Friday, September 29, 2006

Geek joy

I've heard some rumors around that there was going to be a strategy game based on Halo. Those rumors have come to fruition with the announcemend of Halo Wars for the Xbox 360.
I have reservations about how well an RTS can be played on a console, but I know I will be playing it anyway. Because it's, you know, Halo.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Restoring manliness.

For the last couple weeks I've been driving - a lot - all big V6 and V8 vehicles. Today, for the first time in quite some time, I briefly drove our 5 cylinder Volvo wagon, replete with childseat and Spongebob Squarepants air freshner. As I told Jen afterward, I felt very un-manly.

To restore the balance, I figured I would have to butch up my ride home. I liberated a cigar I had left in the Volvo. When 5pm came, quittin time, I climbed into my big ass truck and fired up the 6.2 liter diesel V8, threw my leather jacket on the seat next to me, lit up my stogie, and drove off.

It was very manly. I think I get back man points just for writing that sentence. To get more manly, I would have to get Lee Marvin* riding shotgun or something.

*Yes, I am aware Lee Marvin is dead. One could substitute some other manly guy, like say Clint Eastwood; but Lee Marvin is the icon of manly. Long before he starred in The Dirty Dozen (the manliest movie of all time), he was a Marine and fought in the battle for Saipan. Manlier credentials simply don't exist.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Spokane weekend

Over the weekend, we drove across our beloved state to Spokane, to visit Jen's grandmother and aunt. Unfortunately, we didn't get to leave home until afternoon, so our actual visiting time was short. We spent way more time in the car than we did visiting, but oh was important we go visit them, no matter how short a time.

Since the Ella the Volvo is in the shop (regular maintenance - it still runs fine) and Big Dog just got out of the shop (and therefore is not trusted by Jen), we rented a car for the weekend. That is to say, we rented a ginormous SUV. Jen had reserved a "small SUV", but for no apparent reason they gave us a huge one - a Mercury Mountaineer.

Naturally, I being the biodiesel evangelizing, guilt-ridden environmentalist I am, I felt some definite pangs of guilt driving this gas-guzzling behemoth around. The thing has a big gas tank, big enough that it held enough fuel to make it all the way to Spokane without refueling. As a result, I had no idea what kind of mileage that monster was getting until we arrived in Spokane. I was surprised to find that it ran about 20mpg on the open road - just about 2mpg less than our Volvo. Now I feel doubly guilty, one for driving the kind of vehicle I normally deride, and two for the fact that one of our daily drivers gets pretty similar gas mileage.

I will say, the Mountaineer was incredibly comfortable and nice to drive, if a little boring. Sixty MPH felt like about 35 would in any other car.

The visit with Jen's grandmother and aunt was pleasant and relaxing, but short, so not much to say about that. They seem to be doing well and are looking forward to their new house being built.

Spokane was actually kind of nice. I've never heard much good about it. Usually it gets portrayed as some kind of white-trash, redneck haven, such as in the Twisted Tunes song (When you're down on your luck/And they repo your truck/Spokane). One thing I had to do before we left was find the giant Radio Flyer described in my "Roadtrip USA" book. I am a sucker for silly touristy things like this. Jen's aunt knew exactly what I was talking about, and told us it was in Riverfront Park, so we went there.

It's a nice, big park, full of pleasant attractions. There's the giant Radio Flyer (with a slide for a handle), a carousel built in 1909, and the Skyride. The Skyride is basically little gondolas that carry you over the river like a ski chair lift. I am afraid of heights (not ashamed to admit it) so the journey was a bit nerve-wracking for me. Not so for the boy - it was actually his idea to go on it. He begged to go on the Skyride, and he loved every minute of it.

A nice, but uneventful trip. Mattbear out.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Old stories: the Tropic of Cancer

Ok, this isn't an "old story" so much as a reminiscing, but you get the idea. Back in my fabulous Community College days, ol' Charley introduced me to this great little coffehouse that existed in downtown Everett then, called "The Tropic of Cancer".

