Thursday, December 2, 2010

Snooze Fest

So I'm thinking my blog is pretty dry stuff. Seriously. I mean I can't compete with the likes of People Who. And I have no intention of turning this into some self-written autobiography or memoir. I think the problem is that I try to be too middle of the road and non-controversial and while I can be fairly funny in person (I hope), being funny in writing is hard! And honestly, I'm not looking to do some deep investigative reporting or analysis of the stock market for people to rely on.
So anyway, in keeping with really f'ing boring - I fixed the oven tonight. The igniter had died (it's a gas oven) and I ordered the part from Amazon (a LOT cheaper than directly from GE...$25 vs $99...go figure). This was a surprisingly easy repair to make taking all of about 20 mins plus time to get out tools and clean up. Here's a pic I asked my wife to take for the blog. At first she thought I wanted the pic for Facebook so I could post (like some people) every frickin' thing I do. No. I was merely thinking of you gentle reader (quick - where does that expression come from?). Point being that the vast majority of repairs we pay repairmen to do for a LOT more really cost very little both in time and money if we buck up and do it ourselves (plus I'm a cheap bastard). Now I didn't get an estimate for the repair, but I'm going to take a wild swing in the dark and guess it would have run me between $250-$300 to have a repairman come to the house and do it for me.

I've done a lot of repairs lately come to think of it. I had to replace the igniter in the wood pellet stove earlier this fall before it got cold out (it actually died last April and I hemmed and hawed about doing it all summer). That part was about $125 or so and admittedly a MAJOR pain in the ass to replace. Even if I had hands the size of a 6 year old it would've been difficult. Sheesh. And I rebuilt the walls in the downstairs shower after it was evident that there was a "problem" (to say the least). When I took the tile down, the greenboard someone had put up about 30 years ago was brown and black from water intrusion. Needless to say I used cement board when I rebuilt it. Tile work is actually pretty easy to do.

OK. So this IS turning into "story of my life". Sorry....sorry. My mistake. Apply brakes...HARD.

So let's take a look at what the rest of the world finds interesting...the envelope please...

So on Dec 2, 2010 the Hot Topics and Hot Searches as listed by Google Trends are proudly displayed for you in my shameless screen capture. Look, I'll admit to not exactly being a pop culture aficionado, but except for Chuck Norris, Natalie Portman and Linda Evans (really...a "Hot Search"...really?), I hadn't the faintest clue who any of the other people were until I clicked on the links. Felisa Wolfe-Simon discovered microbes that use arsenic instead of phosphorous in their metabolic cycle (which was thought impossible and thus opens a whole new realm of possibilities for life beyond earth); Ronnie Chasen, a murder suspect, killed himself, and poor Zahra Baker is the little handicapped NC girl whose remains were discovered recently after she'd gone missing (whose sad story will no doubt be exploited by the likes of People or Us magazines). And a lot of people looking for info on the Heat-Cavs game tonight as LeBron James goes back to Cleveland for the 1st time. He'll without question get a warm reception from his loving hometown fans. But seriously...Linda Evans? She was a looker back in the day (and for a woman of 68 she looks pretty ok), but what the heck is she doing as a Hot Search in Google?

 And we'll close with my long-running joke/obsession: Kim Kardashian. Seems she and her sisters (who, by the way AREN'T that Kourtney is ok but Klohe looks like a horse) started and then quickly backed out of a pre-paid debit card deal called the (wait for it...) "Kardashian Kard" (how klassy). It was about as well-received as a clown at a funeral as it was loaded with front-end, back-end and in-between charges. Until next time, stay balanced.


And I just threw in this link to buy typewriter ribbon for the hell of it. Never know when your laptop/i-Pad and printer are going to go belly up and you'll have to drag the old tappity-tap out of your parents' attic.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Avoid that Holiday Ass Fat....

So there's a lot going on in the next few weeks as we enter the Holiday Season. I'm mostly going to focus on keeping off those extra holiday pounds that seem to easily creep up on you as you have "just one more cookie".

Speaking of food, I met up with a bunch of my buddies the other night for beers and dinner at The Yardley Inn in (appropriately) Yardley, PA. I hadn't been there in years (my wife and I had our wedding dress rehearsal dinner there) and all five of us that met up were shocked at how packed the place was on a Monday night! If you've never been, I highly suggest it. Food is very good, reasonably priced, atmosphere is great although it's not really a place to bring your kids. Anyway, if you go when the weather is nice, be sure to arrive early to take a stroll down Main Street, along the Delaware River or D&R Canal - Yardley is simply a great small town.

On to other things.

If you have nothing better to do at 8 AM Thanksgiving morning and you want to have a guilt-free extra piece of pumpkin pie and raise money for a good cause, you can still sign up for the Trinity Church 3rd Annual 5k Turkey Trot through historic Princeton, NJ. For those of you that are USATF members, it's a USATF-certified run. If you want a quick video tour of the route take a look below. Enjoy the run and see you there, although don't look for me at the front of the pack...a gazelle I ain't.


 What else? It's that time of year when I undertake the annual Concept2 Holiday Challenge - that is, row 200,000 cumulative meters on the Concept2 ergometer from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. At first thought it may not seem like much, but then you realize it's 200 kilometers or about 125 miles (a little over 4 miles a day). This is the 6th or 7th year I've done this since it was started 10 years ago. If you have access to an erg, create an account on Concept2's website and start entering your workouts into your online logbook. Complete the Holiday Challenge and you'll receive a nice enameled pin in the mail in Jan/Feb and be eligible to buy a t-shirt. More than anything, it's a great way to ward off excess holiday weight. And lest I forget, for every meter you row, Concept2 will donate $0.02 to water protection efforts; row more than 100,000 m and each meter is worth $0.04! Lose weight and protect water at the same time...what could be better?

