Monday, October 31, 2005

Near Miss in the Old West

It was just Ben and me. A man and his boy. Father and son. The bond that can be neither understood nor broken. Or something like that.

Now, on to complete sentences. Well, mostly.

Ben and I headed out at about 6:00 Friday evening, and finally got to my mom and dad's at 1:15 a.m. At the time, I didn't know just how lucky I was that he fell asleep at 9 p.m. and stayed that way the rest of the trip.

Saturday we went to Dad's farm, where members of the local SASS chapter were shooting at his range. I've never participated in the shoots, but if lawlessness ever broke out, I would want these folks on my side. They've beaten FBI agents in a direct challenge.

When Ben and I arrived, the BANG-PING! BANG-PING! sound of bullets hitting metal targets filled the ear. The occasional BANG!, with no PING, meant a miss, and misses meant lower scores.

I got Ben out of the car seat and he said, "Make a noise. Make a noise." That's his standard response when he hears a sound he doesn't recognize.

"That's right, Ben, they are making noise. Let's go see what it is," I said.


I outfitted Ben with ear and eye protection (which all shooters wear at all times) before we headed down to the range so he could see what was causing all the clatter. All I could find were a pair of orange, hard-plastic noise-cancelling earmuffs and a pair of dark sunglasses. He was the complete image of gun safety, or maybe a miniature airport runway guide without the neon orange batons.

We were immersed in a wild west world. At a typical SASS range, most of the "stages" feature some sort of old west building facade -- either a saloon, a livery stable, or something else straight out of the late 1800's. It could be something as simple as an old wagon or a campfire ring. Their clothes and their guns also are from that period.

Then we were jarred back into this century.

We saw Dad's golf cart. He uses it to haul his guns and ammo to the range, or just to run other small errands without having to start up his gas-powered four-wheeler. At least, I figure that's why he uses it. Oh, I mean "figger." Almost forgot we were in the old west.

Mom suggested that Ben and I take the golf cart for a ride around some of the wooded roads (but not downrange, of course), so I set Ben in the seat. I noticed a large, white travel mug in the open left dashboard compartment. I shook it to make sure it was empty, then put it back. After taking some pics of Ben at the wheel, I took it and moved him to the passenger's seat. I wondered if hybrid cars ran as quietly as golf carts. It's so strange to hear nothing as you move. Like sailing, but without the wind and the water. Ben asked to sit in my lap. Considering it was a golf cart and we were on a grassy forest road with no other vehicles, I acquiesced.

As we headed down a small hill and started getting bumped around pretty well, I moved my foot to the brake pedal. When I pressed down, it didn't move. We kept speeding up, getting closer to where the road met another to form a "T." I pushed again, this time with both feet. Nothing. I looked down at my feet, where I saw the travel mug lodged between the brake pedal and the floor. Ben bounced on my lap as our speed picked up. I wrapped my left arm around him as I tried to kick the travel mug loose.

The woods at the top of the "T" in the road were fast approaching. Figuring my feet could match the cart's speed if I had to bail, I prepared for it.

"Hold on, little man!" I said.

I gave the travel mug one more kick and it came free. I hit the brake in time to make a controlled left turn. It was a very boring finish to an exciting few seconds. Even people into risky hobbies like skydiving, rock climbing, hanggliding -- whatever -- will tell you that boring finishes are the best kind.

We had a great visit with my folks, and dropped by to see an old friend's mom. I left missing the natural beauty of the area. Ben kept saying, "Trees," during the first few hours of the drive, perhaps because now we're surrounded by old corn fields with the occasional patch of trees. His tone didn't tell me whether he was fondly recalling a time when we saw woods every day, but I certainly was.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Swallowing Goldfish

Here's a history of how swallowing live goldfish began (at Harvard), including a back-and-forth battle between schools and the records set throughout the years. See? The highly educated can be just as stupid as everybody else. Sheesh.

No doubt most of you (that's two?) have heard that an Assembly of God Church actually included swallowing live goldfish as part of its youth ministry, ostensibly to help kids conquer their fears. The AP story on Yahoo! stresses PETA's angle, but my take is that this is ridiculous nonsense regardless of how the fish feel about it. I mean "fishers of men" and all that, but come on.

I did a little "fishing" for information, just to find any reports of injury from this kind of thing. I wouldn't want some live fish wriggling around in my stomach even for a few seconds. The link at the top of this post is the only thing I found that was not related to the church youth group story.

Have a great weekend! Not sure I'll post again before it's over.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Deep Thoughts on Aliens

A friend sent me a link to SNL's Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, and I had to share this one, considering my previous post.

If aliens from outerspace ever come and we show them our civilization and they make fun of it, we should say we were just kidding, that this isn't really our civilization, but a gag we hoped they would like. Then we tell them to come back in 20 years to see our real civilization. After that, we start a crash program of coming up with an impressive new civilization. Either that, or just shoot down the aliens as they're waving goodbye.

