It’s been three years since my wife bought me a car on her birthday. It was a weird and wacky thing to do.
We’re weird and wacky people.
Today is my final maintenance appointment covered under warranty. I’m getting my fluids changed, tires rotated, and a few small items repaired for free for the last time. As the mechanics do their thing, I have a few minutes to reflect and do mine.
The Subaru WRX STi is a fun car to own and drive, there’s no denying that. Some of the big boy V8s will kill the STi top end, but with a sub-5 second 0-60 time and a low 13 second quarter mile, it can hang with most of them around town. Throw a corner or two into that track and the Subaru will leave them all in the dust — or rain, ice, or snow. I’ve found it almost impossible to separate the tires from the road, even when intentionally attempting to do so. To “burn rubber” you’ve got to disable a series of electronic safety systems, but the one time I disabled the all-wheel drive, shifted the power to the rear wheels, disabled the traction control system and popped the clutch, I quickly found my car facing in the wrong direction, wondering what had happened. Those soft rubber racing tires the car comes with don’t help. They may look like tires, but I suspect they are little more than layer upon layers of super glue. My dream of taking off ramp curves in sixth gear is finally a reality.
Based on how I drive the thing (which is “as fast as possible from stoplight to stoplight”), the car has held up amazingly well. I haven’t had a problem with anything under the hood so far. The one part that hasn’t stood the test of time is the dash-mounted “Turbo Boost Gauge” that shows the driver how much air pressure is currently built up within the car’s turbo system. It’s useful if you’re turning the boost levels of the car (which would void your warranty), but provides no useful real-time information to the driver, which is good news as mine has failed three times. The first time, the gauge literally fell apart into two pieces. The dealership obviously reassembled the gauge with glue — the same glue that melted and drooled out all over my dash the following summer. Since then, the gauge has completely stopped working. Again, it’s not like a fuel gauge or speedometer — everytime I look at the gauge I wonder, “What am I supposed to do with that information?” — but seeing the needle point to 0 all the time irks me.
The car also has a few door dings, thanks to Subaru’s attempt to shave every possible pound off the car’s overall weight by wrapping it in metal that compares to that of a soda can. The heft of the car’s doors (or lack thereof) reminds me of the doors that were on my Ford Festiva. I’ve done my best to always park the car away from other cars whenever possible, but almost every time I’ve been forced to park next to another car, I’ve pulled away with a ding on the door. If you’re planning to recreate Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” music video, I cannot recommend the WRX.
The STi is a car-enthusiast magnet. I can’t count the number of nods and thumbs up I’ve received from “my people” — not guys in Corvettes or business suits, but mostly younger guys, driving Honda Civics with loud mufflers and covered in primer and racing stickers. Not everyone knows what the STi has hiding under the hood (occasionally I show them) and simply see the car as a blue, four door hatchback. But my people… my people know.
So do the police. I haven’t been pulled over in the Subaru yet, but I’ve been followed more than once. My personally theory is that when they see a 42-year-old man driving the car (and not someone twenty years younger) they move along, but I’ll definitely say I’ve seen more “interest” from black and whites in the STi than I have in my Avalanche. And if they happen to catch me at the right place and the right time, my monthly insurance payment could quickly rise to match or even exceed my car payment.
Susan recently asked me if I was ready to sell the car. “Not yet,” was my reply. The STi has been a fun car. I don’t know that it’s a “forever” car to own, but it’s still fun, so for the time being I’m keeping it.
According to multiple news reports, yesterday Frontier City’s Silver Bullet roller coaster got stuck and eight people had to be rescued. The roller coaster stopped just shy of the first drop around 4:30 p.m., and the final eight passengers remained trapped on the coaster until 5:55 p.m. While they waited, emergency personnel served them cold bottles of water.
The reason those passengers were trapped and could not exit the coaster is because the emergency stairs only go to the very top of the hill and not past it, where the first few cars were located. Ask me how I know this.
BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN TRAPPED IN THE SAME PLACE ON THAT SAME ROLLER COASTER!
The year was 1990. Jeff, Andy and I all had our drivers licenses and decided to purchase combination Frontier City / White Water passes for the summer. We had a blast.
One hot summer day, Jeff and I visited Frontier City together. (Andy had to work.) Like those people yesterday, Jeff and I boarded the Silver Bullet and said to ourselves, “What could possibly go wrong?” We even got the front two seats — how exciting! The coaster chug-chug-chugged its way up the first big hill and, just as our car passed over the top of the hill… everything stopped.
“Maybe it’ll start up again?” we wondered, but it didn’t. Five or ten minutes passed before employees began making their way up those same emergency stairs. If I recall correctly, there were two cars (ours and the one behind ours) that had passed the point of no return. After half an hour, everyone else was evacuated from the ride. That left Jeff, myself, and a few others to hang out in the August heat and twiddle our thumbs.
No emergency crews or news reporters showed up to save us that day, and nobody served us cold bottles of water. The way I remember the story, a breaker on the coaster had tripped, nobody at the park had the authority to reset it, and we were stuck up there until someone was able to track someone down who could approve it. I don’t know that that’s the truth, but I know that’s what we were told. We were also told that they were unsure if the coaster would make it through the loop with only a few of us sitting in the front of the ride. I always thought that was baloney until a few years ago when a flight attendant told me I couldn’t change seats on a plane because it would throw off the balance.
After a long time (we both went home with sunburns), someone reset the breaker, the coaster clicked forward, and the eight of us sitting in the front two cars set off on our own personal roller coaster ride.
(We made it through the loop.)
Again, nobody served us cold drinks, and our little incident wasn’t covered by the Australian news. It was just another story that we got to stick in our back pockets.
Sometimes when it rains it pours — both figuratively and literally.
Morgan’s 11th birthday party was last Sunday. The weather report for the past two weeks (and the next 2 months) was “dry and hot.” Literally, our local weatherman said, “It’s going to be hot and dry for the next three months.” So we scheduled a pool party for the end of June for Morgan, and an hour before the party was set to start, storm clouds rolled in.
Again — in Oklahoma, in the middle of summer, in the middle of a heat wave.
You just haven’t lived until you’ve tried to explain to twenty kids in bathing suits that they can’t swim in the city pool you rented. The danger of course was not the rain itself, but lightning. Each time the lifeguards spotted a lightning strike off in the distance they reminded us that no one could swim for 30 minutes. After several false promises, it was determined that there would be no swimming at all. We made the best of things by eating cupcakes, opening presents, and playing games, but it was all a bit anticlimactic.
Even though the kids seemed to have a good time, it was still a little disappointing that nobody got to swim. But, since Morgan’s birthday was really Tuesday, we had another chance at making things great.
Then, this happened.
No, that’s not Morgan’s collarbone — it’s Mason’s. Mason had a friend spend the night and asked if the two of them could ride the golf kart. “Yes, just don’t do anything dumb,” were my exact words. When the two of them returned, all I could say was, “your definition of dumb differs from mine.”
The hospital confirmed that Mason’s collarbone was broken, not in one place, but two. They scheduled us for a follow up with an orthopedic surgeon, and said to expect “surgery for pins and plates,” although that has since changed. Because Mason is still growing, the surgeon suggested we wait a couple of weeks to see if the bone manages to heal itself first.
With Mason in pain and changing doctors appointments, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to have Morgan’s birthday dinner or not. Ultimately we did, even though Mason’s pain medication wore off about the time we arrived. He’s being a real trooper.
So, a belated 11th birthday to Morgan, and a “get better soon” for Mason. Mason’s injury has cast a cloud of doubt on our swimming and snorkeling vacation next week.
