Friday, February 28, 2014

Football is King. At least in Allen, TX.

Football is indeed King.  Just ask the good folks in Allen, TX, a northern Dallas suburb.  A couple years ago they spent $60M on this 18,000 seat state-of-the-art high school football stadium:

 

They have since gone on to win two back-to-back State 5A Football Championships.

 

 Pretty swanky, huh?  And it's only the 5th largest high school football stadium in Texas.  (Yes, we here in Texas call it "football", even though it is rarely kicked with the foot.  I'm guessing that's because "handball" was already taken.)

Allen does, however, have one little problem....their stadium is falling apart.  Some major cracks have appeared in the structure and yesterday the Allen School District closed their pride and joy pending a top-to-bottom engineering investigation.

The contractor said from his hideout headquarters deep in the Costa Rican jungle that he would cooperate completely.  And have it all ready to go by the start of the next football season in September.   *Liar, liar, pants on fire*

Still, I'm thinking it's better to have a crack in your stadium than a crack in your head, which is what they're now saying soccer players have after a few seasons of this:


I've always wondered about this.  "Listen up kids.  I'm gonna throw...er...kick a ball at you and I want you to catch it with your head and knock it into that goal."


"And by 'head' I mean the TOP of your head,"

It seems they did an autopsy on a soccer player that died prematurely and found that he had CTD, which stands for "something you don't want".

Here's my rather unscientific solution to this terrible problem:  Let's give soccer players helmets and pads to give them a little protection, and let them catch the ball with their hands instead of their heads.  And encourage "contact".


What could possibly go wrong?

Just a reminder....the REAL football season starts in just 6 months. :)

Happy Friday everyone!  Reporting from Texas, I'm...

S


Thursday, February 27, 2014

It will all be OK....just take a deep breath. No wait, DON'T take a deep breath.


This is what Beijing, China has looked like for the past 7 days....smog so thick you can barely see across the street.  This is what China's 20-year unbridled growth spurt (tsunami?) has brought them.  And they say the average days aren't much better, either.  Yikes! 

Air pollution numbers registered this as 533 "Somethings" (my tech speak), with 20 Somethings being considered OK to breathe.  A reporter got on a train and traveled south from Beijing and it got even worse, topping out 480 miles down the line at 610 Somethings.  They had to travel over 900 miles south before it dropped to "only" 83 Somethings, still over 400% above the level deemed still healthy to breathe.

Where am I going with this?  We here in the West are worried to death about the rise of the Chinese Tiger.  Before long their economy will overtake ours experts say.  We already owe them over a Trillion dollars.  WE'RE DOOMED!

Or are we?  Wouldn't you imagine many of their 1.35 BILLION people will sooner rather later be dropping dead from breathing this soup?  I doubt that will be good for morale.  If I was the average Chinese guy I'd be sweating bullets, assuming I could somehow suck in enough oxygen for my brain to comprehend my dire predicament.

New topic:

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the heyday of the automobile industry may be behind us.  Yes, right now our automakers are enjoying record sales, up to 16m sales from a low of just 10.4M at the depth of The Crooked Banker Depression of '08.  But a lot of this is just satisfying pent up demand from the past few years....it probably won't be a lasting boom.

The news reports in recent years have led us to believe that the Chinese auto market is insatiable, and that they will buy more than enough cars to keep the automakers afloat long term.  Really?  See above story.


Here's the scary part to me:  many young people don't even like cars anymore.  *GASP!*


When I was a kid it was a rite of passage to spend the pre-dawn hours of your 16th birthday camped out at the DMV, waiting to take your drivers test and get your license.  Today only 69.5% of 19-year-olds have even bothered getting a drivers license.

This is how kids spend their time today.  I'm not sure if this is a B&W picture or if the kid is really just that pale?

Listen up you little f__kers!  Turn off your computers....learn to drive....get a car.  'Cause if you don't buy 'em they won't have the R&D money to keep making cool cars for me, and I like cool cars!

Ummm....well, turn off your computers and go out and learn to drive after you finish reading my blog.  :)

S




Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Public Enemy No. 1....yep, that's me!


Last week K bought a new, comfy upholstered chair.  One afternoon I was sitting in my chair reading and out of the corner of my eye I saw one of those little white tags showing underneath her new ottoman.  You know, the ones that certify that the stuffing in the chair meets all fire safety standards, etc, then goes on to say "DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW".

