Friday, March 31, 2006


Bouncing some ideas off of a weary public while playing Orbox B, the sequel to Orbox.

(***Warning*** Only click one of the above links if you have a good half day to kill, preferably longer. This might be the most addicting puzzle game ever. Then again, it might not be. That's all speculative. I mean really, who's to say what's addicting and what isn't? My brain works completely different then the next man's. Take the bus driver I share an office with. Would he find these games addicting? Probably not. He'd be the first to tell me, however, that the Sudoku puzzle in the Herald that he's been working on for the past half hour is addicting as hell.
"You want a puzzle, Dog?" (He calls me 'Dog' for some, as yet, unknown reason. In return, I call him 'Johnny Rock Star', because his first name is John and 'Rock Star' is exactly what he is not.) "This here's a puzzle. I betcha youze cahn't even figya it out."

I betcha he's right. When it comes to Sudoku, I make like Goofy and say, "Garsh!" But addictive? Nein, mein kinder. At least not for me. Really, when you delve deep into addiction you find much much more than just compulsive behavior. You find, in essence, a threefold disease. Beer, sex, and Tetris. So, you see, Tetris is the standard by which all other addicting games and puzzles are measured. We've yet to see it's equal. Sudoku and Orbox are slowly making their claims, but will they be able to knock the king of the throne? Only time will tell.

Oh yeah - these games seem to come without instructions, and as am embarrassed as I am to admit it, it took me some time to figure out how to play them. All you need to do is use the arrow keys. The cursor will go in the direction you choose, and will not stop until an object in front of it obstructs its path. Your goal is to get to the exit. There are some tricks up the sleeve in the later levels, too. ***End warning***)

I'm trying to think up some new and exciting things to do with this space since I'm having difficulty finding things to write about. Lately it's been work, class, write, eat, sleep, play the occasional video game and watch the occasional movie. Mind you, I'm not complaining. Things are actually very good. But, the motions I'm going through don't necessarily make for good writing material. So, for part of the time, look for more commentary on various odd events and stories I may happen upon. It's what to fill in with the rest of the time that's got my mind awhirl.

Not too long ago, fellow bloggers Sean and Tim had a "Tracks of the Week" feature in which they would post two tracks of music they found interesting, along with commentary. Both of them have stopped for various reasons. Tim, because he's busy writing a dissertation, and Sean because he's made the upgrade to podcasts (which are excellent, by the way. Go check them out.) I have toyed with the idea of doing my own "Tracks Of The Week" feature in their stead, but I'm not sure how successful it would be. Lately, the download stats for the mp3 in the sidebar have been crazy low, so I'm thinking music might not be your thing. Plus, most of you slackers probably read this at work, which for most is not an environment where you can blare speakers loudly.

Still, the stats are far different when I throw up a track in an actual post as opposed to place one in the sidebar. Is it just that people don't look in the sidebar, or are they simply not interested? Not sure. I've even thought of taking the whole "Tracks of the Week" idea one step further and posting up an entire 10 - 15 track mix (in a zipped folder), keep it up for two or three days at most, and then bring it down. That's an awful lot for someone to download however, not to mention that it could very quickly bring me over the "download quota" set by my web host. But something to think about.

If that doesn't work, I could gossip about my friends and the people I work with. For example, did you know that security guard who.... eh, nevermind. That's like playing Russian Roulette. If the wrong person sees it... yeah - not good.

Screw it, I'm gonna mull this one over for a little bit and maybe go with one of the above options, or maybe not. I think more brainstorming is in order. So basically, you've just wasted five or so minutes of your time reading that I'm bored and I have nothing to write about. Oh, but you did get a new vice out of the deal. Now that, my friends, is a successful post. Have a weekend. I'll catch you soon.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

'Lo Flo

Praise God and pass the waffles. My car is back from the shop with a new clutch pedal assembly installed, new coil springs for the struts, a misaligned rear drivers side door, and a fresh coat of 'tude. Flo Focus is back in action, boppin' along to the barrio beat. My roommate will kill me for saying this (he ditched his car... or rather his car ditched him and he opted not to get a new one for various political and environmental reasons) but you never realize how much you miss your car until you go without. Granted, I wasn't without A car. I was without MY car. There's still a sizable difference.

For many people, their vehicle acts as an extension of themselves. At least, I guess it does. I mean, it sort of makes sense, don't it? We buy them with exactly the specs we like and then customize them just so by adding new radios and kick ass tires and blah, blah, blah. We hang fuzzy dice from the windshield and throw St. Christopher on the dashboard (if I were him, I'd be pissed. Think of all the exhaust and A/C fumes old St. C must inhale.) Then, we go and deface them further with bumper stickers that express our deepest thoughts and profanities. Last but not least, we name our beloved vehicles.