What if We're All There Is?

I've been reading a lot of science fiction lately, but stay with me on this.

What if we're it? What if the creatures of Earth are the only living things in the universe? Authors and scientists long have fantasized that we are not, but we have yet to find any proof otherwise. I think.

Given time, we will use up the Earth's resources. Humans and other creatures on our planet will fade from existence. We just happen to be doing a lot of things to speed up that process, so that humans might be gone much sooner than the rest.

Now, many would like to think that there is life out there, somewhere, and some folks even like to think there are intelligent life forms. The problem they see is that we're just too far away from them for our current space travel methods to bring us together.

I'm not so sure that's a problem.

Don't we have enough awe and wonder here on Earth? I guess exploration is just in our nature. Aren't there former civilizations on Earth who wish they had never seen an explorer, and who did everything in their power to stop them from invading their territory?

Do we explore to find signs of life? Do we explore so that we will have a place to settle when Earth is no longer habitable? Can we maybe try to put that need off a little longer?

It seems the attitude of too many people is, "As long as I get what I want while I'm on this rock, I'm happy."

Would it make people feel any differently if they knew Earth was the only host to life? The only host to intelligent life?

We might be unique in this dark expanse. There might be nobody else.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Backseat Flashback

If you are a grown person and can help it, do not take an extended ride in the backseat of a Ford Explorer with another adult, a two-year-old, and a dog. By "extended ride," I mean any time whatsoever. Regardless of who's driving, your mother, brother, father in-law, best friend, just do not do it.

I'm sure the good folks at Ford Motor Company might not appreciate this, but I mention their vehicle only because it happened to be the one involved. I'm sure had it been any other SUV, the experience would have been about the same.

To save some gas money and do our part in conservation, we rode to Tulsa with the in-laws. It's about a four-hour drive.

First, we didn't take my bicycle because it could have scratched the paint if we strapped it to the luggage rack. I had planned to take my first street ride with a guy I had met online. It could have made for a good blog entry, as I met him through my somewhat misplaced tirade about people riding bicycles in inappropriate places. Kind of a "rivalry-turns-to-friendship story" straight out of Hollywood. Or, Tulsa, anyway.

On the other hand, it could have ended up a headline in the Tulsa World. Cycling Tourist Killed by Known Local Maniac. "Why anyone woulda took a ride with that whacko is beyond me. After he got out of prison, he always kind of kept to hisself and tinkered with them bikes." (Don't flame me; it's just a joke about trusting strangers. I have no reason to believe he ever broke the law or is criminally insane. But every person in Tulsa talks exactly like that.)

On the way up, I started out in the front seat, and Ben was difficult until we stopped to get some toys from his bag. (That wasn't so easy on the trip back.) About halfway through I switched with my mother in-law. In the backseat we now had: me at 5'11" (about 2 meters, for those who see things that way), my wife at 5'7" with long legs, Ben in his carseat, and our cocker spaniel at 28 lbs. (12.7 kilos). I added that last detail because the dog had to be in a lap for this trip.

The backseat proved to be okay -- at first. Anybody with moderately long legs will notice within five minutes that the floorboard on an SUV is raised, I guess for more clearance than cars. Funny, because most SUV's see no more offroad action than a compact car. My knees were uphill from my hips, so my feet took all the weight.

That's not so bad until you put a cocker spaniel on your lap.

My left foot (a great movie), already unhappy with the heel spur brought on by planter fascists -- I mean plantar fasciitis, got pissed. I'm just glad my knees aren't arthritic -- yet.

Getting out felt good, and the weekend went well. I saw Serenity for a second time, confirming my belief that it truly is a good movie. If it's still on in theaters in your area, treat yourself to at least a matinee. Then watch the series "Firefly" for more time with these characters and their adventures. It's currently on Sci-Fi channel on Friday nights, and available on DVD. Ben had a blast seeing family. He and his mommy and daddy skipped Oktoberfest to find a Halloween costume. We came up dry, but the nuclear family time was good, much better than nucular family time.

On the return trip, I was in the backseat all the way. My poor wife had no break from the backseat either direction. I took lap-dog duty, because my better half was handling most of the Ben management. My feet did fine, I guess because they hadn't just been on a hard office floor all day.

Ben was quite tired by the time we left and, whereas he normally would fall asleep in his carseat, he wanted to stay awake with his mommy and daddy. Anybody who has been around kids knows that even a mild-mannered child will do things completely out of character when tired. Wait, maybe that's adults. Anyway...

A toy car in each hand, Ben hit various passengers and did his loud grunt-growl. Here's how that sounded:

Ben's car on his mommy's hand: Whap!
Ben's mommy: Ben, no, do not hit. I'm going to take that car away if you hit again.
Ben's car on his daddy's arm: Whap!
Ben's daddy: No, Ben, I'm taking your car away because you are hitting with it.
Ben: Want it a coa! Want it a coa!
Ben's daddy: Whining won't get your car back.
Ben: Want it a coa! (grunt-growl)

Most of the Rice Krispies Ben had in a Solo cup ended up in his carseat, so I at first had a time keeping the dog from turning that direction. The hardback book Read to me, Grandma held Ben's attention for a few minutes, but mostly served as a surface to roll his cars. About two hours into the trip, just as I was about to pull out the secret weapon (my laptop with its DVD player), he fell asleep. To our delight, he stayed that way and the rest of the trip was uneventful.