The Tropic (as we call it) was a very beatnik/bohemian inspired coffeehouse. Soft, mismatched "vintage" furniture filled the place. An old chest sat in the corner filled with board games; one table had a backgammon board painted on it. Cool jazz played all the time. Coffee was served in those huge cups now so popular in cafes, like the one in So I Married an Axe Murderer that inspires the line, "Excuse me, miss, I think there's been a mistake - I believe I ordered the large cappucinno. Hello! It's like Campbell's cup-o-cinno." I always drank drip coffee, deriding those who preferred mochas or lattes as "coffee snobs". Oh how the times have changed. Famously, one friend, Aaron, ordered a cappucinno, even though he didn't know what one was. Half-way through his drink, he exclaimed, "Foam! I paid a buck and a half for a cup of foam!"
It's been a long time since you could get a large cappucinno for $1.50. I blame Starbucks.

The Tropic served delicious desserts made by the hoity-toity Passport restaurant next door. My favorite was the cognac chocolate torte. My sweet tooth pangs just thinking about it. (Passport's desserts and bread were so good, they spun off a bakery called Pavé, which Jen and I would later work at - along with Launchpad and Charley, briefly. We still go to Pavé when we're in Everett to get their wonderful bread and terrific deli sandwiches, and say "Hi" to the owners)

One of the things I loved about The Tropic was the sketchbooks. On many tables, there would be a sketchbook that people would write and draw in. They were very entertaining to look through and add your thoughts or drawings. One favorite I still remember for some reason: Along the top it says "Jesus in his College years". Drawing of Jesus holding a glass, he says "And now I'll turn this water into Schmidt." Cheers and yeehaws from the background.

Thursday nights at The Tropic were live jazz nights. It was a packed house every Thursday. I always loved jazz, so I frequently co-erced Jen and other friends into going. Music started at 7pm, if you weren't there by 6:30, you weren't getting a table. Many was the Thursday night we sat on the sill of the floor-to-ceiling windows, sipping our coffee and listening to the jazz play.

And one of the biggest attractions: Wendy, the owner. A young, gorgeous, blonde, neo-hippie/beatnik chick. She had hired other pretty young girls to work there as well, but none held a candle to her. Most all the male regulars (and some of the female ones) were madly in love with Wendy - myself included. Alas, she was married - to a Snohomish County Sherriff's deputy. We all thought it was odd, this liberal hippie chick married to a cop. The Man. And it made us envious, especially those of us who were Criminal Justice majors.

After awhile, Wendy started wearing out on the whole cafe thing (she worked a full-time job and ran The Tropic). She started changing things in ways the regulars didn't like - switched Jazz Night for improv comedy, quit serving food altogether, started selling the furniture as "antique" or "vintage". The regulars stopped going - us included - and eventually The Tropic closed its doors. We were sad to lose our beloved hang out, and have never found another cafe quite as cool as The Tropic of Cancer.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Giving Seattle a bad name

So-called "hipsters" get a bad rap from most of the Seattle crowd. I have no real opinion on them, as I am not sure I really even know what a "hipster" is. It's a label that seems to get thrown around a lot, but used on very different people. Regardless, there's apparently a new reason for them to get bashed: Mars Hill Church, a scary fundie cult centered on Capitol Hill.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh in calling them a "cult", but any organization that enforces backwards rules the rest of society has moved past (like "prescribed gender roles"), pushes reproduction to increase membership and further the message, and has group housing to help segregate it's members from outside influence - that stinks of cult to me. This could describe Catholicism too, to some degree, and I would say Catholicism has not outgrown its cult roots.

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of religion. But fundamentalists in particular really piss me off, no matter what religion you're talking about. These guys make me nauseous.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years

I imagine a lot of bloggers will have posts today remembering where they were and what they experienced five years ago today, and I'm not ashamed to be among them. Three may be the magic number for clovers and movies, but anniversaries seem always to be honored most on the fives.

When I was young, just about everytime the subject of JFK was brought up, my elders would discuss where they were that day. They could always remember it with a clarity unmatched by any other experience in their lives. I was mystified by this until the Challenger disaster. I remember to this day my father coming home and telling me about it (we didn't get to watch the launch on TV at school as so many other kids apparently did). I came to think of that day as my generation's JFK moment, if you will.

But then, five years ago today, the tragedy of the shuttle was eclipsed by the terrorist attack. I still remember the day of the shuttle explosion well, but 9/11 is the most serious, best-remembered news happening in my life.