Being just slightly OCD I couldn't read for looking at that damn label.  It was just taunting me, I swear.  I couldn't help my bad self....I flipped the ottoman over, whipped out my trusty pocket knife, and cut it off.

Within seconds there was a rather forceful knock at my door.  I thought, "Holy crap!  There really IS a Label Police!"  Should I try and make a run for it?  Plea bargain?  Is it true I only get one phone call?  So who should it be to?  K?  A lawyer?  My 63 year clean record, pffffft...gone...over a label!  DOH!

I had visions of being Bubba's girlfriend in The Big House.

Turns out it was just the UPS guy.  *whew*

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

True....ridiculous, but true:  The European Union has a rule, EC2257/94, that regulates the allowable curvature of elongated produce such as bananas and cucumbers.  It says that to be graded Class 1 it must be "practically straight and bent by no more than a gradient of 1/10."  

So is there a Banana/Cucumber Police that goes from farmers market to farmers market looking for bent produce?  Do they have Department of Bananas specialists and  Department of Cucumbers specialists?


Do they have special identifying uniforms?

Is this all they have to do in Europe....put people on the government payroll to go around policing rules like EC2257/94?   

Bureaucracy at its finest.  I wonder if they got the idea from our Label Police or if we got ours from their Banana/Cucumber Police?  Either way I can't believe such rules exist for me to write about in a blog post.  

What a waste of time.  I'm pretty sure consumers can figure out that a banana that's tied in a knot isn't something they want to buy for their families.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Speaking of a waste of time:  You've heard about the law passed by the Arizona Legislature that allows service to be denied to gays by those who are offended by homosexuality on religious grounds?  Why are they even bothering with such a law?

If the Governor signs it someone will simply trot across the street to the Federal Courthouse where a Federal Judge will immediately issue a restraining order and shortly thereafter declare it unconstitutional.  Duh!  Talk about chasing a windmill.

Is this what happens when politicians stop taking their medicine?

S


Monday, February 24, 2014

Here comes the Politician Apocalypse. Run for your lives!


Ted Cruz making another delivery.

Oh goody....It's an election year again.  I believe the politicians have found their way in front of every single TV camera in the state.  Every other commercial here in Texas shows one politician or another trying to "out Cruz" Ted Cruz.  

"Oh yeah?  You want to deport all them dang 'illegals'?  Well, I wanna whack 'em on the kneecaps and let 'em crawl back."

"You wuss.  I wanna cut off all their limbs, then let 'em flop back home." *snort, snort*

"Taxes are too high.  Them kids don't need 12 grades of schoolin'."

"I fought for a balanced budget when I was a Legislature-er."  (Note: A balanced budget is required by our state constitution.)

"Vote for me for Ag Commissioner and I'll fight Obama Care!*

"Vote for me for Juvenile Court #6 Judge and I'll fight Obama Care!"

"Vote for me for Sophomore Class Historian and I'll fight Obama Care!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

If there is a more despicable life form than politicians I'd hate to see it.


....said one politician to another.

Some facts:  We need "illegals".  More specifically we need the WORK performed by illegals.  Without them restaurants couldn't function, potholes wouldn't get filled, and houses wouldn't get built. It's a long list of things they do.  We need to somehow fairly bring them into the system.  

It isn't that taxes are too high.  It's just that the money is spent in the wrong places.  We rightfully feel short changed.  Where we spend taxpayer dollars is laughable.  (Well, not really.  It's sad.  Criminal, actually.)

Obama Care, or blanket health care....call it what you want....isn't going away.  Too many people now have insurance who before were excluded due to "pre-existing conditions", or now have coverage again after their exorbitant bills for serious illnesses maxed out their old policies.  And now politicians are going to take that away from them?  And still expect to get their votes?  Not gonna happen.  

The old system wasn't just folded up neatly and placed in the closet like an old set of towels, ready to be brought out again later if needed.  It has already been hauled off in the garbage truck and is now 20' deep in the landfill.  Bye-bye.

Like it or not, we need to find a way to make health care work. If you don't like Obama Care, fine.  Then show me something better.  I mean a detailed plan.  Show me.  Fix it.  Just saying "NO" doesn't fix anything.

All our established politicians want is to stay on the privileged ladder.  All the up-and-coming politicians want is to get on the privileged ladder.  Us peons are just here to give them something to stand on.

You don't have to agree with me out loud.  Just think about it.