Rumors continue to fly as to whether or not the next generation of iPhone will contain a 3.5mm headphone jack or not. As the owner of both an iPhone and some pretty good headphones, I’m not thrilled about this.
The larger version of the headphone jack — the 1/4” or 2.5mm version — was invented in 1878 for telephone operators. You probably remember seeing them those old movies where operators were manually moving cords around to connect people’s phone calls. This same plug is still used today on things like microphones and guitar cables.
I couldn’t find an exact date and when the mini version of the connector (1/4” or 3.5mm) was invented. All the articles I found simply said that they became popular on transistor radios. It seems to me that, at least in the 1970s, electronic equipment that stayed at home (like console stereos) used the larger, original size while portable electronics adopted the mini version. As time went on, more and more items adopted the mini-standard. The first Macintosh computers (1984) used the mini ports for both microphones and headphones, as did my first home stereo, purchased circa 1985. The audio plug on the rear of my Amdek computer monitor also used the mini plug.
My first handheld radio came with a 3.5mm plug and a single, mono earphone that looked like something you would stick into your ear to keep water out while swimming. Audio quality improved with radios, the Walkman, and the Discman, but the plug never changed. I could take my wife’s Bose noise cancelling headphones that she got for Christmas and plug them into any of those other things and they would work perfectly.
It wasn’t until I started messing around with audio recording that I discovered the wonderful world of audio adapters. In the mid-90s I purchased a small mixing board that used RCA connections for all its inputs and outputs. My guitar had a 1/4” jack, and my computer’s sound card had an 1/8” one. The solution to this problem was as close as the nearest Radio Shack. Years later, I now have a shoebox full of dozens of adapters — RCA-to-mini, ⅛-to-¼, two-to-one adapters, you name it. I didn’t purchase them all at one time but rather as they were needed, but over time I’ve needed them all.
Now, Apple has a history of nudging people along in the “right” direction (or at least what it considers the “right” direction to be). They were the first ones to release a computer without a floppy drive, for example. The difference, of course, was that by 1998, the writing was already on the wall for floppy disks. Yes, many of us still owned and used floppies on a regular basis, but there were alternatives available — namely, the USB memory stick. When the average mp3 is around 5 megabytes in size, a 1.44 megabyte storage container is relatively useless.
Unfortunately for me (and thousands of people like me), just because the industry says a storage medium is dead doesn’t mean it is. Underneath my computer desk is a set of plastic drawers that contain more than 1,000 5 1/4” floppy disks, containing Commodore, Apple and IBM-PC software. I also own an FC5025, a USB interface that allows me to connect an old IBM floppy drive to a modern PC. I also own a Zoom Floppy, which allows me to directly connect an old Commodore floppy drive to my PC via USB.
For accessing 3.5” floppy disks, I have a couple of USB floppy drives.
At my small writing desk here in the living room, I spy seven things with a 3.5mm audio adapter: this laptop, my iPhone, a tablet, my daughter’s ASUS Chromebook, a handset adapter that looks like an 80s phone handset, and two retired iPod Touches (one with a cracked screen). All of those items are within 1’ of my person, right now.
Apple claims two things — that the 3.5mm standard is old and analog (true) and that it’s preventing them from making thinner devices. I own an iPhone 6+. When it was released, some customers complained that they were bending in their pockets because they were so thin. I know that it’s difficult to see into the future when it comes to technology, but I just find it hard to believe that the future of cell phones is being slowed by the thickness of a 3.5mm jack. I suspect this is less about the thickness of their phones and more about greed. Apple’s new proposed audio jack will be proprietary, which means several things. It means new headphones will cost more because companies will have to pay money to Apple to license their audio plug. It also means, if Apple gets their way, that every pair of headphones I own — and I own many — will be obsolete.
In reality what I think it’ll mean is that we (iPhone users) will all end up buying an adapter — probably $20 — that converts “old-style” headphones (read: the ones that have been working fine for the past 50 years) to Apple’s new jack. We’ll all need one and we’ll all grumble about buying them and we’ll all own them, or we’ll all buy different phones. And I’ll have to buy four, one for each iPhone in the house.