As you no doubt know from my mention in numerous other posts (including the above linked one) my car is named 'Flo.' Old woman in a diners name, I know, but I find it apropos. The rental car I received, also a Focus, was unlucky enough to earn the name 'Foul.' No, I technically had no business naming the thing as it was just a rental, but the stale cigarette reek and the layer of dirt covering the exterior made it special. Plus you can't compare to an original. Maybe I should have named it 'Fake,' but really, that's just not nice. That would be like naming your first child 'Desmond' and your second child 'Not as good as Desmond.' Or something like that....

So yeah, after a considerable ransom payout, Flo is back in my life again and I couldn't be happier. Well, yeah I could, but my level of joy has been raised considerably. When I'm around her, I just wanna skip... er, drive. Just hook up the iPod and wander aimlessly... which is what I'm going to do now. Latah peeps.

P.S. Oh, and just so you don't think I would write about something so mundane as getting my car back from the shop (I can see Andrew now. He's saying to himself, "Is that it? Does that count as a blog post?") without leaving something actually interesting for you... well, here's another reason to celebrate. Hapland 3 is out. Have fun!

P.P.S. Yeah I solved it - but with help. Spoilers are out there, but I'll be damned if I'm going to post one today. Maybe later in the week. Don't give up so easily, people!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Madman's Links

The dilemma is this. A blog post is most certainly in order, but I don't particularly have the time to write one right now. Plus, I'm irritated. My beloved car, Flo, which I brought in for service yesterday, is now being kept over the weekend because the clutch pedal assembly they ordered (that was supposed to be in today) didn't arrive. I am now stuck with a dealer rental, which the gentleman at the dealer said he would "help me out on" - whatever that means. Grrrr. I want my car... not some former test drive vehicle that reeks of cigarette smoke.

So, although I know many of you have come here looking for some way to kill time at the end of the work week, I'm going to have to insist that you go elsewhere for your fun. Seriously. I'm too busy, too tired, and too caustic at the moment to write anything like a normal post. It would all come out as a mess of contemptuous vitriol, which while probably mildly entertaining, would not be good for my mental and spiritual health.


Fine. I can at least point you in the right direction. Here are a few funnies and time killers which have been forwarded/brought to my attention this week. Given the state I'm in, they don't currently provide any entertainment value. However, once upon a time (like earlier today) I found them quite funny/enjoyable. Hopefully you will too:

Leprechaun in Mobile, AL: Courtesy of my friend Andrew who forwarded this to me today. Obviously a slow news day in Mobile. At first I was simply aghast, unable to tell if this was a real news story. It is, and damn funny in an unintentional sort of way.

Classic IQ Test: Not a full IQ test, but still fun to take, and may give you an idea of where you stand if you've never taken one before. Be forewarned though - most people I know who took this said it came back lower than both their expectations and any scores they received when they took a full-fledged IQ test. I didn't have that problem. My result just simply said, "Yo, you stoopid."

The Museum of Bad Album Covers: I posted a link to 'The Worst Album Covers of all time" way back when. This expands upon that topic, obviously.

Car Care: A site I should have looked at before I brought my car in for service.

3 Lines: Eliminate the tiles by connecting them with three lines or less... or something like that. Think Minesweeper meets Mah Johngg.

That's it for today. I'm of to stew and watch NCAA Basketball. Maybe I'll check in over the weekend. Toodles.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Yay Mathematics

The astute of you who read this blog will notice that there's a distinct lack of algebraic equations and statistical permutations posted. Those of you that are HIGHLY astute will then use that knowledge to come to the logical conclusion that I hate math.

Well, you'd only be kinda right. It isn't that I hate math. It's just that it hasn't ever come easy for me - not like English, and currekt spelling,, and GraMar and punkt-ooo-A-shun. I'm a wiz at those, clearly. But math & sciences? No way. In high school, I used to skip entire days and write fake notes simply so I wouldn't have to take the math, chemistry or physics tests I was certain I'd fail (and often did when I had to take the makeup.) I got caught, and my daddy gave my hide a whoopin'. I also came very close to getting suspended but the house master was lenient seeing as it was final exam time. He was later arrested on (completely unrelated) charges of being a peeping tom and subsequently fired, which made me feel a little better about my own wrongdoings.

