Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More Random Thoughts

Last post of 2008, and it's more glimpses into the mad, mad, mad inner workings of my head. Enjoy the show!

So I'm on break from class, and what do I do to commemorate this? I order a construction rolloff dumpster to be delivered to the house so I can clean out the garage, closets, office and all the other various and sundry hiding places where junk has accumulated over the last several years. So far, I've filled it almost to capacity and I haven't even finished the garage cleanout phase yet. We're gonna need a bigger dumpster!

The Gnu Herd has discussed getting a puppy. The Missus wants a collie. I suggested "Melon" as a great name for a collie. It took her a few minutes to get the joke, then she threw a pillow at me. Could've been worse... how about a Shih Tzu named "Ho Li?"

There's an old saying from the hallowed halls of the Physics Department: "An object at rest remains at rest, unless that object is a man, in which case his wife will be along shortly to correct the situation." This is known as Newton's First Law with the Marriage Corollary.

Last week, The Missus asked me if wheat was a flowering plant. "Yes it is, like all grains and other grasses," was my answer. She then asked me, "Do they smell?" I replied, "No, silly, plants don't have noses!" And then she socked me. Being a smartass hurts sometimes!

The Missus also wants us to switch to Soy Milk for some godawful reason. I gotta know... where are the tits on a soybean plant??? Will MiracleGro make them bigger?

Okay, that's enough randomness for one posting. From all of us here at Gnu Central, have a Safe and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thank You, Troops!

As we hustle and bustle about trying to get ready for the holidays, let's take a moment to remember those who can't be home for the holidays. If it weren't for our troops willing to stand in harm's way to defend our freedoms, we wouldn't be able to celebrate Christmas.

Please take a moment to send a postcard to a soldier stationed in a faraway land, and let him or her know you are truly thankful that we still live in a free country.



Click on the "(>)" arrow above to go to the link for the Lets Say Thanks website to send a postcard to a soldier serving our Republic overseas, in harm's way, defending our freedom. If you have trouble with the widget, then click here for the website!

A very special thank you to all those who serve our country and all our best wishes to you and your families!

The Cure For Boredom

School is out (for both of us - YAY!!!!) and the year is winding down. The Christmas shopping is all done, presents are wrapped up under the tree, and we're all settling in for a long winter's eve cuddled up around the fireplace.

Or in my case, hunched over the computer, surfing. Yeah, I'm a hopeless geek.

When what do my wondering ears behold but a cell phone ring, heralding an incoming text message...

...it's from my daughter, sitting not more than two feet away from me, texting away on her phone. Geek in training? Could be. Let's see what she wants...

The Skating Gnu (via text): "Hi"

Me (reply via text): "Hi!"

TSG(vt): "I am bored"

Me (rvt): "Oh... Reeeeaaallllyyyyy??? I can fix that REAL easy!"

TSG(vt): "No thanks"

Me (rvt): "You can thank me later... after you finish the task list."

TSG(vt): "What task list?"

Me (rvt): "Hmm... let's see..."

TSG(vt): "Oh no"

Me (rvt): "1. Dust and vacuum the living room. 2. Clean your room. 3. Take out the trash and recycling. 4. Put away the clean dishes and load the dirty ones into the dishwasher. 5. Put away your clean clothes and pick up your dirty clothes."

TSG(vt): "Okay, I am no longer bored, so no thank you."

Me (rvt): "You can thank me later. NOW GET TO WORK!!"

TSG(vt): "Aaaaa... I am dieing!"

Me (rvt): "You are also spelling things wrong. I can add to your list if you like..."

TSG: [Jumps up out of her chair and scoots out of the room like a Gnu on a mission!]

And that, dear readers, is how you cure "Winter Break boredom!"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Aces High

Whew! I am finally done with the financial courses in my degree. This fall has been nothing but repetitive number crunching. I know finance and accounting are important subjects to understand in a business and technology management curriculum, but I've had enough. I've learned a lot about money and finances that I've ben needing to know for a long time, but I feel like it has come at the cost of - well, what's the best way to explain this...

Momentum.

I feel like I lost momentum, as if I were sidetracked into a tangential line of research. I was on a roll, knocking out heady management topics and then got pulled aside to balance the damn checkbook. Now I've got to get my head back into the game with four more courses to go. The next four classes cover big topics: Global IT Management, IT Security, Project Management and the Capstone. I have no idea what to expect for that last one, and it's recommended to be the last course we take in the degree program. So I have definitely got to regain the momentum I had before I got dog-piled by balance sheets, capital budgets and call margins!

On the plus side, I aced both courses. The last one solely by the grace of a kind professor on a curve. Most of us tanked on the final exam so he cut us a break. Special thanks to Dr. Z for the holidays!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Banner Year for Dentistry

I have no idea how, when or where, but I seem to have really pissed off Saint Apollonia. Just got back from a mid-week visit to the dentist to get a filling refilled after it broke loose last week, and not more than two days later broke another tooth on the other side.

I expect representatives from my dental insurance to pay me a visit real soon demanding to know if I'm the one who's playing hockey not my daughter - whose teeth are still perfect!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Postcard From The Gnus to You

A special Thanksgiving Postcard from The Smoking Gnu and Family to all our family, friends and loved ones:

May you have...
More blessings than you can count,
More friends than your house has room for,
More joy than your heart can hold,
More turkey than you can eat!

May your...
Visits with relatives be brief,
Fellowship with friends last long,
Football games be awesome,
Cooking turn out just right!

Be forever thankful for...
A loving family,
A steady job,
A strong and free Republic,
Those who serve and protect us from harm,
God's blessings on us all!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Proud Parents of a Skating Gnu

Indulge me a bit while I brag on my progeny...

Last semester she came home with straight A's and made the honor roll.

Last week she was promoted to First Clarinet in the band. That's the top spot for the class.

Yesterday, she scored two goals and almost made it a hat trick when she crashed the net on a breakaway.

Today, she was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society.



Tomorow... the world!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flippin' the Bird

These things always seem to happen when I'm in the shower.

There I was, enjoying a steaming hot soak to wash away the sore muscles from yesterday's fundraisers. Yes, that's right: two fundraisers. One for The Skating Gnu's Youth Assembly and one for the Orphanage. Both were a lot of fun and wildly successful. But it was a long day. And I'm gettin' too friggin' old for long days on my feet.

I ache, therefore I soak. Ahhh......

I"m just getting ready to start the repeat cycle of lather-rinse-repeat when I hear a loud commotion from the other end of the house followed by this snippet of conversation:

The Skating Gnu: "What The FREAK!!!!"

Mrs. Gnu: "AAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!! SHUT THE DAMN DOOR!!"

The Skating Gnu: [Raucous laughter]

As I scramble out of the shower I consider two options:

Option A: Someone is in trouble and I may need either a weapon or a first aid kit. Or both, depending on my aim.