For someone who has seen this before and has been buying adapters for decades now, this is nothing new.
The 2015-16 NBA season was a good one for Oklahoma City Thunder fans. With first year NBA coach Billy Donovan at the helm, the Thunder finished the regular season with 55 wins and 27 losses, placing them third in the Western Conference. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Thunder muscled their way past two aging but solid Texas teams: the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs. In best of seven contests, the Thunder beat the Mavericks in five games and San Antonio in six to make their way to the Western Conference Finals to face the Golden State Warriors.
The Golden State Warriors finished the 2015-16 regular season 73-9, besting the previous record held by Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and claiming the best NBA regular season record of all time. The Warriors shattered the previous best undefeated streak of 15 wins by going 24-0 in the beginning of the season. Golden State shattered dozens of records this season, mostly in part to the “Splash Brothers,” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry made 402 3-pointers in the regular season, smashing the previous season record of 286 (he held it). Thompson made 276 three-pointers (the second most in the league) and won the three-point contest held during the All-Star Weekend. This season Curry tied the record for the most three-pointers made in a single game (12) while Thompson broke the record for the most made in a playoff game (11).
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder surprised sports fans by going up on the Warriors three games to one. When presented with the odds of coming back from being down 1 games to 3 in the conference finals, Warriors coach Steve Kerr replied, “I don’t think most of those teams were the defending champions.” He was right. Over the next three games, the Thunder imploded spectacularly on the world’s biggest basketball stage, losing three games in a row to end their season and send the defending champs back to the finals.
Believe it or not, the biggest implosion of the finals was yet to come.
Not so quietly in the east, a legacy was brewing. In the summer of 2010, during a news broadcast so infamous it has its own Wikipedia entry, LeBron James left Cleveland and signed with the Miami Heat. While Cleveland fans were busy burning his jerseys, James won two titles with Miami before returning to Cleveland out of either remorse or obligation. James promised Cleveland fans a championship. “Get on my back,” he said, “and I will carry you.”
The Splash Brothers made early work of the Cavaliers, putting them in the same 1-3 position they themselves had been in against the Thunder. And then… Cleveland — and specifically, LeBron James — came to life.
Winning NBA teams have deep rosters these days. The days of winning a championship with only one superstar are over. Now, it takes two or three to get deep in the playoffs. Golden State’s bench is particularly deep with multiple guys they can count on to score, but one they didn’t count on was LeBron James and his promise to his city and the country.
The 2015-16 finals were strange in regards to fouls. At times it seems almost nothing was called; at others, the slightest grabs made by superstars were whistled. At the end of game six, Curry got so frustrated after fouling out that he threw his mouthpiece and hit a fan, which got him ejected (after he had already fouled out — the first time I can remember that happening). When the three-pointers were dropping, Curry and Thompson looked (to quote the Beastie Boys) “as cool as cucumbers in a bowl of hot sauce.” When they weren’t, the two pouted on the bench, unsure of what to do next.
No team has ever come back from a 1-3 game deficit in the NBA finals… until last night. With the game tied with less than a minute to do, a three-point shot by Kyrie Irving combined with a single free throw point by James put the Cavaliers up by 4 points. The Splash Brothers were helpless to come back, making only six three-pointers combined, tying Draymond Green’s own six from downtown.
As the buzzer sounded the end of the game and LeBron hit the floor crying, it was the shot of Curry sulking on the bench that told the story. After avoiding elimination three times in the Oklahoma City match-up, the Golden State Warriors — a team that broke records by raining down three-pointers and beating every other team in the league at least once during the regular season — couldn’t get it done.
The story this morning is the spectacular demise of Golden State. Soon, it will be the legacy of LeBron James, and how one man was able to lead a team into victory.