Anyway, I mention all this because I'm currently on break in my SQL Server Database Management Class (yes, CLASS. Whoulda thunk?) and I am once again reflecting on how ironic it is that I shunned math and sciences in school, yet ended up working in technology as a career. One thing I want to get straight right now. Remember in school when the one whiner in class would throw down his/her pencil and exclaim, "Why do I have to learn this stuff? I'm never going to use it anyway!" Well, I was occasionally that whiner and despite my teachers best attempts at refuting that statement, I would like to take this moment to gloat and say that I was right. I rarely use math anymore, other than to perform simple arithmetic. If things get a little too heavy a calculator (or Microsoft Excel) usually does the trick.

Yet this class I'm taking is causing me to rethink that argument just a little. My powers of logic, never very strong, now fully appear to suck. Many of the problems I've had to solve thus far have involved really simple logic and I've gotten through them with about a mug full of brow sweat and some new teeth marks on the #2's. It shouldn't be THIS difficult.

To add a little insult to injury, just now while on break, I was surfing through (what else?) Boing Boing and came across a link to this article from some important mathematical professor dude in Norway who tries to convince high schoolers, and those about to enter, to study more math. He makes a fairly convincing argument, although some of his logic is flawed. Although should I, as someone who just admitted that his logic skills suck, be criticizing people for flawed logic? I don't know. Maybe if had studied more. Anyway... look at some of the following statements.

'Choose math because you will live in a world of constant change. New technology and new ways of doing things change daily life and work more and more. If you have learned math, you can learn how and why things work, and avoid scraping by through your career, supported by Post-It Notes and Help files -- scared to death of accidentally pressing the wrong key and running into something unfamiliar.'

As I just mentioned, I hardly ever use more than simple arithmetic in my everyday job which has everything to do with technology. Knowing math isn't going to help you learn the newest version of Windows or UNIX - exposure and experience will. Plus, if his math helped his technological skills so much, why does his website look like it was created with the 1992 version of Microsoft Front Page?

'Choose math because it doesn't close any doors. If you don't choose math in high school, you close the door to interesting studies and careers. You might not think those options interesting now, but what if you change your mind?'

The hell it won't. By deciding to concentrate on math, you're essentially making a decision not to concentrate on something else. How is a student with a gift for writing and linguistics better off if he/she decides to drop those subjects and study math? You may be stifling the next Shakespeare there, jerk. Thanks a lot.

Still, those are just a few small pieces of the article. Much of what else he has to say appears sound enough. I particularly love the way he ended:

' Math is a sharp knife for cutting through thorny problems. If you want a sharp knife in your mental tool chest - choose math!'

Funny. I find that a sharp tongue and a well chosen insult work well too.

Bah! I guess I'm just irritated that I actually have to think to figure out this SQL code when my brain is already mush. Important Norwegian Professor Dude is right. Math is important. I'm just being hostile towards what I don't understand. Maybe if I study more math, I'll be able to get a better handle on my emotions. For now though, I'm stuck with a=b and b=c. Just got to figure out what 'a' stands for again.

Friday, March 17, 2006

It's Not Easy Being Green

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.

Are you wearing your green? I certainly am, even though I couldn't tell you why. Seriously. I've never understood what this holiday is all about. It's kind of sad, really. My extended family (at least in the Boston area) is huge and consists almost entirely of Irish folk who celebrate the day with Guinness, various shades of green attire, boiled dinner, and 'Erin Go Bragh' banners. Yet growing up, almost none of them could tell me what in fact this holiday was celebrating - other than general Irishness and some nonsense about St. Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland.

(They have snakes in Ireland? Nooooo, stupid! Not anymore. St Patrick drove 'em all out! Sheesh.)

I'm actually an Irish citizen (although not by birth; dual citizenship with the U.S. - Ireland's citizenship rules were so lenient at one point that any 2nd or 3rd generation Irish were eligible if you had the proper documentation, regardless of whether or not you were born on the soil) and I know precious little about the patron saint of my... er... one of my countries. And beyond that, why do the Irish get a holiday and no one else? I'm also half German. Why don't I get to celebrate St. Gunter's Day and eat lots of bratwurst and sauerkraut while dressed in lederhosen? Actually, I think I just answered my own question. Nevermind.

I know, I know. St. Patrick's Day is nothing more than an excuse to throw a few parades, dye a river green, and get drunk. That's what most people will tell you, and I would tend to agree. Still, I find that an unsatisfactory explanation. So I went to (what else?) Google and did a little research. Here's what I found:

'What originally started as a day of mourning the death of the patron saint of Ireland on March 17 in 461 A.D. has long since turned into a celebration of everything Irish.

