Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Fluffness of the Fluff

After Jack's funeral the other week, we went to the traditional repast/luncheon.  It was a potluck style affair where (I believe) food was brought by various funeral attendees and church members.  I really like the idea of a potluck, but unless there is some sort of organization and assignment of types of dishes it always ends up being very light on actually entree type foods and very heavy on pasta salads and desserts.  I understand, they are easy to make and delicious...but a well balanced meal this does not create.  It also leads to some mystery dishes...what is up with that dish of strange looking peas?  Oh, it is some kind of tuna surprise, who would have guessed peas would taste like tuna - thanks to Kelly for trying this so that I didn't have to.  But then again I brought nothing (I didn't know about it) and I was eating free food, so it hard to complain too much.

mmmm fluff
(Photo courtesy of mjecker)
This disproportionality of desserts leads to the dilemma of choosing which fluff to take...because you know there are going to be several.  I wouldn't say that I am an expert on fluff...but I am definitely a connoisseur and this luncheon offered a wide variety.  I decided not to choose one, I would martyr myself by taking a serving of each fluff and declaring a winner of the informal Jack's Fluff Challenge - so that all other diners would be able to make an informed fluff decision.  This is the sacrifice that I make for you, readers and diners.  I counted seven varieties and the ingredients and textures varied widely.

The first contender was the fruit salad fluff - this is the fluff that has a lot of apples, grapes, strawberries, nuts, etc... This is probably the most healthy of all the fluffs due to the high fruit content, but that same content also throws off the texture.  It is way too chunky to be a proper was dismissed (although tasty).

Second came a couple of red fluffs...I was hoping the darker one was raspberry but both were strawberry.  Both were OK, but nothing special.  One was not mixed well enough, the ingredients weren't well distributed throughout.  The second's texture was good but the flavor was blah...I am not sure what happened here, but it just didn't have much taste...even slickery jello blobs could not make up for a lack of flavor.

Next came a yellow fluff with caramel sauce.  I wasn't sure exactly what this was, but it ended up having chunks of mini-Snickers and other candy bars in it.  A very good fluff overall...but the fluff didn't really have much taste besides the candy bars (I think a banana cream pudding mix, could have really pumped this one up to another level).

Finally, came the green fluffs.  Pistachio is the Cadillac of fluffs...but every once in a while someone sneaks a lime flavored fluff in there and it is just confusing and not right.  The lime fluff was out - it might have been good in it's own right but when disguising yourself as pistachio my expectations made you taste horrible.  The finally two fluffs...both Pistachio, both with pineapple, one had nuts and mini marshmallows, the other didn't...but the main difference was the consistency.  One was super light and fluffy...the other was more thick and runny, almost looking like straight pistachio pudding instead of fluff.

I figured the light and fluffy one would win hands down because the other just looked like a mess.  It was good, but the runny pistachio fluffy was excellent.  Maybe it wasn't cut with as much marshmallow fluff or cool whip...maybe it was mixed too much and all the whipped in air escaped concentrating the flavor.  I don't know why, but the flavor of the was just so much deeper and with the perfect balance of pineapple.  If it was a little lighter with this taste it would be darn near perfect.

Pistachio Fluff - the most delectable of fluffs.
(Photo courtesy of Secrets of a Southern Kitchen - recipe also available)

Green Pistachio Fluff Wins!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Loss of a Good Man

Last week, my step-grandfather passed away.  Jack Hennessey, was a great person to have known for the past 18 years.  It is strange to think that I have known him longer than my biological grandfather who died when I was 13.  Unfortunately, even though I have known him longer, I did not get to know him as well.  College, career, in the way and I only was able to see him a few times a year, usually during holidays when it was a busy time for everyone.  It might not have as deep of a relationship as was possible, but I couldn't help but like, respect, and admire Jack.

Jack served in both the Army and Navy when he was young, and then moved to the small town of Manilla, IA to practice medicine in the mid-1940s.  Jack was known as "Doc" to everyone in town.  He was one of the main doctors in town for almost 50 years...and not just a doctor, but a country doctor that would make house calls and such.  He also had his own practice, worked at the local hospital, volunteered for school sports and community events.  Doc delivered over 2000 babies in his practicing years...almost anyone you meet from the Manilla area seems to know and/or was delivered by Doc.  I've had this conversation several times with several different people:
Me: "I headed to my grandparents house in Manilla for the holidays."    
Random Person: "Hey, I'm from that area...who's your grandparents?"   
Me: "Jack & Lu Hennessey." 
Random Person: <look of deep thought, then smiling> "You mean Doc?  I was delivered by him."

Jack pursued everything he like with zest and pride.  His children and grandchildren, Music, reading, Catholicism, Ireland, and the University of Iowa (his Alma Mater) were just a few of the things he enjoyed and you could tell from anywhere in the house that these were some of his passions.  Photographs, records, books, Irish and Hawkeye mementos abounded.

Jack was paralyzed at the waist in 1998 after surgical complications, but that didn't stop Jack from being Jack. He harbored no anger or bitterness and continued to live the best and fullest life that he could.  Jack was the type person that makes a great role model for all others.  Live life to the fullest, be happy, do good, and have no regrets.

Unfortunately, Jack's health had been declining the last few years.  He had been in and out of the hospital a few times over the past year and went in for the last time a couple weeks ago.  It is sad, but with his failing health he was ready.  There was enough warning of the end that most of his children were able to fly in and say goodbye.  Jack was 93.

I know it will be a hard time for my grandmother and I feel sad for her...but I also know that she is the kind of strong person that can handle this grief and continue to live a happy life.  Grams, if you need anything...your entire family is here to help.

Jack, you will be missed.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why I Haven't Gone Blu

I had a friend tell me a few months ago that "You just have to get a Blu-ray player!"  Said person was shocked when I told him that A) I don't see the point, and B) Have no plans to get one unless it happens to be built into another product that I buy like a PS3 or a new computer.  "But they're awesome..."

Not really.

"You just like watching movies in the theater instead."  This is true, but that is irrelevant and besides my point.  First let me point out the fact that this person didn't get a DVD player until 2006 or 2007.  I'm not saying that is a good or a bad thing, but I find it hard to believe that someone who all of a sudden thinks himself as a home theater after being anything but for the past 30+ years.

My main problem with Blu-ray is that they are marketing same features that they used to market DVD back in 1997.  Nowadays, Blu-ray editions come with all the cool features...extended editions, uncensored versions, delete scenes, making of documentaries, director commentaries, behind the scenes info, special web links, etc... which is all fine but none of which is requires Blu-ray over DVD.  In fact, when it first debuted DVD had all these features...but now the entertainment industry wants you to buy all the movies you already own on DVD in the newer Blu-ray, DVDs are coming with less and are lucky to get the theatrical trailer.  Heck, remember when DVD used to promote the fact that you could switch angles and stuff due to the dynamic branching technology?  When was the last time a DVD actually came with this option?  I haven't seen one in years and years...not because they can't do it, they just don't want to promote DVDs.  I don't really feel like supporting a product because of all these bonus features that the studios won't even support in a couple all this stuff is just extras anyways.  They are nice to have, but not necessary.  I might watch the extras once but probably never again.  I don't watch most of the stuff on my DVDs, so why would I think that I would actually watch it on Blu-ray?  For me, it was just sad to see an industry drop support for something that my promoted so hard just a short while ago (I know they didn't drop all support, they are obviously still making DVDs) just hammered it home that it really is all about money and forcing new formats on customers just to make them buy the same movie again.

But it isn't just that...I don't feel that the upgrade is worth it.  I guess that DVD resolution and graphics seem good enough for me at the moment.  I don't really need a film that was made 25+ years ago to be in 1080p.  It doesn't add that much to 99% of films.  There are some films that better, crisper graphics might add a little bit to the experience...but I think it is unnecessary for most.  Even more than that...I think a lot of movies that weren't originally shot in HD but have been cleaned up for the higher resolution look creepy.  Not just really old movies either.  I saw someone watching an HD version of Pineapple Express a few months ago and it just looked wrong.  For a film like that, I expect the kind of hazy, not totally clear background that the movie had in the theater.  Watching it this time everything was way too crisp.  It left me with a very different experience...and not for the better.  Better graphics just for the sake of (supposedly) better graphics doesn't interest me that much.  If it adds up to a richer, fuller experience I am all for it...but so far, I just don't see that with many movies.  Maybe if some more talented filmmakers were using deep focus techniques for good use more often, I could see more benefit of the highest definition...but usually graphics are just used in place of a story (*cough* Transformers *cough*).