Let me revise my first sentence. Do not ride in the backseat with a cranky two-year-old, period. Sorry, Ben, but that's essentially where this catharsis has led me.

Friday, October 21, 2005

All Over the World

Go to a science fiction convention, have your words and deeds spread to every continent.

Now, I'm not new to the Internet. I got my first dialup account and made my first meager Web page in 1995 (the one I have still is pretty meager). Viewership of my online content was few and far between, rarely extending outside family and a few friends.

Another first in my life changed all that.

The first expansion of my tiny readership came when I started reading the blognovel Simon of Space, published in serial format, the author writing it on-the-fly. Readers could (and boy did we) comment at any time on our thoughts about the story's progress, the characters foibles and hopes, or on the weird word verifications we were getting when posting comments. We formed an online community, although admittedly it had help from the folks who already had formed one around Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster. Some of us now read each other's blogs, and eagerly await the book's "dead-tree" version, coming soon.

Fast-forward to October 16, 2005, when for the first time I attended a science fiction-related convention. It was not a Star Trek convention, nor was it for any specific entertainment franchise. It was the Dallas Comic Con, a gathering of comic book artists, sci-fi and horror movie stars, and -- this is the part you can't believe until you see it -- lots of people in costumes. A Klingon had us form a line that didn't block traffic. We did exactly what he said. Here's more detail on the convention itself, if you want.

Attending this event was an actor whose movie was still in theaters. Still is as I write this. It is called Serenity, and it's one heck of a flick, based on a great TV series called "Firefly." Like so many quality programs on TV these days, it was cancelled after its first season back in 2002. The movie was second at the box office on its opening weekend, behind Jodie Foster's Flight Plan.

The actor's name is Adam Baldwin (no relation), and he plays a hilarious character who speaks precious few lines in the movie. Such is the way of movies versus television. He appeared in an open Q&A session at the convention. Anybody who paid their $5 for that day, or who had special passes for more money, could raise their hand and ask that burning question that had been plaguing their mind since the first time they saw "Firefly" on TV. "Did you really have a crush on Inara?" was one such mind-boggling query.

I never saw a rule prohibiting video cameras, so I toted my trusty miniDV Handycam along with me. I taped some of Baldwin's session, mainly just to show I was there, but also to test my video camera's capabilities. After it was all over and I got home, I decided to edit the video a little and create a web page linking to my pictures, video, and blog post of the event. I posted a link on the message board and left it at that.

Shortly after, all manner of heck broke loose. I was getting hits from all over the world, and when I looked at my stats, I saw that they were coming from other forums of which I had never heard, and from other fans' own blogs. On that first day I got about 1200 hits. By the next day, that number exploded to more than 9,000. They downloaded the 12MB video more than 1300 times, and the shorter clips more than 1600 times combined. My photos on Fotki got their fair share of views, too.

Visitors came from countries including Germany, France, Australia, Malaysia, USA (just about every state), Canada, New Zealand, Russia, Italy, England, Spain, Africa, and many others. I don't drop these names to impress anyone -- just to share my amazement at how communication has changed in the past 10 years. Before the Internet, the average individual would rarely reach a group that large, much less that widespread.

Now, for any major Web site, this number of hits is no big deal. For me, though, it has been a wild ride. The last time I've had that many people see or read anything I produced was when I worked as a reporter/photographer. It was nice to be "out there" again. The hits have slowed considerably now that the link is no longer in those sites' latest entries. Good thing, too, as I got halfway to my bandwidth limit in two days.

Just today, I found another site that had posted a link to my site on October 18. One of the members asked if anybody had contact information for the guy who shot the video of Adam Baldwin. I contacted them and now I have another acquaintance.

This weekend? I'm going cycling with a guy I met online when I posted a comment that rubbed him the wrong way. Tune in later to see how that went.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Antjuan of the Pink Boots

There was no way I was buying a magazine.

His name was Antjuan, an African-American young man who told me he was 19 and had lived in a Syntaxis Youth Home. He wore a denim jacket over a long-sleeved pink shirt. His jeans matched his jacket, and the tops of his pink boots were folded down to reveal white fur. The hands on his neon green wristwatch pointed to Roman numerals.

Antjuan (spelled that way on his ID) was a good-looking kid with a fast-paced, very effeminate talking style. Considering that coupled with his outfit, I could only imagine the responses he was getting going door-to-door in the North Dallas area. He had an engaging personality, though, and I was bored, so I listened to his pitch.

