Monday, October 29, 2012

A Giant Surprise

We’re watching the Giants spank Dallas yesterday and enjoying ourselves immensely. The little ones are hootin’ it up. So I give them their daily bath, towel them off, brush their hair and get them into their jammies while the wife cooks. Then we go back to the game and, to our distress, the Cowboys are spanking the Giants.

And it went back and forth for a tense fourth quarter. Eli does his thing, the final minute drive to score, and they do. But then Tony Romo decides to do Eli’s thing, and with seconds remaining, fires one to his wide receiver at the back of the end zone.

The crowd goes wild.

The announcers go wild.

We’re shocked and dismayed. In disgust, I turn off the teevee.

We send the girls upstairs, supervise teeth hygiene, read them books. The wife makes a phone call and I go down to the basement office to do a blog post. We watch Walking Dead. I get myself ready for tomorrow’s early-morning trip in to work. By eleven, I’m sound asleep.

I wake up the next day at five. Make my sandwich, have a bowl of cereal, shower, get dressed, get my umbrella, my cell phone, wallet, and book (Inferno), kiss my walking dead wife goodbye. It’s still pitch-black out there. No rain, but some eerie powerful wind blowing the treetops. I get to work in twenty-five minutes. (My bosses would later send us all home by noon.)

The wife calls me around nine. “You’ll never guess what happened!”


“The Giants won!”


“The Giants won!” She explains to me how the receiver had a finger or something go out of bounds before his feet touched, or something to that effect. I haven’t yet seen the video.

But now I learned one thing. Well, two. First, the New York Giants are the most hands-down frustrating football team in the NFL right now. In the sense that they make winning as insanely difficult for themselves and their fans nearly every single week. Everything goes down to the last second in a typical Giant game.

And, two: never shut off a Giant game until Terry, Howie, Jimmy, Michael, and JB are yuckin’ it up.

Pre-Storm Dreams

Had a typically weird dream last night. How weird? Well, put it this way: I was a mid- to later-aged Hollywood actor playing a Pakistani Inspector Clouseau.

During the film I had the impression the humor was supposed to be very “hip” and sophisticated, but really it was just silly. Making fun of a suspect’s name (“billibongo” or something to that effect) and wearing outrageous costumes (a robe that looked like the comforter on the downstair’s couch) seemed to be the primary ways of obtaining a “laugh.” I don’t remember if there was a laugh track in my dream, but that is a possibility.

Then it morphed into me interrelating with some old coworkers, possibly because, yes, I have to go in to work during the hurricane, and then a scene of me listening to some embarrassing old demo tapes.

Oh well. Gotta get in the shower, get to work, and make the donuts, as they say.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bring It On, Sandy!

As you may know if you’re in the northeastern section of the United States, the Apocalypse is happening tomorrow. Er, actually, a category 1 hurricane is hitting New York. The media has done it’s job working the twenty or thirty million residents of the tri-state area into a frenzy. All that’s now left is for the actual wind and rain to fall.

We’re prepared. We still have batteries and candles leftover from Hurricane Irene September of last year. A battery-powered radio, a half-dozen flashlights, and matches. We have plenty of non-perishables, too: bread, soup, granola bars, cereal, apples. The laundry is all done. The yard’s been mowed for the last time this year, and I picked up three large bags of leaves. Checked all the gutter drains (all leading away from the house), cleaned the gutters over the garage (can’t reach the ones over the house), put all trash cans safely inside the garage. Took pictures of the house and yard from every angle, just in case.

Bring it on, Sandy!

The schools have all pre-emptively closed, so my wife has to deal with two unpredictable little ones on her office day tomorrow. Oh, and she still has to work on a presentation to be given in New York City on Wednesday. Me, I have to get to work early Monday, as early as possible. One of the things I do is payroll, and this is a payroll week. I have 165 employees who will be looking for a check on Friday, hurricane or no. I only hope my place of business doesn’t get flooded out or lose power. I don’t want to handwrite 165 paychecks.

Anyway, I will continue to blog daily so long as we have power here. Last year my house sustained no damage from Irene, nor did we lose power. The Halloween Snow Storm of ’11 was a different story, however, and we had no power for three days. We’ll see.

I’m hoping the only damage my lot sustains is a couple of tree branches strewn about the back yard. That, and only the minor-ist of strains to the wife’s sanity.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Battle Cry

[A tale of reverse gauge symmetry synchronicity]

Since I finished Hearts in Conflict and have moved on into another genre, I decided to return all my library books on the Civil War. Now, I don’t read these books cover to cover. I just thumb through them, say, when watching the Sunday football games or while the wife is watching miscellaneous teevee on the weeknights.

But I’m all Civil War’d out.

One of the three books I’m returning is James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, a Pulitzer-prize winning history of the Great Conflict, beginning with its mid-19th century roots. I’d love to read through it; some say it’s the best one-volume treatment of the subject (of which some also said of Anders’ Hearts in Conflict). Clocking in at around 900 pages, though, I had neither the time, energy, or inclination to delve into it. Time to hop to other October and November “theme” reading.