DVD had better graphics than previous formats (although I still think some of my laserdiscs had a lot better graphics than some early release DVDs)...but the jump in the graphics between VHS was much, much larger than the graphics jump from DVD to Blu-ray.  Although better graphics were a top selling point, the convenience factors were a bigger one for me...sturdy, easily portable and easy, quick navigation while watching were bigger factors for me than just graphics.  Maybe not initially as I was young and dumb, but these are the factors that I quickly came to appreciate...Blu-ray does not have any upgraded convenience features.  In fact it is even more inconvenient due to lack of Blu-ray players.  For example, they don't make a Blu-ray car player yet and your friend down the street might not have a Blu-ray player so you can't share as easy.  So really all I see as a benefit is the upgraded graphics...hey Hollywood, how about better stories?

Right now for me the benefits do not outweigh the cost...especially when the end of physical formats is probably not too many years away and everything will soon be streamed on demand.  It seems more effort than it is worth.  Do I need to buy a bunch of movies that I have already bought on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD again just to have slightly better definition?  No I don't think so.  However, if I do end up getting a Blu-ray for some reason, I would probably buy newer movies in Blu-ray...but would probably save a little money on older releases and just get the DVD version (you can only make Evil Dead look so good).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rime of the Ancient Milkmen

I first encountered The Dead Milkmen when I was in sixth grade.  My older brother, brought home a vinyl copy of Big Lizard in My Backyard.  I wasn't sure what to think at first, most of the rest of his albums were "alternative" style music Violent Femmes, U2, REM (remember back when they were both alternative?) or heavy metal like Megadeth or Metallica...but this cartoony garish green and yellow cover didn't really seem to fit in with the rest.  Honestly, it still sticks out every time I flip through my records 25 years later.  I was intrigued and as soon as he went out, I grabbed the album and played it straight through...several times.

The Dead Milkmen reminded me of a more subversive, more adult version of Weird Al Yankovic.  The Dead Milkmen are difficult to describe, their music can run the gambit of styles but they are most often described as a "satirical punk band."  I could see that in the early days, but I think their music has long developed past the point of just being called punk.  Of course, to me punk has always referred to the 1970s punk like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones or the 80's hardcore Dead Kennedy and Black Flag.  I guess if you apply the punk label to such things as Green Day and The Offspring...then yes I guess they were punk.

Oddly jangly guitars, a quick wit, and an odd turn of phase...probably my favorite being "You wear black clothes, say you're poetic. The sad truth is you're just pathetic" which really struck a chord within me at the dawn of the goth movement - The Dead Milkmen quickly became one of my favorite bands.  They are great to sing along to on long road trips with friends and can just pick you up when life has got you down...Life is Shit is total catharsis.

I have always felt there have been two different kinds of Dead Milkmen songs - Rodney songs and Joe songs (my feeling on this was confirmed when I just recently looked up the band on wikipedia).  This belief came about originally by who sang on the songs, but it became more and more obvious, that these songs were usually written by one or the other.  Rodney songs are usually more spoken word type rants (think Stuart) that are often very blunt and very funny.  On the other hand, Joe songs are much more melodic and have more emotional depth and are more subtle in their humor...they are still hilarious but you have to listen a little closer (this Silly Dreams - this is my favorite Dead Milkmen many songs do you know about cat vomit and robbery that are wistful and longing for love).  When I was young, I was a big fan of Rodney songs, but as I grew older I connected much more on the Joe songs.

The Dead Milkmen pretty much had only one hit, called Punk Rock Girl in 1988...but even that was a minor hit (we are not talking Platinum albums here).  A few others songs received very minor play on Mtv but Punk Rock Girl was their pinnacle.  Sure every frat boy seemed to know Bitchin' Camaro...but did they ever listen to anything else?  During the early 90's the Dead Milkmen released two albums through Hollywood Records (instead of their normal Restless Records) - Soul Rotation and Not Richard But Dick.  These albums were mostly Joe albums...more musical, more subtle. Most DM fans that I knew hated these albums, but after a couple listens they quickly became some of my favorite.  I would highly suggest you get them.

After one more album released on Restless Records, The Dead Milkmen decided to break-up in 1995.  It was a sad day.  It was even sadder when Dave Blood (the bassist) committed suicide in 2004.  But this post exists at this time for two reasons:

Reason #1) The Dead Milkmen released a new album in March called The King In Yellow.  16 years after their last album and when you hear those first few chords your brain will instantly know that it is the Dead Milkmen.  It is a pretty good album, mostly Rodney type songs and just good old Milkmen oddness.  If you are a fan, I would suggest you pick it up.  I hadn't heard anything about this album and just happened to randomly go to the Dead Milkmen website and saw that it had just came out.  I hadn't been to the DM website in years, so obviously it was fate.  Glad to see you guys back.  I am not sure why it is called The King in Yellow.  I assume it has some kind of connection to the early horror novel by Robert W Chambers...but I haven't read it so, I don't see the connection.  Although I like the music (Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song), I don't really care for the cover...seems too forced.

Reason #2) Joe Jack Talcum (AKA Joe Genaro, AKA Butterfly Joe, AKA Joe the guitarist/singer from Dead Milkmen) will be playing at the Maintenance Shop in Ames tomorrow night (Friday 10/21/11) 9pm.  I think tickets are like $12.  Although I don't necessarily agree with this statement on the M-Shops website "Joe Jack Talcum was in 90s powerhouse The Dead Milkmen" - I am not disagreeing that he was in the Dead Milkmen but that DM could be called a 90's powerhouse.  I saw the Dead Milkmen live once in the early 90s and it was a great show.  Joe has been through Iowa several times since with his side project bands or just solo...unfortunately, I always fine out about it a few days after.  I do know that he plays a lot of Dead Milkmen songs as wells as a selection from his various other bands.  It will be an entertaining show.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Zombie Burger

The other night, Angie and I decided to give Zombie Burger a try since we would be in the area.  Being a fan of zombies in general, I have been wanting to try it since it opened a couple months ago, but this was the first time that it was really convenient...and it is October after all.  This isn't just a slapdash mash-up of pop culture icons. Zombie Burger is the creation of Chef George may know him from such local ventures as Centro and Django, among others.  If there is one thing that I have learned over the years, the food he creates is always excellent.  So what exactly is Zombie Burger?  It is a fun artisan/gourmet burger joint.  Think of a Red Robin but hipper and with zombies and humor.  They are not gourmet burgers, they are "goremet".

The restaurant was brighter than I thought it would be.  I was expecting all black walls with tinted windows...I figured they would go all out with the zombie theme and the whole place would be dark and dreary.  It was really quite pleasant with walls that were a bright green or a muted, neutral tan-grey.  The zombie theme was immediately evident with a couple large zombie murals, chain link fence, and industrial aluminum grates partially covering the windows..."to keep the zombies out or to keep them in," I wondered.  But it wasn't over done...the zombies were definitely just accents.  The zombies were evident but not overwhelming, which I think is better for the long term success.  Tables, chairs, tableware were all simple but nice.  I wasn't expecting cloth napkins but that is always a nice touch...just because you are serving zombie flavored food doesn't mean that you can't be all fancy and stuff.

The menus looked like newspaper, with all articles relating to zombies.  I didn't get a chance to read it all because A) I was hungry and wanted food...braaaaains, B) we were on time schedule.  But the parts I did read were hilarious.  My favorite part was in the Advice Column and the article started off something like "Dear Bill, my boyfriend recently became a zombie (his ex-girlfriend is a zombie, so I am pretty sure that's where he got it)."  It cracked me up.  The whole thing was full of jokes and sometimes subtle humor.  It was done really well.