Option B: There's a big, scary bug in the house again and my wife is just doing her usual freak-out over it.

Option B explains the laughter from my daughter. So rather than charge in towel-clad and dripping wet to attack whatever it is that's invading my house, I opt for the more calm approach and take a moment to put on some pants and my housecoat, assuring myself that the bug can't possibly be that big and scary despite the continuing screams (and laughter) emanating from the living room.

Nope. I miscalculated a bit on this one.

I walked in to the living room, expecting to see some tiny speck crawling on the wall and instead was dive-bombed by a flying object aiming for my head, followed by another scream from The Missus, "Watch out! It's a VAMPIRE BAT!!"

After extracting myself from under the coffee table, I was able to get a closer look at my attacker: a cute little wren had somehow flown inside and was now flitting back and forth from perch to perch in search of an escape path.

Me: "A vampire bat? Really? It's a bird, you Dodo. [The pun was completely lost on the pair of them. The bird wasn't amused either.] How is it that you manage to equate 'flying animal' with something that isn't even indigenous to this continent??"

Okay, so vampire bats go as far north as Northern Mexico. That's still a three-hour jet flight away from us. No idea how that translates into unladen swallow airspeeds...

The Missus: "I don't care! It's a Pterodactyl as far as I'm concerned and it's after me! Get it out!"

Okay, fair enough. I don my best "Dragonslayer" pose and get down to business.

My big plan was to shut all the doors to the rest of the house, hang blankets in the doorways and herd the little bugger into the dining room where I could open a window and let him out.

The Missus on the other hand, surprised all of us with her ability to simplify the best laid plans of mice and men (and vampire bats) by opening the back door and standing back.

Birds apparently do a better job with the concept of open windows and doors than houseflies do: he flew right out, not missing a wingbeat. Problem solved. Now all we have to do is check the high spots in the house for bird poop. I'm too short for that job so I'm leaving it to The Missus.

In answer to the smug look on her face from her commendable application of Occam's Razor, I reminded her that, knowing my luck, if I'd been the one to open the door our bird in hand would have been joined by every bird in the bush!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dear America...

An open letter to the voters of the United States of America:

You have elected the government you deserve.

May God have mercy on us all!

Sincerely,

History

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Southern Fried Gnu

Our office went to the North Carolina State Fair this afternoon. We all had a great time, but I have a feeling I'll be alternating betwen speed-eating Lipitor pills and downing shots of Pepto-Bismol all night. Here's a brief list of the deep fried goodies we all partook of:

Turkey Legs
Fried Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Fried Snickers
Fried Banana Pudding
Corndogs
Funnel Cake
Fried Macaroni and Cheese
Fried Oreos
Hushpuppies
Fried Twinkies
Fried Pecan Pie

Okay, the turkey legs weren't fried, but they were chargrilled to perfection and served up with a heapin' helpin' of BBQ sauce. Yumm!! Everything was nothing short of heaven on a plate. "Y'all come down here and get some South in your mouth!!" Yes, that's an actual quote from the PA system! Yeehaw!

I took my camera phone with me and brought back some pictures. They're not the best in the world, but you should get a good feel of what a great time an afternoon at the State Fair can be.


Deep Fried... umm.... what???



More Artery-clogging goodness!



I just wanted to say HAY to everyone!!



Nice melons!



I'll bet these'll make NICE Jack O'Lanterns!



Coworker's question: "What do you do with a giant pumpkin?"
My answer: "Make one HELLUVA pumpkin pie!"



The unique architecture of Dorton Arena, as seen from Indigestion Alley.



Dorton Arena from the side. Really neat old building!


It was gorgeous weather for a day at the Fair. Clear skies, 70 degrees. Perfect. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go have myself a preventive coronary bypass!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Vacation Postcards

Some pictures from the Outer Banks for you!

Click each thumbnail for larger view...


Sunrise over the Atlantic


Sunrise with Dolphins!


Sunrise with Seagulls


Great view from the deck, huh?


Outer Banks Angler


Crabby Neighbor!


Pelicans Incoming


Pelicans on Patrol

All pictures (c) 2008 The Smoking Gnu
All rights Reserved

Light Waves

We watched a dazzling display of natural beauty last night. No, I was not prancing around on the dunes in a kilt. Be still thy beating heart.

The waves lit up like fluorescent light bulbs, all the way down the beach. Bright blue flames that licked up and down the crashing waves as they broke along the shore like an electric pipe. It was like watching a surprise meteor shower, only this was caused by living organisms.

A type of plankton known as a dinoflagellate will occasionally bloom offshore, feeding on upwellings of nutrients from deeper water. They react to being disturbed by lighting up in an electric blue display. When they're numerous enough, they turn the water red, thus providing the origin of "Red Tide."

Last night they were numerous enough to light up the surf but not yet enough to turn the tide red. I was unable to get a picture of the show, but click here to see one photographer's achievement on the West Coast from a similar display.

Unfortunately, some species of "Red Tide" dinoflagellates are toxic, and these toxins become concentrated when ingested by clams, oysters and mussels. They tend to bloom in the Fall, which is why we have the old saying, "Never eat shellfish in a month ending in 'R'."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This Just In...

It's an epidemic!

Beach Lacrosse, Smoking Gnu-style!

So, apparently Ghost Crab's brother jumped in after him. How often have we read news reports of two perishing to save one stuck down the well? This seems to be universal, not just human. Back down three flights of steps I go to help the little tyke out.

To answer your burning questions:

Q: How do you get an angry crab out of a pool?
A: With a long pole and a net.

Q: (Obvious follow-up, since I know you're wondering) How do you get him out of the net?
A: Ever play Lacrosse?

I doubt he'll be back anytime soon, considering how I flung his ass over the fence and the dune behind that.

Judging from the girlish screams emanating from the other side of that dune, I have to assume he made a happy landing.

Oops. :-)

Filtered for your Sanitation

The cottage has this nice pool. Midnight swims have been the order of the day all week, only now we will have to cancel tonight's swim.

Why?

It's got crabs.

Seriously. And they pinch like hell, too!

There's this one Ghost Crab who lives next to the back door that keeps falling in to the pool. He can get in just fine, but can't get out. We've fished him out (fished... hahahahahaha!!!!!) several times already, but now he's done for. Trying to escape our latest efforts at well-intentioned rescue, the dumbass crawled into the inlet to the filter pump.

The inevitable crab soup was... inevitable. And inedible.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Back to the Island


And watch the sun go down,
Listen to the sea roll in.
I'll be thinkin' of you,
And how it might've been.
Listen to the nightbird cry,
Watch the sun set die.
Well I hope you understand
I just had to go back to the island.

-Jimmy Buffett
Back to the Island
(License to Chill)


Another year and it's time for the annual pilgrimage to the Outer Banks. We arrived in time for the Second Annual Duck Jazz Festival. I was expecting Mallards, Pintails and Canvasbacks doing a four-piece beat ensemble, but we found some real musicians pouring out some great music. A good time was had by all.