He spoke in phrases like "live positively" and “investing in America’s youth," and when he asked, "So would you like to take an interest in me today?" he meant, "How many magazines do you want to buy?"

Antjuan said he wanted to go to Juliard to learn to be an actor and to dance. I barely kept myself from telling him that they would furnish him the pink boots if he got the part.

He gave me a somewhat disappointed look after I asked what was the cheapest magazine he offered. “Hey, if I buy anything from you, it’s better than if I turn you away.”

He replied without missing a beat.

“Like my grandmother used to say, ‘Oatmeal is better than no meal.’"

He asked me for advice for a rising young man looking for success. Take off the pink boots. I said something my brother once told me: "Work hard and always do a little more than what is asked of you." Now that I think back, my brother actually said something more like, "Do everything that's asked of you and a little more," but it was close enough. I'm pretty sure my father told me this, too, but at a time when I was less receptive to sage advice.

I wanted to find out a little about Antjuan, besides the fact that he smelled like women's perfume, and help curb my suspicions that his backstory was a line to sell more magazines. "So, who was your favorite person at the Youth Home? There must have been some great people working in a place like that."

"Well, sir, I had a bad time at that home, so nobody really."

That was either the truth, or a very bad dodge. I let it slide.

It was 85 degrees and sunny.

"So, where are you from?" I asked.

"Columbus, Ohio."

"It gets cold up there."

"Yes sir, why do you think I'm wearing all these warm clothes?"

Later, we saw another young man walking along our neighborhood sidewalk with a folded packet of magazine order forms similar to Antjuan's. His back was to us as he headed down the street.

"So, are you selling magazines?" I called out.

"Yes sir," he said as he turned to face me, continuing his progress by walking backward.

"Do you know Antjuan? He already found us," I said.

"Did you take an interest in him?" the young man asked, still walking backward.

Did I take an interest in a girly teenage boy who smelled like my Aunt and looked like a Vegas dancer? "Yes, we did. We got Nick JR." Hey, he doesn't watch Nick, but it will give Ben something to look forward to when he goes to the mailbox with his mommy.

As I finished strapping Ben into his car seat, the young magazine peddler smiled and asked, "How did you like his boots?"

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Comic Con October 2005

Adam Baldwin talks to fans in the main auditorium.

First, here is the page that has my pics and videos of the event.

I did it. Although I do not own any clothing or costumes resembling famous sci-fi characters in movies or TV, I went to the Dallas Comic Con this weekend. I went only Sunday, but my buddy Alvis and I had a good time.

When we got there at about 11:30, we had to wait in line to pay. We saw Marc Singer, who played Beastmaster and the lead guy in the "V" miniseries. Hands stamped for proof we were nerds just like everybody else, we went back outside to wait in line for the start time. The line extended across the street to the east parking lot, until a Klingon directed us to swing the line over to the sidewalk.

Which put us inside just in time to watch Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) walk right past us for a smoke break. I have a pic of his private moment here. I couldn't help it. It just hit me funny.

Our first activity was a great Q&A session by Adam Baldwin, of "Firefly" and Serenity fame. He's been in other things you might have seen, too, such as Full Metal Jacket, "Angel," The Patriot, and others. I've seen a total of about two of those things he's been in, but that was years before I knew who he was.

(Serenity spoiler alert)
Baldwin was funny and gave some memorable comments about working on the series and the movie. He admitted somewhat reluctantly that he was "pissed" that Wash died in Serenity. First he said that, for him, any future involvement in the franchise would strictly be in movie form, but later said that if the offer and the treatment were right, he would do it on TV again. He also mentioned that he disagreed with one comment that there was too much western flavor in the series, and that he wished there were more horses.

Lady in the crowd: Do you have any advice for someone aspiring to be an actress but who doesn't know where to start?

Baldwin: Stay in school.

Overall, he seemed much smarter and more grounded than the stars who usually make the talkshow rounds. It takes guts to do an open Q&A with no question screening.

After Baldwin, Alvis and I wandered into the main autograph room. Jonathan Frakes (and his wife), Erin Gray, Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew, Marc Singer, Adam Baldwin, and a few whose names I can't recall, were in there, gladly taking $25 to autograph basically anything a fan put in front of them. We politely declined. When Kenny Baker came back to the room after a short break (sorry about the pun), he brushed against Alvis's knee.

There were lots of people dressed like Jedi, stormtroopers of various types, sandpeople, Darth Vader -- and a notable dearth of beautiful women. I don't say this because it made any difference to me. I only noticed it as someone with a minor in sociology. In the Dallas metroplex, if a gathering of any size lacks beautiful women, you know there's something nerdly going down. I don't think that's the way Durkheim or Weber would have put it, but it was only my minor.

When I stopped at the booth for Feeping Creatures, the artist commented that he liked my shirt. I had picked it out because it was the only thing I owned with a nerdly theme. The front of it reads, "I'd like to change the world, but I can't find the source code."