So as I’m returning them earlier today, rushing back and forth between errands and getting to Little One’s soccer game, I’m hit with one of those flashes of Synchronicity. Or Synergy. Syn-something, at least.

Oh yeah, that’s right. I’ve labeled such occurrences reverse gauge symmetric synchronicity. What that means exactly, I don’t know, but I sure as heck know it when it happens to me.

I enter the doors of one of our local libraries, and their little display of BOOKS FOR SALE off to the right catches my eye. Now, I’m late and frantic with a thousand things to do, but I never turn down a BOOKS FOR SALE sign. A quick gander, I promise myself, before returning my Civil War books.

I’m not looking two minutes when what do you think catches my eye?


Care to guess?


James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom! For fifty cents!

It’s a sign. No doubt, a sign I am to read this book. How can it be otherwise? It’s a powerful example of reverse gauge symmetric synchronicity. It’s the aether telling me, ya gotta read this book, so if you won’t read the free library copy, I’ll throw the fitty-cent version at ya!

So I picked it up, and now it’s on the shelf behind me.

I’ll get to it some time after the New Year, but get to it I will.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dante for Halloween

So I finished up Curt Ander’s one-volume history of the Civil War. Not going to review it. It was good, good enough for a solid B from the Hopper. Felt like it was skipping over things. Or, the visual I had reading it: I was only seeing the peaks of a mountain range whose lower scarps and valleys were obscured by low-lying clouds.

Now – it’s Halloween-time, and every Halloween-time I like to read something spooky, scary, and/or chilling (yes, each of those adjectives means different things to me … perhaps a follow-up post to, uh, follow). I posted some choices a few days ago, but none really felt like this year’s IT.

Last night I picked up Colin Wilson’s Spider World off the book shelf. Bought it way back in January, never cracked it. Surely a world where mankind struggles for very survival against SUV-sized death spiders – out of any Halloween book ever possibly written – this was the thing to read this week.

However …

And it’s a big however …

I read the first 15 pages and was revolted by two scenes of disgusting violence, both of which implied children present and acted upon.

Not my cup of tea, not now. Things have changed for me since I became a father, and the death of children is not something I want to read about.

It goes back on the shelf for another year or two.

I have been itching to read something religious and spiritual lately. Why not combine that with Halloween? I enjoyed the gothic-ness of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Immediately Dante’s Inferno came to mind. Although I posted about it tongue-in-cheek last week, why not? I did read half the work a dozen years ago, but this version I had – a small paperback with user-friendly notes and summaries for each Canto – has been crying out for me to read ever since I bought it two-and-a-half years ago.

So I plan to journey with Dante and Virgil into the spiraling pit of Hell over the next week or ten days.

It’ll be a lot less traumatic than freaking out the next time I see a daddy long-legs. Plus it might get me back in the Confessional.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Young Professional

Pronouncement from Little One a few days ago:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Debate Intuits

My first impression was of a senior in college debating a senior in high school. Then, I revised it to a senior in high school debating a freshman in high school. Then, I saw the guy on the right as a really bright fellow, at least from what everyone else at school’s telling me, who simply failed to study for the oral exam and was saying whatever he suspected his teacher might want to hear.

Wished the guy with the better ideas – the only guy who had ideas, or at least was willing to enunciate them – was a better speaker, and the guy with the smooth and slick delivery was more tongue-tied. But remarkably early in the debate I was pleased and surprised to see the smooth and slick delivery man tripping over a calculating mind playing all the angles and desperately trying not to say the truth. Or keep his verbalized mistruths in some crazy logical order and relation.

And that uncomfortably weird ’n creepy hypnotic Stare of Death!

I must confess to having to be sold on Romney, but after watching all three debates and learning a bit more about him during the convention, I’m sold. Right man for the right job at the right time sort of thing. So he has my vote. And my gut tells me he’ll win by 4 points in two weeks.

I really, really, really don’t want to re-read Atlas Shrugged

Monday, October 22, 2012

Randian Half-and-half

I have often thought that everything good and decent in Ayn Rand came from Aristotle, while everything dark and creepy came from Nietzsche. The emphasis on reason and its connection to human happiness comes straight out of Aristotle. The triumph of the human will, and the measuring of moral worth by achievement, all comes from Nietzsche.

From a post at National Review Online, by Jennifer Roback Morse

I don’t know if this observation is original to Ms. Morse, but this is the very first time I’ve come across it. Let me tell you the effect it had on me: IT HEAD THE NAIL ON THE HEAD! IT HIT IT OUT OF THE BALLPARK! IT’S THE – okay, enough clichés. Alls I know is that those three sentences sum up my not-too-thought-out feelings on Ayn Rand – particularly, Atlas Shrugged, which I slugged though over the course of four months late in 1999. (And, God help me, I promised to read again if the One is re-elected …) (And I also read her nonfiction diatribes for and against philosophy a few months later – was it just one book or two?)

Now, I’m not a PhD in philosophy. Just a philosopher of the arm-chair variety. (Whether the arm chair exists in some alternate reality, solely in my mind, or separate from myself, I have yet to discern.) I have read somes Aristotle (nothing cover-to-cover, though). And I have read somes Nietzsche, too, and I did read one of his cover-to-cover (Zarathustra). But I’ve also read plenty of commentary, everything ranging from Bertrand Russell to Peter Kreeft and between, on both. So while I couldn’t give a dissertation on why Ms. Morse’s comments are the cat’s pajamas, just know that they are the cat’s pajamas. My cat told me. My cat being my intuition.