In ten days, the story for Oklahoma City Thunder fans will quickly become “is Kevin Durant staying in Oklahoma City?” We’ll find out around the time all the confetti has settled in Cleveland.
I stand firmly grounded in middle age, inasmuch as when I look back over my shoulder at the starting line and up ahead toward to the finish, the distances appear to be about the same.
To my left stand friends who never became parents — some by choice, others by circumstance. To my right are those who either won’t or can’t be with their fathers today.
And it doesn’t escape me for a moment how lucky I am to be here, in the middle. Today I had lunch with my dad and my children at the same table. (And Susan of course, who made our Melting Pot reservations!)
I’ve seen a lot of sad posts on Facebook today, advising others to appreciate the time they have with their kids and their dad.
I am, and I do.
I have lots and lots of books in my Star Wars collection, both fiction and non-fiction for young and adult readers alike.
Star Wars: The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot was published by Random House in 1979. I remember checking his book out from our school’s library. This copy also came from a school library, although not my school.
Unsurprisingly the story begins with Han Solo piloting the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca and R2-D2 playing Planetary Poker, and C-3P0 running around like a maniac.
First it’s R2-D2 that begins acting rebellious, although soon many of the droids, robots and machines down on Tatooine begin malfunctioning as well. We learn that Luke Skywalker is working with a crew of scientists and engineers to build a super-vaporator because Tatooine was suffering from a severe drought. I hate to break it to them, but George Lucas only builds planets with one climate. Tatooine’s going to be a desert for a long, long time.
After our heroes safely land on Tatooine, they attend a meeting to discuss the rebellious droids. The meeting is led by Captain Egoreg, leader of the vaporator project. (“Egoreg” is suspiciously similar to “George” spelled backwards.) During the meeting, the conference room explodes. Everyone was unharmed except for C-3PO, who was wheeled out on a dolly for repairs.
Ultimately the source of the robot rebellion turns out to be tainted oil, provided by Jawas who were hoping the malfunctioning droids would be donated to them. Instead, Chewbacca scooped up all the Jawas and bonked them on the head.
On the final page of the book, Princess Leia awards Chewbacca with a reward while the others look on and C-3P0 photobombs the picture.
Star Wars: The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot was ghost-written by Eleanor Ehrhardt and illustrated by Mark Corcoran. A great interview with Mark about his memories of the book on its 30th anniversary can be found here.
When this book came out, I’m not sure if I was aware that The Empire Strikes Back was coming out the following year or not. As a kid, these books were a great way to peer into the daily lives of those Star Wars characters. The events captured in the Star Wars films were just a small part of what these characters went through during their lives. Books like these reminded us that there was lots of adventures and stories to be told.
In 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Marion Ravenwood becomes frustrated with Indiana Jones when he complains that it hurts everywhere she touches him. “Where doesn’t it hurt?” she asks, and the infamous archeologist is able to come up with four locations: his elbow, his right temple, his eyeball, and finally, his lips.
I’m in worse shape than Dr. Jones. In addition to my feet, ankles, thighs, butt, abdomen, ribs, back, shoulders, and neck all hurting, my eyes aren’t all that good, my elbow is aching, and my lips are chapped — and I didn’t even get chased by a giant boulder or a tribe of angry natives. All I did was walk around Washington D.C. for a few days with bunch of electronics strapped to my back, and drive 1,400 miles in two days to get back home.
What hurts the most are my shoulders, both from carrying around my backpack and holding on to a steering wheel for two days straight. On Friday, I left D.C. and drove to Hurricane, West Virginia, where I met up with John and Aaron from the Amigos Podcast and hung out for several hours before continuing on toward Lexington, Kentucky. The good news was I covered around 500 miles on Friday; the bad news was, if I wanted to complete the drive in two days (which I did), that left me approximately 900 miles on Saturday to drive.