St. Patrick was born as Maewyn in Wales around 385 A.D. At the age of sixteen he was kidnapped by bandits and sold into slavery in Ireland, where he lived for six years, herding sheep and developing a strong faith in God. Upon his escape to Gaul he studied in a monastery for many years, entered the priesthood and later was appointed as second bishop to Ireland—his desire was to return to Ireland and to convert the people there to the Christian faith, a tumultuous mission that lasted 30 years.

St. Patrick did manage to convert thousands of Irish to Christianity; he founded hundreds of churches and, according to lore, "drove the snakes out of Ireland," an act symbolizing the victory of the Christian faith over pagan rituals. In order to explain the idea of the holy trinity to local tribesmen, he used the three-leaf shamrock, its green color signifying renewal and the coming of spring after a long period of winter and "pagan" darkness.

Interestingly, the first St. Patrick's Day parade took place not in Ireland, but in the United States. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762.'

O.K. Well that's a little better explanation, at least. And you know what? Because it's 3:00 on a Friday, I think I'm going to stop questioning this whole St. Patrick's Day thing. Time for an about face. All this intense examination kind of ruins the flavor, don't you think? Right. I'll shut up now. But before I do, in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day (the traditional one that we drink and carouse to - not the mourning of the actual saint because that's no fun), here are a few things to leave you with.

First, because this is fast becoming a habit on this blog, music. Raise a glass if that's your thing, and by all means, tap your feet:

The Clancy Brothers - Tim Finnegan's Wake: A traditional Irish tune from a traditional Irish band. Short and sweet and full of dark humor. As you'll hear in the intro, this is an old Irish street 'ballad' which, rumor has it, was the basis for James Joyce's utterly bizarre novel, Finnegan's Wake. I think the song is much better.

Flogging Molly - What's Left Of The Flag: For those who like their Irish music a bit more... um... modern. When I first heard this back in '02 it was my favorite tune for about three months. Then some other song which I don't remember took its place, but I still break this one out from time to time. A fun, high-energy song that's great to drink to, or at least jump up and down to (and no, that wasn't a House of Pain reference. They're embarrassing.)

Guinness Wallpaper, Screensavers & Posters: None of this green beer crap. Guinness is a real Irishman's drink.... I think. Anyhoo, here are some.. well.. screensavers, wallpaper, and posters. Not so impressed? Neither am I. Fine. Here is the link to those ads they have on TV where the two brew master guys scream "Brilliant!" at each other. Those ads kill me... (Note: before you can get to either of these pages you'll have to enter your birth date to prove you're of legal drinking age.)

Leprechaun FAQ:'s page regarding leprechauns, which even offers instructions on building a leprechaun trap. And, to get all cute on you, here are some traps made by elementary school kids.

South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade: The residents of Southie are a proud lot. Most of them think they're more Irish than the Irish, and they throw a parade that reflects this. Here is the info on this year's parade as well as some photos from previous parades throughout the years (pictures of drunken thugs heaving into gutters are among the notable omissions, however.) The parade can be a lot of fun if you're at the right spot in the route. This info may help, and it will also give you some ideas for good places around the city to go and celebrate.

Irish Recipes: Irish food can't claim to be... well... good, but there are a few dishes that when prepared well are certainly appetizing enough. Here are a few: County Cork Irish Stew, Irish Soda Bread, Potato Cabbage and Irish Bacon Casserole. Yummm...

There you are, folks. A Friday links page and a St. Patrick's Day tribute all in one. Have a safe and fun holiday. Watch the whiskey and mind the heavy heads in the mornin'. Slainte.

Monday, March 13, 2006


And so, reality comes crashing back in with a thud. I am back in the land of 45 degree weather and overpriced real estate. Houston, we have a problem. We hardly knew ye. More time necessary. Over.

Since my return to Boston last night, it has been overcast with chilly temperatures and a light mist sort of thing. It's better than freezing, but it is NOT 75 degrees. It is Boston however, which is, quite simply, the bestest city in the world... at times (depends on my mood... Boston occasionally gets into a room with Edinburgh and Santa Barbara and the three of them duke it out until only one is left standing. Wounds heal, though, and the victor never stays the same.) But, it's Boston at the tail end of winter and at a time when I'm physically exhausted. So yeah, one more day in sunny, smoggy Texas wouldn't have killed me. (Note: I never did figure out my cousin's camera, so there was no additional post from Houston. Once he e-mails me the pictures, I'll probably post them... unless they suck.)