Zombie Burger offers the following on their menu:

  • Appetizers - the normal stuff like fries, cheese curds, fried pickles, etc... I was a little disappointed that they no longer carry onion rings, but they did have the fried brussel sprouts that piqued my interest (and their fries are supposedly delicious too).
  • Soylent Greens - salads
  • Bashed Brugers - come standard with a Special Grind Patty, but you can also get as a veggie patty, chicken breast, or grilled portobello.  9 times out of 10 I would get the standard patty but I like having options in case I am in a strange mood.  You can also choose your number of patties between one and three (like on a BK Stacker...but good).
  • Rippers - fried hot dogs
  • Brain Freeze - specialty shakes (alcoholic versions available).

I was here for a good burger.  I decided to forgo appetizers and instead get a burger and a ripper (fat guy in the making!).  I had made fried hot dogs myself but wanted to see how they stood up to a restaurant version.  I chose the simple Zombie Dog for my ripper which came only with a house mix of mustard and relish for toppings...I really wanted to focus on the dog itself.  I had heard that the Chef had developed a new recipe for the buns that made them really spongy and soft...and they were.  The buns complemented the smashed burger patty really well, but the bun really stood out on this simple hot dog.  Spongy, moist, and was less like a bun and more like a really thick piece of bread, that just felt good in your mouth. Although the ripper was good, I would have preferred that it had been cooked longer.  I would have liked the skin really crisp and even blackened a little bit.  I know that is not for everyone, but that is how I like my hot dogs.

For my burger, I chose a Undead Elvis single patty.  The Undead Elvis has peanut butter, fried bananas, bacon, American cheese, mayo, and a fried egg.  This was a step into uncertainty for me...I really do not like egg yolk.  Just the thought of egg yolk makes me gag sometimes and to see someone dipping their toast into it on tv makes me feel a little nauseous (why would you do that to perfectly good toast?).  My good friend CT has recommended the Kill Bill Tenderloin at Centro to me many times, but the sunny side up egg always killed it for me.  I thought about getting the Undead Elvis without the egg, but then I steel my internal thoughts and gagging and decide to just go for it.  I can handle one egg.  And I did, the burger was pretty dang good.  The peanut butter and bacon was awesome but the fried bananas kind of got lost in the rest of the flavors...I blame the egg.  Overall, it was a very good burger and I would highly recommend it.

Angie got the Trailer Trash burger and although she only ordered a single, I am pretty sure that the burger they brought out was a double tap.  The Trailer Trash burger contained American cheese, fried pickles, chicken fried bacon, cheese curds, and ranch mayo.  It was also very good, but I preferred mine just a little more.  The deciding factor for me was the cheese was more like one gigantic cheese curd and about half an inch thick.  By the time I tried a bite of her sandwich (which was quite a while after we got our food) the cheese curd had cooled enough that it was no longer gooey inside.  It was just too much rubbery cheese for me.

Can't believe I missed this.
Photo courtesy of
I really enjoyed the food, I look forward to going back and trying more burgers...but the choices are difficult...already there are 4 or 5 I am seriously contemplating for my next visit.  The first visit was could I not get the one with peanut butter and fried bananas, but now comes the difficult choices (and hopefully room for a shake...maybe even an alcoholic one if I am not driving).  Plus I have to see the awesome bathroom signs that I missed the first time around.

Zombie Burger
300 E Grand
Des Moines, IA 50309

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Kindle Fire

A couple thoughts on the newly announced Kindle Fire, Full Color 7" Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi.  These are just very quick first impressions without really digging into any details or facts about the thing.

  • If they have a good (and affordable) comic book subscription service, it is probably worth it to me...this is the killer app on the iPad for me.  Amazon just had to show a picture of The Watchmen didn't they.
  • I don't know how much I will actually use it for reading e-books.  The standard Kindle's e-ink is so nice to read, that I don't think I could easily switch to a backlit screen again.  I guess it will be good to read in the dark though.
  • Streaming movies from Amazon looks easy...especially if you are a Prime subscriber (and the new 20th Century Fox content agreement).  
  • It is at a very nice price point for a tablet computer.
  • Looking forward to seeing all the Android apps that work on it.
  • Looks to have much better music controls, so could actually be used for audiobooks and mp3s.
  • Kinda kills all the arguments for a Nook.
  • My experience with my regular Kindle makes me really curious to see how this performs.
  • Looks like a lot of distractions to keep me from reading.
  • I suppose the next Kindle iteration will be called BlazeTM (or something else equally bad).
  • I'll probably get one, but don't feel the need to be a first adopter.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Economic Recovery

Even though all you seem to hear about on the news is the doom and gloom of the economy...I feel things are getting better.  Of course, my method of judging the economic recovery is probably a little different than most people's.  I don't look at unemployment numbers, home sales, or trade feeling is based completely on my success at cart return shopping.

Cart return shopping is simply finding items and bags of items that people forget to take out of their shopping cart when they place the cart in the return area.  It happens more than you think.  I've found all kinds of things - food, scrapbook supplies, spices, beverages, towels, tools, hardware, CDs, and even a bank bag full of checks and cash (which I was hoping came from a large, evil corporation so that I could justify keeping it, but instead came from a local cheer and dance team...and so was returned to much thanks).

This is not something that I obsessively do.  I don't stake out parking lots and watch the cart return all day.  It is just something where if I happen to be at the store and walking by the cart returns in the lot, I will glance over and see if there is anything there.  9 times out of 10 there will be nothing or just used coffee cups or other trash...but every once in a while you find something worth checking out.

So how does this help me judge economic recovery?  When the economy dropped into the dump in 2008, there was no cart return shopping...nothing was left behind.  People weren't shopping as much, weren't buying as much when they did shop, and were very careful to get everything they paid for.  Only in the past year has cart return shopping started to pick up again.  It is not back to the levels it was, but I have found more things in the past 6 months than I had in the previous 2.5 years combined.  I take that as a sign of progress for the country, people are being a little more carefree with there money.

Tips for cart return shopping:

  • Like Wil Wheaton always says - Don't be a dick.  If I happen to see someone actually leave an item behind, I will alert them to the fact.  Even if I don't actually see the act of the item being left behind, I make sure to ask anyone that in nearby if they forgot the item.  If there is any kind of identifying a prescription pill bottle, take it to the lost and found.  You are not trying to take advantage of people.  It it a good feeling helping others out, even if it is just telling them that they forgot a can of tuna.
  • Don't be afraid of the items.  I have been told stuff like "That's gross" or "You don't know where that has been."  Most stuff I find is boxed/canned items that don't require know a 12 -pack of soda (this is by far the most common item forgotten because they are almost always put on the bottom rack) or maybe a bag containing a couple quick microwave lunch things.  I can also say with 99% accuracy that this item has been in the store, in a cart, and forgotten, I just don't see someone tampering with food like this.
  • Refrigerated items.  I have found stuff that needs to be refrigerated and there are a couple factors that help me decide.  1) Is it still cool?  Widespread modern refrigeration has only existed for about 100 years, man survived before this...if it is still cool, you are probably fine.  2) How often does your favorite store empty its cart returns?  Mine usually gathers carts at least once an hour, so I know it has probably been there less than that.  3) Do I really like the item?  I will usually pass on milk even if it is still plenty cold because I don't care that much for milk, orange juice on the other hand will be made at home in my fridge.
  • Some stores are better than others...and many things go into this including the kind of people that frequent the store, cart design (carts with a nice lower shelf are best), quantity of cart returns (if there are lots of returns, the person doesn't have to walk as far and will be less likely to notice a forgotten item).
  • Go when people are busy...and forgetful.  Lunch time or right before closing seems the best because people are usually in a rush.
  • You are not taking advantage of anyone (if you aren't a dick), not even the store...these items are paid for.  I have never found anything really expensive and if I did, I would turn it in...but what is the lost and found really going to do with a 12-pack of diet coke?  Would a customer return for this?  I don't think so...and I have seen the cart gather throw everything away that is left in carts, including bags of items.
  • Don't keep what you don't need/want.  I don't keep a lot of the stuff I do find...if I have no use for an item - vagisil, baby items, re-fried beans, etc...  I don't take it, that is just something that I end up throwing away.  I leave that for someone else to salvage, I am not collecting junk.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Fun Day" at Adventureland

On Sept 11th I went to the local amusement park, Adventureland.  I wasn't about to let the terrorists win by not having fun on this day.  It was a beautiful weekend and I figured with all the 9/11 stuff going on that the park might not be too busy.  Neither Jesse Eisenberg, nor Kristen Stewart were working that day.