The Gnu Herd rolled into town just in time to enjoy some Jazz on the beach, then off to the Sunset Grille for some good eats.

Ahh, it's SO good to be back on the island!

(Poster: 2nd Annual Duck Jazz Festival, more information available here.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Halfway There!

Oh, we've got to hold on,
Ready or not.
You live for the fight
When that's all that you've got.

Oh, we're halfway there,
Whoa-oh! Livin' on a Prayer!
Take my hand,
We'll make it I swear!

-Bon Jovi
Livin' on a Prayer

This week marks exactly the halfway point in my Master's degree program. Halfway through the sixth course out of eleven total. But it's not all downhill from here. That line of thinking leads to complacency. I can't afford to get cocky, lazy or just plain scared. We've reached the point of no return. Best thing to do now is stay the course and see this through to the victorious end.

I have learned a lot going through this program. Not just new ideas or filling in the gaps between what I know so that I can be better at my job. I've learned a few things about myself too. For starters, I can do it. However tired and frustrated I get, I know that I can buckle down and fight my way through the problem.

I've stayed up till 3am working on assignments, then got up the next day and put in 11 hours at work, come home and visit with the family, cook dinner and do it all over again till the work is done and turned in. I've read, re-read and re-re-read the same case study, rewrote the same analysis, tweaked the problem answers for the umpteenth time till they're right. I've aced open-ended essay exams on less than 4 hours of sleep.

I've had teachers and classmates tell me I'm working too hard. That I could "get by" on half the effort. Bullshit. When I write my assignments, I'm writing for myself, not the class. I'm getting something out of the exercise that I can keep long after the grade is written down. I'm learning for myself, about myself, to better myself.

I'm also learning a lot about budgeting my time. I have a feeling that once I'm done, I'll have my schedule nailed down so well that I'll end up bored stiff. What will I do with all that extra time?

Don't tell The Missus I said that!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

No Accounting For Sleep Deprivation

The new mattress arrived today. So why am I not snuggled up in bed testing it out? Simple: accounting homework due by 12 midnight Pacific time.

Nothing like pushing those deadlines, huh?

The delivery of the new wondernest was a nightmare and a textbook case of how a company can lose business one pissed off customer at a time. More to come on that story. First, I gotta finish learning how to balance a goddamn annual statement. Then study for a test tomorrow.

Friday, September 5, 2008

One Door Closes And Another One Opens

My last day at the old job was Tuesday. As expected, it was total chaos. I feel bad for my teammates I left behind. The last two weeks I really tried to get as much knowledge out of my head as I could and put it down on paper where they could use it, but there are some things that can't be put into words. Like knowing when a project manager has his head up his ass or how to tell when a QA tech needs a little support in saying "No!" to impatient business sponsors.

That's one of the shortfalls to documentation: you can't write down every piece of knowledge and experience a person has pertaining to their job. There are some things that have to be re-learned every time a new person takes over a given job and you have to stand back and let them go through that process or it will be very difficult for them to grow into being effective at that job.

The problem is, if you have high turnover on a job, you lose more than just that intangible experience, you lose a little bit of the knowledge that can be written down but isn't for one reason or another. My predecessor knew more than me and she was only able to impart a certain amount of transferable knowledge before she left. I in turn was only able to write down so much of what could be documented before time ran out on me.

This is why retaining good employees is so critical to a team's success and ultimately the company's success as well. We've now had 4 people leave this team and when we each left, a little bit more was lost from the team that can never be recovered.

This point is just as important (if not more so) than making the numbers balance on the quarterly statements. What good is it if the numbers look pretty if you have a revolving door of amateurs in and out of a team that is highly specialized and whose work is critical to the business's operation?

I started my new job on Wednesday. Big difference from the old job. Higher expectations (my own being the highest on myself), bigger shoes to fill, more people depending on me not to screw things up. My first day was the usual: Greenhorn Orientation, nickel tour of the office and lots of faces and names I'll have to relearn all over again because I definitely do not have a photographic memory, set up my office.

Yes. I have an office now. With a door. And a view. Happy Gnu.

Second day on the job, I walk in to a 21-flaming-server salute. Yikes! All the troops scrambled to put out the fires. The day's plans took a flying leap right out the 10-story-high window.

On the plus side, I got to observe how the team operates under pressure.

In other news, it turns out I didn't bomb the final exam last week. Got an A for the class. Five down, six more to go!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy Labour Day

Time to put away the white shoes. Summer is officially over.

We're all taking a breather this weekend. The Gnu Herd piled into the car to go down the road aways to a wedding, in the land of Trains, Cheerwine, and Liddy Dole. Very, very dear friends of the family and for all rights and purposes they are family to us, their son was the groom, complete with the traditional "deer in the headlights" look and everything else that goes with the grim passing of bachelorhood. All is well in the world, he found himself a keeper. Raise a glass of Guinness to the happy couple!

Meanwhile back at Gnu Central, we're just relaxing, taking a break from most of the things that tend to keep us busy and scattered across three counties. Grill up some burgers tonight, pop open a couple of brews, and just relax and be thankful for all that we have been blessed with.

Good news of the day:

1. My term paper for the last class came back with a 100. So assuming I don't go into negative points on my final, this one's a wrap. Onward to Financial Accounting! (Bleah)

2. The Skating Gnu is settling in to 7th grade nicely. At the least, no notes from the principal and the SWAT team hasn't been called out to the school. Yet. She keeps reminding me that she will be a teenager next year, to which I reply that's why I have the U.S. Marine Corps recruiting office on speed-dial. Yeah, that usually shuts her up.

3. Another dear friend of the family (who is also honorary family) is fighting back against cancer and appears to be winning. Cheers and prayers for him and his family are encouraged.

Last, but not least, what would a holiday be without another episode of CoTD:

Time: This afternoon
Place: Phone conversation with Buddy

Buddy: "So, whatcha been doing today?"

Me: "Wife and I went and bought a new mattress."

Buddy: "Nice! So, tell me (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) did you break it in yet?"

Me: "Yep. Didn't wait around for that."

Buddy: "Nice!"

Me: "Not really, we're not allowed back in that showroom anymore!"

Buddy: "Bwuhh..."

Ask a stupid question...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Where's the incentive?

Conversations of the Damned, Part XXVIII

Time: Way too goddamn early on a Saturday morning
Place: Right next to my ear, presently covered under a pillow to block out the rising sun (GOT to get those damn blinds fixed!)

Mrs. Gnu: "Hey, honey, I'm going to check out the new gym down the road. Wanna come with me?"

Me: "Uhhhnnnnn...." (Rolls over)

Mrs. Gnu: "Get up lazybones! Let's go to the gym!"

Me: "Do they have college coeds on trampolines?"

Mrs. Gnu: "No!"

Me: "Do they have naked aerobics?"