S



Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cars, cars, and more cars!

I was out of pocket most of yesterday as K took the day off and we joined up with my friend Neil and attended the Dallas Auto Show.  We always like to go on a weekday as weekends are a freakin' zoo.  We met up in suburbia and rode the light rail train to the Convention Center in downtown Dallas....the best $5 I ever spent!

Compared to some of the large auto shows around the world....LA, NY, Geneva, Frankfurt, South Fargo ND, Bugtussle AL, etc, it isn't much.  No wild concept cars, no unveils, none of that.  But still this year's show was surprisingly good.

The bright overhead lights that made the cars stand out when seen directly created some awful photo glare, but here goes anyway:



K really liked the new 2015 Mini Cooper S.


I concur.  It was a winner.  I understand they want to keep the retro theme, but the changes from last year's model are too minor to the untrained eye, even though underneath it's completely new.  Still a definite keeper, though.


I specifically went to see the new Mazda 3.  The auto press has given it great reviews, and while I haven't yet driven one, I must say I was disappointed.  The interior just didn't measure up, for example.  


The styling was nice, but overall I gave it just a "Meh".


Aston Martin's really tick all my boxes, they're so beautiful.  



Even the big 4-door Aston Rapide S was stunning.  The price, though, was just plain shocking!


We were told this is the only Pagani Who Are Ya * currently in the US.  No wonder, at a million bucks plus!


* If you can pronounce it, you're a better person than me!



It was actually pretty gaudy.


Yet another McLaren MP4-12-C.  I see these things all over town.  Or maybe there's just this one and they keep driving it in circles.



A Rolls Royce Wraith.  A two-door Rolls?  Umm....no!


I did like the crystal (?) Spirit of Ecstasy, though.  :)


The Range Rover Evoque was especially impressive.  The little splash of mud behind the rear wheel was a nice touch, letting us know it's a serious off-roader.  *snicker*


For a mere $47K it can be yours.


Although the design is getting rather long in the tooth, I still like an Audi TT.  Overpriced, though.  :(


Same with the Audi R8.  



Here's Lexus' attempt to prove it isn't just an old man's car:  the LFA.  It's a $350K super car that took 10 years to design/build.  It's quite good they say, but for a lot less than that you could have....


 ....this Ferrari 458 Italia.  Game, set, match!


I have friends who have Jaguars, and frankly, they spend waaaay too much time in the shop to impress me.  Still, this new F-Type is absolutely gorgeous!


I made it a point to go check out the BMW's.  I really wanted to like them, but after looking them over I was even less impressed than when I got there.  They didn't have the nice thunk you like to hear when you close the door, and the seats didn't swallow me like I want them to. 


The new "baby" Maserati, the Ghibli.  Nice, but no cigar.



The latest iteration of the car that changes super premium fuel into tire smoke and noise, the Dodge Viper.



The Fiat 500 Abarth, because I always include one in my car show pics.

I did find my next car at the show, the upcoming (this summer), all new (although outwardly it's only slightly evolutionary looking), Volkswagen GTI:





They say it, like the previous gen GTI, has magnificent power, handling, comfort, and practicality....a daily driver you can thoroughly enjoy.  The interior quality will blow you away....I can't tell you how impressed I was with the fit and finish.  Kudos, VeeDub!  Seriously, when I'm ready to put my now-7-year-old Audi out to pasture, this is what I will be buying.  :)

And now just some random shots of select vintage cars on display:


Porsche 356


Buick ____


Early Corvette


The inspiration for "Pimp My Ride"?


Yeah....a purple Lincoln.  :0


Nice Jag


Rumble seat on a T-Bird?

That was the Dallas Auto Show 2014.  Next week....Cars and coffee.  :)

S




Friday, February 21, 2014

What's next? Dancing With The Stars as an Olympic event?

You just knew it was going to happen, didn't you?  I'm talking cheating by biased judges at the Olympics.  It seems yesterday a Russian woman won the Gold figure skating medal while most people thought the South Korean skater did better and should have won.

It seems one of the judges is married to the Russian Figure Skating Federation (?) leader and another was caught cheating back in the 1990's giving preferred scores to fellow Russian skaters.  Did they cheat this time, too?  I have no idea.   




 I once tried to watch figure skating, but all I saw was a skater jump up into the air and in .000003 seconds do 4 spins,  2 flips (and maybe finish off a Starbucks latte for all I know), then land on her feet and do it again going the other direction.  Or so they said.