Note to the technical people at the Plano Centre: Test your sound system in the main auditorium before handing the microphone to the celebrities. Feedback is not a feature.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Strange Dreams

In the past month or so, I have had at least 10 dreams featuring the same people. The content of the dreams is nothing unusual, which is very unusual for me. I rarely ever dream of actual people or places in my life, and the subject matter is just shy of “too strange to describe in words.” In these dreams I’m with the popular kids from my high school, some of whom I saw at my 10-year reunion, but most of whom I haven’t seen in 16 years. We’re mostly just hanging out.

Now, in a school like mine at that time, where the senior class numbered 99, you might not think there was a lot of room for cliques. When we were in the fifth and sixth grades, this still was true for the most part. Although this changed a bit starting in seventh grade, in high school we all knew each other and on some level we were friends during school hours. However, when it came time to get together in the evenings or on weekends, the lines of separation became clearer. Understand that I’m not talking about race here. The entire county I grew up in was populated by white folk, with a few Hispanics and Asians in the mix. Most of the minority children still were in elementary school at that time, so the skin color of faces in my high school rarely varied unless there were freckles (and I was among the latter).

I never aspired to be like the popular kids, and I never felt a need to look up to them. I didn’t dislike them, either, and had no delusions of being intellectually superior. Academically, we generally ran about even, and were in the same classes. They mostly were nice kids with social interests that did not interest me.

That is not to say I have no history with these people. I do have childhood memories of their coming to my house for birthday parties, and of my going to theirs. We played soccer together on the playground. We kissed the same girls on the playground. Then things like sports, band, and drinking parties started driving wedges between us.

This is where it gets confusing. It makes sense that in these dreams we are not adults, because I never knew them as adults. However, we’re not the same age as when we used to play together. We are in high school again. There was one weird scene in which one of the guys, the star athlete who played quarterback in football, center in basketball, and won a lot in track, lived with me for a while. He has lots of baseball caps and has trouble fitting them in the small section of closet I was able to spare.

Neither my wife nor any of my family makes an appearance in these dreams, but there’s no romance, either.

Breaking the normalcy was one dream in which snow fell in the middle of a hot summer day, while about five or six of us enjoyed a lunch at a local diner. I was familiar with the location, but the diner itself was a construct of my subconscious imagination. Or something like that. The snow did not seem out of place to me during the dream, which follows my normal pattern.

In the past, I’ve had other dreams featuring these people, but very seldom. Am I having them more often now because I just moved to a new state even farther from my roots? Because I am a father?

I just got an e-mail after telling a friend about these dreams. It reads:

"That is really weird because I was telling my wife this past Monday I had a dream about (your brother) and then the next night a dream about you... same deal just hanging out... although (your brother) was shopping for a bow tie!"

So, it’s good to know I’m not alone in these dreams. Anybody else?

American Movie (Un)Classics

Playing tonight on American Movie Classics (AMC):

Pet Sematary 2

Oh my. What has this channel come to? Has Turner Classic Movies (TCM) really cornered the market so much that AMC can't show a decent flick anymore? I remember when AMC had the great Hitchcock festival, in which they showed the restored, letterbox versions of some of the filmmaker's best movies. It introduced me to many of the lesser-known but great works in his body of work.

No more quality movies will come from this channel, I guess. Good thing I recorded almost every movie during that Hitchcock fest.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Pumpkin Farm Fun and Swerving for Cyclists

Pumpkin Farm Fun

As we waited in our minivan for a cop directing traffic so a group of cyclists could get through, Ben said, "Mowcycle." Motorcycle

"That's good, Ben, but those are bicycles. See?" I pointed to a few pedalers passing in the opposite direction.

He looked at them, then looked the other direction and said, "Yeyyo mowcycle." Yellow motorcycle

We were about 10 or 15 cars back from the traffic light, and when I looked again I barely saw a yellow cruiser bike leaving the intersection headed to the right.

My wife and I both chimed in, "That's right, Ben, yellow motorcycle. Very good."

"I told you, if he says it, you know it's gotta be there somewhere," my wife said.

She was right. Ben has this uncanny ability to spot things we didn't even know were there, even after looking for them. I guess all young eyes, coupled with young brains, can do this, but I haven't been around other kids very much. Yet another perk of being a father is being around children and their amazing view of the world.

At the Big Orange Pumpkin Farm, Ben got to feed goats, cows, and sheep. He called out their names and gave them a "moo" and a "baaa" where appropriate, but they didn't seem to notice that he had learned their respective languages. My favorite was "Cock-a-dooo" for a rooster. Ben smiled each time a goat pushed its snout into the paper cup of feed, but laughed out loud when one goat would butt another for eating rights.

"Goats a sunny," Ben said.

"Yes, Ben those goats are funny," we replied. Still working on that F sound.