I had been years since I had been to Adventureland...the closest that I could figure out was perhaps I was there around 2001.  I am not sure why it had been so long.  Adventureland is a pretty decent amusement park...sure it is not as big or as exciting as World's of Fun, Six Flags, or Disney...but it 10 minutes away.  I  think part of my long absence had to do with the fact that Adventureland didn't really change that much for a long time.  The last time I was there The Underground was still being touted as the new, exciting ride and it was several years old at this point (and sucked).  I guess, being older is also part of it - either no one wants to go or everyone has kids (and I've had plenty of the Infant Ocean).

Adventureland had changed a lot since I had been there.  I knew there were lots of new rides like the Space Shot and Splash Over, as well as, the entire new water park area Adventure Bay.  Then there was the fire a couple years back.  The heart of Adventureland remains - the circuit where you head left, jump on the Galleon, walk back grab a funnel cake, twirl on the Lady Luck, head to the Tornado, take a spin on the Silly Silo, and then jump aboard the Sky Lift to start back at the beginning.

The Tornado - a classic
I brought my swimsuit to check out Adventure Bay, but it was closed...which makes sense, I am sure it would take more effort than it is worth to keep the water clean all week only to be open on the weekends.  I was a little sad, I didn't get a chance to test it out though.  There was still plenty to do.  I enjoyed all the rides that I went on (a couple like Splash Over and the Inverter happened to be closed this day).  Space Shot was just what I expected and fun.  Short lines meant next to no waiting, so you could easily ride several times in a row.  All three roller coasters were still pretty good.  The Outlaw was rougher than I remembered, but the Dragon still knocked my head around leaving me with a minor headache...just like I remembered.  The Tornado is still a highlight for me.  It doesn't really have any gimmicks like many of today's coasters, it doesn't go upside down, it doesn't corkscrew, or have an incredible vertical drop...The Tornado is just a classic wooden roller coaster and is still pretty thrilling and fun 35ish years later.  The first (and maybe the second or even third) time I went to Adventureland as a child, I was too short for the Tornado.  I was super envious of my older brother who could ride (although secretly a little relieved too).  I wonder if the still sell the "I survived The Tornado" t-shirts like they used to in the 80's.  I didn't think to look.  The Tornado really doesn't seem that scary of a coaster now, but I remember it being the height cool to have one of these tees back in the day.

My favorite ride of the day...well, probably the Silly Silo.  That has always been one of my favorites ever since I first came to Adventureland.  How can you not like spinning until you are stuck to the wall?  It is awesome.  I didn't ride it fifteen times in a row like when I was a kid (even though I was tempted), but a couple times was good and brought back good memories.  Luckily, I have never been on it when someone has vomitted, but it did happen while I was sitting on the bench waiting for friends to get back from the Log Ride...employees rushed up with buckets, mops, and bleach, and the Silo was closed for about 30 minutes.

My favorite "new" to me...was The Sidewinder.  This ride did not exist the last time I was here.  It is a giant swinging arm, where riders sit in saddle shaped seats on rotating disc at the bottom of the pendulum.  I thought the best way to ride was to just be totally relaxing and let your body flop around like a rag doll.  It was good time - short bursts of free fall when the pendulum hit its peak and then nice centripetal force as it swings down and back up the other way.  Since the bottom of the pendulum slowly rotated, you were never sure if you would be facing up or down when you hit the top of the arc.  Both where fun, but I found I had to grab hold of my sunglasses when I ended up facing time, they will be in my pocket (lesson learned).  Every one of the the "new" rides were lots of fun, and I must applaud Adventureland for adding a good variety of entertaining rides over the past decade.

Der Flitzer/Himalaya  (photo courtesy of
Lakesidecyclone @ Coaster Fanatics)
Even though all those are all still good, I still really miss the Der Flitzer roller coaster (my family called it the Himalaya fact, I didn't even know it was called anything else until writing this piece and trying to find a picture).  It was the small snow capped mountain themed coaster, that was to the left as you walked in the park in the Alpine area...where the Giant Skywheel is now.  The coaster was the epitome of Adventureland for me for several reasons.  First, it was the coaster that I could always ride (when I was too short for the Tornado) and I always rode it several times whenever my family went to Adventureland.  Der Flitzer was also always the first ride we went on...probably because it was the first ride that you would come to when entering the park, but that is besides the point.  Once you rode this, you really felt like you were at Adventureland and were ready for a day of rides, games, and cotton candy.

Take a chance and win some crap!
I was disappointed in the Alpine Games area...including the new arcade.  Although I have heard that this area didn't bring in as much money as the other two games areas.  This was always the games area for had the huge bank of full size skee ball machines, it had ring toss, frog launch, and the various basketball and milk can games.  It had a little bit of everything.  I remember playing skee ball there with my older brother and working on winning a couple small stuffed moose, that we then combined and traded for a large stuffed moose...which we would then fight over who actually owned the moose for the next several years.  Sure, we probably spend $25 for a $1.50 moose, but that moose was pure gold in our hearts.  The Alpine Games area was on the way out...this is where you would spend the last of your money.  You didn't want to be that guy that wins the huge stuffed animal and then look stupid carrying around all day (I'm looking at your shaved headed, Harley vest guy carrying the giant stuffed neon green raccoon).  Wait till you are about to leave, then play the games.  This was my philosophy.  Most of that area is gone now.  There are still a few of the stand alone games, but the ones connected to main street are all gone in the re-built main street.  Supposedly, this elimination of these games gave more room for the Penny Arcade.  I always loved this arcade...I loved the fact that at least half of the arcade was dedicated to classic games - Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Ikari Warriors, Spy Hunter, Jungle Lord could go in this arcade and just play tons of great games from the Golden Age of video games.  It was something special, something that you just didn't see very often any more.  I guess they all burned in the fire because the new arcade might have been bigger but it had far fewer games (I would call it a handful) and they were all the new ticket redemption games like Deal or No Deal or Big Bass Wheel.  It just didn't seem like an can play just as many (and the same games) in Wal-mart.  So what was taking up all the room in the "new and bigger" arcade?  Adventureland decided to move the G-Force ride in there (that was like the Scrambler but for little kids).  It was very disappointing.  I knew it would be difficult replacing some of the classic games, but I had hoped they would at least have a few...and if not, may be some newer arcade games that you don't see every place else.  I don't even think they tried.  It is sad.

It was a "Fun Day"
My favorite thing of the entire day though was a sign right outside of the souvenir shop as you first walked in the gates.  This sign brought me all kinds of joy (sorry for the not so great picture).  Why would this be written in some sort of title case?  But even more pressing what do you mean by "Fun Day"?  Usually when something is in quotes like that, it doesn't actually mean what the words actually say...or is said in a sarcastic tone.  I know there a entire blogs dedicated to inappropriate use of quotation marks, so it is nothing really new, but I still found it highly amusing.  After reading this sign, I wasn't entirely sure how much fun I was actually going to have...maybe they were trying to tell me something!  But it did start off the day with a smile and snicker at other people's idiocy.

Adventureland stands up better than I thought it would 10 years ago.  I had a good time...although I wish it was a little less expensive.  If you haven't been to Adventureland in a while, I would suggest that you check it out.  For me it was a good mix of new experiences and old memories.

Friday, September 2, 2011

An Anatomically Incorrect Rock Odyssey

In a couple weeks, Stage West Iowa will be presenting a run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Stoner Theater.

