Draft Day

Apr 21, 2005

The NFL Draft is this Saturday and, besides being one of the most drawn out and boring televised events of the year, it does conclude all the fun speculation and rumors, that I follow this time of year.

I won’t be watching — I’m really only interested in the draft picks that have either the Ravens or Cowboys names attached — but I will check in occasionally. I’ll poke my head around the corner to see if the Ravens grabbed a receiver in the first round. I’ll check the list of scrolling names in the later rounds to see if they went for offense or defense. But these little bits of information hardly require my rapt attention. EA will ensure that my TIVO has some work for the first hour. After that, it’s a crapshoot, much like the draft itself.

In any case, if you need something to get you in the mood, I found that CNNSI’s photo gallery of NFL draft busts and steals does the trick. You can almost feel the dice heating up.

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Tax season is pretty wonderful, provided you are getting a return. If you don’t, well it sucks. Trust me.

Thankfully, the wife and I fall into the former group. Like a lot of folks, a good chunk of this money was earmarked for various expenses long before the government was kind enough to return a small portion of our earnings. For example, a good portion of this year’s return went toward our home equity loan, meaning, among other things, that the camper we purchased about a year ago is now paid off.

While that fact fills me with glee and I’m anxious to get that particular loan number closer to zero, the wife and I have been building a list of smaller things around the house that are in desperate need for an upgrade. We’re hoping to use some of this cash to work on our personal “to do” list, a list that seems to do nothing but get longer and longer. Here’s what’s currently in our plans and, in some cases, already in place.

Replace the Shower Towels

The wife and I had never purchased a set of showers towels for ourselves up until a weekend or so ago, when we corrected this oversight. Our previous stock of towels were made up of castoffs from our parents and the occasional Christmas present. Some of our towels were tattered to the point that the only person in the house with no right to complain about their use was the dog. Some did a better job impersonating a wash cloth due to their small size, lack of girth, or combination of the two.

Their replacements are purposely big and fluffy due to my desire to make up for lost time. The price tag of their replacements gave me a reminder of why it took so long for us to make this purchase in the first place.

Get a Decent Bedroom Curtain

I’ve never considered my wife and I exhibitionists but you wouldn’t know that from our bedroom curtain. Somewhere along the line it got replaced with a fabric that should have the word “sheer” somewhere in its title. A brief quest to purchase an affordable set of blinds that fit the dimensions of our bedroom window was abandoned almost a year ago, with no replacement in view.

What I’m looking for is a fabric that can block both the sun and any spying eyes that might glimpse any of our nighttime activities. Some fancy curtain rods that fit the style of our relatively new bedroom furniture would be a nice complimentary upgrade as well. It will be nice to wake up in the morning without a bright reminder of just how lazy I am.

Replace the Back Door Light

Not long after I replaced the porch light of our house, the light that hangs just above the our basement door went on the fritz. It died completely, leaving bits of its final light bulb embedded in itself for good measure.

The porch light required an upgrade because it was a piece of junk. You needed to physically remove the entire mechanism from the house to change the light bulb. It’s replacement allows you to change it from the bottom without ever turning a screw, lowering the time it takes me to replace a blown bulb from a month to merely weeks. It’s high time I do the same for the back door. Lowe’s had a sale on this particular light fixture about six months ago. Surprisingly, this past weekend, I caught that same sale again.

Rest Comfortably

The bed that the wife and I currently rest our bodies on in the evening is not aging gracefully. The box spring is broken on one of the bottom corners. The wood is broken clean through. Last week, the wife noticed that one of the springs had popped through the mattress to say hello. It’s eight years of service are appreciated. It will soon rest in peace.

The bad part of this purchase is that it really can’t be considered small at all. Beds are expensive, expensive enough that salesmen are hired specifically for the purpose of selling this one item. Because of this, I’m not looking forward to the process of purchasing a new bed. However, I am happy about the idea of having less of these to sleep with. Eww.

