I’ve been feeling like crap since about Sunday afternoon. My stomach and mouth can’t seem to agree on what constitutes a healthy meal. My ass keeps interrupting to weigh in with its own opinion.

My illness this week has led to some interesting challenges. I’ve been spending time on both sides of the sickness fence. On Monday, I stayed home and slept. The hour or so I spent in a status meeting that day were painful, as sitting upright made my nauseous meter go to full.

Since then, I’ve been heading to work with mixed success. I feel good. I feel bad. I feel in between. Yesterday, I made it down to a customer site only to spend half my time in the bathroom issuing lighting strikes that crackled through the nearby halls. Watch out.

Believe it or not, I have other things to discuss outside of a good, solid grip on the toilet seat.

Madden

Madden 2005 was released late last week and I haven’t bought it. This would be considered news, as it may mark the first time in about 10 years I have not purchased the game immediately after it was released. I’d say the issue was money but it’s also this. I’ve joined an online football league and I’m winning. Madden will have to wait.

While I’m on the subject …

Here’s another, more conservative, article about stem cell research and Kerry’s disingenuous use of it as an issue. He wants to lift the stem cell ban. That should be easy. No such ban exists.

DOOM!

I picked up a copy of Doom 3 the day it was released and I have to say I’m pretty happy with it. Most reviews have been pretty positive. Some haven’t been that enthusiastic.

I’m just pleased that they included an actual game along with some of the most impressive technology I’ve seen in a videogame. They took a couple parts Half-Life, a couple parts System Shock 2, and turned off the lights. I’ll have something to show off my PC while I wait for all the (sure to be) amazing user modifications to be released.

The Metro

I rode the DC metro to work yesterday and couldn’t help but think a bit about Spain and their absolutely awful reaction to terrorism. Of course, I did all that thinking before I got to the train. It didn’t really cross my mind once I was there. Good thing. There’s something about the metro and its underground tunnels that I enjoy. I’m sure that has something to do with the fact that I don’t have to ride it every day.

Baby Room, part 2

My wife keeps mentioning something about a baby that’s expected at our doorstep in the near future. I’m unsure of what she’s talking about but I’m feeling the pressure (and the knocks on the inside of her belly). Somehow she expects me to give up my computer room for our oldest child. That won’t be a problem. However, getting me off my ass to do so will.

And isn’t about time I stop talking about my ass?

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Subtle Twists

Aug 2, 2004

I noticed something about Canada during my recent visit. It’s a whole
different country. Some things are the same. The people look and
talk much the same (eh?), assuming your aren’t running off to Quebec. Cars
still drive on the right. Cows still moo and ducks still quack. But there
are all sorts of little things that throw you off.

First, there’s the whole metric system. I never really understood why
us Americans could never get jiggy with a world full of multiples of ten
but it’s interesting to hang out someplace that does. I used 3 kg bags of
ice to keep my beer cold. I had to keep a close eye on the inner circle of my
speedometer. We have 100 to go. Wow. That’s really far. Perhaps it’s in
kilometers? Did that feel like 100 km? How far is 100 km? Where is my
slide rule? Slow down. You are going 120!

Then there’s the money. American dollars and Canadian dollars have almost
nothing in common outside of the fact that they are currency.
It wasn’t the odd colors or exchange rates that tripped me up, however.
It was the use of coins for dollars. On my first full day in Canada, I
picked up beer for $35. I handed the cashier $30 in cash and got my $4
change in coins. Odd, I thought, as my head worked out both the monetary conversion and the worth of these loonies now lining my pockets.
My pockets jingled nearly the entire trip. Too bad I never found one of
these
quarters
. They are too cool.

Lastly, we have the beer, which was different in more ways than one.
While shopping, we couldn’t help but notice the huge amount of recycling
going on. Two guys pulled up in a truck bed filled three deep with cases
of bottles. I remarked to my brother-in-law, “They must own a restaurant.”
The woman pulling three cases of bottles from her trunk made me reconsider
that comment.

The store we entered didn’t have any beer on the shelves proper. Instead,
the walls were lined with empty bottles. Choose your poison, order from
the cashier, and watch the beer come flying out a conveyor belt. It seems
that there are some things we could learn from our Canadian neighbors.