Anyway, thought that was neat, and a bright perky spot to my day early this afternoon.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Restoring Balance to the Force

All right, yesterday’s doo-wop-fest had me feeling a little hinkey all day today, then I figgered it out. Kharma. Specifically, kharmic balance. I need to restore balance to the Force. That’s macro. On a micro level, I need to even the scales here at the Hopper.

I went through three broad phases of development as a guitarist. First, the initial phase, where my inspirations were primarily AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. (Neil Young was a subset of my initial apprenticehood.) Once I knew how to do barre chords and read music, I entered Phase Two: Rush. Then, just as the second or third reincarnation of my band started getting some success (ie, playing live shows and making demo tapes), music was turned on its head with grunge. Which was right up my alley, since I’d rather be caught dead than applying makeup or teasing out my hair with product.

Here’s a sampling of what I listened to in the early 90s. I loved Alice in Chains, but they’ve earned the mantel of the Most Depressing Band in the World. Hindsight regarding what happened to their lead singer explains that all this was not an act or a pose. Regardless, I made a conscious effort to give them up around 1997, when I gave up hard rock in general, for classical music.

Still, this song kicks it seriously. So seriously I think it, rather than, say, “Alive”, is the epiphenomenal example of the Seattle sound.


Came across this video late last night and it triggered some decades-old memories (early 80s? mid-80s?). Anyway, I think if you watch this three-minute video you could get a meta-symbolic overview of the half-dozen personalities that reside just below the surface of yer host’s psyche. Neil’s public persona in this video is, I would wager, a quite right match for the inner Hopper, for those of you keeping track at home. And, I think, the person I’m “wonderin” about is God. I think. Although it seems sacriligious to think of the Big Guy as “my baby” but … hey, it’s a metaphor, right? But – who knows? I’ve had a crazy, laugh-filled night, and now the house is asleep, and all that red wine is making me think funny thoughts …

Friday, October 19, 2012

Halloween Reading

Clive Barker’s Weaveworld? (It would be a re-read, twenty years past due, which I enjoyed immensely first time.)

August Derleth’s Quest for Cthulhu? (Been a while since I read something Lovecraftian.)

Dante’s Inferno? (John Ciardi translation; don’t know where it falls on the piety scale though.)

Or should I go to the library and take out World War Z? (What with all these zombies running about and eating everyone!)

Ah, decisions, decisions …

Thursday, October 18, 2012


This may sound funny, but up until last year, in my fifth decade of life, I have never eaten an apple picked fresh off a tree.

Last fall we went as a family just over the border into “upstate” New York to a farm to go apple pickin’. Fifty dollars bought us two bags, which the girls had a delightful time stuffing with fruit fresh off the tree. Close to eighty of them, if I recall correctly, about forty a bag. Maybe a little bit more. Lasted us not as long as you’d think, though. Probably two weeks –

Because them apples were so damn delicious!

Biting into one was like …

A deaf mute hearing for the very first time!

A blind man seeing for the very first time!

Me seeing the color vlurvë for the very first time!

Driving a Lamborghini for the very first time, when all you’ve driven were 1969 Dodge Darts!

Playing a vintage Les Paul through a thousand-watt Marshall cabinet with delay, flange, and reverb thrown on it, when all you’ve ever played before was yer Grandpa’s cigar box banjo!

Your first kiss!

Well, maybe not that earth-shattering as a first kiss, but you get my drift.

Last Sunday we repeated our apple-pickin’ excursion, and already I’ve had three. Plus, just in case a freshly-picked apple is just too darn healthy, I bought some caramel circles to wrap around them and bake in the oven. Mmmm-mmmm.

Good times, simple times.

(Note: this blog post written dopamine-drunk immediately after consuming an apple picked fresh off a tree …)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Avengers

All right, saw The Avengers last weekend, mainly due to the prodding of the wife. Don’t get me wrong; I like a good comic book movie. The thing is, I like them less and less the more come out. It’s getting to be a tired genre for me. Know what I’m saying?

Anyway, I was never a big comic book reader as a kid. As a matter of fact, I recall reading only two. Yes, two. One was in our fourth grade class, and I read it over and over and over. So much so that I still try to seek it out and have even blogged about it, here. The other was one that made its appearance in our basement around the same time. Dr. Doom, I think it was, but whether that was the name of the comic or just its villain I don’t recall.

So, I had no big investment going into this flick. I liked Iron Man, though I thought Robert Downey Jr’s mugging a tiringly excessive. I liked The Hulk movies, I guess, despite a different actor playing Bruce Banner each time. I liked the Thor movie, more so than I expected, but I think that was because a) it was campy and b) that 100-foot robotic monster thingie was cool. Didn’t see Captain America. And I don’t know any of the other characters, background or otherwise, of the Avengers.