Mrs Gnu: "No!"

Me: "You got some work to do on your sales pitch, dear."

Mrs. Gnu: (Throws the blankets off me) "Come on! Least you can do is lend me your support!"

Me: (Grabs blankets and proceeds to "cocoon") "You already have my support. What do you need next, scaffolding??"

I won't see her again until Wednesday. By then, the swelling should subside.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Take this job and...

Meant to post this here last Friday:

A great big giant shit-ton of suck just got removed from my week. Let's recap, shall we:

1. Wednesday: 100 on my mid-term. Professor had no comments. I've decided that I would have made one hell of an artillery officer: when something pops up on my radar that I deem to be a threat, annoyance or otherwise gets my attention in a bad way, my knee-jerk response is to shell the everlasting crap out of it. This was an online test and I had to type in my responses into a small text box. I have discovered that there is an 8000 character maximum that no one knew about before.

2. Thursday: 99 on my case analysis. Professor's only comment: "You really should switch to decaf." To date, this is my lowest grade for this class. Decaf? Like hell I'm switching. This is working for me!

3. The job I was interviewing for finally came through. I have officially signed the paperwork and told my boss. New job is a huge move up in my career. Can't frickin' wait!!

This weekend is all about the Scotch: 18yr Glenmorangie single malt. No pants required.

As mentioned before, I don't usually talk about work. For the most part, it goes well, and I don't want to be one of those whiny little bitches who piss and moan about having to put some effort into earning my day's pay. I don't mind working hard, and for the most part I prefer to be really busy and accomplishing something than bored shitless on the sidelines. But there comes a point when even my patience wears out for the relentless one-two punch fest of stupid management decisions about long term team goals and day-after-day abuse and neglect from armchair quarterbacks and bullshit artists.

My immediate boss and I get along great. We've pulled together and accomplished a lot with this team.
I have the highest respect for him. Above him, however, there are lots of managers, but not a single leader among them. Policy-mongers and paper-pushers too chickenshit to man-up and make an intelligent decision. They talk a big game but if they catch a whiff of a brewing fight, they will run away like French tanks facing off against German pocket knives.

My new job will be my first real foray into management. I've been team lead and assumed management functions in the past, but now the rubber hits the road. This is for real. Again, company names withheld to protect the guilty. So don't bother asking. But I've learned a lot at this job about how NOT to manage people, as well as taking some good positive lessons away with me as a smartly wrapped parting gift:

1. Look after your team. If you don't, they will throw your sorry ass under the bus first chance they get. And you'll deserve it. You sorry bastard.

2. Share the credit, hoard the blame. Gee, does this really need explaining? If so, you are too fucking retarded to be in a leadership position.

3. Listening is an activity, not downtime. By this, I mean when you are listening, don't just sit there letting the words wash over you like a rotten log in a river, or perch restlessly on the edge of your seat waiting for your turn to speak. Active listening is a mental exercise where you really take in what's being said by the other person, assimilate it to what you know or have learned and then ask more questions about what was said to ensure you heard it right. It takes practice.

4. Talk to your team. Don't hover over them, just find out how they are, how things are going, and most importantly, can you help out in any way. Most people prefer to be left alone to do their job, but it's good to know that the cavalry is waiting nearby if they need it.

5. Micromanagement is worse than obnoxious, it's a productivity killer. And it will decimate your team faster than tossing a grenade into the break room.

6. Trust your team to do their job. If they need you, they should have enough confidence in you to holler for help, otherwise, let them find the best way to get the job done. The corollary to this is, as one Veep I highly respect put it, "If someone messes up, understand that they are human and let them learn from it. If it's a stupid mistake and they should have known better, then yes by all means steamroll 'em if you have to. But afterwards, take them aside and let them know it's not personal."

7. Communication is a two-way street. Part of this goes back to the listening skills. But there's more to it than that. Don't waste people's time talking about nothing that's important to them or relevant to their work. Don't assume that silence equals consent, happiness or the absence of trouble. And above all, sometimes the best management decision is to ask a question and then shut up and listen to the answers.

8. An open door policy requires you to keep the goddamn door open. Don't just throw this out to the team as an empty platitude. It's just like any other promise; you have to deliver on it or else your credibility will suffer. Conversely, don't expect people to beat a path to your door; you have to earn their trust and prove you can communicate effectively before anyone will feel confident enough to take you up on it.

9. Integrity matters. Honesty matters. Ethics matter. These shouldn't just be a train of bullshit catchphrases from a bunch of smarmy "motivation" posters. It's a way of life. It's not easy walking the straight and narrow, but it's worth the effort. If anything, you'll sleep better at night. And who couldn't use a good night's sleep?

10. Don't expect your team to do anything you yourself won't do. That doesn't mean you have to be there right next to them at 3am, 25 hours into a 48-hour project (unless you can contribute something useful) but it does mean that if you expect heroic efforts, then you'd damn well better lead that charge from the front!

Meanwhile, back at the office, mass panic ensued this past Monday when word of my departure leaked out. It's good to feel wanted, even if it is too late. Being the mischievous devil I am, I couldn't help myself but to fan the flames further by packing up all my personal belongings and making sure to be seen walking out with them. Really, I just needed the box, and the stuff was gonna need to be hauled out sooner or later...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Highland Games

The Gnu Herd traveled to the mountains for a quick vacation. It was good to take time off from work. I still had class assignments to do, so it was a working vacation, sort of. Still, The Skating Gnu and I managed to find some free time to go take in the sights at the annual Highland Games taking place down the road.

A good time was had by all, and The Skating Gnu even got a quick lesson in playing the bagpipes from a pipes master visiting from Aberdeen, Scotland. Might just have to invest in a pair of those myself, one day. Can you imagine yours truly, kilt-clad piping away in the backyard? According to Scottish Tradition, the bagpipes are supposed to only be played outdoors - the more likely reality is that the poor piper's wife threw him out of the house to go play somewhere else! Still, in the hands of an expert, there is a haunting beauty to the sounds echoing across the Glen...

Some pictures below for you. Click on the thumbnails to see them full-size:

Grandfather Mountain


Musical Guest Performer Colin Grant-Adams


Piping Competition


Wee Lassies in Scottish Dancing Competition


Tossing the Caber (click on the picture for a larger view!)


All pictures (c) 2008 The Smoking Gnu
All rights reserved

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Sojourner's Toast

As we celebrate the birth of our Republic, let us remember those who are still fighting to protect our freedoms from the rapacious barbarism of enemies foreign and domestic. Sadly, there are enemies within the gates, those pathetic few who take for granted all that real, loyal, grateful and intelligent Americans hold so dear: those God-given rights and blessings of Liberty that stand as a shining beacon to the world.

This is why we fight.