Now, I grew up with a best friend who lived on a farm, and this place was lacking one distinctive smell. Unless you've experienced it, then you will not be able to appreciate it just from my words. It is the rank stench of a billy goat's beard. Evidently these animals urinate on their own beards to make themselves more attractive to females or to warn away other males. Whatever the reason, with my considerable human nose I can only understand it working for the latter.

The hayride was uneventful, and somehow lost the charm I had hoped for when we passed two volleyball nets and saw a large building with a sign that read, "Bill Bates Cowboy Ranch." Nevertheless, Ben seemed to like it.

When a pig started squealing loud enough to get everybody's attention, a lady near us mused "maybe we're about to see what a farm is really all about." Turns out it was just an employee picking up the pig to give some patrons a closer look. That tiny pink pig made quite a scene, screaming its head off and flailing its stubby little legs. A supervisor walked over quickly and told the girl to put down the pig, as she was making guests think the pig was hurt. Clearly the girl was embarrassed by the reprimand. She cowered in one corner of the pig's cage, lifting little handfuls of its feed and letting it fall through her fingers. Then she jarred me completely out of the farm environment by calling somebody on her mobile phone. I can only imagine what she was saying.

We saw a train of sorts. It featured a John Deere lawn tractor pulling a string of about five "cars" made of cutout barrels, on their side, each just large enough for two or three little kids to sit and ride. I decided Ben needed to ride that, and bought a $2 ticket. I finally got his mom's attention as she chatted with a Mom's group member, and she decided to climb into the car with Ben. There were no safety straps, so we thought she could make sure he didn't fall out.

Stay with me.

Although my wife stands just a little over 5'7", she has fairly long legs. By the time she crammed herself into that little barrel with him, Ben was pinned against the front and had a look on his face that asked, "Now what am I supposed to do?" or maybe, "Dad, you paid two bucks for this?" Shannon likewise was unable to move, and barely managed to get out by herself, as I was busy readying the camera in the event she landed on her head.

A very nice woman behind us volunteered to let Ben ride with her two daughters, one of whom was about five and loved to help with her little sister. "She'll make sure he doesn't get out," she said. We asked Ben if that was okay with him, introduced him to the girls, and plopped him between them. He was so tired by that point that he probably wouldn't have cared if they were two bearcats. Ever the dutiful and nerdly dad, I followed along beside the train, my miniDV Handycam capturing every pontentially boring moment.

Later we let Ben pick out his own pumpkin from one of the patches. There were actual plants growing in rows of dark soil, with a few pumpkins lying near each. The stems were cut, so I'm not sure that was where they grew into the proud pumpkins they had become. The plants resembled the squash plants in my childhood garden, so I knew it was possible. Obviously caring little about their birthplace, Ben eagerly chose the first pumpkin he saw once we told him to get one. He gave a few textbook straining grunts as he tried to lift it, but neither of us knows where he got that. Probably from Grover lifting his mailbag on Sesame Street.

Before we finished our 10-minute drive home, Ben was fast asleep in his car seat. He didn't even stir when I unbuckled the straps to lift him out.

One thing that breaks my heart after outings like that? Although it will help shape who he becomes, Ben may have abolutely no conscious recollection of that day or any day prior to it. Some children claim to have memories of when they were two, but I certainly can't claim that. I guess we'll know some day whether he remembers it. We'll just have to make sure we ask him before he sees the pictures and video.

I don't want to say I have mixed feelings, because that carries with it a negative connotation, so let's say I have various feelings about the Big Orange Pumpkin Farm.

At $5 per person over two years old, which includes a hot dog, a hayride, and a paper cup full of animal feed, it is not a bad deal. Add to that drinks, chips, and a take-home pumpkin, and you're set back about $22 for a family of three to have a few hours of fun. I was surprised they charged $1 for a 16oz bottled Ozarka water (the best bottled water, right up there with Aquafina), considering how much I would pay for that at any other event in the area. I recommend it for a family outing in the fresh air. Well, fresh in a farmy, animal-dung kind of way.


Swerving for Cyclists

On the drive out to the pumpkin farm Saturday morning, we saw and had to swerve for lots of cyclists. I have no problem with that, but when cars coming the opposite direction swerve into my lane to pass a pedal pumper, I get a little nervous. We had no idea what the occasion was. Several miles down the road, two guys on bicycles were riding abreast, just like Ponch and John did in "CHiPs". As soon as I had the chance, I passed them. I said something like this:

"Can't they find a better place to ride together? I wouldn't be out here riding on a road where the speed limit is 55 mph. It's crazy. I know the law says they have the right to the lane just like a car does, but come on. I come over that next rise and there are two people riding like that, I won't see them in time. These people think they're the next Lance Armstrong or something. 'Oh, Lance isn't coming back, I have a shot.' Idiots."

Potential scoring for Deathrace 2000 notwithstanding, my wife nodded a couple times and said she agreed it was pretty risky. We were on our way, dodging bicycles the remaining five miles of our drive.