Fix the Spigot

Our previous faucet in the kitchen leaked from its base. This probably had something it being asked to force water through a faucet mounted water filter we purchased a couple of years or so ago. This behavior used to be limited to the use of said water filter. This is no longer the case.

It’s replacement, a shiny new faucet that is one of the few items in our kitchen not made in the seventies, is complemented by an under the sink water filtration system. The act of its replacement is about as close to actual plumbing as I’ll come in a long while.

That should do a pretty good job of draining the old bank account of our funds, that were the government’s funds, that are our funds again. If not, I’ll have to get a new computer. Oh, I already did.

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Two and Two

Feb 10, 2005

Two and TwoIn the evening, I often find myself stopping my current activity to check on the kids. It’s a pretty natural motion and one I’ve been doing with regularity for a couple of years now. I sneak into their rooms and assure myself that everything is ok. That sound from the baby monitor was just the house settling. That bump on the ceiling was just the cat.

And sometimes, while replacing Cambell’s blanket for the third time
or placing my hand upon chest of our new little one to ensure that his quiet sleeping is just that, a realization hits me: I have kids. To be more specific, I have multiple kids. Plural.

It’s an interesting sensation, part fear and part adulthood, among other things. I truly feel blessed; I never forget that they are due to wake up. Soon.

Cambell, the elder, recently celebrated his second birthday. He has officially entered the terrible twos, although I’d argue he’s taking the transisition better than most. We need to watch him with the chalk, bedtime is more of an event than a scheduled time, and the wife just yelled upstairs to inquire about mysterious noises echoing down the steps but, from all accounts, we’ve gotten off pretty easy.

Two, I think, is the official age when your child starts to become a person. Communication is less of a chore. Poo poo and pee pee occasionally find their way into the potty. Toys are less momentary distractions than actual playthings. It’s an amazing age where experimentation abounds. The world is all about discovery.

His budding use of language is fascinating to witness. Trips to the store with the wife result in the chant of “Wait for ME!” chasing me through the aisles. After searching the house for his milk this morning, Cambell chimed in to help, “It’s in the kitchen, inside the truck.” Leaving the house gets me a heartwarming “I love you TOO.”

Two months, on the other hand, is all about becoming a child of your own. In the past, I’ve gotten in trouble with the wife for referring to newborns as “it”. My reasoning is simple. Until you can tell by inspection, it seems fitting, even though the parents of said child aren’t likely to agree.

Two months, I think, is the age where a child transitions from “it” to him or her, not that there was ever any doubt with Chase. His big tuft of hair left little doubt to his possession of a penis and, for the record, I’ll admit that being his parent makes the prospect of identification that much easier.

He’s smiling now. Chase has a real attention span. He likes things, like watching the mobile above his bed or watching daddy’s impression of a horse. His cries, while still being a slight source of mystery, are more directed, more readable. Most of all, he sleeps through most of the night, almost assuredly helping with his parents clarity of mind. I don’t know that I can discount the effects of extra sleep when trying to discern your beautiful child from a screaming poop machine.

From a parent’s perspective, it’s an exciting, and often exhausting, time. You chase one around the dining room table. You burp the other on your shoulder. One becomes a child before your eyes as the other becomes a kid wrapped around your ankles. Parenthood settles in. Two at a time, I think to myself, both too much and too little.

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God and Football

Feb 9, 2005

Greg Easterbrook, in his always entertaining Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, had something interesting to say about God and His reaction to the results of last week’s Super Bowl. (Scroll down until you see the heading “The Nielsen Ratings Service Was Unable to Determine Whether God Watched the Super Bowl.”) Specifically, he takes a minute to refute Terrell Owens’ claims that God took an interest in whether or not good old T.O. appeared in the big game.

In a column that takes on all manner of subjects, from cheer-babes to the calorie content of chocolate mousse, the issue of religion in sports is addressed with a touch of perspective and more than a touch of panache. First up, T.O.