I'm not even sure how my brother and I first came across Hedwig, I think we might have been flipping through channels and saw the title Hedwig and the Angry Inch and were like "That sounds fucked up."  And it was...but it was also wonderful.  Great music, messed up characters, and a lessons about coming to terms with who you are and about making the best of your situation.  It quickly became one of my favorite movies.  The movie was based off the musical play created by John Cameron Mitchell.

It is a difficult decision to take a date to Hedwig.  Hedwig is hard to describe...well hard to describe without scaring people off.  It contains cultural taboos like transsexualism, cross dressing, sex change operations, homosexuality, and rock and roll.   But that all just sets the stage for the story and the characters feelings, motivations and the identity crises that are created.  Long story short - in the late 1980's Hansel, an East German boy, gets a sex change operation to emigrate West through the Berlin Wall with his love, an American soldier.  Hansel becomes Hedwig, but the sex change operation doesn't work as planned (that's the angry inch).  A year later, Hedwig is dumped and the Berlin Wall falls.  Stuck in the middle of nowhere, Hedwig decides to become a rock star but her new young lover takes off with all her songs and then strikes it big.  Bitterness, complex relationships, mental breakdowns, and identity crises ensue and coming to terms with it all is the beauty of Hedwig.

Hedwig (the musical, not the movie) takes place during a single concert at Bilgewaters Family Restaurant in <insert your town>.  I saw Stage West Iowa's previous Hedwig endeavor in 2002.  They did a pretty good job.  Hedwig and Yitzhak both did a great job.  And Hedwig is a difficult character to play (I would imagine...I am not an actor), because although she is outrageous and over the top, you can't go so far over the top to be cartoony.  Hedwig has to be likable and relatable...even when the audience has little in common with her (well, I would hope not that many people have chopped off their wieners to get out of East Berlin).  I expected a little more animation from the backing band...even though they aren't a major part of the show, I expected them to be rocking out more and being more like an actual band.  I know Hedwig is the spotlight hog, but I was hoping for more pep from the band.  I think this may have been at least partially intentional - A) Hedwig doesn't want to be outshone, B) band is supposedly bored with Hedwig...but I thought it detracted somewhat from the performance.  I have seen "real" backing bands go both ways - energetic and laid back.  Energetic is always more fun and exciting to watch.  I don't want them to distract from Hedwig, but they can at least look more like they are in a rock band rather than just standing there and playing their instruments.

I am highly looking forward to seeing what they do with Hedwig this time.  I suggest you all check it out too.  If you are able to keep an open mind about the not quite normal sexuality of the characters, you can really enjoy the music...much like Rocky Horror Picture Show.  When you give the music a chance, you will be amazed, it is really a great story.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Lack of Hate

I don't know who originally made
this, but I thank them sincerely.
I have been asked several times in the past few months about what happened to the weekly Two Minutes Hate.  I guess some people found it funny.  I am SO glad that my seething hatred can entertain you people.  Geesh!  OK...I am really glad that most people did take the Two Minutes Hate that way because that is exactly how it was meant.  The TMH was basically minor annoyances and a way to let of a little steam at some of the things in this world that are idiotic.  I wasn't really trying to spread hate, just pointing out minor frustrations.

I decided to halt Two Minutes Hate for a several reasons, but mostly because it felt like being lazy.  I really didn't spend much more than two minutes writing each one...OK, it was probably 5 minutes, but I would sit down, bang out 4 or 5 in a half hour, set them to automatically publish on the upcoming Tuesdays and I would be done.  Then later in the next couple weeks I would think to myself "I should really blog, or at least finish one of the (many) started but uncompleted's been a while."  My brain would counter with "Yeah, but you got those TMHs, so it's not like the blog is blank...and the readers don't know they were written weeks ago.  You should instead go to youtube and watch Chris Elliott segments."

Another reason is that I am generally trying to be more positive in my life.  A more positive attitude and outlook.  I don't think that the TMHs were really that negative, I thought they were funny.  But as long as I am trying to be more positive, I figured that I would give them a rest a while.  I've also been told by several people that know me, that Two Minutes Hate didn't accurately represent who I am.  I think it does represent who I am but it only represents a very small part...but that part became magnified due to the previously mentioned laziness.  When I was publishing more Hate than anything else, I can see how people can get the wrong image about me.  Personally, I don't care (much) what others think and if they see me for a rambling hate monger, that is there problem...but I also realize that it can affect other people in my life.  The people I know directly probably know that the TMH is not representative of me, but their friends and co-workers who don't know me, could get the wrong idea.  Again, I don't really care about how this affects me, but I do care how it affects these others around me.  So far, it hasn't really caused any issues but I can see there is potential for issues.

The finally straw, however, was Ben The Over-Literal Dermestid Beetle.  If you don't know Ben, he is a recurring character in's Official Time-Wasting Videos.  I love these videos and I love Ben, but Ben kept stealing my material...or I guess more likely great minds just think alike.  Several times - Ben's video rant was near exact to a Two Minute Hate that I had written but had not published.  Several times - and there is only like 6 Ben videos at this time.  I think of the 6 current videos, 5 of them have covered a Two Minute Hate that I had written or planned to write.  Ben The Over-Literal Dermestid Beetle beat me to the punch, usually by only a day.  I am sure it was just complete coincidence but it was also a little creepy.  I am not sure weather to be pleased or disappointed to be thinking so similarly to Ben The Over-Literal Dermestid Beetle, but I think I am happy more than not.  I enjoy Ben and I think he does it better than me so I will let him have it.  I still have a handful of unpublished TMHs that I am just waiting to see if Ben covers the topic or not.

Here are a few of Ben's videos that were eerily similar to my Two Minutes Hate:

Two Minutes Hate may be back...I am not sure yet.  It probably will at some point, especially if I am feeling especially frustrated.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Welcome to the Future (3.5 Years Late)

The future's waiting Meatbag.

Editors Note:  I have been working on this post since if it seems disjointed, varies in tone, has sentences that drop off, etc...  I apologize, it has been a while in the works and I don't feel like proof-reading and editing this post any longer.  Thanks - the Management

I got a Kindle for Christmas. I know, it is not a big deal now - lots of people have them now. The Kindle has been out for 3.5 years now and there have been many articles, comments, debates, etc... about it since then. So for those keeping track of such things, this blog post will probably hold nothing new. However, if you are a person that is still trying to decide and want a simple review from an ordinary person (i.e. not a tech writer), this might give a little insight.

I read a lot, so e-readers have always held an interest for me. Many times in the past I have checked out various Sony models and although they seemed OK, I could not justify the expense ($300+) without really knowing how much I would like it. I had a feeling that it would be a novelty at first but 6 months later it would be collecting dust in a drawer (along with several Gameboys, Palm Pilots, cell phones, handheld Sudoku, and other electronic devices that struck my fancy over the years). Thankfully, I have quelled my need to be an early adopter because for me, it mostly led to buyer's remorse.

I finally took the plunge and asked for a Kindle for several reasons. The $140 price was now low enough that the risk was now justifiable. It was now in it's third generation so it should be more refined and have most kinks worked out. But one of the most important factors was that Amazon's ebooks were now a large enough format that I didn't have to worry about being stuck with a discontinued device that I couldn't get new books for or wouldn't get stuck with DRM'ed books that I bought but couldn't access. After being interested for over 10 years, it was finally time to give digital books a try.

I love books. Not just reading books, but the physical items themselves. A well bound, high quality book is a thing of beauty to me and I have shelves full of them to prove it. I also hate books at times too. Books can be fragile, books are heavy, and books take a lot of storage space. I don't mind keeping the books that I really enjoy, but if I hated it or it was just so-so, I hate to devote any shelf space to it. So I give these books away, donate them to library sales, etc...but that usually means I have a stack or a box of mediocre books sitting around my house waiting for disposal. I also have stacks of books that are waiting to be read. That is clutter that I can do without. I was worried that I would miss the feel of a book, the sound of the pages, and the smell of the ink and paper.