This past weekend was the Tough Mudder event here in NJ. If you've not heard of it before, let me say this: It's not for the faint of heart. a 7-12 mile run/obstacle course involving mud, water, and fire among other things. This is something right up my alley and I'm planning on attempting it next year and dragging a few of my friends along for the ride as well. Fingers crossed.

Now a shameless plug for one of the guys I had dinner with - if you want to get into shape or reach your maximum potential for next year's Turkey Trot, Holiday Challenge or Tough Mudder, visit Bob's website, Coach Kaehler. Bob is a 3x Olympian and 4x World Champion rower. Combined with his Masters in Physical Therapy from Columbia University, he has the first-hand, world-class practical experience and education to set you on the right path toward fitness.

If you're not brave enough to tear them away from their new toys and bundle the kids up Christmas morning to watch the annual re-enactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware, you can get a jump on it by attending the dress rehearsal Sunday December 12 from 11-3 at Washington Crossing State Park in PA with the crossing at approximately 1 PM. I've wanted to see this for a number of years and I'm finally getting around to it.

Oh...a couple more items. Do you know any guys (maybe yourself even?....nah) that takes his Fantasy Football League a little to seriously? If so, check out this very funny computer-generated douchebag extraordinaire video posted on my buddy Dave's blog The Savage Truth. But Dave, you need to get out more if she's a comely vixen. Dude...she's a computer cartoon even if she's supposed to be hot!

My idea of a comely vixen or something along those lines but not sure the word is meant for polite company is here in this pic of Kim bent over (let your imagination run wild).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

My father, Roman D. Horoszewski, Capt USAF, Vietnam Combat Veteran, Bronze Star

Very, very little we do in our lives matches the sacrifice and willingness to make the Ultimate Sacrifice our men and women in uniform make every day. Make sure you thank a veteran today for their service.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday!!!

Happy 1st Birthday! The Balanced Guy is now 1 year old...the blog that is, not the writer. On occasion of it's first birthday I thought I'd reflect on a bit of the past year as well as look ahead a bit. First some statistics for you: over the past year there have been 7,703 visits, 7,148 of them unique visitors hailing from 123 countries and all 50 states. There has been a steady increase in daily visitors and while TBG doesn't get the volume of traffic of does ok for a very small blog. Even manage to have a fair number of repeat visitors so at least there are a few intelligent people in the world that realize what I have to say is worthwhile; groundbreaking if I do so say so myself. Of course, a large number of visits have been prompted by having pics of and using as a key search word "Kim Kardashian". Very funny. Hey, whatever works to get 'em in the door, right? (and guess what? I'll use it again for this post since I mentioned her!...GOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!)

The blog itself has changed over the course of the year as I've searched for "my voice" (as it's called; or at least am in the process of finding it). I've definitely been posting less often the last few months as I found it too demanding with my other life commitments to get something out once a week. Although I'll admit that if I was generating significant revenue from advertising it would be a different story. but alas I'm not. For better-or-worse there's nothing dramatically exciting about a blog written by yet another middle-age guy about his life. I really need to come up with a better angle; maybe I'm not controversial enough.  Or maybe my writing essentially sucks and is boring. If nothing else, it's cathartic for me, so you'll just have to endure it. However, I like to think my readers (fans???) find solace in knowing there are actually other common-sense guys out there like themselves who take the time to write about it. For sure I know there are far more entertaining blogs out there, such as Dave Sheridan over at The Savage Truth.

Enough contemplating my navel.

The mid-term elections have come and gone. Really, quite a bunch of silliness this time around (but yes, I voted). I'll never understand politicians, their grandstanding, saying things they know to be patently untrue or bending the truth until it screams "Uncle!", and ripping apart their opponents instead of giving an honest accounting of themselves and specifics of what they intend to do if elected. More often than not it seems they see themselves as akin to the genie in the bottle - rub the bottle (elect them) and they'll grant your every wish. And they wonder why the average man-on-the-street doesn't trust politicians no matter if they are a donkey or an elephant? And at times I wonder about the electorate. If the average voter was on the board of a large company needing to hire a CEO or other senior executive, they'd be looking for the best people - hopefully even smarter and more competent than themselves. So why in the world do voters of all stripes often elect candidates who try so very hard to present themselves as "an average guy"? Look, call me crazy, but I don't want "an average guy" running this country or representing me in Congress or the Statehouse. I want better-than-average...a lot better. What is with our national obsession with demonizing experience, education and intelligence? Blows my mind.

In a crazy, complex world things aren't always black and white, right and wrong. There are always nuances. Yet this seems to escape the notice of many people...except you, gentle reader (as Ms. Manners would say). Take the age-old paradox about lying. Let me begin by stating that it's generally wrong to lie. Unfortunately there isn't exactly a bright line in even this most seemingly simply of matters. Here's the scenario to demonstrate: You are sitting in a restaurant when a man comes in with a gun and asks where your brother is because he is going to kill him. Now, you know that your brother happens to be in the back room having a private dinner with some business clients. So here's the dilemma: do you tell the truth and let the man know where your brother is thus getting him killed, or do you lie and say you don't know where he is at which point the armed man will walk out of the restaurant and your brother's life is spared? Only by lying does your brother live. Of course this is an extreme example but in a black and white world, extremes are irrelevant. It's yes or no. You might argue "well, it's only a white lie and it saved my brother's life" or "the end justified the means". True enough, but at that point you've opened wide the door to shades of grey and dimmed that bright line. If it holds true here, it then holds true in any just about any other situation.

