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I don't know who originally made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.

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Thanks Delta - It's a Start

    Last week, I was in Memphis, TN on business.  I hadn't had a chance to fly for a about a year so I was pretty happy to get to travel a little (I love to fly, and it shows).  However, upon arrive at my gate I was disappointed to see all the HUGE carry-on bags that most travelers were toting.  I try to travel light and only had one small duffel bag and my kindle.

    Your bag should fit here...and not
    look like an overstuffed
    Some travelers had bags that were the pretty darn close to the text fixture...but were just over by an inch because of the handle or the wheels or whatever.  These people don't bother me.  The people that annoy me are the ones who's bag may have fit in the check fixture at one time, but with the 3 various expansion zippers unfurled and packed to near bursting levels - this bag is now twice as wide as it is supposed to be and there is no way that it will fit in the regulations.  Come on, your bag looks like a fat lady in shouldn't bulge like that and I think any second that zipper could blow.   But at least their bag started at the right size...or nearly.  There were also several people who are packing a near full-size suitcase and trying to insist it is a carry-on.  I am not sure how some of these bags made it through security because it had to be a tight squeeze to  fit through the x-ray scanner.  Many were also toting more than one of these monstrous bags.  Which seemed like a lot more trouble that what it cost to check a bag.

    I know that the fee for checking bags sucks, but I am sick of not having storage room for my small bag because your big ass bags are taking up way more space that they are supposed to.  Most airlines have nearly identical rules:
    • One carry-on bag that measures 22"x14"x9" or smaller and 
    • One smaller personal item like a laptop or a purse.  
    Easy right? I am following the rules, so why should I always have to fight for space?  Yes, my bag is probably small enough that I could probably fit it under the seat in front of me, but why should I have to sacrifice my legroom for your bags?  My ticket cost the same as yours.  Pay the $25 and check your suitcase.

    I applaud the Delta Airlines employees who were automatically making the customer gate-check the grossly over-sized bags and the double bags that people were carrying.  It was a very good start to help the situation and a change that is much welcomed by me.  I had the easiest time finding overhead storage that I have had in years.  Good job Delta.  I think you should go further (Baby steps, Bob) and make everyone use the check fixture and if it doesn't fit, it gets checked because these people just slow everyone down wasting 10 minutes trying to stuff their bag into a space that wasn't designed to take it.  Just like the OJ trial - if it doesn't fit, you must check it.  Thank you Delta, it was a small change made the flying experience so much better better (which I haven't been able to say in quite a while).