And we quickly learned that the beer on those conveyor belts packed a much
greater punch than their American counterparts. Budweiser came in at 5%
alcohol and without its American aftertaste. Yum. I need to start importing
the stuff. Coors light, much to the chagrin of my brother-in-law, sported
a similar boost (up to 4% alcohol). I’d say it was fact I was on vacation
but that wasn’t it. Beer really did taste better around the campfire.

Still, things were much more the same than different. The subtle twists
gave the trip its own special flavor. We did travel to another country
even if, for the most part, America was just 3 miles and a barrel ride away.

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Niagara Falls

The Wootton family went to Canada. We’re back now. In fact, we’ve been back for a while now, our camping experience in Niagara Falls long since over. Don’t worry. Canada is no worse for wear. The moose still graze comfortably by the highway. The mounties can still find their horses.

The whole trip kind of snuck up on me. We didn’t decide to the head for the Falls until about two months before we actually hooked up the camper to leave. That left us just enough time pick a place to stay, search out our birth certificates so that we could not only leave the country but return, and juggle all the responsibilities of an extended vacation (like packing and picking up beer). Surprisingly, we found other willing participants for the trip. The brother-in-law and his family signed up. An additional camper would be coming with us.

Good Little Traveler
The trip to Niagara Falls was about as pleasant as a nine hour trip with an 18 month old child can be. Unlike when I was wandering the back seat for bread crumbs as a kid, Cambell is stuck in his seat, strapped in like a unwilling rollercoaster passenger. I sympathize with the kid. It’s tough to sit still for so long, particularly at an age when the world is so interesting. I’m happy to report that he was an absolute angel. He slept a lot, kept himself occupied while awake, and only resorted to crying just as we were pulling into the campground. He was even better for the trip home.

I should mention that I think we did a pretty good job planning the traveling part of the trip. Cambell ate while on the move so that when we did stop he could chase butterflies. Nothing is worse than sitting in the car forever and then sitting again to eat lunch. Walkie talkies kept the two vehicles navigating together and served as entertainment when times got boring. We discovered that one strength of having a camper around that has no need to pop up is that your bathroom is available whenever need be, something invaluable when you have a pregnant woman on the trip. I do think of my brother-in-law as more than the carrier of the toilet, I assure you, but I know my wife was relieved that both the toilet (and he) were there.

My impression of the falls themselves and Canada in general was almost universally positive. One of my biggest fears — that I’d stare at the falls for 15 minutes in wonder and then wonder what else there was to do — was unfounded. The Falls were an incredible sight. We visited them in one way or another nearly every day. When my 15 minutes were finally up, there was more than enough to do. Let me be your tour guide a little while and I’ll explain:

The Falls

No trip to Niagara Falls can be discussed without mentioning the Falls themselves. I wondered if such a long trip was worth it just to see a single thing. It was.

On the EdgeFor those who aren’t aware of this, Niagara Falls is not one waterfall but two separated by a thin stretch of land called Goat Island. The American Falls are impressive but the Canadian falls are where the action is at. The Canadian Falls, called the Horseshoe Falls, is what most people think of when they think about Niagara Falls. If you ever get a chance to go, visit the Canadian side of the border. Not only does that put you next to the more impressive of the two falls, it gives you a much better perspective to view the both of them.

Obviously, this is the attraction but don’t forget to spend some time there. Check out the river a bit, situated in a deep canyon. Check it out at night when they turn the lights on. Walk to the edge and look down at the drop. Grab a barrel and have some fun.

Tourist Trap

The area immediately around the Canadian side of the falls is the definition of a tourist trap. Noise blares from nearby haunted mansions. Lights blink from the surrounding arcades. It reminded me a little of downtown Tokyo, not that I’ve ever been to Japan.

Video screens and bright letters light up the street at night. The prices are too high. The attractions are a little too tailored to the average folk who is looking for ways to part with their money. I should say that the collection of chain restaurants were useful for eating (although the Rain Forest Cafe may want to turn their lights on; a real-life amazon night settled upon us as their power went out) and the outside free fall rides did provide amusement to both residents of the ground and sky alike. It’s not all bad but not particularly exciting either.