I've mentioned the site before but it's worth mentioning again. If you want a pretty non-partisan, straight-dope analysis of world events, I highly suggest you take a peek at Stratfor. George Friedman and his staff do a fantastic job of pulling apart geopolitical issues and examining them in a no-nonsense manner. It's definitely a 50,000 foot view of things but in many cases it's helped me to understand the larger picture of world events and make sense of why the US or some other country did something without all the right/left, political BS muddying the waters. This week's free Geopolitical Weekly, The World Looks at Obama After the U.S. Midterm Election, is a great analysis of what Obama faces going forward with respect to the rest of the world. We also hear a lot in the news about Iran which is now increasingly important in light of Obama losing domestic policy power after the elections. Why important? While Congress can control domestic policy, foreign policy always lays firmly in presidential hands. Between the Aug 31 article, Rethinking American Options on Iran and September 14th's Elections and Obama's Foreign Policy Choices, Stratfor lays out a convincing argument for Obama looking to regain power by dealing with Iran. Let's watch and see what happens.

OK. On to more important things. What is Kim doing this week? Who cares?!! (As an aside - what a hell of a blog! Only here can you go from deep, philosophical questions regarding politics and ethics straight into gossip about it-girl Kim K. You're definitely getting your money's worth; and considering you're here for free...)
So here are the Top Ten Reasons I'm not Kim's latest boyfriend:
  1. I'm not rich
  2. I'm pretty sure she mostly dates black guys
  3. I'm not an NFL player
  4. I don't live in LA
  5. I'm not rich
  6. I've got three kids and don't think she's ready for that
  7. I'm not rich
  8. I might be a tad old for her
  9. I forgot to get in line for a number
  10. Most important - I'm already married.
I'm in the middle of rebuilding the shower in our downstairs bathroom. Actually not that bad of a job. While it's certainly not the first tiling job I've done, it is the first shower. Truth be told, I was a bit nervous since there is water involved, but after visiting a few websites to get the skinny, I came away with the one value to hold true to with showers: silicone caulk EVERYTHING. Oh yeah, and don't use greenboard. Only go with cement board. There is some professional disagreement online about whether to use a mastic or thinset for the tiles. Old school guys say only thinset since mastic softens when exposed to water. However, there are a number of newer mastics out there that purport to perform just fine as long as they are not submerged in water, thus shower walls are just fine.

Finally, am I reading or have I recently read anything worth hawking and putting up an Amazon ad for? Not really, but I did recently get a cool little weather station that our family really enjoys. Pretty nifty.

Until next time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Going old school and musing about online cr@p

Lately I've not been writing new posts very often; and when I do, they've tended to be on one topic and - for better or worse - slightly moralistic and definitely opinionated. But I guess given that this is MY blog, I can opine on whatever I damn well please. However, I think maybe I've gotten somewhat afield from where I started this blog nearly a year ago. However, writing like I originally started doing where I touched on a broad range of topics each go, was time-consuming and created a lot of self-imposed pressure to produce. However, it's been a while since I did the shotgun approach to topics so I'll go a bit old school this go around.

So. Um. Now I have to figure out sh*t to write. Damn. Chalk it up to writer's block or apathy. Name it what you will. I think part of my problem is that I've been purposefully staying offline and away from the web. It's a morass of brain-numbing crapola in large part. To be sure there is a tremendous amount of helpful and wonderful stuff online, but mostly I think the garbage far outweighs the gold (on which side of that equation this blog falls is entirely up to you). The other hard part is that it seems people spend a lot of time making the crap look really good and enticing while truly useful info tends to be pretty visually boring. For example: the website for People is fairly visually appealing; however I'm not sure how useful the info is other than pure entertainment (although we need to mentally relax from time-to-time). On the other hand, The Economist website, is clean looking but certainly not going to win a Webby Award for eye candy. And it seems the more base instincts a site appeals to, the easier they are to navigate...but then again, maybe there are other reasons why a porn site is easy to navigate one-handed.
Speaking of eye candy, I'm going back to one of my personal memes very early and dropping in the cover of the most recent copy of W Magazine with Kim K on it.   How does a photographer get a photo shoot like this?

Now where was I? What else is going on in the world? Oh. While I'm not a big fan of what has been going on at my alma mater the last few years with respect to Schiano and McCormick running roughshod over the rest of the athletic programs to the benefit of the football program, I still support the athletes. They don't make the politics. That being said, I'm saying my prayers for Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed from the neck down while making a tackle in a game against Army this past Saturday.

Oh hey, if you're looking for some easy reading with battle, guns, swords, good guys, bad guys, damsels in distress and the like, then look no further than the Sharpe Series by Bernard Cornwell. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Richard Sharpe comes up from the ranks (and the gutter) to become an officer in His Majesty's Army. Utterly predictable, they are nevertheless good clean fun...although with 21 books in the series, I'm wondering at the end of it all how many people Sharpe, ever the soldier, will have ended up killing. If you do undertake to read them, do so in the chronological order of the books, not the order in which they were published (Mr. Cornwell jumped around a bit as he decided to write about this battle or that one). Thus you'll want to start with Sharpe's Tiger. Enjoy!

One other book you should read if you have the chance is The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis. Just be prepared to keep picking your jaw up off the floor as you wonder why a bunch of Wall St types aren't in jail being someone's bee-otch.