Later we found out that they were participating in the Velo Bash Bike Rally, to benefit and increase awareness of the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation of the Southwest. I felt a little smaller for having complained as loudly as I did, but I still think there has to be some safer solution for charity bicycle rides. Perhaps they were not "idiots" in the strictest sense.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Major Milestone and Verbal Flubs

First Time Ever

I never knew just how I would feel when it finally happened. I had heard others talk about it, and had considered in passing how I would react.

Yesterday, I heard the sound of Ben's voice as I napped on the couch. That's nothing unusual. He wakes up from his nap, gets restless, and starts saying things like, "Ben, get out," or just the standard "Daddy. Daaaadeeeee." Then there's the unintelligible, low groan. Anyone who knows Ben knows that sound.

I also heard his doorknob moving. Ben likes to close doors, but cannot open them yet, so this also was not unusual. So what's the big deal? Right?

Ben still naps in his crib.

Visions of Crushed Head Faeda* dancing through my head, I rushed to find out if Ben was okay. I managed to curb my enthusiasm enough to keep from knocking him over with the door. He was fine, and only later as I changed his diaper and asked how he got out of his bed did he say, "Ben bump a head." He seemed to be relating facts more than complaining, so I guessed the bump was not too bad.

After I told my wife about it, we discussed getting a toddler bed. It just wouldn't do to have our boy tumbling from his crib each day.

I chuckled to myself a bit and imagined what he'll do on the day he first wakes up, stretches his adorable little legs, and opens his room door onto the rest of the house, his mommy and daddy sleeping obliviously on the opposite side of the split floorplan. When that day comes, I hope for our sake that my post is no more eventful than this one.

* Crushed Head Faeda is a memorable character from the soon-to-be-classic, Simon of Space. I didn't link to it, because that site will be removed before long, due to the paper publisher's contract. I'll announce here when you can pick up your own hardbound edition. It will entertain you and make you think, but not in a sad way.


Verbal Flubs

Relating a story someone else had shared about her new house's state of ill-repair, my wife said, "She's going to call the builder and tell them her house is a melon." (for all those unfamiliar with the problem here, the word should be "lemon," not "melon.") Note added later: she knew immediately that she had said it wrong -- sorry for that omission, dear.

The next day, she had another. First, let me say that it was about midnight-thirty. I had just been to see the US Marine Drum and Bugle Corp, who played a great arrangement of one of my favorite pieces -- Rimksy-Korsakov's Sheherazade, and had videotaped it for prosperity. I mean, posterity. Dang, she has me doing it, too.

I was playing the video for her and her mother when they both noticed a man standing near the field wearing bright orange pants. "Look at those pants," my wife said.

"What was he thinking?" my mother-in-law said.

My life laughed and replied, "I don't know. Those things make him stick out like an orange thumb." (hint: should have been "sore thumb.")

To her credit, she realized what she had said and laughed as I told her I was going to blog it. Here ya go, dear.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Razor Sharp Marketing

The pushers have addicted me.

For more than 12 years, I have been using the same type of razor, and probably have had to replace it two or three times. Sure, I had to buy the replacement blade cartridges, but that's all part of the evil of using manual razors. Many fancier models with an extra blade and more pivot points have come along since then, but I've remained true to the SensorExcel that has always met my needs. I've tried electric -- so no thank you to anybody about to suggest that.

On Monday morning, I picked up my trusty Gillette SensorExcel and realized I'd been shaving on that particular blade refill too long. I judge this by how much shaving cream scum has accumulated on the plastic parts. Now that's scientific.

I turned over the razor's base, where there is space for five blade cartridges to rest comfortably until I need them. Rats! The four remaining had the telltale white stains and the fifth was on the razor. I had skipped a shaving day over the weekend, so my face was kind of stubbly. I had to shave.

That's when 12-plus years of undying loyalty met its match.

In Bentonville, Arkansas, there is an atmosphere unique to the known universe. The largest company in the world has its headquarters there, and vendors of all stripes have converged on the humble community of 20,000 (but quickly growing) to court its business. In fact, Wal-Mart informed said companies not long ago that in order to do business with them, they had to have a physical presence within 30 miles of the headquarters. Since then, it's been almost like watching birds converge on a huge billboard (constructed by Wile E. Coyote) reading "free bird sed."

In such an environment, it is ridiculously simple to find sponsors for a golf tournament. What do some of these companies do to get their name out to the participants? You guessed it. Goodie bags.

In one of the three times I set foot on a golf course that year, I participated in one of said tournaments. Although I didn't score well, I got brand new stuff in plastic bags.

Back to now, where I opened the bathroom cabinet to find a razor, packaged in a transparent plastic shell that's impenetrable without a knife or scissors. Oddly, the back of the package featured a rectangular perforation that made opening it quite easy. Why can't 99.9% of manufacturers catch on to this?

After getting over the amazement of Edge gel turning to shave cream as I applied it (I'm a simple man), I gripped the razor's comfortable handle and carefully dragged the blades down my cheek, then over my chin and down my neck.