I watched it with the wife Saturday night and it went by fast. One action scene after the other, and the plot not making too much sense. Special effects, yeah, okay, they were spectacular, but spectacular in a boring way. The bad guy – “Loki” – was not at all intimidating and, quite frankly, I had no idea what he was up to, other than stealing and trying to keep this magical power source somehow Samuel L. Jackson, decked out like a modern-day pirate, was experimenting on. I guess. I didn’t take notes, and none of this was meaningful for me.

The Avenger’s ship really irked the rationalist in me. I mean, c’mon, you have a battleship, okay, but then you put hovercraft engines so it can fly? Really? Why? What’s the purpose? Isn’t that a colossal waste of energy? Who pays for this?

There were hints of some intergalactic baddies behind Loki’s half-hearted attempts at evilness. I guess if you read the comics you’d know who they were and they’d have some relevance for you. But I couldn’t be the only viewer of this film who was not familiar with the Avenger’s universe of villains, could I? I don’t recall these lizard-like beings, er, being explained in any way. The producers are probably saving them up for a sequel, which, were I Stan Lee, I’d be a little worried may never come to fruition.

Or it might. I have no idea what the movie grossed. It was probably a lot, somewhere in the hundreds of millions, but that’s also probably what the film cost, special effects and marketing all adding up.

So … The Avengers was entertaining in a mindless sort of way, and while it didn’t necessarily cause the superhero movie to jump the shark for me, it did continue towards the superhero movie malaise that Hopper is currently experiencing.

Grade: C.


Also while watching the debate last night, amidst all the talk of incomes and taxation, the wife and I discussed money. Both in vague generalizations and specific realities to our own situation, and how things are more expensive for us despite the fact that our incomes have remained relatively stable (despite my fluctuations into negative and sub-par zones). Gas and house prices, I’m talking to you.

Anyhow, in a tangential vein, the best definition I have ever heard of “financial independence” is one I heard from self-improvement / business guru Brian Tracy:

Financial independence [and I paraphrase] is having enough money where having enough money is no longer a problem.

How’d’ya like that!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Watching the debate called to mind another big pet peeve of mine … the use of the word “folks” by politicians, particularly those who happen to be Democrats and currently occupy the White House. Hate, hate, hate it ’cuz it’s fake, fake, fake.

Two hilarious points, courtesy of National Review Online:

If Obama had written the Constitution, it would’ve began with, “We the Folks” …

If Obama had written the Declaration of Independence, he would have included the line, “All folks are created equal” …

Just two items that made me laugh out loud last night.

Tolkien on CD

A few weeks ago I finished my third reading of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Each time was significantly different. First I read the masterpiece as a youth over three decades ago. That experience is well-chronicled and well-alluded to here at the Hopper. Then I re-read it for the first time nearly two years ago, Christmas-time 2010. I’ve also written plenty about that time, too.

My first reading took the entire summer. I read it in a variety of locales: trees, cars, a rowboat, the stock car races, the garage roof, my grandmother’s basement, beneath the dining room table. The second go-around took five weeks, and I read it primarily on two couches: one in Hilton Head at my in-laws, the other the cozy catcher’s mitt in my living room. I came up with a line that succinctly summarized my Tolkien voyages after the second reading: the first time through I could not see the forest for the trees; the second time I could not see the trees for the forest.

Perhaps that reflects a mature world-view, one interested in great historical strains. At least, that’s what I’d like to think.

Early this summer I was struck with a thought that seemed to come straight from out of the blue. What if, that little nudge inside me began asking, you re-read Tolkien again – a third time! and again barely a year-and-a-half later! – but this time read along the masterpiece to one of those books-on-CDs?

Intriguing. Never done it before. But I was irresistibly hooked.

I began my read-along on June 30 and finished three months later, September 29. These were the audio CDs recorded sometime in the 90s (forget when exactly) by performer Rob Inglis. Each of the three books had its own CD case; all in all there were about 40 CDs to listen to. (I did not listen to the last 4 CDs of The Return of the King, being the lengthy appendices Professor Tolkien, er, appended to the novel.)

What did Hopper think, and what did he learn?

Well, initially, reading along in the book while it was being read to me was … agonizingly slow. However – and it’s a big however – the glacial pacing definitely grew on me. At first I had a difficult time following along (ie, keeping my wandering eye on the sentence being spoken instead of greedily foraging ahead), but once I settled into the comfortable drift of the story, I was pulled in.

I must admit I liked the majority of Inglis’s vocal characterizations; he imbued each and every character with a rich personality – particularly and especially Gandalf, Sam, Merry and Pippin, Treebeard, and, Gollum par excellance. However – yes, another big however – I didn’t like Legolas (too high-pitched), Saruman (too whiny), or Aragorn (too lunkish).

The songs were embarrassing to listen to at first, but they also grew on me. So much so that, though I can’t recall them now, I did hum a few now and then in the immediate afterwards.

Pronunciations were odd to my mind’s vocalizings, and more often than not a different syllable was stressed. That kind’ve freaked me out. For thirty-plus years Pelennor, for example, though it’s not the only one, manifested in my mind as PELL-an-or, and Mr. Inglis comes along pronouncing it pe-LAN-or. (Note: this matters only to a true Tolkien geek.)