OK, at this point I'm wrapping it up. Just not feeling terribly inspired and I do need to get something posted.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

With 3 boys and having been a Cub Scout Den Leader for 4 years, I like to think I have a pretty good handle on dealing with boys...and probably kids in general* but note the asterisk as the whole "girl thing" no doubt has subtleties of which I've woefully ignorant. But I do have a sister, so I'm hoping that helps a bit. This being said, I'll go out on a limb and claim to know what kids, especially boys, like. I can tick off a few pretty easily - Legos, toy guns (or anything that can be used as a toy gun, like a stick), video games, fire, cartoons, miscellaneous sports, and generally anything they're not supposed to touch (such as my tools).

It's the ones they are not supposed to touch that can be a bit dicey. Take, for instance, knives. We all know they are shiny and sharp - or should be sharp since a dull knife is far more dangerous than a sharp one (at least to yourself). So why in the world would you give one to an 8-year-old kid? Because, surprisingly, they are probably ready for it. "What!!??" you say (I can already hear the "helicopter parents" clambering to hurry their brood indoors and lawyers rushing to string me up). First and foremost - a pocket knife is a tool, not a weapon. I've carried one for years and it's come in handy more times than I can count. However I've yet to use it to shank someone.

I figure if as respected an institution as the Boy Scouts of America, which has been figuring out the "boy thing" for literally 100 years, is ok with 8-year-olds having pocket knives than you should be too. No joke. When they are in 3rd grade, Cub Scouts as part of their passage to earning the Bear Badge, can also earn the coveted "Whittling Chip" badge. Successful completion of its requirements earns them the right to carry a pocket knife at Scouting functions and events. The safety rules they have to learn and training they receive in handling and caring for a knife work very well as far as I've experienced. It's not as though you're handing out 10" military survival knives to the kids; I'm talking a basic Swiss Army or Boy Scout pocket knife. Nor completely unsupervised either.
I'll admit I probably have gotten almost as much pleasure presenting each of my sons with their first pocket knife as they got in receiving it. The way their eyes lit up you can tell they felt very important getting it. It shows you trust them, think they are growing up and creates a bond between you. Granted, as their parent, you have to carefully think about not only if you are comfortable with them having a pocket knife, but if they are ready for the responsibility. Clearly not all 8-year-olds are created alike. Nor are all parents - no doubt there are those who will claim the child might take the knife to school and be expelled, etc. However, this would be a failure of the parent, not the child. Clearly laying down the rules is critical and you even keeping the knife except in certain supervised situations is always an option.
Admittedly, by the time I was 8, I had a knife and BB gun, both of which I'd pack up with a lunch and take off with my friends to disappear for the day into the woods and fields near our house. We never got into any trouble, nor suffered any terrible injuries. It was a rite of passage as well as a relatively harmless way to learn about risk management.
Here are a few links about selecting an appropriate pocket knife for a child and knife safety for children:
And here's a Q&A forum where someone made a post about possibly getting a pocket knife for an 8-year-old girl. Personally I find the majority of the replies to be pretty paranoid; one of the responders won't even let their 13-year-old son have one.
And, in my opinion, the link below is a quite silly response on Yahoo Q&A about the appropriate age for a child to have a pocket knife. For some reason the "best answer" chosen was at no age since "...there is no need for a child to carry a weapon". I've carried a pocket knife for years and have never used it as a weapon. Make sure you click on the + sign next to "Other answers". At least it's nice to know there are other sensibly-minded people who recognize a pocket knife for what it is - a tool (a useful one at that), and anyone who thinks otherwise has obviously never carried one.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Run your kids ragged....and listen to Zeppelin

A complete lack of inspiration for a topic to write about this week has hit me so I'm going to "ramble on" (to quote mighty Zeppelin) in hopes that doing something -- anything -- is better than doing nothing. I suspect I'm not alone in this paucity of thought; at least I like to think it hits everyone from time-to-time. The question is "how do you get past it?"... 
...Long story short - I wrote a bunch of junk (which I deleted) before I came up with the following. Yes I had to scrap a lot but it wasn't wasted time as it got me to having this pretty great family activity idea to share with you. However reading what I wrote to get here would be like reading a tedious (and slightly schizophrenic) stream of consciousness ala Faulkner so I spared you that private hell. Read on...
As the weather starts to cool, here's a great idea for spending time with your kids and getting them outdoors. If they are much older than 11 or 12, this may not interest them. Two words - obstacle course. It's relatively easy to set up an age-appropriate obstacle course in your backyard for your kids to run through. It doesn't require expensive equipment or loads of prep time - in less than an hour you can plan it out (have your kids help!) and another hour or so to set it up and/or put together a few minor pieces of equipment (I usually make whatever I need). I've done this a number of times as a Cub Scout Den Leader and let me tell you - nothing gets 8 year old boys going like an obstacle course...especially if you tell them you want to see how fast they can go!
So here's what you do.
1) Plan for approximately 10 stations for them to run through against the clock. Here's a sample program for kids about 7-10 years old:
    1. Balance beam (about 5" off the ground - simply a 4x4 beam on feet to steady it)
    2. Jump rope 10x
    3. Soccer ball dribble through cones
    4. Frisbee toss at target (like a tree)
    5. "River" jump (set two lengths of rope 4'-5' apart parallel to each other; they have to jump over "the river" between the ropes; for even more excitement tell 'em it's lava)
    6. 10 yard crab walk (hopefully you remember this one)
    7. Up and over (let them scramble over something big like a picnic table; just be certain it's stable and cannot tip over).
    8. Rope swing - if you have a sizeable tree in your yard, tie a rope up in it and have 'em swing over yet another river or lava pit.
    9. Somersaults x 5 (make sure they don't drink too much bug juice beforehand!)
    10. Run backwards for 10 yards
2) Actually take the time to draw a scaled plan/map of your backyard and then lay out the course on paper. This is a great way to show your kids how maps work at a scale they can relate to (their backyard).
3) Following your plan, lay the course out in your backyard so that your kids can run through it safely and without having to navigate too many obstacles NOT part of the course (like guy wires on a tree or a bird bath). I find snaking it back and forth usually works better than trying to make a big circle. Don't forget to include a start and finish line!
4) Have your kids do some slow test runs to work out any kinks. You may also find that you want to rearrange the order of obstacles for better flow or to accommodate the layout of your yard.
5) Grab a stopwatch and have fun! Challenge them to run through it faster each time. Odds are as they familiarize themselves with it, they will indeed get faster and have a true sense of accomplishment. Or maybe one of the challenges is something they have trouble with at first, but figure out how to master.
There you have it. Pretty simple and you've probably got most of the stuff on-hand already. This is a sample course; you may want to come up with completely different challenges. Just don't forget to pick ones appropriate for your kids' ages and abilities as well as your yard. If you know your child has trouble with some particular physical skill, this is a great opportunity in the safe environment of their own backyard to work on it by creating an obstacle to help them develop that skill. However I do encourage you to challenge and stretch them just a bit - that's how kids learn and grow. A challenge that is easily accomplished is no challenge at all...nor any fun.
Enjoy and be safe!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting UN-wired