Meanwhile a judge watches the same and says, "You know, I think the little finger on her left hand wasn't extended far enough.  I like to see a more pronounced pinkie.  I'm going to deduct 6 points."

What I do know, however, is that just putting judges on the panel with those kind of past indiscretions and potential conflicts of interest makes a mockery of the event. The IOC, or whoever it was that selected the judges, needs to be slapped down.  

I've heard many people say these Olympics have lost some of the magic that past Olympics had.  This type of SNAFU doesn't help that image.

It's a shame that all events can't just be timed events where the winners and losers are clear cut, with no room for manipulation.  First one across the line wins.  Here's your medal, sing the song, salute the flag, then go home for the big parade.

And one last Olympic comment:  While I enjoy watching the halfpipe and freestyle skiing and such showy events, they sometime seem more like entertainment events than serious Olympic sports.  

It's like watching the Harlem Globetrotters....they're great fun to watch, but they aren't the NBA.  Not to take away anything from the talents of the participants, but they just don't seem like they "belong" at the same venue.

That said, I've got to get back to my training.  Cow chip tossing, if you must know.  :)

S


Thursday, February 20, 2014

This isn't going to end well


For those of you who have been napping for the past month, let me update you on world events:

The folks in Ukraine (formerly one of the Soviet Socialist Republics before the USSR went belly-up) are in full-fledge revolt.  They want to align themselves with the European Union as they see that as the surest way for them to grow and prosper.  As it is now they're a sneeze away from bankruptcy.  Russia doesn't want to let go of their influence there, and is pulling the strings of the current Ukraine leader.

Vladimir Putin (aka Pootie-Pooh), the Russian President, is about to blow a gasket thinking about one of "his" neighbors rejecting him and taking up with their neighbors on the other side. He's very possessive, a man scorned, and he's an old school KGB'er at heart....not a good combination.  

Meanwhile back in Sochi, the showcase Olympics that Pootie has spent the equivalent of $50B on is turning out to be a laughable mess.  These Olympics are to Russia today what the 1936 Berlin Olympics were to Nazi Germany; a way to show the world how advanced, modern, and powerful they are.  

So far that isn't working out well.  Their facilities are woefully crude and crumbling and many of the venues themselves are simply inferior.  The Russians are hockey obsessed and care about little else but their team winning the hockey Gold Medal.  Yesterday they were knocked out....humiliated even....in a quarterfinal round.  

Home-grown terrorists are somewhere in the Sochi shadows right now, hoping to cause mayhem.  They have so far been kept at bay only because Russia has stationed a not-so-small army there (for now) to step on them.  All this is taking its toll.  The Russian (read: Vladimir Putin's) psyche has been severely wounded.  

Remember the old joke...."What's worse than shooting at a charging bear and missing?  Shooting at a charging bear and only wounding him."

If the protesters in Ukraine succeed in putting in place a new government that turns it's back on Russia, don't be surprised if Putin does something violent in response.  Or maybe he'll even devise an excuse to physically go into Ukraine before it gets to that to "restore calm".   

Of course the west will respond with a meaningless statement of condemnation, the Russians will curtail natural gas deliveries to Europe (they provide the majority of Europe's natural gas) as pipelines go down for "routine maintenance", and from there....?

Most catastrophes don't start out with one gigantic "boom".  They're usually the result of a number of small things that go wrong and build on each other, culminating in one gigantic boom.  Nobody, least of all little 'ol me, knows yet what's going to happen.  But considering the crude, violent nature of politics in that part of the world, I'm guessing things aren't going to end well.

S


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Conversations with K



My wife, K, has a very....unique....way of thinking.  Yeah, let's go with unique.

K:  "We're having pasta for dinner tonight.  Do you want a vegetable with it?"

ME:  "Sure.  What are my choices?"

K:  "We don't have any vegetables."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


A few weeks ago during one of our icy weather spells K said Luke the Wonderdog's paws would be cold when I took him out for his dootie call.

K:  "We need to get him some of those doggie booties."

ME:  "He'll never wear them.  Dogs don't wear shoes.  That's dumb."

K:  "Yes he will.  Besides, they're cheap.  You can get 3 or 4 for $8 at Pet Smart."

ME:  "THREE or four?  THREE....or....four?  They have a 3-legged-dog section at Pet Smart?" 