Pronunciations up in the air were finally defined to me … ie, “Caradhras” as “Carathras” Never thought to speak the “dh” sound as a “th”, though no doubt the Professor stashed it somewhere in his Appendices.

Listening to / reading along with The Lord of the Rings became a daily (mostly nightly) ritual I looked forward to, though the investment in finding a hiding spot, getting the CD player and headphones and book all aligned, often made me skip nights (more than I’d expect retrospectively). But I must say I enjoyed the experience immensely, so much so that I’m thinking of doing it again to another childhood masterpiece (Watership Down, perhaps?).

And that tree-forest dynamic? Not sure, but this third time around I’d put it at a 60/40 ratio.

When it ended … as always, with reading these books … I wished it to continue …

PS – I took a lot of heat on this from a close friend, my wife’s best friend, who was also bitten by the Middle-earth bug a decade ago. When I explained that I was reading Tolkien for a third time in conjunction with listening to it on CD, well, this started a chain reaction of busting Hopper’s chops. She wondered whether my fourth time I’d read it dressed up like a hobbit with holograms – or cardboard cutouts, at the very least – of Ian McKellan and Viggo Mortensen standing about me as I read the book out loud …

Monday, October 15, 2012

2 2 Much

Hi – quick word. I haven’t forgot you.

In fact, I’m quite ticked off I haven’t been in the zone the past couple of days. “Zone” is where energy equals inspiration. Some times I have one, some times I have the other, but ain’t been since Friday eve I had ’em both in the palms of my hands.

I do have stuff to post, mostly review stuff.

Thoughts on my second reading of The Lord of the Rings, and how it differed from the previous two.

A review of the Avengers.

A review of the seminal – or is it germinal? – Western novel The Virginian, which I finished about two weeks ago.

But life in all its calamitous forms is interfering.

Crazy hectic busy at work. The girls have burgeoning schedules of their own (soccer, scouts, play dates and birthday parties) we must attend to. Seasonal stuff the wife demands, like the pickins of apples and pumpkins.

By the time I finally get some solitude, all I want to do is read to escape. And, man, am I enjoying what I’m currently reading (Hearts in Conflict and Reclaiming History). Not enough hours in the day.

Tomorrow at lunch I will write one of the three reviews above, and post in tomorrow evening.

Stop back, won’t you?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Siegfried III Prelude

Okay … couple months ago I posted Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty waltz with the comment that it is the most dramatic piece of music ever written.

The following, if you dare click on it, is the most dramatic piece of music ever conceived by a human mind.

From Wagner’s opera Siegfried, the third opera in the Ring quadrilogy, the prelude to Act III …

Conducted by the Jimi Hendrix of opera, James Levine of the New York Metropolitan. Or if not Hendrix, then Pete Townsend (think Tommy Overture). Or even, I’d go as far to say, as a classical Billy Corgan (think something from Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness, on steroids).

In my three visits there, I have not seen anything conducted by him, much to my chagrin. But, hey, there’s always next year, right?

Go ahead – click on it, it’s less than three minutes, and the louder your speakers, the better …

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Eye of the Sparrow

This has been floating around on a couple of websites I regularly read on a daily basis … and is hands-down





of the




Watch it!

“It’s party time, chumps!”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Need a Jump Start

Ah, darn.

So the wife’s outta town till Friday, and I think – thanks to her wonderful prepwork and detailed notes – I think I have everything down until then. Schedule-wise, kid-wise. Drop-offs and pick-ups, soccer practice and girl scouts, honey-do lists. And everything is going great until this evening at 7 pm.

My car won’t start.

I had dropped my oldest off at the field for soccer practice and went to get Patch from daycare. I swear I was out of my car for 10 minutes. I get back with Patch in tow, load her in, hop in and turn the ignition … and nothing but that dreaded clicking.

I have the lady at the day care let me use her computer and I google a nearby tow service. $60, the dude tells me over the phone. What choice do I have? Plus, it’ll be dark soon, and I have to pick up Little One at the field, and I don’t have any of the coaches’ cell numbers programmed into my phone.

Well, to make a long story short (and really to put an end to this exasperating evening), I got the jump start, paid the bill, picked up my oldest daughter in the dark (there were still other children and adults there), got home, got them showered and fed, read stories and put them in bed. Now: Me time.

One unexpected turn of events: I called my insurance company, and, hey! I have roadside assistance. Just fax that ol’ jump start bill in and I can be reimbursed the full amount. Yay!

Now, if only the car starts up tomorrow. I did let it run for 45 minutes to charge the battery, but come the morning – who knows? Need to keep that roadside assistance number handy.

So now I’m off to read some Civil War (Fredericksburg) and JFK (45 minutes before the assassination).

And hopefully a good night’s sleep.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Debt & Deficit

On a personalized level …

Now, I’m no economist and the subject generally makes me sleepy or distracted, but I was wondering how to compare the ginormous US debt and deficit to, well, a typical family of four, a family like mine. In a really, really simplified fashion.

I did a quick google to find the latest figures. It seems the US debt is (predicted to be) 15.8 trillion dollars, and the annual federal deficit is (predicted to be) 1.2 trillion dollars. I know, I know: it’s other people’s money. Other people meaning you and me.