After a few billion years (give-or-take a half a billion), life has evolved on this planet sans digital technology. It's only been in the last 20 years computers have become ubiquitous and even far fewer that we've been carrying smartphones and Blackberries. So let me ask you - do you think our brains are more designed to deal with the pace of nature or electrons traveling at the speed of light? It seems more and more scientists are looking into what digital technology is doing to our brains and our attention spans, and what nature can do to bring us back into focus.
I'd already written a number of moons ago about the apparent benefits of getting children out into nature, as more and more children are growing up in front of screen and shunning the outdoors. But even those of us for whom childhood was largely electronic gadget-free are now showing symptoms of computer fatigue.
Call it serendipity, call it chance but just as I've taken to reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr, I came across the following NYT article discussing pretty much the same thing. Is our current 24/7 flood of information overloading a system crafted by Mother Nature and fine-tuned over countless generations to deal with a much slower pace and subtle clues? Sure, we have our fight-or-flight instincts to process and deal with sudden emergencies, but we are now having to handle a constant flood of new information, each touted as more important than the last keeping our stress levels unnaturally high. Is it any wonder then that in this day and age, there is a preponderance of drugs to treat problems like constipation, erectile dysfunction, and difficulty urinating, all conditions exacerbated by the fight-or-flight reaction? (in short - in an emergency our bodies shut down our digestive and reproductive systems in order to divert all resources to dealing with the immediate situation)
Wading back into The Shallows; it asks if our brains are literally wiring themselves differently (and in children, developing differently) in this age of sound bites, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook status updates, and clicking from one Web page to another after just a few seconds. Are we losing our ability to think deeply about important topics? I’ll admit, I’ve noticed my skills of concentration don’t seem to be what they used to be and I sometimes find myself skimming even short online articles so I can click through to the next link. And let’s be honest: You don’t become good at anything by doing it for 30 seconds at a clip.

I highly recommend you read Mr. Carr's book; it will make you rethink how much time you allow yourself and your kids to spend online (even if it means reading The Balanced Guy less often!)

In closing this thought, I've taken longer than usual to add to this blog while I've been taking a needed hiatus from the Net (mainly social networking). After more than two weeks away from Facebook and working to limit my other time online, I can honestly say I feel less stressed and less "needing" to check email et al. Why don't you give it a try and get unwired?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Captain America, Ice Cream, and Red-Blooded is that?

So the first images of Captain America (aka "Cap", "Wing Head") for the upcoming movie "Captain America: The First Avenger" (in theaters July 22, 2011) have been released at Comic-Con . I have to say for the most part I like it. A bit rougher and raw than his comic book costume (and a bit like the leather get-up worn by Daredevil in the 2003 film). However one thing I've always liked about Cap's gear are the wings on his head and they're missing here. No idea why I like them, but without them it just doesn't quite look like Cap. We'll see what happens when Cap shows up in the Avengers movie; maybe he'll get his wings back - given the that this happens a number of decades after his "creation" during WWII it's possible he'll have a different look (long story but he was injected with a "super soldier" serum and bombarded with "vitarays" which transformed him into a perfect human specimen...thus he doesn't age.)

The only "odd" thing about the casting of the movie is that Chris Evans has been cast in the part. Why odd? Because he also played the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies...if you're not in the know, Cap and the Fantastic Four are both part of the Marvel Comics universe. This caused a bit of a stir in the Marvel fan base. Such is life, and I think Chris will do the role justice. Honestly, if I were an actor it would be the one super hero role I'd want the most and be the most afraid to play - the character has literally been around since WWII, is pretty much universally loved by comic book fans, and is the embodiment of all that is good about America - those are some big shoes to fill.

I'm a self-admitted DIY kind of guy and have a workshop full of tools to back that claim up. Power tools and hand tools. No doubt power tools make a lot of mundane jobs quick and easy - I'd be lost without my cordless drill; I use it more as a screw gun than a drill and it makes putting in an taking out screws and bolts a cinch...I remember (not too fondly) helping my father put in and take out screws by hand when I was a kid. Ugh. However, there is a lot to be said about hand tools in certain situations and I've come to see them in a whole new light. I recently bought my first bench plane - not a high quality one as I simply wanted to explore what I can do with it. I'm already hooked and ready to spend some money on a better one. This past Christmas I received a high-end dovetail saw (and wrote about it in an earlier posting). I'd also love to have a set of wood carving tools.
The short of it is that hand tools are a pleasure to use, especially when they are high quality ones. That's the key. I've discussed this before - buying cheap tools is never worth the savings. You can find a fantastic selection of high-end tools at Lee Valley. Check it out.