I didn't really need to worry. I think missing those things are valid, but for me I think those feelings have more to do with obsessive collecting. Reading should be about the story rather than the format - as long as you have access to an easy to read copy, it should not matter if it is a first edition hardback, or a cheesy covered paperback for air plane travelers, or a digital edition. I received a third generation Kindle which is the current grey model. Mine is the standard 6" screen, Wi-fi only. The Kindle has changed the way that I read - a lot more than I thought it would, but it does have both pros and cons. Here are some thoughts after one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight(!) months of use (yes, I have gotten distracted and this post kept getting delayed). This post having been in the works for so long, I am going to try to be thorough - covering all the things that I have thought over the past months (so you can stop reading now if you are not interested in a Kindle).

Pretty tiny actually
The Kindle is a decent size and a decent weight. The reading pane doesn't feel too small. It basically feels like a paper in both size and weight. Although weight-wise it would be a larger paperback (like the later Harry Potters) and size-wise somewhat closer to a trade paper back instead of a standard. It easily fits in my bag or any place I would normally stow a book...and many places that I previously couldn't. For size comparison, think of it about the size of a standard DVD case...but half as thick and four times the weight.

I find the Kindle to be pretty durable...and makes for a rather carefree reading experience. I tend to baby my books - well the nice hardcovers anyway. I make sure the pages don't get folded, the covers scuffed, and the spines broken, and I definitely make sure that I don't leave them in my car on a hot and humid day when it will swell and warp. The almost OCD care of books has diminished my reading enjoyment at times ("Don't open the book too wide, because the spine might split!"). With the Kindle, I dont' have to worry about these things, I treat it as a gadget instead of a book...and I am relatively rough on gadgets - dropping, tossing, leaving them in baking heat, etc... The Kindle has proven itself to be pretty sturdy and I happy how well it has held up. In a couple of the dropping/tossing incidents the corner seams of the Kindle case did pop open a bit, but the case pushed back together easily and no damage was sustained. I am still not sure how I feel about the screen itself and its durability. My screen has obtained quite a few small scratches over the months but they really don't interfere with fact, I barely notice them at all when I am reading except in very bright, direct light. Even so, I worry a little what it will look like in another year or two...will it be riddled with scratches and scuffs, so that it does now interfere with reading? It remains to be seen. There are many screen protectors for the Kindle out there, and I have tried a couple but didn't like either - they were a pain in the ass to install because even the tiniest speck of dust becomes exaggerated and looks worse than any problems the screen protector fixed, and they both had much more glare than the standard Kindle screen. I definitely don't want to get a case or cover - I don't want to make it bigger or have to mess with a cover...the Kindle is simple and fast to use the way it is. Although I am tempted to get one of the water-proof cases for better hot tub and pool reading.

The Kindle makes for easy travelling and business trips. I hate travelling and not having something to read. Often, the weight of my carry-on luggage was 25% books. I would have to take the book that I was reading, and at least one or two additional books in case I finish, and maybe a couple different genres in case I am feeling in a mood for something specific. The Kindle makes it so that I always have plenty to read to read in every genre...and if I see something specific in the airport bookstore that interests me, it can be downloaded in a minute...and save about 60% or more than I would have paid at the airport bookstore. I also like scanning any documents - like travel itineraries, meeting outlines, hotel reservations, etc...into PDFs and copying those to my Kindle. I am also super afraid that I will lose my travel info, so I tend to take 3 copies of everything - one that I use and then a backup in both my checked and carry-on luggage. Since I now have all the info on my Kindle (which I am pretty sure that I won't lose because rarely does it leave my hand), I only take that and the original printed copy. The Kindle also has great battery life...I think it is even better than Amazon originally stated. I use my Kindle quite a bit, usually an hour or more each day and I only have to re-charge every 5-6 weeks. I do have the wi-fi turned off most of the time, so I am sure that helps...but either way, having to charge is a rarity. I would feel perfectly comfortable taking it with me on a one to two week vacation and not taking the charger with me. It would be nice that if I did have to take a charger, that the Kindle had a standard micro-USB connection so that I could take one charger that could charge (and transfer data from) my cell, my Kindle, and my camera. Come on electronics industry - let's get that all standardized. 

I find the Kindle incredibly legible. The text is crisp and has a good contrast against the background - I really like how the background is muted grey and not bright white. My eyes get tired quicker reading against a bright white background (like on a computer monitor). I think if the background was a brighter white that reading would not be as soothing after a day of work. My eyes really appreciate the change of scenery after staring at my computer screen all day. When I read on the Kindle, it doesn't feel like I am reading on an electronic device - it really is e-ink. There is very little to no glare on the Kindle. You can read it in bright sunlight like on the commercials without having to move it around to see the text. However, it is lacking a light of some kind allowing for reading in the dark. Pages turn quickly and the buttons are efficient to turn pages both forward and back. Although it took a little getting used to the lower button being "forward" on both sides and the upper button being "backward" on both the left and right sides. I kept wanting to push the same button but right side for forward and left side for back like you were flipping pages (but it makes sense being able to go forward on both sides for Lefties...dang lefties, can't they just buy their Kindle at the Leftorium?).  It took me a couple days to get used to the upper/lower button scheme. 

The Kindle also contains pretty simple tools to increase/decrease font size, line spacing, and even word spacing (words per line), so that you can customize it to what best suits your needs. An instant dictionary is included and all you have to do with scroll to a word with the d-pad for the definition to be displayed. I have a decent vocabulary, but I still find myself using it a lot thanks to George RR Martin's use of archaic words and armor descriptions. I also like checking some more obscure words that I kind-of know, or at least can figure out from the context but might not know an exact definition. I'm not sure if Kindle tells you what dictionary it is using...that is something I keep meaning to check out but always forget. Kindle also allows you to rotate the document to fit your screen orientation - it is not automatic like on an iPhone, you must manually go into the menu and choose your orientation. I have tried this but for me it isn't that useful of a function - a few PDFs look slightly better in landscape orientation, I guess. Nice to have if needed, but mostly it is a non-issue. 

Amazon says the Kindle holds 3500+ books or something, but I am usually skeptical about those types of claims. It doesn't say what type or size of books, so I always think that they are talking about something that is smaller than what I normally read. My old MP3 player made similar claims and it turned out that the claim was based on low quality Windows Media Audio (WMA) files...not decent quality audio files. The Kindle however lives up to it's promise. OK, I don't have 3500 books loaded but I do have a lot...and some are large PDF files. I have enough material to last me for years and still have plenty of room to add more. I like how Amazon allows the option to connect your Kindle to your computer and transfer files directly...this is nice when I have large, or many files to add. It is much faster than waiting for wi-fi and gives you an option to add material even when wi-fi is not available. 

Like all gadgets, the Kindle ran the risk of feeling cheap and plasticy with crappy buttons. However, the Kindle feels pretty solid. The top surface is basic plastic but it doesn't really feel or look cheap. The bottom has a nice slightly rubbery texture to help with grip and to keep it from sliding across surfaces. The buttons feel sturdy and press well. But there are issues too. The power button is a slider. I am sure that they had their reasons for making this button a slider, but I do not care for it. I slide it too quick, or hold it over too long, or whatever. I am just not a fan of sliders. The Kindle has a full can do things like search, play games, make notes, etc... I don't use the keyboard enough to really justify it for me. I am rarely a note taker when I read and I didn't buy the thing to play games, I have an Xbox for that. As much as I use the full keyboard, I would rather have that gone and just be able to pull up a virtual keyboard that I navigate with the d-pad type button. It would be a pain in the ass for note takers, but for as much as I have noted or searched, I wouldn't mind.. However, if Amazon would add a few simple things from my suggestions below, the keyboard could be very useful. As of now, the keyboard is just more of an irritation due to accidental button pushes. 

Amazon uses the proprietary AZW formats and public Mobi formats. Kindle can only natively handle AZW, Mobi, and PDF files. In addition Amazon will convert MS Word, TXT, HTLM, and RTF files free of charge - you just need to email them to you kindle account and it is handled automatically. This is a good start but there are many other file formats that books come in - especially ePub (the standard of the International Digital Publication Forum), a pretty important and widespread format. So it is important to find a good conversion program. Luckily there are several that are free. I have been having a lot of luck with Calibre. Calibre lets me convert files and also edit the metadata (more on that in a bit). 