Anyway, if you round down to 15 trillion and 1 trillion, and divide both figures by 300 million (the approximate number of people in the US), you get a debt of 50,000 per person and a deficit of 3,333 per person.

Multiply each by 4 to get what the share of debt and deficit fall on the average family:

$200,000 in debt

$13,000 in deficit

Gee, makes my sleepless-night financial situation infinitely preferable. Although now it seems I’m paying for two mortgages for the one house I live in.

Now, let’s politicize this a bit.

Let’s say you hired an advisor to run your family’s finances: deposit your paychecks, pay your bills, buy your clothes and groceries and miscellaneous household supplies, invest in your future (retirement), invest in your children’s futures (college), and overall make sure your assets grow and your liabilities shrink. This is because your previous advisor nearly doubled your family’s debt, so you canned him.

When you canned the old advisor, four years ago, your family debt was at $133,000.

The new guy promised to lower your debt and make sure you’re not running a deficit, so as to maintain your good credit rating, for instance.

Well, four years later, you’re looking at a $200,000 debt and a $13,000 deficit.

The advisor is all smiles. He wants his contract renewed for four more years!

Plus he’s telling you that other guy you’re considering – “Don’t hire him! He’s only gonna make things worse!”

What do you do?

What do you do?

I know what I’d do …

Monday, October 8, 2012

Grains of Sand

So I’m entering my credits and debits at work today, a huge spreadsheet, into our accounting software, and I’m using a ruler to go line by line so I don’t mess anything up. Before long, I’m not looking at my data. I’m looking at the ruler. Specifically, the tiny lines demarcating the wood into sixteenths of an inch.

What would be a sixteenth of an inch long?

A single grain of sand? No … somewhere between two and three grains, I’d guess. More on the side of two than three. Before I know it, I’m satisfied that thirty-six grains of sand could be lined up on this ruler in the space of one inch. Call it idiot’s intuition.

Hey – can I use this to figure out that rhetorical question: how many grains of sand are on the beach?


Well, I did some quick math, and noted this memory trick for geeks of all stripes – but particularly physics geeks – out there:

Simplify matters by saying that we just want to find the numbers of sand on the surface of the beach. So we’re looking for area.

If you could fit 36 grains of sand in a line an inch long, that’d be 432 grains of sand in a foot.

A square foot plane one-grain deep would hold 432 x 432 grains, or … 186,624 grains of sand.

186,624! That’s remarkably close to the physics constant c, the speed of light – 186,262 miles per second.

I figure you could round it downward a bit to 186,000. That’s the figure I always retain when thinking about c. (Which I really only do when reading a physics pop sci book or an SF paperback dealing with FTL travel.)

Anyway, all you need to do to calculate the number of grains of sand on a beach is –

(1) Find the square footage of the area of beach in question

(2) Multiply that figure by c

Want an example?

My house sits on a 50 x 100 foot lot. If I obliterate everything on it, house included, and fill it with a coating of sand one-grain deep, I will need … 50 x 100 x 186,000 … 930 million grains of sand!

Groovy, man, groovy!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Post-Election Pledge

Since I try to link everything in my life to books, I decided on this simple pledge, come November 7:

If Barack Obama wins re-election, I will re-read Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.

If Mitt Romney wins the election, I will read The Book of Mormon.

I read Atlas Shrugged during the final months of 1999. It was a difficult book to get through, though it held my attention throughout. Now, since Rand’s vision is becoming clearer and clearer and regrettably more realized through the work of our 44th president, my only wish to glean some hope from the book during this re-read.

And, yes, I am aware that Rand’s philosophy is incompatible with Catholicism. But so is so very much of what is increasingly coming to pass in progressive 21st-century America.

I attempted to read The Book of Mormon, twice, first time two decades ago and the second time fairly recent, and at the risk of alienating anyone with the honest admittance of my feelings, I stopped both times because of an overwhelming sense of silliness.

And, no, I will not convert to Mormonism reading the book. Just like I did not become a Buddhist reading a handful of Daisetz Suzuki’s works on Zen, nor a Hindu upon reading the Upanishads and part of the Mahabharata, nor Jewish upon reading the Old Testament, nor a Scientologist reading half of Battlefield Earth, nor some insane atheistic secular materialist college professor from reading Hegel. But it will give me a greater understanding of the world, or at least further my edge next time I play Trivial Pursuit or watch Jeopardy on teevee.

So that’s my pledge.

Stay tuned for details, and of course I will blog plenty about each experience.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


So I’m taking my girls to see a kiddie magician / comedian at the local library this morning. I took Little One to see the same performer three years ago, now she is going to go and sit with her younger sister Patch for a repeat performance. We get there at 10:30, a half-hour before the show is due to start.

My town library, however, has just finished a year-long renovation project which added a fifty-by-forty square foot all-purpose room. All the local celebrities were there – mayors past and present, all the councilmen and women, Friends of the Library bigwigs, and other municipal honchos and pooh-bahs. To be honest, I never seen our small little library so crowded.

