Archive for February, 2005


Ice Skating

February 28, 2005

Last year for my wife’s birthday I took her on a little adventure: dinner in a strange part of town and a movie in a theater with comfy couches instead of folding chairs. But before all of that we went to the nearby Olympic ice skating facility. I know she loves ice skating. I myself had never tried it. I’m happy to report, however, that I kept my feet under me and that we both had a terrific time.

This year I have now gone a second time. This outing was at Red Arrow park in Milwaukee. Red Arrow is a delightful little place right downtown. It has a small outdoor ice rink and a building which doubles as a skate rental facility and a Starbucks. The WiFi is free and in the warmer months they put out tables and chairs where the ice was so everyone from the nearby office buildings can sit and have lunch outside.

I’m sorry to report that I did fall. Once. But it didn’t stop the fun, not even for a minute. The kids love ice skating, too. I think we’ve found another good family activity – and one for those hard-to-fill winter months, too!


Undisciplined Reading Habits and Disorderly Links

February 28, 2005

My reading habits have been undisciplined of late. It is only fitting then that the links on the left side of this page under the heading “recent books” are in disarray and not at all in the order in which I read the books themselves. I have meandered through books instead of reading them properly; starting many, finishing few. Most of which do not appear in the list of links at all, as I only include things which I read cover-to-cover. The whole thing has left me feeling out of sorts.

Until I get the links to reflect the right order again, you can see the complete and correctly ordered list of recent (and properly read) books by clicking here.



February 28, 2005

I’ll draw upon the same review I give when I am asked about Kill Bill: I didn’t hate it!

Constantine stars Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, a guy who can see angels and demons and who spends his time fighting evil. He does this in the hopes of racking up enough brownie points to change his own fate: he is doomed to hell because of his past.

I have in the past referred to Keanu derogatorily as everyone’s favorite “pretty boy.” I’m learning to like him more and more, though. I think it’s because every time I see him deliver a wooden line I find myself thinking about what a terrific guy he is reported to be. Somehow even the fact that he’s not a master thespian makes him even more accessible; that could be me up there saying that line! Which is, of course, the whole point of many of his characters. They are blank slates upon which we draw ourselves.

One thing bothers me about Keanu in Constantine, though. It’s the fact that he shouldn’t have been cast in it. I read somewhere that the character of John Constantine (of DC Comic fame) was originally modeled on Sting. Ever since I read that I can’t stop asking myself if Sting himself wouldn’t have been a brilliant choice for the role.

Anyway, I didn’t hate it. So go see it. You’ll get a kick out of Gabriel. (As in the angel.)


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

February 28, 2005

Is it “Harry Potter for adults“? Is it Jane Austen? Whatever it is, Susanna Clarke’s first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, successfully worked it’s magic on me. Even at 800 pages.

I bought Jonathan Strange on a whim – a $30 hardcover whim – at the local Barnes & Noble just after it came out. Very unlike me. I blame Paige. She encouraged me. I was, however, immediately drawn into its 19th century English charm and didn’t regret the purchase. It is set in England of the early 1800s. Only in this England magic used to be real. What pass for magicians at the opening of the story, however, are mere historians of magic. Everyone seems to have long ago forgotten how to actually do magic. Except one man. Mr Norrell. He revives practical magic, using it against Napoleon and to bring a politicians wife back from the dead. His success brings him a protege, Jonathan Strange. The two endeavor to restore English magic to its former glory, but they definitely do not agree on how to go about it.

One thing I noticed is that Clarke thanks Neil Gaiman, citing his generosity to other writers. I myself recently read one of Gaiman’s other works, a graphic novel called The Books of Magic. One of the characters in this work is none other than John Constantine, main character of the new movie by that same name.

The point here is that all three works are not unpleasantly drawing upon some shared source material. (The obvious example being the shared character between Constantine and The Books of Magic. They both, I believe, are drawing upon an older pantheon of characters in DC Comic lore.) Susanna Clarke’s inclusion of Hell and Fairie in the narrative, and of faries themselves, seems to draw upon the other works mentioned, and perhaps collectively they all draw upon older works as a shared source of characters and places.

The down side of Jonathan Strange? It’s long. And it is – how shall I put this? – rather modestly paced. Nevertheless, I recommend it. Jonathan Strange gets an A+ for atmosphere and charm. It’s the kind of book you want to curl up on the couch with, slippers on your feet and a cup of tea close by. If the exiting bits come hundreds of pages apart, those long stretches in between at least constitute a pleasant enough visit with a fairly familiar England of the early 1800s.


What America Believes

February 27, 2005

47 percent believe that Saddam Hussein helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001 (up six percentage points from November).

44 percent actually believe that several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11 were Iraqis (up significantly from 37% in November).

36 percent believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded (down slightly from 38% in November).

Read ’em and weep.


$10 Billion Cookie

February 27, 2005

Check out this cool animation over at You get to see the federal budget laid out as stacks of Oreo ™ cookies. The pentagon really likes cookies, apparently; schools, not so much. You get the idea. Using this interactive animation you – yes you – get to decide how many cookies each area of the budget gets. Think more cookies – er, money – should be spent on education? Move some cookies! Once you’re done re-arranging the budget priorities you can send the result to your congresspersons with just a few clicks.

I wonder if Ben & Jerry’s makes an Oreo flavor?


Anatomy Of An Outage

February 26, 2005, and indeed all internet connectivity to my home, was kaput for about the last 30 hours. This episode, what we in the biz call an “unexpected outage,” began Friday afternoon and ended an hour or two ago. Here is a brief chronology. I call it “Anatomy of an Outage.”

  1. A friend messages me at work: “What’s up with your site?” It’s down, apparently.
  2. The wife suggests that she broke it with the vacuum cleaner and says she’s sorry.
  3. When i get home I determine that all my stuff is working fine but the router isn’t getting an IP address from the cable modem.
  4. I call tech support and (after waiting, repeating customer numbers to a few different people, and disconnecting and rebooting various pieces of equipment) they say “the signal looks strong, so it must be your modem. Come in and exchange it for a new one tomorrow.”
  5. I exchange the modem. The nearest place to do this is a thirty minute drive.
  6. I plug in the new modem. Which does exactly the same thing as the old one: no IP address.
  7. Two more tech support people on the phone. They now say it appears to be a signal problem and that they need to send someone out for a service call. “How’s Thursday between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.?”
  8. Now armed with the knowledge that it may be a signal problem after all, I begin fiddling with the coax upstairs where the router and the cable modem are.
  9. … where the wife was vacuuming yesterday afternoon.
  10. I experimentally eliminated one splitter and a five foot piece of coax from the equation.
  11. Everything starts working.

I think now that my wife may indeed have shorted out the splitter when running over it with the vacuum cleaner. Anway, having an outage is a pretty scary experience for someone like myself. I mean, I couldn’t surf the web, couldn’t publish on the web, couldn’t check my email… it was positively barbaric. (I ended up reading a book last night! The horror!) I’m tempted, now that the danger has passed, to simply erase the whole episode from my mind. Time heals all wounds, as Todd Rundgren sang back in the early 80s. But perhaps I shouldn’t do that. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned from all this. But what? Choose one.

A) Always listen to your wife
B) It’s always quicker to fix it yourself rather than wait for a repair technician
C) Do not assume tech support knows what they are talking about
D) Beware overzealous women with vacuum cleaners