It almost happened too. Both of my return flights home were oversold and they were looking for volunteers to fly the following day (today) in exchange for a first class seat, food and hotel accommodations, and a $400 travel voucher. Two things kept me from doing it. 1) Knowing I would have had to use another vacation day to stay in a hotel near the airport and 2) I was flying on Continental - the same airline who, eight years ago, managed to lose my luggage in a transfer at Newark (surprise, surprise) where it was never to be seen again. I was not about to do them any favors. Maybe I should've reconsidered.

Work today STUNK - and I mean, literally. During my absence a sewage pipe running through a crawl space below my basement corner office burst, spilling it's contents and creating little rivulets of filth in the dirt directly below. The pipe has been replaced. The stench has not. Febreeze all you want. Every intake of breath still remains retch worthy. I have a certain knack for being able to sugarcoat things and find the good in situations. This one's difficult. No one wants a spoonful of sugarcoated shit. The best I can come up with now is, "Well... I'll be all the more able to handle it the next time this happens." Huh? Okay... how about, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger?" Fair enough, but at the moment I don't want strength. I want a feces free work environment.

It was just enough. I knew what to expect coming back to work after a week's vacation. One or two people waiting for me at the front door to hit me with their computer problems the moment I cross the threshold (check.) A constant wave of people ambushing me in the hallway at various points throughout the day to tell me their tragic tale of woe and oh, come help me now please, quick, please, oh... NO? Oh... *sigh* well, when CAN you show up then? (Check.) Eight different salespeople whom I've never spoken to calling to say, "Hey! Brad Phelps here, damn nice to talk to ya. Hey, how was that vacation? Oh, how did I know? The receptionist told me! Betcha it was a lot warmer than here, eh? Ahhh..... good stuff So tell me, when can I come in and talk a little shop." (Check.)

I KNEW all of these things were going to happen. I prepared myself for the onslaught, and sure enough, they occurred. And for most of the day, I dealt with them... admirably, if I do say so. It's all part of the job. But later in the day, as I walked back downstairs to my office and I could hear the phone start ringing, soon to be followed by a whiny sing song voice behind me that said, "Eeerrrrric! Help!" and above it all the most horrendous, God-awful stench... well... I lost it.

Like a scene out of a movie, I wheeled around to face the person who called out my name, who, upon taking one look at my manic eyes, stuttered and said, "I can come back later."

Pick up the phone and hear, "Hey Eric, this is ______. I nee...."

"I'm sorry _____, I'd like to talk right now but I'm too busy smelling mine and everyone else's shit, and you know what? Damn, if it doesn't smell sweeter than most. Call me back later, will you? Thanks."


Check the e-mail. Three new messages. One from Computer Company X telling me about all the new higher education specials. One reply from my roommate, whom I'd e-mailed earlier. One from Employee BLANK wondering why he/she can't send any e-mail. Fire off a one sentence response:

'Care to tell me how you sent this one, then?'

By this point the theme song to that old SNL skit, "Nick Burns: Your Company's Computer Guy" started running through my head, and that just made me even more infuriated. Why? Because of everything it insinuated, and the fact that it was, for this very moment at least, right on the mark. All I would have needed to do was scream, "MOVE!" But, if anything, it also made me realize how ridiculous I was acting. After a few deep breaths (quickly followed by a few dry heaves) I'd calmed down enough to think straight.

First order of business: 'When matters are wrong, right them.' Easy enough. I went and apologized to the two people who had previously beheld my wrath, and tried to be as gracious as possible when fixing their problems. I then called the person who I'd e-mailed before, checked to see if they were still having 'e-mail problems', and told them to contact me if they should have any in the future.

Second order of business: 'Get the hell out of Dodge.' Done. I am typing this post from the reasonably comfortable, but only slightly less pungent confines of my apartment, feeling guilty about the way I've acted and debating on whether to turn up the thermostat.

At this time, however, I've got a different skit running through my mind. Remember that scene in City Slickers when Daniel Stern is whining and sobbing about his failed life and marriage and blah, blah, blah... and Billy Crystal and his Italian friend with the porn star mustache say, "Hey! Your life is a do over?" Yeah, well it plays out much more powerfully in my mind, but in any event, while I'm not bawling, I do feel like the logic still applies. Today hit me the wrong way (or I hit today the wrong way... probably more like it.) I'm just gonna say, "Fuck it. Do-over." It's only 6:30, and there's still plenty of time left in the day. So... a do-over it is. Don't know what the hell I'm gonna do with myself, but I'm sure I'll figure something out. Care to join me? O.K. Hurry up. It's gonna start.....