Remember, no one is flooding the borders of any third-world hellhole or clamoring for admittance to some tinpot communist dictatorship, nor are they washing ashore on the sands of Araby to grovel in utter misery at the clay feet of a false prophet. The hopeful flock here, where they know they have a chance at a greater future for themselves and their children.

This is why we fight.

Ours are the White Shores of our Age, and this is why the darkened and stone-hearted hate us, even those who are already here, basking in our freedoms protected by a country they hate, gifted to all of humanity from a God they choose to deny. They will do anything to extinguish the light of Freedom; to them, it is better to lie in squalor for all eternity in darkness than to face their own reflection in the light of truth.

This is why we fight.

From all of us real Americans, who love our Liberty and defend our freedoms through vigilance, hard work, loyalty, discipline and responsible citizenship, to all the troops, home and abroad, willing to stand in harm's way to keep the dream of America alive for one more generation, and to their families waiting at home, praying for their safe return,

THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS YOU!!

A stirring tribute to the flag of our Great Republic from the National Sojourner's site:

Sojourners Toast to the Flag

Here's to the Red of it!
There's not a thread of it,
No, nor a shred of it,
In all the spread of it,
From foot to head,
But heroes bled for it,
Faced steel and lead for it,
Precious blood shed for it,
Bathing it Red.

Here's to the White of it!
Thrilled by the sight of it,
Who knows the right of it,
But feels the might of it,
Through day and night?
Womanhood's care for it,
Made manhood dare for it,
Purity's prayer for it,
Keeps it so white!

Here's to the Blue of it!
Beauteous view of it,
Heavenly hue of it,
Star-spangled dew of it,
Constant and true;
Diadem gleam for it,
States stand supreme for it,
Liberty's beam for it,
Brightens the blue!

Here's to the whole of it!
Stars, Stripes and Pole of it,
Body and soul of it,
O, and the roll of it,
Sun shining through;
Hearts in accord for it,
Swear by the sword for it,
Thanking the Lord for it,
Red White and Blue!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Four and Out

Just finished my final exam for the fourth class in my degree. Database Management. Ugh. Databases are not my strong point, but I gave it my best, so we'll see how it goes. I've had my nose in a book all month in the evenings, and the same aforementioned nose to the grindstone at work during the day. Weekends? What are those?

Some good news on other fronts for the month to report. The Skating Gnu finished her first year of middle school at the top of her class, "A" honor roll. They gave her a medal and everything. I think she's still walking on air, and frankly, she deserves it. She put a lot of effort into her studies and that has been a source of inspiration and motivation for me as well. I wonder if she thinks this is a competition... well, it's working so, shh! :-)

Mrs. Gnu went off for a long weekend out of state to hang out with her best friend. Apparently they had a good time from all the giggles and wild stories they brought back. As for me, I had the house all to myself: the Skating Gnu was off to another state convention.

House all to myself, no adult supervision... you know what that means: stereo blasting 80's hair metal and an epic air guitar festival! WOO-HOO!

Post-Script - July 3

Having my nose to the grindstone may not do wonders for my looks, but it seems to work for my grades. Got an A for the class.

*RIGHTEOUS AIR GUITAR SOLO*

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Back from Beantown

I went to Boston for the week. Flew in on Memorial Day and took time out to be a tourist. Here are some pictures from my wanderings, for your enjoyment:


Holocaust Memorial, in Carmen Park near Faneuil Hall


Samuel Adams, Brewer and Patriot
Outside of Faneuil Hall


Boston Skyline from the Charles River


Boston Skyline and Longfellow Bridge


Museum of Science from the Charles River


Customs House Tower and Faneuil Hall Cupola


Under the Orange Line Bridge

All photos copyright 2008 The Smoking Gnu

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Another Fish Story

The bad part about experimental cooking is that occasionally things go horribly wrong and you're stuck eating your mistakes.

The good part about experimental cooking is that occasionally things go really well and you get to eat your victories.

Case in point, last night's experiment with Tilapia. I thought I'd try a more western style dish using many of the same or similar ingredients from last November. Since that one turned out reasonably well (except for the peanut butter incident, which I'm still trying to live down) I thought I'd try a variation on the theme. Here, try it yourself:

Ingredients:
  • 2 good-sized, fresh Tilapia fillets, split and divided. (Hint, most fish fillets have a thick side and a thin side, divide these out so you can ensure that they cook evenly - meaning, cut them length-wise to separate the top from the bottom of each fillet)
  • 2 sprigs fresh Rosemary
  • 1 lb fresh Snow Peas
  • 1 pkg Portobelo mushrooms
  • Sea Salt
  • Lemon Juice (your choice of 1/2 lemon or lemon-in-a-bottle)
  • Olive Oil (Better get Popeye's permission before you mess with his woman!)
  • Whole Peppercorn medley (I cheated and picked up the McCormack brand peppercorn medley with the built-in grinder)
  • 1 box Mushroom & Herb Rice Pilaf (cheating again, I know. If you want to make your own, have at it. I'll be experimenting with my own homemade version as well. I'll let you know how it turned out.)

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Start the water a-boilin' for the rice pilaf. I was able to time my prep and cooking based on the prep/cook time of the rice since it took the longest. In this case, boil water, dump in box contents, cover, simmer for 18 minutes. So while the water is heating up, do the rest of the prepwork and if you've timed it right, you can start cooking right as the rice goes on. If you insist on doing everything from scratch, you're on your own for timing.

Wash the 'shrooms under cold water in a colander, drain well, pat dry and lay out on paper towels. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Sprinkle with sea salt liberally to help draw out any remaining moisture. Set aside.

Wash the snow peas in cold water and drain. Set aside.

In an 8-inch round baking dish, pour in just enough Olive Oil to cover the bottom of the pan. I'd estimate this at about 1 1/2 - 2 Tbsp. Sprinkle Sea Salt and grind up the peppercorns (about 1 tsp each I suppose, just use your own judgment and do what looks good). Lay the fillets on top of this, arranged so that the thick fillets are on the OUTSIDE and the thin ones are in the CENTER. There's a reason for this: The thicker fillets will have more surface area exposed to the heat while also protecting the thinner ones from cooking too fast.

Now, squeeze lemon juice over the fillets as evenly as you can, also avoiding getting it in your eyes or into finger cuts. That hurts. Trust me. If you want, you can brush or baste some of the olive oil over the top of the fillets, just be sure to do this after you've added the lemon juice, otherwise you're just shielding the fish from the vicious onslaught of citrus-from-above. Sprinkle more Sea Salt and Pepper grindings and pinch off the leaves from one of the Rosemary sprigs and sprinkle them over the top of the fillets. You can throw away the denuded sprig unless you collect them or something.

Put the fish in the oven for 15 minutes, right as the rice goes into the pot to cook. Timing is everything.