If you’ve ever been a tinkerer, or you’re some kind of mechanical-electronics whiz kid, or you just like neat-o gadgets, you definitely need to check out

In a nutshell, hacker-modifier extraordinaire Kip Kedersha takes fairly common household items (often electronics) then shows you how to, via a short video clip, modify, hack, and combine them in unique ways that result in cool stuff. Like a Bic lighter turned into a laser lighter that lights fireworks and cigars. Kip also can save you a load of money by, for example, modifying a $5 flashlight to outperform a $95 high-end model. With a little bit of knowledge and some extra parts readily available at places like RadioShack, Kip does some pretty remarkable things. He’s also got a few pranks up his sleeve, of course. How about a calculator that talks to the user when they hit the = button? Or a stapler that squirts blood? Brilliant.

Two of the cooler hack-tricks? Jimmying a “single-use” digital camera so that you can use it again and again … for free (instead of paying the fee to retrieve your pictures only to toss it out). And the night-vision headset was sort of bad-ass, too, with the quality far better than most commercially available models.

Granted, most of the hacks require that you have some more-than-basic tools at your disposal and at least a rudimentary knowledge of electronics. For most of the projects, he provides parts lists (and links for where to get them) in addition to the videos, along with detailed directions. Personally, I think they it’s a great way to figure out how things work, and since the projects all result in fun gadgets, it’s also the perfect way to spend time with your kids while you both learn.

I’m thinking my first attempt will be the modified flashlight. I’ll let you know how it goes.

It’s summer and it’s been hot, hot, HOT here in New Jersey. Like record-breaking hot. What’s a person to do to cool off other than languish in front of the air conditioner or soak in a pool till your fingers and toes become prune-like? I’ve got a sweet idea—ice cream! And not just grocery store schlock, but some of the best darn ice cream in the country. You heard me: Not just the best in the area or the state but…

The. Best. In. The. Country.

A recent ranking of the top ten best ice cream purveyors in the country gives Jersey not one but two of the coveted spots on the list (the only state with two on the list, in fact). And guess what else? One of those places is practically in our backyard, in Princeton right on Nassau Street. If you haven’t guessed by now it’s (drumroll, please) none other than Thomas Sweet, home of the blend-in and various other frozen confections.

Now, I’ve been going to Thomas Sweet since I was in college, so I’ve always known how good it is; but it gives me great pleasure that others beyond Central Jersey will find out soon, too. And with this nationally published ranking, I’m going to guess that it might get a tad busy over there on Nassau Street, especially on Friday and Saturday nights in the summer. So, you might think about heading out to the Thomas Sweet CafĂ© in Montgomery off of Route 206 North, or if you don’t mind a bit of a drive, there’s a Thomas Sweet on Easton Avenue in New Brunswick, about a block from the Old Queens building at Rutgers College (yeah, I know; technically there’s no longer a Rutgers College, per se; just a Rutgers University, but old habits die hard and I haven’t completely bought into that whole name-switch thing).

And what about that other top-ten New Jersey ice cream parlor? It’s Springer’s Homemade Ice Cream in Stone Harbor.

Regardless of your current locale, grab the family one of these hot nights and head on over for a sweet treat to beat the heat. this point the joke has been going on so long I have to continue with it so here she is...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Larissa vs. Kim, Trends and Bread Clips...

Well, 50% of the world's population is breathing a sigh of relief as Larissa Riquelme, the lingerie model from Paraguay, has announced she will run nude through the streets of Asuncion despite her home country being knocked out of the World Cup. She made this decision to give "a present" to those hard-working players who brought pride and recognition to her country. Umm...honestly, I think Ms. Riquelme brought more recognition to her country than the national futball team.
For those of you not in the know, she had pledged to run clad only in body paint the colors of the Paraguayan flag if the team won the World Cup. Upon that announcement, in addition to a world-wide drop in Viagra sales, Paraguay suddenly had pretty much the support of any man from any country knocked out of contention...and probably quite a bit of support (even if in secret) from fans whose team was still in the hunt. I can guarantee this will be a historic run, thoroughly documented by the media with the particular photo assignment being eagerly sought after by sports photographers the world over...and just about any other guy even remotely involved in media. Suddenly the lowly photographer at Sports Illustrated who has covered South American sports in backwater towns for years while suffering the teasing of his colleagues assigned to "more prestigious" assignments like the NFL Combine now has most coveted job in sports.