Thursday, March 09, 2006


A word about the local cuisine. It's delicious. The one good thing I'd heard about Houston before making the trip (which is a shame, really - the more I'm down here, the more I see that there are lots of good things) is that the restaurant scene is a superb one. So far, that's definitely been an accurate assessment. There are just a ton of places to find good food around here.

Obviously, the two that stand out most are Tex/Mex and barbeque. I'm a huge fan of the former, and ambivalent towards the latter. That's been reflected in my choice of restaurants thus far. I've eaten Tex/Mex thrice and had ZERO barbeque. Brian insists that I try it, however, and is certain that my ambivalence is resulting from the fact that I haven't had good barbeque before, so we have plans to grab some before I leave. As for the Tex/Mex, the two standouts have been a restaurant called Tony's which served a phenomenal Chile Relleno, and El Paraiso where I had some very good Enchiladas Verdes.

When the food you're eating is in part named after the state you're currently eating it in, you tend to get the real deal. Tony's and El Paraiso have provided that so far, but as many of you have seen from the comments, it has been impressed upon me that I go visit Taco Cabana, a local fast food taco joint which, down here at least, rivals Taco Bell. Rest assured, I'll hit there in a couple of days too, much to my cousin's disgust (among other things, he's somewhat of a gourmet cook and has provided some fantastic meals when we haven't eaten out - steak salad with fresh clementines, raspberries, and goat cheese anyone?) I don't care. I'm here to experience the local flavor. Taco Cabana is somehow a part of that. I'm stopping in, but don't worry - I'll make sure to get the preventative angioplasty beforehand.

On that note, I'll also mention that much of the local food is ridiculously fattening. Actually, in recent years, Houston has squared off with Detroit in a bitter battle over the highest percentage of obese residents, and it's easy to see why. Like Los Angeles, nobody walks here. There's enough sprawl and things are spaced far enough apart where driving five blocks doesn't seem like a big deal. Also, some of the favorite local foods are just mind-boggling. Take, for example, the Frito Pie, which is a plate full of frito's and topped with chili and cheese. I was very close to ordering one of these at the rodeo, but couldn't bring myself to. The gag reflex was just too much. Instead, I settled on a funnel cake, which is much like fried dough except prepared a little differently. Flour is squeezed from a tube into a vat of boiling lard (or other fattening oil) and the resulting "cake" looks like, well I'm not sure... click the link to see. I really shouldn't be eating all this crap, I know, but whatever - it's a vacation. Besides, this is what gym's are for. One of these days, I'll start going to mine.

Alright, enough about food. I'm off to go explore the city some more. If I can get the damn camera to work, I'll post some more pictures later. Have fun, folks.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Stars At Night Are Big And Bright....

Texas is big. Houston is a part of Texas. Is Houston big too? Why yes, sir. Yes it is. Enormous, in fact. That's one of many observations about the place... but more on that in a bit.

My cousin was kind enough to book a first class flight on the way down to this fine city. Not because he was generous, but because that's all that was available. The trip home evens out the karma a little bit. Two middle seats and a transfer in Cleveland. Yiiick. Anyhoo, the flight down was an excellent one as it (remarkably) had good food and was on time. I happened to get seated next to the "elderly woman who can't see anything because she forgot her glasses so instead of reading or watching TV she passes the time by talking to the person next to her and bragging about her children" but she was quite pleasant to talk to and while away the time. The whole flight took about 3 hours and change and, although exhausted from lack of sleep the night before, I was in a decent enough mood. Upon exiting the plane I had to stifle the urge to do like Pee Wee Herman did in "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and belt out the words that title this post just to see if everyone would stop and return volley with *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* "Deep in the heeeeart of Texas!" I came SO close to doing it, but stopped short when I remembered that my cousin has to live here. And so, I gazed in awe at the ten gallon hats and cowboy boots while having a serious hanker for a hunk o' cheese. My cousin Brian quickly ushered me into his waiting vehicle while shaking his head and we sped off.

First thing I noticed about my cousin's home is that it, like everything else in this city, is huge. I'm pretty much living in luxury at the moment with gorgeous furniture and modern appliances all around me. Were I a jealous person, I would be extremely so now, particularly when Brian told me that his house here costs less than a shack would in Boston. Why do I live there again? Anyway, here are some photos of the front and back:

Goodness. And I didn't even provide any pictures of the interior. The guest room I'm staying in has gorgeous mahogany wood furniture, queen size bed stacked with pillows, a walk in closet, private bathroom and shower, and a bookcase FILLED with books. Screw Houston. I didn't want to leave the house.. and in fact I didn't on my first full day here. Nope. Feeling a little under the weather and tired (we had gone out for some great Mexican food the night before and then drove through Houston's downtown) we hung out in the house and read by the pool, watched movies, and played video games - all in 7o degree weather.