I then knew the name of my latest addiction. It is called Gillette Mach3 Turbo, and although it makes my teeth grind to type the words, it lifted me to a new level in shaving comfort. The pushers have won.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Digital Media issues

I started this as a rant on the woes of the ever-increasing space demands of digital media, but turned into a sort of primer.

Digital Photos

Do you use a digital camera? Do you scan in your film photos? If so, and you've been doing this for any length of time, then you know how much fun it is keeping photo files organized and backed up.

You're not backing up your photos? Please start now. Copy them to another hard drive, put them on a CD or a DVD. Something. Anything. You can lose pictures forever if you do not have a backup plan.

If you copy some photos to an optical disk of some kind, don't rely on that as the only copy. The CD's and DVD's you create today are not infallible. I've placed a CD in my drive, and other drives, only to find that the data on it is inaccessible. I was lucky it was only some freeware I could download again, but it could just as easily have been photos.

So, you say that storing all those photos is starting to take up too much space? The moment you copy photos from your camera onto your computer, before you've deleted them from the memory card, look through them and weed out the pictures you do not want. This should not be hard for most folks, as even the pros shoot frame upon frame to get the "right" shot. This can save an enormous amount of space. If you do not do it right away, then you probably will not do it.

Once you have weeded out the pics you don't want, make a second copy of the keepers somewhere (remember that backup I was talking about). Then, and only then, should you clear the memory card, and you should do that within the camera, not with your computer. Otherwise, you can end up with a card that the camera will not read correctly.

You can, of course, weed through the pictures in the camera, before you even copy them to the hard drive. If you have a large number of pictures, though, this can be fairly time-consuming and you cannot always tell from the small LCD whether a picture is a keeper.

Digital Video

Do you shoot digital video and then download it to your computer? If so, then all of the above apply, but deleting the parts you don't want is trickier. You can use a video editor to cut them down, and then save the final cut onto the hard drive. Windows Movie Maker 2 (freely downloadable from Microsoft) is pretty good. Otherwise, use something like Pinnacle Studio or another of the products in that range. Mac users, you have the excellent iMovie. Enough said there.

Then, if you have the capability, output your edited video to DVD. Most modern DVD players will play DVD's you make yourself, and it is a great way to share you videos. Remember, though, that your miniDV camera records an image that is higher quality than a DVD, so just paying someone to archive your tapes to DVD will result in quality loss. Many people do not know that.

I encourage you to keep the original, whether on tape or on the hard drive. If you keep every minute of all your originals on a hard drive, then you will start using up hard drive space very quickly. I recommend you keep the original tapes and just buy a new tape when you fill one. Sure, archive the best moments to avoid losing them to tape damage and/or degradation, but keep the original tapes, too. Until there is some inexpensive way of archiving the full-quality original, that seems the best way to do it.

This obviously is not meant as a comprehensive guide, but it was on my mind, and that's why I have a blog.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Serenity the Movie

We saw Serenity on opening night.

I saw it was good, and I said it was good.

Shannon, who has never seen one episode of Firefly, was bored through half of it, indifferent through the third fourth, and thought it was a'ight for the last 35-40 minutes.

I can understand a lot of that, for someone who has not watched the show at all. She did laugh out loud several times, however, at some funny parts. She also gasped pretty big at one point, but not as much as those who watch Firefly.

I thought it was very good. I won't say any more, lest I spoil something, but there were two significant surprises, and one big shocker that still bothers me (not because it was bad, but just sad). Also, do not watch the trailer or read any reviews that mention plot points before you see the movie. As usual, I wish I had not. Big time here, though, especially if you are a watcher of Firefly.

The place was absolutely packed, so that at 7:15 (show started at 7:25), we could not find two seats together in the middle section (except the front-most section), so we sat way over on the side, about 10 feet from a side speaker. That's saying something, because it was the largest capacity layout in the multiplex. It made dialogue hard to hear, having background sounds and music right there in our right ear.

Funniest moment (besides a few choice movie lines) was when we saw a woman picking her nose in her car, right at a very busy intersection where basically anybody could see her. She kept looking around to make sure nobody could see her (I guess), but she never looked to her left and slightly behind her, which is where we were. Wow, was she digging. First she just casually slipped her thumb in there, but then she really got serious and stuck a finger up there. She then just rubbed her finger and her thumb together, I suppose to make the spoils disappear. Yuck. The things people do in their cars. See my post about other (not disgusting) things I've seen.

It was a great date night. We ate at the Blue Goose in Plano before the movie, and had dessert at Cold Stone (ice cream place where they mix together the flavors you choose). I had peanut butter ice cream mixed with banana, and Shannon had a coffee/amaretto ice cream mix. Both very good. Better than Marble Slab Creamery, which I've mentioned in an earlier post.

After dessert, we headed over to a place called Main Event. It features, in a non-smoking environment, 34 bowling lanes, tons of pool tables, the longest shuffleboard table I've seen, and lots of video games.