There are several things that I don't like about Kindle, so here are a few changes that I would like to see (in no particular order). 

Suggestion One - let users create sub-folders/sub-collections. To organize your books now you have a few sort options - "Most recent first," "Title," "Author," or "Collections." The first three are pretty self-explanatory I think. Collections is a little more complicated. I think of them as folder but it is more similar to a label, where you can label the books as you want - for example a few of my collections are "Fiction," "Reference," "Classics," and "Stephen King." Books can belong to more more than one label, but you can only sort by one label at a time. I like to have a clean home screen, so I would love to have subcategories. Stephen King books should go in Fiction or Horror, but I also like to keep my SK books together since there are a lot of them. Right now, I can't do this...the books can only be sorted under one label. I would like to have this under a label system, where I could step down through several labels:
  • Fiction 
    • Stephen King 
      • The Dark Tower Series 
        • Book 1 
        • Book 2 
        • Book 3 
        • etc... 

Not being able to correctly organize is a pretty major annoyance. I am sure it works well for Kindles that only have a few books but is pretty much a mess once you get into a collection of any size (which is really easy to due if you like public domain works - like many of the Penguin Classics you read in school). I want to be able to arrange my books like I do on my bookshelf and this means sub-categories.

Suggestion Two - metadata. This has to due with organization. Users should be able to edit the metadata of books and documents directly on the Kindle. When you get books from multiple sources (ie - not just from Amazon, but it can also happen with Amazon only books too), the metadata can be a little messed up between different locations. One place has the author as "Chuck Palahnuik" another location as "Palahnuik, Chuck." Some places start the book titles (when appropriate) with "The" - some don't. Your organization can quickly become a mess. Also, I often want to add notes to my titles, so the are in a particular order or easy to find. Take Piers Anthony's Xanth series - there are 30+ books, and I can never remember the order. I'm not downloading them as they come out, reading, and then patiently waiting for the next novel. I am downloading them all at once so I have them...but this doesn't help me remember the order. It would be nice to be able to add something like this to the beginning of the title "Xanth 01:" That way I would only have to glance to find the next book because "Demons Don't Dreams" just doesn't scream book 16 of the series to me. There are lots of reasons to want to edit your metadata....and you can with certain programs like Calibre mentioned above. However, that means copying the book from your Kindle to your computer, loading Calibre, making the adjustments, reloading the book onto your Kindle, and finally making sure you delete the old copy off your Kindle. Way too much work. It would be much better to be able to do it directly on the Kindle.

This is what it should do when you power
off - throw up the cover of the current book.
Suggestion Three - the screensaver. The Kindle has a built in screen saver type function where every time you turn off the device a picture appears on the screen until the next time you turn it on. I don't think it is actually a screensaver, just something so that you don't have blank screen. There are about 20 pictures that the Kindle rolls through - pictures of authors (i.e. Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Charlotte Bronte, Alexandre Dumas), Kindle feedback info, and various art prints. It is all well and good until you have seen each one a hundred times. I would much prefer showing the cover of the current book that I am reading. It is becoming very similar to what happened with music...I now have no idea what the album or book cover looks like because all I have in an electronic file. If it book's cover popped up on the screensaver, at least there would be a chance to admire the artwork. You can view it anytime on the Kindle, but that is kind of a pain...I just want it to pop up automatically. This has also led me to miss the interaction/conversation starter with another person when they see what you are reading. This didn't happen to me a lot, but when it did it was almost always a great conversation (I read that too! What do you think of...). I suppose everyone having the same default screensaver makes it good for reading guilty pleasures (or being an adult reading Twilight - not one of my guilty pleasure, I am just saying that you should be embarrassed - yes I read it and yes I feel stupider for having done so). 

Suggestion Four - book light. I am not sure what would work better - the ability to turn on backlighting or a built in light around the bezel. It would be neat if they could institute a function that works like the LightWedge book light where the whole screen glows to light up the words beneath. The LightWedge technology is pretty awesome for reading regular books in the dark, so hopefully they could achieve something equally awesome on the Kindle.  My biggest fear on something like this would be the drain on battery life. Would I want a light function if it meant that I had to charge my Kindle every couple days? Probably not. However, if I had a built-in light for when I needed it, and used it sparingly, and only had to charge every couple of weeks? That is a trade-off that I would agree with. 

Sold Separately - this cover and book light will
set you back and extra $60.
Suggestion Five - notepad type function. A simple notepad function would be great. It would be nice to be able to type out such things as a grocery list or a quick note to myself, since I am already carrying my Kindle with me (and I would think Amazon would want me to carry it as much as possible, so I can buy more books). Sure, I can always add a note to a book or a document...but these notes rarely have a connection to the book that I am reading so it seems a little weird tying the note to the book. The best I have come up with for getting around this is sending a blank PDF to my Kindle and attaching notes to it. It is not as simple or elegant as a built in notepad, so I don't use it as much as I would like. 

Suggestion Six - favorite bookmark quick button.  I've been reading a lot of books that contain either a map or and index that I want to refer to often.  I can set a bookmark and then go to it by opening the menu, selecting bookmarks, and then choosing my bookmark.  It's not a bad system but for referring back and forth every few pages it gets tedious.  I would love to have a Favorite button (or two), where it instantly takes me to a favorite bookmark that I have set.

Suggestion Seven - audio.  The Kindle has the ability to play audiobooks and mp3 files.  This is great...except for one thing, the controls suck total ass.  MP3s only play in the order that they were uploaded...always, there is no adjustment and no changing this.  Really?  You couldn't throw in some MP3 controls?  Seems rushed to me.  Audiobooks are much better...but just like ebook files, the Kindle can only handle certain types.  What about all the other audiobooks that I have purchased over the years?  I understand that you want to drive sales to your partner, but man that sucks.  Oh, I know I could convert my old audiobooks to MP3s!  Oh, but I would have to start over at the beginning of the book every single time.  Thanks Amazon, that is handy.

Suggestion Eight - repeat customer discount.  If I have previously purchased a book in print form, I should get a good sized discount if I later purchase a digital edition (or audiobook).  I have long wanted this kind of repeat customer bonus in the music industry (i.e. when you upgrade from cassette to CD, you would get a substantial discount on the CD because you are a repeat customer for the same material) but I can see how that would be difficult to implement.  Amazon, however, is in a  perfect position to roll this out system.  All my purchases are since 2002 are in Amazon's system...they should be able to search my history and if I have purchased a printed volume before, I should automatically be given a discount on the ebook or audiobook.  Without an incentive system like this, some people (obviously less scrupulous people than myself) could probably justify to themselves that they already bought this book once - the author and the publisher have already been paid - Why should I pay full price again, I'll just hit up bit torrent and download it for free.  Now if said person received something like 40-60% off, it would be almost easier to just buy it than search the interwebicon for a good copy to download.

Suggestion Nine - 5-way controller. The 5-Way Controller (a square d-pad type thing, with a button in the center) is pretty slick and efficient as it is, but it is a little small. I think the directional button pads could be a little thicker. I have relatively small hands, and I still fat finger this enough times to be annoying. I think making this controller a little more easily usable would be nice.  I think this would also help open up the market a little more to people with hand control issues who might have problems turning a regular book page, but right now would probably also have issues with this 5-way controller.

    Final random thoughts and feelings:

    Although it is great for travel, it is a little annoying when flying that you have to turn your Kindle off during take off and landing - like all electronic devices.  So from the time they close the cabin door until the time around 10,000 feet is reached, you are forced to read Skymall or talk to the person next to you.  I like watching the take off and landing so it is not too bad, but still there is usually about 15 minutes at the beginning and end of each flight that I could be reading but can't.  Advantage goes to old fashioned books in this instance.  I do not look forward to the day that my plane is stuck in a line taxi-ing to the runway for a couple hours.