Today however, was a different story. As luck (bad or not - I haven't decided yet) would have it, the Houston Rodeo and Livestock Fair is happening this week. People from all over Texas and the country come to show off their prize heffers and steers and enjoy country/rock music concerts, a carnival, and various shop stalls hawking all sorts of cowboy paraphernalia. It happened here

which is the bigass complex where the Houston Texans play football, but more importantly, where the New England Patriots won their 2nd Super Bowl in 2003-2004. That photo doesn't properly convey how large a place this is. One is simply dwarfed when standing next to it.

Anyway, since neither Brian or I are sticklers for detail or fine print, we actually missed all of the rodeo events for today and had to settle for the "livestock show" instead. As we walked around the shops and stalls and I found myself continuously amazed/appalled/dumbfounded/in fits of barely stifled laughter. The place was simply FULL of cows, goats, and other farm animals that you could walk right up to and well.. pet, I guess.. or simply look at. I almost got my shoe shat on by one of the most enormous cows I've ever seen. I couldn't tell if these things were for sale or there to be judged, but man - I've never seen so much livestock in one place. A couple of things were a little disturbing, too. First, they had an indoor childrens merry go round, but with real horses instead of fake plastic ones. Tiny little ponies were harnessed to the thing and little children climbed up on their backs and they walked around in circles all day. Also, the Texas poultry department had a stall with chickens in front of a wall that... well, see for yourself:

How's that for tact? Eviscerator? Is this something I needed to know? There were no euphemisims at the event and nothing was handled with kid gloves. It was all about poultry and livestock and all out in the open for you to see. Also, the place smelled like shit. Literally. Really, I guess it was more of a culture shock than anything else. Coming from Boston and knowing as many vegetarians/vegans as I do, and knowing why they are what they are, seeing all this was like getting hit over the head with a blunt object. And yet, even though we missed the rodeo events we still are planning on coming back later in the week to see it. Why? Because it's part of the culture and unique to the place I'm visiting and seeing these things is part of why you go on vacation.

All this aside, two days have gone by and my initial thoughts on Houston are largely good ones. The phrase "Everything's bigger in Texas" is SO overused and cliche, but it's also pretty true - at least where I am. The city is huge - you could drive for two hours and still not cross it entirely. There are tons of excellent restaurants (which serve Texas sized portions) and some really gorgeous neighborhoods. I know I've only been here two days but based on the little I've seen, I don't think it's at all deserving of the ridicule that it gets. It reminds me a lot of Los Angeles. Lots and lots of sprawl, except the sprawl in Houston seems much more clean, and the people here are nicer. Plus, there's a noticeable downtown area where some fun stuff goes on. It's been a fun place to see and explore so far, and there's plenty more planned. What exactly, I'm not sure yet, but I'll certainly keep you posted with some updates as we go. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make sure my chicken has been properly eviscerated and plucked. Mooooooo.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

H-Town baby, H-Town.

Previous posts have seen me whining about how the week prior to vacation is always one of the hardest work weeks of the year. This past week was certainly no exception; particularly since I planned this vacation rather spur of the moment only two weeks ago.

Correct. Vacation. Foreign concept to many of us, myself included up until the last few years, but seeing as I have three weeks of the stuff at my current place of employment, and they have adopted a "use it or lose it" policy, it's in the best interests of my sanity to, in fact, use it.

There are some minor, yet not insignificant problems when dealing with vacation where I work. The first, of course, is the aforementioned "use it or lose it" policy. It's great in that it makes sure you use all of your vacation, but come years end, if you have any remaining, you find yourself in the position of having to scramble to make sure to get it all in. The process is complicated further by the fact that the available days to use it are often severely restricted (no one is allowed to take the week between Christmas and New Years off, for reasons not made clear. Also, certain whole months are often also blacked out due to it being a school, and large amounts of students are present during certain programs/semesters.) Still, three weeks is three weeks. That's a lot of time, especially compared to many corporate environments. But, this is a school as I mentioned before, so while I have lots of vacation time, I generally don't have any money to do anything with it. I'm O.K. with that, oddly enough (not the lack of money by any means, but the fact that I can't splash for an expensive getaway.) Recent vacations have consisted of nothing more than me spending a week at home, relaxing. Boston offers tons of stuff to do, even for those of us that grew up here, and I find I'm never bored if I put just a minimal amount of effort in.