That day marked six months to the day since my son had been born. I was on parental leave from work, at home taking care of the boy. At that time, my routine was based around his routine: I would wake early in the morning to feed and change him, would go back to sleep when he did, would wake again when he got hungry. Lazy days spent napping, feeding, changing, and burping. That day would be drastically different.

Jen called me early in the morning and woke me - it must have been about 7am. She heard on the radio on the way to work that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. This would have been just about an hour after it actually happened, details out here on the West Coast were still sketchy. I asked her what kind of plane, if it was an accident or an attack or what; she didn't know. She was just getting to work.

At the time, we had a TV but it was just for watching movies. We had no cable, not even rabbit ears, no TV reception at all. I immediately got online to find out what was happening. Many of the major news sites were down, their server load crushed by the number of people trying to hit them. I got most of the news that day from Slashdot and similar sources. Slowly, the truth began to unfold: two planes, one into each tower of the WTC, one into the Pentagon, another downed by passengers on the plane who fought hijackers.

Despite exhaustion from waking several times in the night to feed the baby, I stayed awake all day, refreshing pages, hitting new sites, and messaging friends. More facts came out, the death toll estimates rose and rose. I only left the computer to feed the boy or take care of other biological necessities.

I worried what the reaction in the U.S. would be like. I was concerned about a backlash against Muslims in this country, worried about violence toward innocent Muslims. My then brother-in-law is Muslim, has dark skin, but he's no terrorist. I worried that the Bush administration, whom I had already come to distrust, would use the attacks as an excuse to take away rights from the people and enforce more draconian laws.

I worried this would just be the start of a new wave of terrorist attacks in the U.S. and I worried about what kind of world I had just brought my son into. I worried we would go to war in the middle east, and I worried it might result in a draft.

Much of my worry was justified. There was some violence against "foreigners" in the weeks after the attacks, although most wound up being perpetrated on poor east Indians because the ignorant fucks who made these racist attacks don't know the difference between a Muslim and a Punjabi. Not that the Muslims deserved it either...I'm just saying these things were done by the worst and most ignorant of our countrymen.

The Bush administration railroaded through the Patriot Act, which I consider to be one of the worst legal precedents in my lifetime. The Patriot Act, the attitude of xenophobia and "you're with us or against us" that the President happily fostered, and other so-called "programs" of the "War on Terror" (such as the NSA warrantless wiretapping) pissed all over the First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments. Then Bush used 9/11 as a supporting reason to push us into this war with Iraq, which I feel is unjust and horrible for us as a nation.

I did, however, support the attack on Afghanistan. I am a peaceful man, I hate war. But I do understand that sometimes it is necessary. Attacking Afghanistan to remove the Taliban and hunt down the terrorists living under their protection was needed. I wish our government had done a better job of it, but I am glad they did something.

I'm sure today many will spend time thinking back on that day, and of the many people who lost their lives. The loss of the attack victims, their families, and for our country will never be forgotten. Nor will the heroism of the police, firefighters, and everyone else who helped in those tragedies, and that of our armed forces who went to fight the enemy on their own turf.

If you've read this far, thank you for putting up with my rambling, sad memorial. Mattbear out.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Bush & Specter's wiretapping bill gets shot down

Sen. Russ Feingold is now temporarily my new hero. Why? He has gotten a lot of the responsibility/praise for stopping a bill in committee pushed by The Shrub and Sen. Arlen Specter that would have made Bush's warrantless wiretap program legal.

"The president has basically said: I'll agree to let a court decide if I'm breaking the law if you pass a law first that says I'm not breaking the law," Feingold said. "That won't help re-establish a healthy respect for separation of powers. It will only make matters worse."

You go Russ. Thank you for trying to protect our rights.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A day of firsts....

Yesterday, the boy went to his first day of kindergarten. He's in the same montessori school we had in him for pre-school last year, so he was pretty comfortable with it.

It was also yesterday that he lost a baby tooth for the first time. This afforded me a first: I got to play "tooth fairy" for the first time. Right before I went to bed last night, I swapped out his tooth for a dollar's worth of quarters.

When I was a wee lad, I got a quarter for a tooth. Inflation is a bitch, but I figured the boy ought to get enough for his first tooth to be able to buy one of his beloved Hot Wheels cars.