At about 8 minutes before the rice is done, you can start sauteing the peas and 'shrooms. Fire up a nice, wide skillet with about 2 Tbsp Olive Oil over medium-high heat. Break the remaining Rosemary sprig in twain and drop both parts in with about 1 tsp sea salt and 1 tsp coarse ground peppercorns when the pan is good and hot. Dump in the snow peas and saute until they start to turn bright green, about 5 minutes or so. Drop in the mushrooms and saute another 5 minutes or so, turning, stirring and otherwise mixing things up constantly.

About this time the timer should go off for the fish. You did set the timer, didn't you? Check the fish to see if it's done, if not, back in for another 2-5 minutes while you finish off the peas and 'shrooms. You'll know they're are done when all the peas are bright green and the mushrooms turn dark and slightly soft - but not mushy! Sauteed mushrooms should still have some firmness to them. You can remove the Rosemary sprigs now, but if any leaves are left behind that's okay. Adds flavour. Ding! Rice is ready. Fluff it with a fork and make sure it's all done.

Plate everything, serve hot.

Wine pairings: Oak-aged Chardonnay or a dry Gewurztraminer.

Dessert: Lemon or Lime Sorbet

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Randomized, For Your Pleasure

Random thoughts, just in time for warm spring days...

=-=-=-=-=

Memo to the fatass welfare brood mare, yappin' on the cell phone and clogging the grocery store aisles with your 40 offspring: Have you gotten your economic stimulus check yet? Yes? You're fucking welcome. You need to say "thank you" more often to people like me who earned that money for you.

=-=-=-=-=

For all the crap we husbands take from our wives on a daily basis, we are rewarded with watching you put on panty hose. Shimmy, shimmy!!

=-=-=-=-=

Next time I go to a game where the team mascot is a bull, I'm carrying big letters to hand out to the whole row saying, "GO BULLS HIT 1!" Make sure they all stand real close together, no space between them.

=-=-=-=-=

...Jane plays with Willy,
Willy is happy again...
-Games Without Frontiers, Peter Gabriel

That has to be the most unintentionally funny lyric ever. Happy, happy Willy!

=-=-=-=-=

Why is it that the perforation of the paper, whether it be paper towel, tear-out for bills or toilet paper, is always the strongest part of it? You would think that with holes all through it that the paper would tear off there, but no, it always rips off in a completely different direction. If we could invent a perforated paper tank, we could conquer the world!

=-=-=-=-=

I have an idea for a t-shirt:

Latin name and drawing of a coffee tree with programmers hugging it. Caption below says, "It's okay to hug a tree, just be smart about which ones. Trees, like humans, are not all equal: Some are more useful than others."

=-=-=-=-=

I'm thinking about writing a book of bad poetry in the form of prophecies, then paying stooges to claim they came true. Let's see how many idiots fall for it.

=-=-=-=-=

It's a knockout!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Off Probation Now!

Okay, let me explain. No, I'm not in trouble with the Law. At least, not that I know of. Let's step into the Wayback Machine and revisit this.

Back already?

Okay, remember that letter I got from the Graduate School? It said my admission was provisional, pending my performance in class and getting some prerequisites done. Well, in the interim, they rolled the prerequisites into the regular core courses, so all I had to do was keep a B or better in my first 3 classes.

Got my final grade back today for the Management of Software Systems class. Made an A. Once again, ass kicking deferred. The final exam was crazy, though. There's open-ended questions and then there's "write me a book about ___." I wrote 26 pages, then changed the font and margins to save some trees, even still I had 21 pages to turn in. I think I heard weeping on the other end of that email.

So that's now three A's for my coursework. A 4.0 GPA. Not too shabby a start. This means that the provisional status is removed and I'm now a fully admitted Grad Student in Good Standing. Yahoo! (Or you can yell Google! Whatever trips your trigger.)

It's been hard keeping up study discipline the past three semesters. Work gets so insane that it takes time away from reading, research, writing and just plain old nose-in-the-textbook studying before test time, but that's what pays the bills, so I just cowboy up and deal with it. My boss is working on his Master's too, so he's sympathetic and helpful, too. It's good, because we can trade on-call support nights with each other for class time and such.

Besides work, I got family, community projects, lawn care (grass doesn't mow itself - but what an AWESOME genetic engineering project we could work on!!) and at some point, working off the sleep debt. Everyone has been really supportive, and I can't thank you all enough.

I've still got a long way to go, and it's only going to get harder. I hope I can stick with it. Discipline, hard work, and dedication are what it's going to take. Support from friends and family help a lot too. Onward!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In the Garden of Eden, Baby...

How the conversation really went back in the Garden...

God: "Where the hell are you two?"
Adam: "Shh! Quit fiddling with your fig leaves, He'll hear you!"
God: "I heard that. Come out so we can talk."
Eve: "Dammit. Does this fig leaf make my ass look big?"
Adam: "No, you ass makes your ass look big!"
Eve: "Fuck you!"
God: "Look just answer me this... who ate my apple?"
Eve: (Points at Adam) "He did!"
Adam: (Points back at Eve) "She made me!"
God: "I told you two to stay away from that tree."
Eve: "Wasn't my fault. It's that damn snake of yours."
God: "Well, you've really fucked up now. I'm kicking you both out of the Garden. No more free ride. Eve, your punishment is that giving birth to your kids will hurt like hell, and -"
Eve: "Kids? I'm still a virgin, dammit! We're still dealing with his hang-ups about sex!"
God: "What do you mean? You're not being fruitful-"
Eve: "Fruitful? We eat a stupid apple and you throw us out!"
God: "No, I mean, you're not busy having kids? Why?"
Adam: "She won't let me be on top."
Eve: "Damn straight. He keeps going on and on about how he and his old girlfriend used to fight about that..."
God: "Wait, is that why Lilith skedaddled on you? Jeez, man. Think, she's on top you got the best angle for all the goodies."
Adam: "I want to be on top."
God: "Fine, you're on top in bed, but she gets to ride your ass to the grave the rest of the time."
Eve: "I can make that work."

And so it goes...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chutzpah, Redefined

El Snob De Musica has a story to tell and it reminded me of one of my own misadventures. Not that I hang out with transvestites at 4 in the morning or anything like that, in spite of what Coyote, Taco, Fett and Blue may tell you. Lies, Damn Lies and Politics, I tell ya!! Tim insists that the story be told, so here goes...

Back in 1986, before I was old, chubby and lazy, which is to say before I learned to drive, I used to run on bicycle tours in the summers between sessions at the University. I rode my bike everywhere back then, and I had a metabolism to support my feeding habits; sadly, I still have the feeding habits but not the metabolism. Or the bike. Traded up to a motorcycle in '89 and never looked back.

Our '86 summer tour started off at the Old City section of the Twin Cities (same location The Skating Gnu managed to make a slapshot that pinged both pipes and scooted crosswise behind the goalie without scoring - read all about it here- needless to say she was PISSED about missing that shot) and went down towards the coast to Myrtle Beach (Home of the Myrtle Beach Open, another story for another time!) then along the coastline through the Frances Marion National Forest, a stopover at Sullivan's Island and then on into Old Charleston. Five days at about 75 miles per day. Good times.