Because of all the restrictions regarding when I can take time off, I decided to use some of it now. The only problem is that Boston has been cold in recent weeks. Actually, it's been pretty fucking frigid. Normally, I would shrug it off. The winter weather here is merely a small price to pay to live in such a wonderful city. Right now though, I'm tired of it, even though this winter has been unseasonably mild by all accounts. I'm not quite sure what it is. Perhaps, it's the recent cold snap in the midst of a warm spell that has me unable to deal. Maybe it's seasonal affective disorder. Maybe I'm a grump. But I'm a grump who wants warm weather without paying for it.... in a hurry.

Enter my cousin Brian. Brian and I are just about the same age (he's six months older, as he constantly bragged to everyone else in our single digit years) and in addition to being my cousin, he pulled double duty as one of my best friends growing up. Several years ago, after having lived in Boston, London & Munich, he and his partner George decided to make the move below the Mason-Dixon Line and settle there. Since then, he's been living a relaxing warm weather lifestyle, free from the aggravation of snow shoveling and teeth chattering. Fast forward to my birthday last year. I open the mailbox and receive a card from Brian that says "Happy Birthday! Come visit!" along with enough frequent flyer miles for a round trip ticket to......


Now, just a second. W.. Wait.. I kno... Please, will you just SHUTUP! I know what you're thinking. I've thought all the same things myself.

"Houston? Pfft. Have fun getting black lung. What the hell are you supposed to do down there? Visit an oil refinery? Yee-fucking-haw."

Believe me, I know. Just this last week I went to a bookstore with a rather extensive travel section, when I was approached by an employee and we had the following exchange:

"Can I help you?"

"Yeah, I'm looking for a guidebook on Houston."

(After a slight grimace) "Ohhh man... No, we don't have guidebooks on Houston. I don't think they even write them. I've been doing the ordering here for years, and I've never even seen a listing."

Well. So much for that.

Even the Sports Guy, one of my favorite sportswriters, took time out to trash the city in a recent column:

In the past four years, I made four separate trips to Houston and spent a total of 24 days here. And you know what? That's too much freaking time to spend in Houston. My editors just bleeped me, I don't care. Maybe Houston doesn't suck any more or less than 20 other major cities, and maybe the people are friendly and likable, but the fact remains, you would never come here for any reason, other than these three:

(1) For work.
(2) To gain weight.
(3) To get shot.

You just wouldn't."

Sounds encouraging, wouldn't you say? (A very brief and completely off topic aside: Sports Guy just posted, in two parts, a wonderful rambling e-mail exchange he had with Malcolm Gladwell, writer for The New Yorker and author of both The Tipping Point and Blink. Just fantastic stuff. Check it out if you have the time. Here's Part 1 and here's Part 2.)

Well, you know what? I AM encouraged. In fact, I am really really REALLY looking forward to this trip for a couple of reasons. Reason #1, obviously, is the warm weather. The average temperature in Houston at the moment looks to be about 73 degrees. The average temperature in Boston is ohhh.... I'd day -12. That's a significant jump in the right direction. Huzzah!

Reason #2 has to do with knowing my cousin. Brian, as mentioned, has lived well in some very exclusive European locales. Further, he's gay, and as such a man of rather refined taste. I mean, c'mon, haven't you ever watched Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? Alright... you don't have to answer that, but suffice to say they don't live like cave dwelling grunts. Do you think if Houston was really as bad as some of the ridicule it receives, Brian and his partner would choose to settle there? I think not, kind sir. And yeah, I'm blatantly stereotyping, but I also know Brian. So there.

Reason #3 is purely demographics. Houston is the 4th largest city in the nation with close to two million people living within its borders. That many people generally don't say, "Well... Houston is a shithole and there's nothing to do. I think we should live there! What do you say, Wanda?" On the contrary. I'm quite certain that there is PLENTY to do in Houston and that I will enjoy much of it. True - I have no idea what I'm going to do and see there yet, other than NASA (I don't have a guidebook, remember?) But, I do have a cousin who knows where all the fun and interesting stuff is located within that monster of a city - plus he knows his way around.

Reason #4 - Southern accents make me laugh.

So yeah, Houston may take a lot of crap from a lot of people but I don't care. I'm ignoring the comments, and I fully intend to go down there and enjoy myself. Will that happen? I'm thinking so, but if you want to see for yourself, check back here every so often. I'm bringing Mr. Peabody (my laptop - don't ask) with me, and plan to post my exploits up on this space as they occur... or rather, shortly thereafter. In the meantime, however, I've got some packing to do. Now, where did I put that gas mask?