    Nooks - I am sure they are great...but I like
    the singleness of the Kindle.
    A lot of people have asked me things like "Why didn't you get an iPad?" or "Why didn't you get a Nook because it is in color!"  The iPad question is easy - it is all a matter of cost.  Yes, I would love an iPad...especially for it's comic book applications.  The iPad can obviously do a lot more than a Kindle - it is not really a fair comparison.  Especially since I wasn't sure if I would even like reading on an electronic device - I hate reading on my computer after all.  I do think the iPad is pretty amazing and will probably get one in the future, but it is also bigger than the Kindle and weighs three times as much.  I am not sure that I would want to carry the iPad around all the time for reading purposes.  The Nook question is a little more complicated.  If the Nook ran a full functioning version of Android - so basically being like the Samsung Tab - I would buy one in a minute - that would be a great price for very good hardware.  My main issue was that I didn't think I would like the screen as much for long term reading.  I also didn't need a full color display...I don't really read books with many pictures so this would be wasted on me.  If I had a child and was getting Dr Suess books or something it might be a different story. The Nook also has a lot of distractions - web surfing, games, social network features, etc...  All things that might be nice but more than likely would just distract me from reading - the entire reason that I would be getting it.  The Kindle has a rudimentary web browser and it does enough to get the Kindle up and running and registered, but it is not something that I would be tempted to use for web surfing pleasure.  Nook also touted the ability to share books with friends and borrow ebooks from libraries.  Decent features, both of which have now also been/or will soon be instituted on the Kindle.  These weren't really huge selling points for me anyway, the ebooks at the local library are always all checked out and although I wouldn't mind sharing with friends, most of my friends have different tastes in books than I do (for example, I like GOOD books).  "But the Nook is touchscreen!"

    A big deal was made about the text-to-speech option on the Kindles a year ago and book publishers being worried that it would take away from sales of audiobooks.  Well this fear was totally unfounded - do you want to be read a book by Dr Sbaitso?  OK, it is not that bad, but it can be pretty monotone, can have an odd cadence, and pronounces names wrong.  It is really hard to for me to pay attention to for more than a minute or two.  I suffices in a pinch, but it is not nearly the same as the audiobook experience and I can't see anyone using this as a substitute for a professionally produced audiobook unless A) a professional version doesn't exist, or B) the person is really, really desperate.

    After six months of only using the Kindle, I went back to try print books.  There was no real adjustment, books still felt normal...I just missed the portability and ruggedness of the Kindle.  I will keep reading regular books (I still have a huge pile waiting for me), but more and more I will probably turn to the Kindle for books that I am unsure if I will like or if I want to keep - less books to store and find a home for when I am done.

    If you like reading books, I would highly recommend a Kindle (or Nook, or iPad), whatever your preference.  If you think you will really miss traditional books, are you reading for the story or are you reading for the feel of a book?  I miss books a little bit, but not nearly as much as I thought I would.  The convenience of the Kindle more than makes up for the experiences that you feel you might be missing.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    Not Usually a Fan

    I am not usually a fan of baseball.  It is just too slow of a game to keep my attention...especially on TV.  I am sure it has its nuances and fine/subtle aspects that I am not picking up - I'm not arguing that.  I'm sure people that love baseball can see all these things in it that I don't, I'm just saying that it is usually not a sport for me.  Games are better live than on TV.  When I go to a game, I do try to follow the game but I don't go often enough to really get into the sport of the individual members of the team.  So I cheer for the home team but don't get too invested into the whole thing.

    Every once in a while, when I do get to take in an Iowa Cubs game, I always enjoy it.  However, baseball is only a minor part of the experience for me.  I like getting out with friends, enjoying a nice day or evening, watching people fight over blasted t-shirts or hot dogs and eating an awesomely grilled hot dog and some peanuts.  While this is happening, baseball is being played in the background.

    Silky O'Sullivans on Beale Street
    I hadn't had an opportunity to take in a I-Cubs game this summer.  So last week when I was in Memphis and the I-Cubs happened to be playing the Memphis Redbirds a couple blocks from my hotel, I decided to head down and check it out.  I had already walked around downtown Memphis quite a bit and my feet were getting tired and I just wasn't in the mood to hang out watching blues bands all night.

    Photo courtesy of Hillary Stein @ flickr
    However, it seemed like a waste to be in Memphis and just get a ballpark dog, so I headed to Silky O'Sullivan's where I had early been tempted by the Silky Dog sign.  I wasn't sure what a Silky Dog was, but figured that at least I would be trying something culturally new.  The menu described it as "scored and char-grilled with Silky's Special Slaw on the side."  I wasn't sure what that all meant but baseball puts me in the mood for a good dog, so I was willing to give it a shot.  It ended up being a hot dog that was slit halfway through every quarter inch or was like an accordion almost...then grilled so that it had some slight char.  I like char so wish it had been grilled a little longer but it was pretty darn tasty.  I might experiment with this technique at home as it did offer an interesting texture and I think if you threw in some spices it might be excellent.  It will probably deep fry really good too...mmm, things to try.  I am excited for all the HD possibilities. The slaw was slaw.  I didn't see much special about it - it was good, maybe a touch vinegary but good.

    After my Silky Dog and some piano at Silky's I headed over to the stadium.  I was late.  It was the bottom of the first inning.  I was shocked that there was still a line of about 10 people waiting to buy tickets.  It was HOT out  112 degree heat index.  I didn't really expect a big crowd.  Oh wait, there is only one person working the ticket booth (and that person didn't seem too competent).  So I look around and find some guy scalping tickets.  I don't usually buy from scalpers (in fact this is only the second time) because I believe in the money going to the people that put on the show, but I was looking at standing in line for another 20 minutes to get to the front of the ticket booth.  So I hit up cracky across the street.

    "How about you give me $10 for this ticket right here...that's a good price"
    "$10? That's face value - it says so right there...I can walk across the street and get the seat next to this for $10.  I'll give you $5."
    "I don't think I can do $5...How about $8 but that's robbing food from my family."
    "I need to eat too...and there is no one else buying tickets...I"ll give you $7."

    I head into the park and was right...there is a tiny crowd.  They announce paid attendance at 4,800 but there probably wasn't more than 400 people there.  It was sparse.  The park was really nice but had a completely different feel than the hometown stadium.  The Redbirds' stadium, AutoZone Park is about 3000 seats larger than the I-Cubs' Principal Park, but the Principal Park feels much more airy and open.  The Memphis stadium is surrounded by office just doesn't have the blue sky openness that Principal Park has.

    I grabbed an ice cream and headed to my seat.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the I-Cubs were winning 1-0.  I know it is probably not a fair representation since I maybe go to one or two games a year, but when I do the I-Cubs always lose are have really low scores (except for that one time and the Rally-Yak.  I'm still not sure what that was all about but I like the Rally Yak).  The I-Cubs continued to score and play well - shutting down the Redbirds like it was easy.  The fans were turning a little ugly...instead of cheering their team, they were booing the I-Cubs.  With the exception of a home run in the 2nd, the Redbirds were not able to score while Iowa scored at least once each inning...until the sixth.

    Top of the 6th and the score is 7-1, I-Cubs are dominating every part of the game and are just coming off a nice homer in the 5th.  I figured that the I-Cubs would come in fired up, but they were not able to handle the replacement Redbird pitcher.  The I-Cubs get a single and three pop flys outs.  It is the first inning that they didn't score.  Memphis comes back with a homer.  The seventh inning is scoreless for both but the Redbirds rule the eighth inning with 2 runs.

    The I-Cubs got into the ninth with a score 7-3, and they start out strong with a double.  The runner advances to third on a ground out but is tagged out at home on the next play.  With a runner on both first and second, the Cubs end a scoreless on a strikeout.  Still they are up by 4 runs...and the most runs that Memphis has been able to get in an inning is two.  Many of the fans have left at this time, it should be no problem for Iowa to finish off the Redbirds right?  Not quite.  Memphis singles, then Iowa walks the batter.  With runners on first and second, Iowa gains a strikeout and then a pop out.  Two runners, two outs...and we walk another batter.  Bases are now loaded....and Memphis hits a Grand Slam Home Run to win the game.  Really?  A grand slam to win it?  It was the most exciting baseball game that I had ever seen.  The Memphis fans loved it of course.  Good game Memphis, way to hang in there.  If baseball was more interesting like this more often, I would probably be a bigger fan.