As usual, visit Dave over at The Savage Truth for better sports analysis and better jokes.
Your Ride: Using that amazing thing called Google, I saved at least $500 if not closer to $1000 on car repair bills. Here's the deal - the AC in my Volvo would stop blowing cold air after 15 minutes or so. If I turned if off for about 10 minutes or more, it would blow cold again for a while before stopping again. Puzzling. When I had the car in the shop for routine maintenance, I asked them to look into it but they couldn't duplicate the problem (and pretty much treated me like I was an idiot with questions like "Did you have the AC turned on?"). 
By visiting a few online forums like Volvospeed and Volvoforum I determined this was actually not an uncommon problem. After reading through a number of the postings, I narrowed my problem down to being that the AC compressor clutch was starting to wear down and the gap to engage too big. Solution: shim it. Recommended method to shim it? Use bread bag plastic clips and Super joke!! It took about 10 minutes to fix and now my car AC works perfectly...critically important since it's been over 100 degrees these past few days here in Jersey! Lesson learned? Before taking your car in for potentially expensive repairs, poke around on the web to learn what you can about the problem (especially on owner-forums), and determine if there is an easy and inexpensive way to DIY.
Trends: Speaking of Google, if for no other reason than being bored check out Google Trends. You can type in search words or terms to see how often they are being looked for, even comparing them against other words. There's also a listing of the Top Ten Trends and Searches on Google - some interesting stuff sometimes! For example, type in aforementioned model, "Larissa Riquelme" a comma and then "Kim Kardashian" and you can see that the very attractive Ms. Riquelme was not on the radar until June 14 of this year then suddenly shot up on June 28 (while Kim has held relatively steady for about 3 years), out-stripping (pun definitely intended) searches for Kim due to her announcement of a clothing-free run. The letters indicate news stories about the topic in question, listed to the right of the graph. Below there is additional info on the search term - what country, city and language for which the term was most popular. For Ms. Riquelme, not surprisingly the highest number of searches come from her home country of Paraguay, but oddly enough the language with the most searchers was not Spanish but Korean! For more mundane topics, there is often seasonality such as "Tour de France" in July, "pie" around Thanksgiving and, oddly enough, the searches for "weddings" literally spikes the day after Christmas year-after-year (guess what she got for Christmas).
Le Tour: It's been an exciting first few days of le Tour de France thus far with a seemingly excessive amount of crashes and riders out of the race already (note: anyone who thinks bike racing is for wimps should check out the crashes and the resulting blood and broken bones). On the second day of racing, after nearly 223 km (138 miles) of riding there were three major crashes inside the last 3 km, one of which blocked the narrow road entirely and brought the peleton (the main body of riders) to a complete stop! In the GC (General Classification aka Yellow Jersey aka Maillot Jaune) standings there are a few surprises at this point although Contador looks well-placed going into the Alps in a few days when Stage 7 begins. Lance is a bit further back after suffering from two punctures on the tricky cobblestone stage. Probably the biggest shocker thus far is the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, being in 36th place in the Points Standings for the best sprinter. He's figured as a major factor for the Maillot Vert (Green Jersey) but has so far been rendered impotent while his main competition, Thor Hushovd, leads in Points with 80 total to Cavendish's 15. Stay tuned!
Guy Books - Are you guys looking for good beach-reading material this summer? I've got some for you. Normally my wife (and sometimes the kids too!) likes to gently tease me about my usual reading selections and their general lack of excitement...such as Understanding Wood, The Intelligent Investor, The Handplane Book, and other such non-fiction fare. However I do have one favorite fiction author who writes action-packed historical fiction. Meet (if you aren't already familiar with him) Bernard Cornwell, one of the most prolific writers out there. For the most part he writes series - which is great since I have always enjoyed his books so much I want more of the characters - with my favorite to date being The Saxon Stories. Five books (and counting) written in the first person, the series follows the life of Uhtred, a warrior in 9th century Saxon Britain/England (or what will one day become England). Many of the characters portrayed are figures known to history and the larger framework of the books follows historical events. So if you're up for page-turning adventures back and forth across the landscape, mighty battles, definite bad guys (more often-than-not a demonic member of the clergy), switching allegiances as necessary, comely women, drunken victory's all there.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bike Races, Fireballs, 4th of July, Kim in Wax...and traffic from California (??!!)

Haven't figured out why, but my site is getting an inordinate amount of traffic from California. Certainly not complaining! Just leaves me scratching my head, especially since it's fairly evenly distributed around the state with a slight clustering in the LA area. So if you're in CA, drop me a line at and tell me how you landed here. Small aside - if you have a website but don't use Google Analytics, you really should if you want to track visits to your site and just about any other metric you can think of.

On a related note, you may have noticed in the last couple of months, any books I discuss (and other items) are now accompanied not only but a pic of the cover but a link to the item on Amazon so you can click through and buy it. Had my first commission from Amazon recently from a book I recommended, Enough by John Bogle. I don't think I'll be retiring just yet...however that $0.28 is a start! 

Fourth of July - Summer is full-upon us with the Fourth of July weekend in a couple of days. Due to the tough economy many localities have canceled fireworks displays; sad but if it means keeping a few more cops on the beat or teachers in the classroom I'm all for it. However, there are still fireworks shows to be found; here is a partial listing of where to find displays around the country:
USA (another list)
Dallas region
Disney World (Florida)
Los Angeles area (since I'm getting a lot of traffic from there!)
 Tour De France - This weekend also starts one of the great annual athletic and spectator events of the world, the Tour de France - otherwise known as "Le Tour". This year marks Lance Armstrong's finale in the sport (or so he claims...for the second time), but at nearly 39 years old, he's got to be nearing the end of his ability to win despite his otherworldly cardiovascular system. Look for a major battle between Armstrong and Alberto Contador (winner in 2009 and 2007 and Lance's former teammate).

With 21 stages, including the Prologue, taking the cyclists along speedy flats, rolling hills, and lung-burning, leg-searing, unbelievably steep Alpine roads, it's a true test of endurance with only two rest days along the way. It winds its way across France (and this year the Netherlands), totaling a mind-numbing 2,263 miles in length (that's further than riding your bike from Atlanta to top only three weeks).