We had great weather all the way down until we got to the coast. Something was brewing offshore. While we were pedaling through the National Forest, we were sheltered from whatever it was until we reached Sullivan's Island. By then we could tell it was gonna be a wild ride into the city. We had no idea how wild until we topped the Cooper River Bridge and came to a complete standstill, thanks to a steady 50 mph headwind. Turns out we came into Charleston from the North and Hurricane Charley spun in from the Southwest. Not much of a hurricane at that point, but it was rain enough for us, and the wind did actually stop us in our tracks.

By the time we reached our accommodations in the Old City (First Scots Presbyterian Church) we were completely soaked. The city was getting more rain than it could handle, and we were actually paddling in two-foot flooding the last leg. We looked liked drowned rats, and felt worse.

Nevertheless, a quick shower and a dryer full of fresh clothes did the trick and after the rain stopped we were out on the town to take in the sights. Down by Battery Row, one of my comrades and I were poking in and out of open homes, shops, and eateries. We came up on one grand home on East Bay Street where a whole bunch of people were streaming in and out. Thinking it was an open house, we just strode right in...

Right into a SEA OF TUXEDOS!!!

Imagine if you will, two bikers in bandannas, cutoff jean shorts, torn shirts, docksiders and no socks facing off against a house full of James Bond stunt doubles. We looked at them, they looked at us, both sides in complete surprise. We'd walked all the way inside, and there was no turning back.

A pair of gorgeous girls in antebellum dress walked up to us, winked at each other and asked us for our invitations. Before I could think of an honourable exit strategy, my buddy pats his pockets down, points right at me and says, "He's got 'em!" They turn to face me with gracious smiles and expectant stares.

I quietly explained that we were sorry to intrude, that we thought this was an open tour or something, please don't arrest us, etc. One of the girls, smiled and replied in that deliciously sweet Southern accent that only a young lady of good breeding can do, "That's okay, come on in, have some refreshments and shake hands with the next Lieutenant Governor of the Great State of South Carolina!"

Somehow we'd managed to crash the kickoff party for Tom Hartnett's election campaign for Lt. Governor! Too late to cut and run, we walked in with every ounce of pride we could muster and had ourselves a grand time. Our second time through the hors d'oeuvre line we got to schmooze with the host himself, with a flock of penguins turning green with envy looking on.

Nice guy, by the way. Got to shake his hand, still have the campaign button he gave me.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I Like Pie!

She's my cherry pie,
Cool drink of water,
Such a sweet surprise.
Tastes so good make a grown man cry,
Sweet cherry pie!

Warrant, Cherry Pie

So, I'm working from home this week, and it's been an absolute zoo. Work is going crazy, and I had a paper due last night. I'd been working on it since Saturday, and by 1:00pm yesterday afternoon, I had exactly one paragraph written, and that one had been scrapped three times already. Needless to say, I was stressed to the breaking point. Finally got it turned in, all 5 pages with 7 minutes to spare. Talk about cutting it close! It's probably not my best work, but I was at least able to cover my main points and reach a point of satisfaction with it before time ran out.

Today, work is more of the same, insanity from the start. Mrs. Gnu, using her superpowers of intuition, (namely, listening to me swear like a sailor all morning) figured I could use a pick-me-up.

She came in to the office around lunchtime and had in her hands, a delicious, piping hot, homemade cherry pie. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

God, I love that woman!

Now, if only I could get her to dress up and do a remake of the video...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Six of one...

Conversations of the Damned:

We decided to order pizza tonight in commemoration of a wet, cold, dreary Saturday...

PizzaGurl: "Thank you for calling Total Domination's Pizza, may I take your order?"

Me: "I'd like two orders of Kickin' Chicken Bites, please."

PG: "Would you like ranch or blue cheese with those?"

Me: "One of each, please."

PG: "You mean one of each in each order or one with ranch and the other with blue cheese?"

Me: "That's basically the same thing."

PG: "Uhhh.... nooo. If you get one of each in both that's totally different than each with two of the same."

Me: "...Bwuh?"

Our future is in the hands of our children.

God save us.

Post-Script: The Domination's Pizza guy arrived, with tasty Italian goodness in hand. Two orders of Kickin' Chicken, one order of bread stix and a pepperoni pizza. Just like the Romans of Caesar's time, feasting for all!

Opening the two orders of chicken, we find... drum roll please... Ranch dip in both. The bread stix, on the other hand, had two blue cheese dips that don't usually come with them.

Well, who says results don't matter? Yay PizzaGurl!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ow! Ah Bwoke a Toof! It Hurth, Dammit!

Stop laughing! The damn thing hurts!

I don't know how I did it, but I managed to break a tooth while eating a ham sandwich last week. The day after I converted from contractor to full-timer at The Company. I haven't even had time to fill out all the paperwork and I'm already putting in benefits claims!

(Note: The Company is not to be confused with the Company or the company for that matter. I don't talk much about work for a reason; it's like Fight Club in my opinion. I don't talk about it. Unless I do. I'm ornery, remember?)

Worse yet, this was in the middle of mid-term week for my Software Management class. Will the pain never end?

A quick update: Psych class turned out good. Got an A. Now, on to Management of Software Systems. I do this for a living, so once again, it's an A or ass-kicking time. The Skating Gnu and her hockey team made it to the semi-finals in the Capital City Cup tourney. They put up a helluva fight against the tournament favourites and made a good accounting of themselves. Mrs. Gnu is still putting up with our crazy crap. I love that woman more and more each day. (Happy Belated Birthday, Dear!)

So, mid-terms. Tough class so far, lots of readin', researchin' and writin'. And readin'. And writin'. And scotch. Scotch? Yup. Scotch. Makes the researchin' much more interestin'. We get our test at the beginning of the week. Six questions, open book, open notes, open season on external sources. And I just HAD to break a goddamn tooth! Well, no use complainin' so take two Advil and start plowin' through it. Books scattered all over the office, 36 hours of work, and 18 pages written before I finally decided I'd done my best work on it. Turned it in, hoped for the best, took more Advil to kill the pain. Scotch to follow when it's safe to do so.

As usual, the Monday-morning quarterbacking starts the moment I declare myself finished. Mrs. Gnu said I should just turn it in and be done with it, don't sit there and over-analyze what I've written- just get it over with. She's right, I know she's right, and I know it's the best advice, but when it's my ass on the line, I find it a little hard to let go. Test anxiety again.

Grades were posted yesterday afternoon. I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn't seeing things.

100%

Toothache? What toothache?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

We Interrupt the Static...

Due to overwhelming workloads, schoolwork, holiday insanity and just general laziness, there will be no posts this month.

Wait....

