going out to rescue some poor kid who’d gotten himself caught up in a rip current. After seeing the lifeguard (who wears nothing but a Speedo), Karin was ready to head out to be the next victim to be rescued, but couldn’t stomach going into the cold water.[1]

IMG_3383_thumb3[2]After our beach trip we ventured out to find dinner near the convention center. The Italian place we found was one of those where they had an old Italian out front who insisted it  was the best Italian joint in town. I don’t know if it’s the best, but it was certainly very good food. However, we did learn very quickly we weren’t in the US. Upon sitting down I (of course) ordered a manhattan. The waiter turned to Karin and asked if IMG_0127_thumb1she wanted a cocktail. Karin’s a bit more varied (that’ll be the word I’ll use) on her cocktail selection. The waiter bragged about the fact  that their bartender worked at TGI Friday’s in London. Now, bragging that your bartender worked at TGI Friday’s certainly isn’t normal here in the US, but Karin figured a lemon drop martini would be a safe bet. A few minutes later my manhattan arrived. It’s the one pictured on the left. Yeah, definitely not in the States. We were also informed that they were out of citrus vodka, so there would be no lemon drop today. The food, however, more than made up for the disappointments with the drinks.

IMG_0131 On Thursday Karin really found her bearings around town. She used the time that I was at work to go explore the city of Gold Coast, perusing the little gift shops and even finding her favorite little coffee place (and her new favorite coffee drink, a caramelized mocha). Since I was off working, I did put her in charge of finding something to do that day when I was done. She settled upon a duck tour. If you’ve IMG_6240 never done it, it’s an open air boat that doubles as a bus. When you’re in a city that’s on the water, the best place to see it is from the water. The tour took us down the river, and past where the rich people live. My new goal in life is to have a house on the river with a helipad.

IMG_3407 That night we found ourselves at a place called George’s, which is a steak/seafood place. One thing that I always try to do is sample whatever’s local.[3] The big thing in the area we were in (Moreton Bay) is bugs, which is a form of lobster. I had mine grilled, topped with cheese and a cream IMG_3405 sauce of some variety. I can say I’m glad I had them, but probably never again. They just have a weird taste to them; you could sort of tell they were lobster, but not really. We also started dinner with a lobster bisque that was chunkier than any bisque I’d ever seen before – although it was delicious.

IMG_3415 Friday was a relatively boring day. Karin and I grabbed lunch before heading out of town back to Brisbane. Outside of it being cloudy one day in Gold Coast we couldn’t have asked for better weather, so sitting outside, enjoying a couple of cocktails and munching on some food was a fantastic way to spend the afternoon while waiting for Anthony to be done. That night it was a quiet dinner at Anthony and Shane’s house and an early bed time (which was needed).

IMG_6343 Since we hadn’t had a good chance yet to explore Brisbane, Karin and I headed out to go roam on Saturday. Anthony suggested we walk along the South Bank, which is the bank on the opposite side of the river from the city. Since again the best place to see a city on the water is from the water, the walk offered up some fantastic views of the city.

IMG_6492 Along the way we stopped to visit The da Vinci Machines, a travelling exhibit featuring mockups of designs from da Vinci’s notes. Overall the exhibit was above average, and it’s amazing to see what he had come up with centuries ago. da Vinci had inventions for military machines, seafaring vessels, and of course flight. While many were never actually made in his lifetime, many of today’s machines are based on his ideas, including double hull boats. The item above is a primitive scuba mask, with a floating buoy for the hose so the person can breathe.

IMG_6694 From there we took the City Cat up to the cruise ship harbor. The City Cat his a high speed ferry that runs up and down the river in the city, offering some fantastic views and is a great way to travel.[4] There was a cruise ship in port, so our plans to sit by the water and enjoy a leisurely lunch were dashed as the cruise ship blocked any view of the water. But we made the best of it and enjoyed relaxing outside.

That night was River Fire, which is part of the annual Brisbane Festival. It features huge crowds, fireworks over the city, and a flyby by two F-111’s with their afterburners on. We had a pretty good vantage point, and it was beyond cool. I’ll get pics of that up later.

Alas, Sunday morning brought our time for our trip home. I had a two hour layover in LAX before heading off to my next destination (Tampa, FL at the time) and Anthony the night before assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem. Alas, he jinxed me. We were a half hour late taking off as a baggage door wouldn’t close and a fridge didn’t work (they fixed the latter by just bringing on dry ice). Then upon landing (only 20 minutes late) there was a bunch of baggage carts in front of our gate. After deplaning we were then informed that the baggage door now wouldn’t open. I didn’t get to the other side of security until after 8:30a (flight was at 9). Yeah, I missed my flight.

We’re already talking about going back again next year.

[1] It was spring in Australia after all.
[2] Editor’s note – This was a mistake from the earlier post. We went here on Wednesday, not Tuesday.
[3] This proved to be a bit of a challenge in Australia, as outside of vegemite there really isn’t a such thing as Australian food. It was basically the same thing we’d get back in the States.[5]
[4] If you ask Karin it’s also a great way to get a sunburn.
[5] Yes, I’ve tried vegemite – it’s terrible. Watching Karin try it for the first time was comedy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Australia (Part 1)

[Editor’s note: There will be no Friday Five for last week. I had been meaning to post this earlier this week but alas I was rather tired the last couple of days and just didn’t have the energy.]