Anyway, since we’re early we’re one of the first on line to go into the room to see the magician. And while I’m waiting and trying to keep the girls from touching everything in sight (remember, this part of the library is brand-spanking-new), someone taps my shoulder.

“Excuse me,” a pert young blonde says, “I’m a reporter from the Bergen Record. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Uh, no,” I say. Immediately every nerve in my body goes on alert. My fight-or-flight (mainly flight) response kicks in to overdrive. This is something that has happened to me since I was a young lad, something I never quite conquered or mastered. But at least I don’t flee into the mingling library crowd.

“Are these your two daughters?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say.

She asks for their names and ages, which I supply. She jots down notes on a small pad. “Why are you here today?”

“Uh, to see the magician.”

“Oh.” She jots that down. “Any thoughts about him?”

I tell her basically what I told you in the first paragraph, albeit in a halting, stuttering style.

Then she drops the bombshell. “What do you think of the library renovation?”

“Uh … um … ah … uh …” My eyes scan every nook and cranny of the room we’re in, waiting for something to drop down from the cerebellum to my mouth. No dice, nothing comes, nothing. “Mmmmm,” I add, still searching.

In truth, my internal editor is in overdrive. It’s processing so fast I’m ready to blow a gasket, or a fuse, or melt my inner Intel microchip. Do I tell her that it’s okay, but not that impressive? Do I tell her I just looked at my taxes and saw that the amount assessed to me for the library was $125 this year? Is that too much? Will it be going up because of this renovation? Do I tell her that I generally use other libraries in my county because this one is too small and doesn’t have the eclectic selection I require? Do I tell her I was once on the library’s Board of Trustees a half-dozen years ago and was bored stiff with the job?

No – no – no – no – no – no – and no! She has my name, after all. Yikes!

So it continues: “Ahhhh … well … you know … um …”

Finally, I get something. Something comes down the pike, and I elect to go with it, full throttle, full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes:

“It’s nice. They really did a nice job.”

That’s me. Scoop. Just come to me when you want the scoop, the real deal, the dish, the dirt. Anytime, anywhere.

So that’s a true account of the first time I was ever interviewed for anything, this morning.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Shakespeare and the NFL

So me and Little One are walking across the parking lot, holding hands, to get to Patch’s day care center.

LITTLE ONE: So, Dad, who’re the Giants playing Sunday?

ME: Uh … I think the Cleveland Browns.

LITTLE ONE: Are they any good?

ME: Well … they’ve been kinda stinky for a long time. The Giants should win.

LITTLE ONE: I know. The last time I heard of them was two years ago.

ME: (thinking) Two years ago? Little One heard of the Cleveland Browns when she was six?

LITTLE ONE: So, who’s their coach?

ME: Uh … (randomly eidetic memory kicks in) It used to be some guy named Romeo Crennel. But he may have gotten fired last year. Or the year before. They’ve been bad for a while now.

LITTLE ONE: (pauses thirty seconds) Hey Daddy?

ME: Yeah?

LITTLE ONE: I wonder … is Romeo’s wife’s name Juliet?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Francis, Redux


Today, October 4, is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Now, I’m not a Franciscan in any way, spiritually or philosophically. I always felt the order too touchy-feely emotional for my introverted self, and their brutal withdrawal from the world and embrace of poverty is something I just can’t do, even if I didn’t have all the responsibilities I now have. But I do know a bit about Francis, mostly from reading G. K. Chesterton’s wonderful semi-biography about the saint.

October 4th always brings me to recall the fall of 2002. After slaving away couple of months at a very nasty place of business, I found much better work, both in pay, quality of coworkers, and the work itself. It was my second job in New York City, based out of a skyscraper just north of the Chrysler Building. The air was crisp, my life was suddenly stress-free, and I was enjoying all the city had to offer.

My lunch hour soon settled into a fairly standard routine. I would attend noon mass at the Church of the Transfiguration a half-dozen blocks away. What a wonderful church! Headed by Fr. George Rutler, who’s a semi-public figure, an Anglican convert who wrote highly acerbic articles for the New York Times and National Review. I enjoyed listening to his sermons immensely. He truly had a superb command of the English language, and an encyclopedic intellect. The daily mass strengthened me and encouraged me in ways that it had never done before.

This went on for several weeks. Then, October 4, for some reason I can’t remember, my lunch had to be short. I went online to see if there was any place closer, and, to my surprise, there was a Church right around the corner in my building block. If I oriented myself properly in the skyscraper I worked in I’d be looking down on its roof. The Church of St. Anne, I believe. So, I went there to catch a quick mass before I’d be needed back at the office.

A complete contrast to Fr. Rutler’s church. More like a meetinghouse for Alcoholics Anonymous. Really old-fashioned pews, and artwork of such beauty on the walls (one of the many reasons I love the Catholic Church). The confessionals were working even as mass was going on. There was an almost tangible spirit of connectedness that I have never felt anywhere else. The sermon was on St. Francis, and the incredible pains he bore for Our Lord, and the sufferings that plagued him until the end of his life, and the priests and deacons were visibly moved. I was touched.