The Skylon Tower

Climbing the Skylon TowerThe Skylon Tower provides a bird’s view of the Falls. A meal in the tower gives you a nice, rotating view of the entire area. The meal itself, while rather expensive, was rather yummy. My chicken cordon blue was excellent and more than made up for fear laiden trip up the glass elevator. Me and heights don’t get along. Me and chicken, however, do.

The Whirlpool

Where is the whirlpool?I don’t know how much I can actually speak to this one since we didn’t see it up close but I was unimpressed. From afar, it didn’t look like much of a whirlpool to me, leaving us with little reason to see it from above while juggling a child in our lap. I pictured it a giant version of my bathroom tub draining away. I was dissapointed, even with the awesome view.

The Maid of the Mist

Maid of the Mist, American FallsA boat ride on the Maid of the Mist is almost a required journey when you visit the Falls. Don’t miss it. It may be the tourist attraction in the area but don’t let that deter you. Embrace your inner sightseer. Don the poncho and grab a seat on the second level, where no roof will obstruct your view.

The boat takes you directly to the base of both falls, actually settling within the horseshoe of Horseshoe Falls at one point. The ride gives you a couple of minutes to really appreciate the power of the falls. It’s the best view of them you are ever likely to get.

These stops barely scratch the surface of the available activities. There was a ton of other stuff to do. Helicopter rides, a journey behind the falls, and jet boat rides — enough left for another whole trip. That’s a good thing. One day we might return.

Note: The pictures above all sport larger versions. Click on them. You know you want to.

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Not so Quiet

Jul 16, 2004

Wow. Quiet was quite a good description. You can almost hear the crickets chirping in the distance as the tumbleweeds blow by my poor little saloon on the web. This space has been rather empty as of late. I’ve been gone, sometimes in mind and sometimes in body. Perhaps I should explain.

Let’s start with the body part:
I’ve been on vacation. During the week that crossed the boundary between the months of June and July, the Wootton family ventured to Canada. However, my retreat to another country lasted only a single week, not nearly long enough to explain my extended absence.

That leaves a lot of gaps. What did I do with the remaining time? Did I turn into an international man of mystery? Was I bitten by a radioactive spider, only to discover that I was suddenly a human sticky note? Had I climbed Everest? Had I suffered an emotional breakdown? As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

See, my vacation served as an interesting marker of intense activity. Work has been crushing my schedule and, in turn, any opportunity to write in this space.

I spent the week before vacation largely behind the glass of my office windows, feverishly typing away at my keyboard. Long days became long evenings. Long evenings became mornings.

While normally distressing, this type of workload makes me even more uncomfortable when smacked up against a vacation. My preoccupation with my occupation puts undue strain on the wife. She’s the one left to do all the little things that are required to ship a family of three on a week long vacation to a neighboring country. Glorious tasks such as taking the dog to the kennel, collecting food for the trip, packing, and heading to the city to grab birth certificates fall on her plate. I’m left with little time to help.

In turn, I miss out on some of the anticipation. Part of the fun of a vacation is counting down the days until you leave. Marking the calendar makes it feel like you have some place to go. You aren’t rushed out the door at the last minute.

Since returning from our neighbor in the North, my workload has not decreased in a significant way. There’s more work to do and I’ve been working on doing it. I can, however, see the light at the end of the tunnel. It shouldn’t be long before my schedule opens up. It shouldn’t be long before I get my change to decompress from my vacation.

I should mention that the fact that my vacation was sandwiched between two weeks of heavy work didn’t sully the experience at all. I worked, I played, and I worked again. It does, however, mean that my opportunity to blog about it has been delayed. I hope to rectify that in short order.

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Quiet

Jun 25, 2004

Things are going to be quiet around here for a couple weeks. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll have some things to talk about when I return. But, then again, probably not.

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Offensive Remarks

Jun 11, 2004

In today’s news, people can’t seem to keep their mouth shut. We have Jimmy Kimmel cracking a joke about Detroit in this corner. We have Larry Bird talking about race in basketball in the other. I’m not going to touch Bill Parcell’s comments, other than to say the “Pearl Harbor plays” might be a much better name.