IMG_6151 As my faithful reader[s] may or may not know, Karin and I went off to Australia last week for TechEd Australia. It was really just an excuse to go to Australia, even if it was for only a week. Needless to say, Karin and I had a blast. For Karin and I it was our first intercontinental trip, so a part of this post will include our experiences with that.

IMG_5530 Before I get rolling on the rest of this, I must once again mention a big thank you to Anthony and Shane (and Ace), our hosts for a good part of the week. They were kind enough to open up their house to us and help act as a  tour guide to Brisbane.

IMG_5518 Our flight to Australia was Qantas flight 14, which leaves LAX at 11:30p. Unfortunately Continental doesn’t have a partnership with someone who flies to Australia, so there was no upgrading on this flight. It was about 13 hours long, so even though you sleep for a decent portion of it (I probably slept a good 6 hours), it’s still a very, very long flight. Leaving on Friday night and landing on Sunday morning is also a bit odd, but it does make it relatively straight forward to overcome the jet lag if you can stay up until about 7p.

Getting through Customs was a breeze, with the only real hold up being waiting for our bags. Australia does check through any foodstuffs you might be bringing, and we lost a bag of trail mix because it had dehydrated bananas. Not exactly sure what danger they might pose, but what do I know?

IMG_3359The Sunday that we landed on happened to be Australian Father’s Day, so we went out for a special lunch at Hundred Acre Bar (which I guess is like the Hundred Acre Wood, only better). It sits right on a golf course, and is a very cool outdoor bar. The lunch was good (but not great). Most of the rest of the first day was just spent trying to stay awake, which is certainly a challenge.

IMG_5531 Monday was our first tourist day, and we did pretty typical tourist stuff. Just outside of Brisbane is a place called Lone Pine Koala Reserve where, among other things, you can hold a koala. And they’ve certainly got quite the racket going there – it’s $28/each to get into the park, and then another $16/each to hold a koala[1]. While I had no real desire to hold a koala, you’ve got to figure that the majority of people do. I’d ask why not just build the price into the admission fee, but I’m thinking they make more money this way. In any event, Karin was under strict orders to hold a koala, so we headed off to there first.

IMG_5559 The one nice thing about them charging you $16 is they at least let you come over to take your own pictures. Taking pictures of Karin holding the koala turned out to be a bit more of an adventure as they also do posing with a huge snake[2]IMG_5566and sure enough there was someone right next to where they were setting up Karin to hold the koala. I wasn’t able to walk past the snake, but I was able to stand near where they were by just ignoring the fact that they were there. So for $16 we did get a couple of great pictures out of it.

IMG_5584 Lone Pine is small but very cool. They have an area where you can feel wallabies (the small ones with the red highlights) and kangaroos. IMG_5660On the whole they seemed to tolerate me, but really liked Karin. I can’t say as I blame them. They also do a demonstration with a sheep herding dog. If you know Karin at all you know we of course had to stop by and watch that. It was IMG_6063 very cool to watch, and the border collie reminded us a ton of Roscoe, in both look and mannerisms – she was all about heading out and rounding up the sheep.

For dinner Karin and I wanted to find some seafood after hearing that Brisbane had some great seafood. ThIMG_6738e place we found ourselves in is called Jellyfish. I gotta say, it’s spoiled me to swordfish for the rest of time. It was just beyond amazing. They do all fresh fish, and this thing was just grilled with minimal seasoning – I threw on a squeeze of lemon and went to town. The lemon was all it needed. The restaurant is on the river bank (close to where I got the night shot from (which, by the way, I managed to pull off without a tripod) with a huge patio area and open walls. Unfortunately it started to storm as we were eating dinner so we had to move inside, but it certainly didn’t dampen the experience at all.

IMG_3372Tuesday was a relatively boring day as we drive from Brisbane to Gold Coast where the conference was. [3]Anthony was able to score a ticket for Karin into TechEd, so Karin was able to join me that night for “exhibitor night”. If you’ve never attended one of these, it’s something that you have to see once. There’s a ton of booths (although here it was much smaller than the US version) with vendors doing almost anything to pimp their wares – from drawings to give away high end products, to tried and true techniques like booth babes. We suffered through dinner there and headed back over to the casino to play for a little while. I got to play some poker (finished up $150, thank you) and Karin played her usual penny slots.

And that was just the first half of the trip…

[1] – Note that I did not say koala “bear”. Koalas are not bears, they’re marsupials. Ask any Australian – they’ll tell you. (They even seem to get offended if you call them bears.)
[2] – I’ve mentioned before I have an extreme phobia when it comes to snakes. I hate mentioning this because every now and then someone will think it’s “funny” to take advantage of this fact. Trust me – it’s not in the least bit funny. If anything it’s the fastest way to get me to disown you as a friend. I’m not kidding.
[3] – Editor’s note. One nice thing about being married to someone so detail oriented is she helps correct my shoddy memory. The trip to the Italian restaurant was on Wednesday, not Tuesday.