I had loosely planned on stopping by the 1984 Arcade in Springfield, Missouri and Arkadia Retrocade in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but as the miles piled on my will to do anything but continue moving closer to home waned.
Both the padding in my ten year old driver’s seat and my forty-two-year-old booty aren’t what they used to be. Halfway through day two I found myself making more and more stops at highway truck stops, adding gas to the tank when it was still half full and stretching those muscles that weren’t cramping. My shoulder ached so much that I could no longer raise my arm above my head. My neck creaked and popped no matter which way it turned. My tailbone begged for mercy as I piled pillows under my bum to make the pain bearable. At each stop I began to hobble like a penguin as I tried to make things stop hurting. The single step up back into my truck seemed higher after each brief break.
I pulled into my driveway around 10pm on Saturday and left my truck full of clothes, empty cans of Monster energy drink, and fast food garbage. Even though I did little more than sit around and moan on Sunday, as of this morning, I’m still not feeling great. The muscles in my shoulder continue to pop every time I raise my left arm to rub my temples. My thighs hurt when I stand and more when I sit. Every time I turn my head, my neck sounds like aluminum foil crinkling. It’s going to take me a few more days to get over this one, and I am wondering if my days of 12+ hours in a car driving across America aren’t limited (or over).
It turns out, llama farms are located pretty far outside the confines of the city — at least the one we visited was. After thirty minutes of navigating gravel roads so narrow that we honestly didn’t know what we would do if we encountered a car coming toward us, we arrived.
There wasn’t anything at the llama farm I wasn’t expecting. There were two barns, a four-wheeler, a motorcycle, a pickup truck, a small cabin — and, in the middle of it all, a fenced-in pen containing roughly a dozen llamas. Except for an all-white one.
“He’s a jumper,” said Steve, sole owner of Smoky Mountain Llama Treks. After deciding he had had enough of the corporate life, Steve quit his IT job in Detroit and moved to the mountains of Tennessee. He traded his daily commute for daily hikes into the Smoky Mountains. His customers are no longers users needing computer assistance, but weekend warriors looking to get away and see the backwoods of Tennessee.
And curious people from Oklahoma.
Llamas are a lot like cats. They’re curious and not aggressive at all. When we arrived, I wondered just how close we would get to the llamas. Five minutes later after a very brief list of instructions (“don’t touch their ears of heads”), all four of us were standing inside the pen with the llamas. Steve rattles off the llamas’ names and you can probably imagine what Curly, Peanut Butter, and Black Jack look like.
In the center of the pen is a large and impressive pile of llama poop. “They all go in one place,” says Steve, stating the obvious. The grass downhill from the pen is plush and green. Apparently, it really does flow downhill.
The draw of the llama farm isn’t really the llamas — it’s Steve. In the half an hour we were there we heard how Steve made it from Detroit to Tennessee, his hike down the Appalachian Trail, the time the transmission went out on his truck, his neighbor (“he’s a Navy Seal”), and his ultimate dream.
“I’d like to meet Chuck Norris,” says Steve. “I think one day I will come out here and find him standing there, waiting to go on a hike with my llamas.” It’s a crazy thought, and yet after hearing half an hour of Steve’s stories, I have no doubt someday that it will happen.
As the kids fed bananas (“they love the peels”) and graham crackers to the llamas, I thought a lot about Steve. He’s quick to point out that his salary went from $200k a year in Detroit to $20k a year in Tennessee, and he couldn’t be happier. The guy has a grin on his face from ear to ear, even as the llamas get possessive over the last bowl of food and begin spitting at one another. And us.
The next morning, Susan and the kids got in a rental car and drove back to Oklahoma while I continued on to Washington D.C. I’ve spent the past week dealing with a Metro under construction, horrible traffic, and crowds of rude people. As I hang up my suit jacket and crawl into bed listening to jack hammers, blasting car horns and kids stomping around upstairs, the thought of living in the backwoods and even dealing with llama poop doesn’t sound all that bad.