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

K is currently on one of her thrice yearly health food kicks.  She's all excited about Omega 3 vitamins (some kind of fish oil) and came home with these words of wisdom:

K:  "We need to eat fish every day three times a week."

ME:  "Wha....what?"


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I'm thinking she and Yogi Berra sit on adjacent limbs of the same family tree.


Definitely.  :)

S



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Living large by living small

I always chuckle when I see that commercial on TV for a retirement investment fund when they ask, "Will you be able to keep your same standard of living after you retire?"  *gasp*  I wonder, "Why would you want to?"  Why would you want the same big 'ol house that you raised 3 kids in when you're down to just two empty nesters?

K and I  (mainly I) realized this about 7 years ago and sold / gave away most of our "stuff", a prelude to downsizing our living quarters by 2/3.  Things were surprisingly easy to part with.  Our furniture was very high quality, but it had no sentimental value.  Over 30 years I had collected a 400-500 volume library, and I just assumed it would move with me.  But then K pointed out that if I don't re-read them or use them for reference, they're just 500 dust catchers.  Good point.  I kept a few special volumes, but then got rid of the rest.  Now I buy (mostly) e-books.

We found a 2 bed / 2 bath apartment in the Shops of Legacy, an upscale residential / restaurant / entertainment district in Plano (a north Dallas suburb) which also not by coincidence was just 1 mile from K's work, and just 2 blocks from a freeway that took me straight to my work.

We were super excited....until we signed the lease, they gave us the keys, and we opened the door.  "OMG", we thought.  "What have we done?"  The place looked tiny.  

Our house had a 24' x 36' Great Room, and this apartment had a den less than half that size.  But as we moved in and started to put our remaining stuff away we found we had more than enough room.

You have to learn to think in 3 dimensions.  It isn't just about "floor space", but about vertical space, too.  These days TV's are only an inch thick and can hang on the wall.  Stereo speakers are the size of Rubick's cubes and can fit anywhere.



The Container Store has the perfect sized see-thru storage boxes to fit under beds.  Their larger boxes can be stacked to the ceiling in a corner of the closet with out-of-season clothes, then switched twice a year.



Those dead spaces high above washers/dryers can be utilized with Elfa style shelves and clothes rods.  No space goes unused.


Downsizing includes furniture, too.  Two people don't need a huge dining table with leaves and 6 or more chairs when a simple drop leaf table will work just fine.

And as we settled in more it got even better.  The grounds were beautifully manicured, the trees were perfectly pruned, fresh flowers were always being planted, and I didn't have to do any of it.  Hungry?  Bored?  Just a 2-block walk took us to Bishop Street, a 6-block-long strip that offered 25+ eateries, a multi-screen theater, and several adult beverage establishments.

Something around the apartment need maintenance? The A/C filter need changing?   I just fire off an email and it's fixed.  They even change our light bulbs.  No joke!  And time NOT spent doing chores around the house left us more time to enjoy....well, life.

But eventually we found some of our old habits returning.  We would impulsively buy something, play with it a few times, then relegate it to the spare bedroom / catch-all room.  We once again had too much space.  We decided to downsize yet again, this time to a newer, nicer, but slightly smaller 1 bed-1 bath apartment.



My giant oak roll-top desk and tall file cabinet went away and were replaced by a smaller, more efficient style desk and file box (kept in the closet).  I'm fascinated by efficient things.  I love this multi-purpose furniture (link).  (Wait for the top video to load.  It's very impressive.)  It's meant primarily for those tiny Manhattan apartments, but I can see using some of those tables in my house.

I recognize that downsizing isn't for everyone.  If you have a large brood and your house is their assembly point or you have lots of out-of-town company, you're pretty much stuck.  And you have to be willing to check your ego at the door.  This lifestyle won't impress many.

But if you'd rather spend your time golfing, playing tennis, cycling, or painting yet another picture of a tree (if those are your thing) vs. worrying whether you'll land that big client and get that sorely needed bonus, it's a nice way to live.

We've cut our housing expenses by 50%, even after figuring in the tax advantage of owning.  I'm not saying we'll never own again, but if we do, it will have to be a small townhouse or condo, one where everything outside is maintained by someone besides me.

It's a great lifestyle that I will never give up.  Smaller is good....unless you want to build a giant 6,000+ sq ft house.  Then I'm your builder.  Call me.  *wink*

S