Let’s start with Jimmy. My problem with the outrage caused by his comments about Detroit’s flair for celebrations is that I found them pretty funny.

“They’re going to burn the city of Detroit down if the Pistons win, and it’s not worth it.”

C’mon. It is. Isn’t it?

I’m not a fan of the man — an interview he did on my local radio station a while back didn’t sit well with me — but you have to give someone credit when they rip off a good one. It’s not like the joke isn’t based on fact. It is inappropriate and it is a little off color but that’s comedy for you. If all humor were prim and proper we wouldn’t have blond jokes. How could we survive without blond jokes?

Mr. Kimmel shouldn’t be surprised about the backlash caused by his comments – a Detroit affiliate yanked him off the air. That’s what happens when you pooch your chances at a national spotlight. That said, there are places outside of Michigan where a joke can be funny. His apology proves some of them may be from his home town of L.A.

“What I said about Pistons fans during halftime was a joke, nothing more. If I offended anyone I’m sorry,” he said. “Clearly, over the past 10 years, we in L.A. have taken a commanding lead in post-game riots. If the Lakers win, I plan to overturn my own car.”

Mr. Bird, it’s your turn. Let’s chat about race.

“I think it’s good for a fan base because, as we all know, the majority of the fans are white America. And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them a little excited.”

Magic Johnson, I should mention, didn’t shy away from basically agreeing as well.

“We need some more LBs — Larry Birds. … Larry Bird, you see, can go into any neighborhood. When you say ‘Larry Bird,’ black people know who he is, Hispanics, whites, and they give him the respect.”

Bird did, of course, catch some flak about this. But, in this case at least, people seem to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s a legitimate star and earned the right to speak his mind, particularly when he takes great pains to balance his comments about race. Oh, and he’s right.

Well, he’s right to a point. As Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated points out, members of an underrepresented group can make quite a splash in unfamiliar territory. Think Tiger Woods. Think Eminem.

I’m of the opinion that an important part of being a fan is the ability to fantasize about being on the court, field, or rink. I could do that better. I would have caught that ball. I would have made that basket. There are other factors, mind you, but race is a significant one.

Where Bird’s reasoning falls short is in the current game of basketball itself. If I want to see someone shoot less than 50%, I’ll pick up a ball myself. If I want to watch an 18 year old learn the game of basketball, I’ll go visit my local high school. The game is plodding at best and full of interruptions at worst. The pro game needs to match college game in terms of excitement and I haven’t even mentioned what it really lacks: stars.

I can’t say that a white Michael Jordon wouldn’t make me more interested in basketball. I’d bet it would. But I can say that the game needs some legitimate stars that rise above the others. Greatness has its own way of generating excitement about a sport, no matter the color, race, or creed.

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Unnecessary

Jun 9, 2004

A couple of scientists recently pointed out that the dirty bomb supposedly planned by a terrorist suspect would have been a complete failure. They then mention what he could have done to correct his mistakes. My response is typical. Shhhh. Let’s not read the how-to guides to them, gents.

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No Longer Cicada-free

Jun 4, 2004

For the record, the wife and I spotted two cicadas on our house earlier this week. This officially marks the end of my cicada-free lifestyle but, apparently, it also seems to mark the end of them.

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Cicada Freeville

May 24, 2004

The wife and I attended the annual Wine in the Woods a couple of weekends ago and we noticed that Brood X was just beginning to make themselves known. Shells were beginning to litter the trees as the restless insects streched their legs for the first time in 17 years. I returned home and inspected the tree in my backyard. No cicadas were found.

Shortly afterwards, I began to hear the serenade of the cicadas as I pulled up at work in the morning. I remember the first morning I heard them clearly. The weather was nice and the T-tops of my car were in the trunk. The spaceship landing behind the building made an impressive amount of noise. I returned home in the evening and listened for their mating calls. There was nothing to hear.