Whether God intervenes in daily life is a complicated question in theology. But supposing there is divine influence in events, God help us, as it were, if it’s used up on touchdown passes.

He then tackles the general practice of praising God after a victory, questioning — and I think rightly so — the intent or purpose of such a remark.

When an athlete says God helped him win a game, he’s saying that in a world of poverty, inequality and war, the Maker believes the athlete’s touchdown or interception was more important, and thus worthy of divine intervention, than the active suffering or quiet unhappiness of billions of human beings.

Thankfully, Mr. Easterbrook allows for the fact — and, again, rightly so — that a lot of altheletes are sincere, perhaps attempting to express humility in the only way they know how. More interesting, maybe only to me, in this discussion of a line that might be crossed is the line itself. I never really considered it.

Easterbrook also offers some suggestions to help clear things up. With apologies to the author, I hope he doesn’t mind if I reprint what I believe to be his best suggestion, a replacement for the typical victory prayer reserved for the locker room before the game. I’d hate to have resort to plumbing the internet archives to scape up this bit of wisdom whenever the time comes to hand my sons a pair of cleats.

God, let me play well but fairly.
Let competition make me strong but never hostile.
Forbid me to rejoice in the adversity of others.
See me not when I am cheered, but when I bend to help my opponent up.
If I know victory, allow me to be happy;
if I am denied, keep me from envy.
Remind me that sports are just games.
Help me to learn something that matters once the game is over.
And if through athletics I set an example, let it be a good one.

When you are done reading about God, keep reading. There’s plenty of other stuff in there. For example, who thought that The Los Angeles Angels made the term “con queso cheese” seem almost legible in comparison?

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To the Point

Feb 3, 2005

UweBoll.com is one of the funniest web sites I’ve seen a while. Short really can be sweet.

(Background: For those who don’t know (probably all of you), Uwe Boll is a director who is quickly becoming famous for taking good licenses and making absolutely horrible movies about them. He’s recently turned his attention to the games industry, creating a movies like Alone in the Dark, that have nothing to do with the source material. Go to the link again. Funny now, isn’t it? No? Well, it is to me.)

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Jan 28, 2005

I seem to be spending a lot of time these days downloading software
from Google’s website. Considering the fact that I was only faintly
aware that Google even produced desktop software until just recently,
I’m surprised to find not one but three pieces of Google branded software on my hard drive.

It all started with Google’s desktop search program. I kind of came across it by accident a while ago, somehow missing all the commotion surrounding desktop search tools. Microsoft, Yahoo, and others have since entered the fray but I haven’t found either the time or desire to check out other offerings.

As for Google’s tool, I’ve found it very useful. Searching files on my computer used to be like watching glaciers move. This thing is so snappy you almost assume it’s broken. There are some flaws, e.g. I wish it could search non-Outlook related email and I wish it would search my C# code files, but I’ll live.

As for the feature itself, it’s pretty easy to predict something such as this becoming standard for all operating systems from this point on, likely leaving third-party software begging for scraps. That might not mean good things for Google and friends but that’s ok. It does mean I’ll spend a lot less time staring at a progress bar both today and tomorrow.

Google’s little picture program, Picasa, was next on my list. Picasa, which I’d like to retitle Your Mother-in-law’s Picture Program, is a great compliment to my current suite of picture editing programs, which include Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, and Gimp. Picasa’s focus is rather different from those programs, choosing to worry about things like photo albums and organization rather than hardcore editing. Because of this, it offers a bunch of neat, whizzbang features that are just perfect for the casual user. Create slideshows or picture collages in a couple of buttons. Enhance your pictures using a couple of simple, but effective, visual effects. All of this is wrapped in one of the better user interfaces I’ve seen for these types of programs in years.