Some people might find the sport a bit mystifying or even boring. What can be so exciting about watching a bunch of skinny guys ride bikes? The same might be said of baseball - what's so exciting about watching a bunch of (sometimes) fat guys stand around watching another guy hit a ball? Here's the catch - they both can be likened to a game of chess, requiring strategy, cunning, skill, and an ability to read not only the current situation but see several steps ahead. Le Tour offers the viewer wild crashes, crazy sprint finishes, white-knuckle mountain road descents, drama, and amazing feats of endurance and gamesmanship. Not only that but there are few other world-class sporting events (if any) where the spectators can literally reach out and touch the athletes. Add to all this the spectacular scenery of the French countryside and you have a recipe for great viewing.
Here's the link to the official Tour website and here is my favorite website from Yahoo-EuroSport for following le Tour during its annual three-week run. The Eurosport site provides not only great coverage but a fantastic real-time race follower (should you be trapped in the office or away from Versus television channel). While there are other Tour-like races such as the Giro d'Italia (Italy) and the Vuelta a Espana (Spain), le Tour c'est le Roi (the King)!

In a very small nutshell, here's the gig (if you want a better primer that explains not only the rules but the history and strategies try Tour de France for Dummies) - it's a team sport with 22 invited teams, each with 9 riders (no substitutions allowed). The big, obvious goal is to win the entire freakin' thing, earning the top rider the Maillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey - yellow because that's the color of the newsprint the original sponsor of the tour, the newspaper, L'Auto, was printed on...they think. Same reason the winner of the Giro d'Italia wins a pink jersey - the sponsor's paper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, is printed on pink paper). Each team has a leader who is generally expected to compete to wear the yellow at the end with the other 8 riders supporting him along the way. You win by having the lowest cumulative elapsed time for all the stages. That's the ultra-simplified version.
Of course there are other jerseys and awards besides the yellow jersey: the green jersey for the best sprinter (determined by winning points at various intermediate sprints along each stage as well as at the end of stages, the polka-dot jersey for the King of the Mountains (the best climber), the white jersey for the best young rider (under 26), the most combative rider (the rider who brought the most excitement to the race the previous day), the team prize (awarded by adding the times for each teams best three riders each day; lowest cumulative total at the end wins) and finally, Lanterne Rouge (red light) for the rider with the overall slowest time. However, given the extreme difficulty in actually finishing the race, this is not wholly a bad award and all the riders completing le Tour pay respects to the man awarded la Lanterne Rouge.

On any given day, depending on the standings, the weather, what day on le Tour it is (a factor with respect to endurance), and what type of stage (mountains, flat, time trial, etc) you can expect to see different cyclists taking center stage. If it's a sprint day expect to see the sprinters - guys like Cavendish, Hushovd, McEwen, and Boonan - featured front and center. Sprint finishes can be pretty exciting to watch. If a mountain stage, look for riders like Contador, Fedrigo and Martinez as they push their bikes at unreal speeds up slopes you might want climbing gear to get up. This year there is only one time trial, an individual one, set for the 19th stage. Given the next day (the final, 20th stage) is usually nothing more than a ceremonial victory ride into Paris for the winner, having a time trial the day before could prove to be high drama if the race is still close at this late stage, especially if it's raining.

So if you've not ever watched le Tour, I highly recommend you do this year (it's broadcast live in the US on Versus - formerly Outdoor Life Network). The excitement builds over the three weeks of competition and you'll witness one of the greatest sporting events in the world.

Star Gazing - I recently took my Cub Scout Den Star Gazing - well actually more like moon gazing since the night I had planned was the evening before a full moon. Luckily I thought about the lunar calendar a week or so ahead of time, then checked my family's summer schedule and realized it was pretty much that night or not since two weeks later during the new moon we would be out of town. Then we'd have to wait another full month until the next new moon.

Anyway, it turned out to be just fine since I have a telescope and turned it into a night of moon gazing instead. Most of the boys (and their parents) had never looked at the moon through a telescope. That night they were able to see mountains and craters as well as identify features shown on the moon maps I had printed out. Mars was also out that night and they got a chance to see it, although through my telescope it just looks like an orange circle. Due to the nearly full moon and relatively early hour after sunset, few stars were visible except for the brightest ones. Not surprisingly, most of the 8-year-old boys did not know even the most basic constellations; more surprisingly, most of the parents didn't know the major constellations visible. Nevertheless, everyone enjoyed learning how to locate and identify the Big Dipper and North Star.

If you've never been star gazing, I highly recommend you do. You can find a listing of top-notch star gazing locations here. A few things have to line up in order to make the most of it: the night (or a day or two either side) of a new moon, no clouds, and be far enough away from light pollution. Visit to print out a star chart for the correct month (in the northern hemisphere), bring a compass along to get your bearings and a red-light flashlight to read your star chart. Make sure you DO NOT use a regular flashlight; the white light will really screw up your night vision. You need to be outside in the dark for 20-30 minutes before you really are able to see well at night and any white light will set you back.
If you take the time to allow your eyes to adjust to being in the dark, lay back on a blanket (put on bug spray!), and then find the easy stars and constellations, pretty soon you'll be able to identify the more obscure ones or even find your Zodiac sign (if it's out that time of year). No doubt, if you watch the heavens for more than 15-20 minutes you'll also see a shooting star or two. I've spent many nights outside looking at the stars and so have seen countless meteors over the years (even two fireballs), and I'm always surprised when people tell me they've never seen one because they're actually fairly common.

Wax Museums - I've never had much interest in visiting Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, but now that Kim Kardashian is being memorialized in wax...nah...just not the same. Nevertheless, it's true..odd but true. Wonder if she'll be too hot and the wax will melt...?