This weekend the wife, my child, and I attended the birthday party of a friend’s daughter in Howard County. A walk to their newly purchased swing set brought the crunches of shells under my feet. A sea of red eyes stared at me from the treetops. A multitude of shells cut Cambell’s playtime a touch short. I didn’t fancy him playing in a sea of bugs. I returned home anxious for their arrival. The woods nearby remain quiet. My trees remain bare.

At first, I was a little disappointed by this turn of events. In an odd sort of way, I’ve been looking forwards to seeing the little buggers. I’m a bit fascinated by the phenomenon. I remember their last visit faintly. The prospect of bugs (friendly bugs, mind you) on a biblical proportion sounded interesting.

But that’s begun to change (and not just because of the first hand experience I received at my friend’s home). I’m finding it strangely silly that I’ve seen literally zero cicadas at my house. It’s like there is some kind of protective basket around our neighborhood, shielding us from the plague that much of the neighboring counties are experiencing.

I go to the mall, I hear them rustling. I open the windows on the beltway and I can hear them calling. I come home and all is quiet.

I’m starting to think that Glen Burnie might want to place some advertisements in the Sun and maybe change their name over the summer months. “Tired of cicadas? We’re right next door.”

We’ve wondered about the cause. Our neighborhood was built in the seventies, so it couldn’t have been a recent turnover of the soil. We’ve joked about the possibilities, including scenarios with government officials walking around in white lap coats (Come to think of it, why does the mailman wear a radiation suit?). But I’m mostly perplexed. I’ve started to invite friends over just to offer proof.

Of course, we are braced for the inevitable. We don’t expect this string of luck to last. They’ll be by soon enough, more than happy to take over one of the last vestiges of the state. While it lasts, though, I’ll continue to think of it as a reverse theme park. In this case, the thrills are outside the gates.

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Short Jabs

May 19, 2004

This whole internet thing is a busy place. I’d like to capture all the interesting happenings around the web in a jar, like so many buzzing bees, and find the time to both form an opinion on them and write that opinion down. But, alas, that isn’t going to happen.

To compensate, I present a couple of short shots at some of the interesting things I’ve been reading about lately. Now, I’ve heard that doing this short form of communication is often called “blogging” but breaking all of this up into separate posts isn’t really my style (if, in fact, I have a style at all). I’m long-winded, even if I need to combine many short thoughts to form one longer, and likely incomprehensible, one.

So here it is, all in one big bunch, my short jabs of the week.

Just Desserts
This is incredibly disgusting as well as awfully stupid. That’s a perfect combination.

Kids
I love the quote that Hope, over at the Appalachia Amulni Association, left about children.

The hardest thing about having children? Its constant.

The rest of her day leaves me with something to look forward to. I know the wife will appreciate this one.

Talking Football
Shannon Sharpe will be leaving the football field for the broadcast booth. Oddly enough, he’s quite likely to make more money talking about football than playing football. I was fan of his during his two year tenure with the Ravens — his easy going style and flair for smack talk was never anything less than amusing — and even I didn’t appreciate the incredible career he’s had. His big mouth will one day be enshrined in Canton.

Say Something Good for a Change
At the bottom of yesterday’s Bleat, James Lileks chats about the positive aspects of the Iraq war, noting that we only hear about the negative.

The only news that hits the front page is bad news; the innumerable small fragments of good news donít make A1 because papers have their standards, you see. We are expected to repair Iraqís dilapidated electrical grid, so replacing an old generator and turning on the power to a neighborhood thatís had brown-outs for ten years is not news.

And he champions a possible solution, which includes a radio show he in which he participates.

Iíd also pump for the occasional story of heroism, but I suspect that this would make editors uncomfortable. It might be true but itís not . . . helpful. It would seem like cheerleading.

And we canít have that.

Well, I’d like to have that. Let’s get rid of one or two of the useless, rehashed interviews on CNN and replace them with something a touch inspirational. I’d guess that something positive is happening over there but you wouldn’t know it if you watched TV … or read the newspaper … or listened to the radio.

In the Stop Making Us Look Bad Department

This sign says it all, really.

Father’s Day
Now I don’t want to make a habit of begging for presents, but I absolutely love this shirt. It’s unapologetic, kind of like me.

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