The feature that really puts it over the top is its ability to send pictures via email in approximately one button press. Select your pictures and press go. Picasa will open your favorite email program, create a new message, and attach your selected photos to that email in a web-optimized form. That is, the pictures are generally smaller, in both file size and resolution.

For me, this saves me the cumbersome steps of opening Photoshop, altering a picture, saving my work, and attaching its altered form to a new email. For casual users, like my mother-in-law, this really opens up picture sharing on the web. She doesn’t have to worry about file sizes. She doesn’t have to care about the resolution of the photos her 2 megapixel camera belts out. She just has to hit the send button. Amen to that.

Heavy use of Picasa, led me to Hello, another Google tool. Hello can best be described as an instant messenger program with pictures. Think of it as AOL IM with a visual element. Chat with your friends and send them pictures, fully aided by Picasa. One feature that I really liked was the fact that you could spy on your friend; Hello’s filmstrip presentation provides a little indicator of what they are currently eyeing. I also really like the concept of including a thumbnail of the currently viewed picture in the chat log. That simple feature makes the conversation about something. Very cool.

If anyone is looking for some software to whittle away some hours in, these are all good candidates. I’m not sure I’m done looking for a desktop search tool quite yet (for example, Copernic’s offering looks pretty nice, but I bet Picasa gets real comfortable on my computer. As far as Hello goes, don’t be surprised to see an invite show up in your email, provided I actually want to see your pictures.

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One of the things you learn early in parenthood is to be prepared. This might involve leaving more time for those little things, like traveling. It may involve leaving your back turned as little as possible. Most of the time, it’ll involve being ready for the unexpected.

For example, if you were to visit church on Christmas Eve for evening service, you should plan ahead. Dressing, for example, is a little more involved when young ones need to participate. Your pants aren’t the only one in the closet. Your shoes aren’t the only thing needing to discover feet.

You might leave a bit more time for dinner, possibly employing the services of the local Papa John’s rather then attempt to do the heavy lifting yourself. The clock will be ticking. Let’s not forget that one parent can easily be removed from the family preparation picture in a heartbeat, perhaps due to an insatiable infant that — hypothetically, of course — latches onto the breast and becomes determined to never let go.

Before leaving the house, you may want to check the vitals on your mode of transportation. For example, gas is apparently a requirement if you want your car to do simple things, like go. A shining gas light that forces an extra pit stop is not a happy beacon for an anxious grandmother peering through a church window. The fact that your youngest child may wail in the back seat during the entire trip is a possibility you might want consider as well.

Once you arrive at church, you should get comfortable. After all, your church may not offer nursery services for evening mass. Your little one will be easy to keep stationary, particularly after receiving a new set of clothes. Pat yourself on the back. That extra outfit is just the kind of preparation I speak of. The first outfit, liberally laced with the previous contents of the bottle you brought, could very well be ready for retirement.

Your oldest, however, may present additional challenges. Crayons might keep him occupied for a little while. That well of kindness in his heart might keep him still and quiet for more than a few moments. But, eventually, your child is likely to get fidgety. Trust me. I’ve heard stories.

He might stand and sit, stand and sit. He could view the pew as a wonderful piece of playground equipment, using it to venture from one parent to the other.

Of course, restlessness might also manifest itself as unbridled enthusiasm. He might loudly cheer at the conclusion of the sermon. He might gleefully clap and hoot at the end of every hymn. These are little joys, truly shared by all.

Near the end of the service, you might worry about the approaching candlelight hymn. Worries about so much fire surrounding your little one could bother you. Don’t stress. It’s more likely that your child will view it as a massive birthday celebration, following the bob and weave of the candle in an attempt to conclude his birthday wish. Keep it moving and just out of reach. Good luck. Your chances of keeping such a candle lighted are low indeed.

But, eventually, you’ll find your way home. While the echoes of chaos are fresh in the air, you’ll pause to consider the changes in your life that parenthood brings. You’ll thank the little ones that make life unpredictable and be happy for the blessing that is the holidays. You might not have felt ready for such a day, where the unexpected lay behind every corner, but don’t fool yourself. The only thing you truly could be unprepared for is spending the next morning without them.