Unfortunately, it leaked out that the bank that I was working in was scheduling a reorganization, and they owned up to the fact that our department would be dissolved over the next weeks and months. Figuring I’d be up against a last-in first-out ultimatum, I made a phone call and took another job, which started about two or three weeks later. So, my remaining time as a New Yorker was spent divvied up between Transfiguration and St. Anne.

And it was time very well spent.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rainy Day Dream Away

Rain again, all day … just like yesterday, and the day before, and for the next four or five days, according to the forecasts.

(Thankfully) soccer practice was canceled. Girls upstairs watching the tube. Me, chillin’ with a 40 ounce in the basement.

So – do I love or hate rainy days?

All things in moderation, I say. “Say” that is, not “do.”

Ah heck. Days like this just remind me of this tune –

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

CEO, Spaceboy Industries

I had a wonderful dream two nights ago.

I was some big head honcho of some high-tech space-age nuts-and-bolts roll-up-yer-sleeve-and-git-to-work company. We put rockets up into space, manned and robotic, into every corner of the Solar System. We worked hard on creating new forms of air and vacuum propulsion. We toyed with curving space to locomote faster and better. We tore up the earth and built great factories and landing fields and everyone won with us. And me, I was in the thick of things, involved at all levels of production and planning.

That was the background, and though it wasn’t explicitly exposited in my slumberings, it just was, and I knew it.

What was wonderful was what happened.

I was hosting a cocktail party at my mansion. My mansion was nestled on a mountainside overlooking the bright suburban and urban lights of a great metropolis, with the nebulous Id-ian sea just beyond in the distance. It was just beautiful. The main reception area of my mansion was open to the air, and guests lingered about tables with glasses in their hands, or stepped out into my perfectly manicured lawns, which ended shortly at a railing before a steep fall.

Suddenly, excited shouts followed by hushes percolate randomly, spontaneously, and exponentially, through the crowd.

Bright lights are approaching in the deep dark sky … but they are not moving in any discernibly predictable way. Better stated, they ain’t flying towards us as any known vehicle would. Yet, they aren’t naturally phenomena. They are … controlled.

Then, to the gasps of many, they get close and swoop down … overhead … and whoosh past us, incredibly vivid and realistic. I felt my heart thud the way it does when I find myself square in the radial standing wave pattern of a massive bass amplifier. Then they circled around, zooming out over the city, and back.

I studied the intricate detailed designs of these alien craft (now, unfortunately, forgotten in the post-dream state), mouth agape, trembling with awe. And I knew I had to get my hands on them!

Like some Ayn Rand philosopher-king in an industrialist guise, like an Asimovian John Galt, I realized, and this was the most wonderful part of the dream, that it was only a matter of time before I did get my hands on them. Simply a matter of time.

Then I woke up and had to pee.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Iftikhar's Trick

About a dozen years ago I spent a little time doing help-desk computer support. I did it for about two years, taking over 5,000 phone calls from all over the world. Dubai and China were probably the most “foreign” places I supported. I always say that job made me learn how to speak on the phone. I also learned a ton about computers through on the job training, self-study and outside certification, and trial-by-fire feet-in-the-fire stress. And I worked with guys who were really, really good with PCs and networking, guys for whom the whole business came second-nature.

One such guy was Iftikhar, a Pakistani dude who grew up here and was a very, very funny fellow. He sat in the cubicle to my right, and we would crack each other up every now and again – he cracking me up in particular. There was one thing he did once that I have never forgotten, and I absolutely love it for its cleverness and ballsiness.

The company sent him out to get some training. Like a lot of us, we thought being sent out for some training a massive waste of time. Just give us access to what we were supposed to support, let us tinker with it, and in a few hours we’d be able to support it. So he went to this training – whatever it was, don’t remember – in search of something desperately interesting and entertaining to do.

Quickly he considered himself more knowledgeable than the trainer. But how to prove it? Hmmm. A short lunch break was called and everyone filed out of the conference room, everyone, that is, except Iftikhar. Once alone in the room, he went to work. Seems the trainer left his laptop open and on, and not password-protected, either.


First thing Iftikhar does is take a screen shot of the laptop’s background wallpaper, icons and all.

Then, he moves all the icons into the far corner of the screen, scrunched up all in the upper left corner, barely visible save for a tiny Microsoft-grey-hued square.

Finally, he makes the screen shot he just took – icons and all – the new background for the laptop.

Get it?

The trainer gets back, claps his hands, says, “Okay, class, let’s resume where we left off,” then starts clicking on the icons on his laptop –

And nothing happens!

A look of confusion crosses his face, then consternation and a furrowed brow. He tries ctr-alt-deleting, tries rebooting, tries completely powering down and pulling the power cord out of the wall. Checks the BIOS, boots up in safe mode. Nothing. No response from the laptop when he gets to his desktop.

It’s kinda like when Road Runner paints a black tunnel entrance on a giant rock, and the Coyote keeps trying again and again and again to get through.

Minutes go by as the class is getting antsy, and the trainer can’t figure out what’s wrong with his laptop. After letting him sweat for a couple of minutes, Iftikhar fesses up, though how he avoided getting booted out of that class – or prosecuted for hacking! – I have no idea, but he was that kind of guy. A good-natured practical joker who’d help you out in a jam, especially one originating in a country on the other side of the planet.