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Jan 5, 2005

I never knew insect bites could cause such a raucous. Surely, a tiny bug couldn’t send me to the hospital, my surprise location just hours after the 2nd birthday of my oldest son?

The party went well enough. Presents were liberally scattered on my next of kin. Kind gifts of clothes were tossed aside in favor of an eye catching toy or ten. In between bits of shared joy and appreciation (both him and his parents were treated very, very well), my thoughts traveled to an apparent insect bite on my right thigh. What had once been a little bump was now something closer to a wound, having grown in both size and color. It hurt. I took the advice of a close friend and registered nurse, both one in the same. Hours later, I was staring at the business end of a scalpel.

It all started about two days earlier. As I said, I didn’t think much of it. I can’t tell you when or how I got it. I remember initially mistaking it for acne at one point. There was an attempted popping – never a treat on the soft skin of my outer thigh – but then it faded from memory.  On Friday, however, it surfaced (or resurfaced depending on the timing of said popping). My bite wasn’t so tiny anymore. Pain was mixed with its growing shape.

On Saturday, I knew something was up. I worried about infection. I phoned my doctor. No response from the on-call clown. I phoned my soon-to-be ex-doctor a second time. Again, no response was forthcoming. Then the party happened. My leg hurt but there was a house to clean and prepare.  I muscled through, successfully ignoring the pain. Somehow, the source of my irritation came up in casual conversation. A room full of people, most of them relatives, ensured that I never stopped fielding questions about my little injury.

(Those that are faint of heart, may want to cover their eyes at this point in my story.)

Shortly after the party, a kind friend volunteered to look at my wound. I believe my wife made the initial request. I’m unsure I could have asked her to do the dirty deed. My wound had grown nasty. It was bright red and hard. It had formed a nice little blister before the party. That blister was no longer a problem. It was ghastly. I suppose it isn’t good party policy to invite your friends to inspect nasty things but that’s exactly what I did. My surrogate doctor sent me to the hospital.

I arrived at the hospital not knowing what to expect, beyond a long wait. The emergency room was full of people. I settled down with a book to find myself in Triage about 5 minutes later. The physician’s assistant took a look and mentioned something about a possible recluse spider bite (I have since, through a little internet researching, begun to very much doubt this theory. Do your own searching at your own risk.). The doctor came in and ordered it opened and drained. I kind of expected the draining part. I didn’t expect, however, the cutting portion of the procedure. While waiting for them to return with their instruments of death, I couldn’t help but my liken my experience to an episode of ER. You know how they are always laying that cloth down on folks with the big hole in it? That was going to be me!

(During my wait, I was visited by some curious colleagues of my direct medical staff. Oh yeah. Guess who was the topic of the day at the hospital water cooler. Please hide your jealousy.)

To be honest, the hospital visit wasn’t that bad. The staff was nice and everything happened much too fast for me to properly react to it. I’m getting surgery? It’s almost done. I’m getting blood drawn?  Hey, you are pretty good at that. I’m getting a tetanus shot? That’s nothing! Get out of here and get your prescriptions filled.

(Cover your eyes. I warned you!)

Since then I’ve been spending a lot of time with warm compresses to both drain the wound and control the swelling. I redress the wound a two or three times a day. Today, I’m crumbling to public demand as I offer a picture. Here’s my wound as of yesterday. Get your stomach contents cleaned up. I’ll wait.

Today, the pus in the middle is gone, leaving something akin to a bullet wound that is still very much getting care. I hope to one day entertain my children with my stories of ‘Nam. Maybe I’ll respond to the media’s incessant insistence that video games cause violence by claiming that I played Halo 2 so much that this is was the result. Regardless, I’m pretty hopeful that my stories will be of recovery. I find that to be a good thing.

Earlier today, I called my dad, who recently had lung surgery to scrape pneumonia from its surface. He spent a large percentage of December in the hospital with a tube draining fluid from his lungs. He spent the last week recovering from his surgery and attempting to do simple things, like eat.  He’s been home for all of two days. His first words? “How are you feeling?”

Well, it could be worse.

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amal-Jay ewis-Lay

Dec 21, 2004

In an act of evil reserved for the creatures of hell and large corporations, Electronic Arts dropped the following bombshell on the videogame world about a week ago.

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Dec. 13, 2004–Electronic Arts
today announced exclusive licensing relationships with the National
Football League and PLAYERS INC to develop, publish and distribute
interactive football games. These five-year agreements — which EA
negotiated separately — give EA the exclusive rights to the NFL teams,
stadiums and players for use in its football videogames. Both
agreements also include exclusive rights for console online features.

This move, which effectively wipes out all competition on the brown pigskin front, is liable to prove a great move for EA’s bottom line. Unfortunately, the sports gamer (yep, that’s me) will spend at least five years getting screwed in terms of price, quality, and innovation.

The most immediate repercussions of this deal will be felt by EA’s most successful competition, Sega’s NFL 2K series of football games. Without access to the names of the NFL’s teams and players, Sega’s franchise is left with a gaping hole that can only be filled with some creative use of pig latin and broad generalities. Anyone want to play the Baltimore Black Birds against the Dallas Horse Riders? I didn’t think so.

Sega’s games have given EA’s Madden series a run for their money for years. A copy of Sega’s ESPN NFL 2K5 rests on my shelf right next to my copy of Madden NFL 2005 this year, largely due to an aggressive price strategy meant to widen their consumer base. A $20 price tag is difficult to ignore, both by the leisurely sports gamer and the competition. Memo to Sega: “How’s that price tag treating you?” — Love EA.

As sad as I find the demise of Sega’s once proud NFL 2K series, the long term repercussions could be much worse. Sports games, and particularly football games due to the absolute dominance of EA’s Madden games, are a very difficult bracket to break into. Historically, EA has had such an enormous lead in terms of development time to add to their already vast resources that competition is very much discouraged. Sports games take years to make and mature. Artificial intelligence needs to be refined. Playbooks need to be tweaked. Options are added as time allows.

Deciding to take on EA on their home turf is an enormous financial risk. Given another five year lead, what company would consider bidding against them in 2010? This deal might not shut out the competition for years. It may shut others out effectively forever. EA’s the 800 lb gorilla. Just try and take him on when he’s already full.

Oddly, I’m unsure what the NFL really gets of this besides a one-time
lump sum and some ease in the bookkeeping department. Why limit your potential audience? Why dramatically slash the number of football games released in a year? Isn’t that called free marketing? Why alienate the fans of other football franchises? If that $20 price tag for ESPN NFL 2K5 was good for anyone outside of the offices of Take Two (the publisher) and Sega, it was the NFL. You want folks to fire up their Xbox and see your logo as often as possible. All signs point to the fact that the NFL was looking for this, yearning for it apparently. I’m sure the fat check is nice. You might have thought a bit about the future.

While the NFL goes the way of NASCAR, FIFA, and the PGA — all organizations that also happen to share an exclusive agreement with EA — I’m left with few choices. And, despite my misgivings, I’ll buy Madden anyway. I simply need a football game on my shelf every August. My problem has been medically diagnosed. I can’t help myself.

Apparently, the real problem isn’t EA’s evil business practices. It’s that they work.

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Official Statistics

Dec 4, 2004

For those who are sure to ask, here’s the lowdown on my newborn son:

Name: Chase Kenneth Wootton
Time: 4:26 am, November 21, 2004
Weight: 8 lbs .04 ounces (7 lbs. 15 ounces before going to the nursery)
Length: 21 inches
Favorite Current Video Game: Half-life 2

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