Damn!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Writer's Block

I have a paper due Sunday. My second one for the Organizational Behaviour class I'm taking this semester. The first one was a complete success - got a 100 on it. I have never, ever scored that high on a paper before. I was flabbergasted. Unfortunately I feel like I set way too high a standard because all week I've been struggling with ideas for this paper.

Writer's block is a raw, howling, untamed bitch sometimes. I'll get started on an idea, then it grinds to a stultified impasse as I run headlong into one dead end after another. All week, I've been tossing topics, notes and ideas into the trashcan, which is now resembling some sort of forlorn Think Tank of Misfit Ideas.

Until this morning.

Inspiration is like a bolt from the blue: it hits you at the most unlikely moments, and when it happens to me, I am always awestruck at the human mind's capacity to solve problems without overtly thinking about them and come with the most unlikely of solutions at the most unexpected moments. In this case, it hit me in the shower this morning. (No, I did not drop the soap!)

I stepped out of the shower and told Mrs. Gnu, "Hey, I finally found a topic for my paper!"

Mrs. Gnu: (annoyed at the growing puddle on the carpet under my feet) "Where'd you find it?"

Me: (returning the sarcasm with interest) "In the shower, right where I left it. Oh, and last night I found Jesus. He was behind the couch all this time."

Never tangle with an inspired smartass...

Friday, February 8, 2008

To Infinity...

I had the most bizarre dream last night.

I was driving home from work, and I looked up in the rear-view mirror at the car behind me, only to discover it was an exact duplicate of mine. Even the driver looked like me. That's weird, I thought, and scratched my head. So did the driver in the car behind me. I waved. So did he, and I could that see that he was waving to someone behind him. I flashed my lights, so did he.

I pulled over to the side of the road. So did he. I got out of the car, and looked back at the car behind me. I could now see an infinite number of "Me" doing the exact same thing. Right as I was turning around to look down the road ahead, that little voice in my head said, Don't do it, you'll fuck up the space-time continuum by instantly creating another infinite number of you in that direction.

Sure enough, there we were, staring at the back of the head of the "us" in front of... well, us. See? I told you it was a bizarre dream.

So now I have an infinite set of "Me" in both directions, and I've got to figure out how to fix this. So, since I carry two cell phones, one for work, one for personal use, I call "myself." Phone 1 dials, phone 2 rings in my pocket.

Me: "Hello?"

Me: "Yeah, it's me. Behind you - don't look goddammit!!" I looked. Goddammit. There I was, looking behind myself to infinity.

Me: "We're fucked, aren't we?"

Me: "Yeah, looks like it. Got ideas?"

An infinite number of Gnus scratch their collective heads. Ad infinitum.

Me: "Okay, here's what we do. I'll walk up to the car in front of me and get in. Y'all do the same."

(No need for agreement or discussion, we all came up with the idea at the same time. Funny, that...)

So I walk up to the car in front of me, and get in. And when I look up from the dashboard, I'm all alone on the side of the road.

Or am I...?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Between The Sheetz.... With Gas!

My hometown has become ground-zero for great gas prices, ever since we got a Sheetz. Right around the corner from Gnu HQ, complete with a fast food joint inside and touch screen ordering kiosks at the pump. (Tip: When using them in the cold, try rubbing your thumb to make it warm then press the buttons, the screen is heat-sensitive.) The foreign guy who owns the Shell station across the street (no idea where from, I just know he hocked up a hairball every time he spoke) had gouged the area for many years; now he has to actually compete. Life is good, because Capitalism works!

So, I'm inside ordering up breakfast for the Gnu Herd on our way out for the day. I put my order in and wait for the hot, delicious goodness to arrive. On the counter, I see some stuff that needs to be cleaned up, so, being the good citizen I am, I scoop it up and head for the trashcan. One of the staffers sees me and smiles, "Oh that's okay, sir. We'll get that for you."

I smile at her and reply, "No worries, I like clean Sheetz, too!"

Poor girl nearly pissed herself laughing. I'm tellin' ya, one of these days...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Oh The Irony!

How ironic is it that this morning's hockey game was canceled due to...

Yep you guessed it. Snow and ice.

Only in the South!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Thin Squiggly Line Between Genius and Idiot

Tonight I performed another successful culinary experiment: Swedish Meatballs over Egg Noodles. Of course, the meatballs I concocted had more in common with Sioux cuisine than Stockholm: I made them with locally raised Bison.

Rave reviews from the family got me to thinking back to previous experiments. I figured it was time to share one which turned out quite well in the end, but in the process I tried one small experiment that probably doesn't cast the best light on me, but it's too damn funny not to share...

Last November, we had a celebration dinner. The Skating Gnu had just returned from the Capital City from a 6-2 trouncing of their hockey team, and I'd just gotten an A on my first Grad School paper. So, we stopped by an awesome Asian Supermarket on our way home and picked up a few things for a Vietnamese feast.

The evening's menu:

Appetizer:
Spring Rolls with Chinese sweet sausage, fried shrimp, fresh basil and Yamica root, served with Thai sweet/sour dip.

Main:
Tilapia fillets, pan seared in butter with fresh ginger, garlic and lemongrass, and sides of wild brown rice and stir-fried snow peas.

Dessert:
Lime sorbet.

Wine:
2002 Fieldstone Russian River Valley Gew├╝rztraminer
(Orange-Pineapple juice for the Skating Gnu)

The recipe I had for spring rolls called for ground peanuts. Now, understand, we engineers are a lazy bunch: we devise better ways of doing tasks so we don't have to expend so much effort. That's why we have supermarkets, SUV's and microwaves instead of chasing Buffalo down on foot, skewering them with sticks and roasting them over a fire.

So, ground peanuts, eh? I figure I can either do it the hard way by beating the ever-loving crap out of a Ziploc bag full of Planter's dry roasted, or...

I spy with my good eye,
the coffee grinder in the corner of the countertop. I've used it to grind coffee, of course, also used it to grind up some dry herbs and even peppermint candies for some Christmas Peppermint Hot Chocolate. So, I load the grinder up and push the button...

... and that, dear readers, is how you make Peanut Butter. Good grief, it took me forever to get that crap out of there.

On the plus side, my morning cup o' joy now has a distinctive nutty finish to it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ice, Ice, Baby

Walking 'round the room singing Stormy Weather,
At Fifty-Seven Mt. Pleasant Street.
Now it's the same room but everything's different,
You can fight the sleep but not the dream.

Things ain't cookin' in my kitchen,
Strange affliction wash over me.
Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire,
Couldn't conquer the blue sky.

There's a small boat made of china,
Going nowhere on the mantlepiece.
Do I lie like a loungeroom lizard,
Or do I sing like a bird released?

Everywhere you go,
you always take the weather with you,
Everywhere you go,
you always take the weather with you.

Take The Weather With You
Crowded House, from the album Woodface, 1992

So the Tar Heel State has had its first taste of winter weather this week. It's about time, I was afraid for a while that the whole continent had drifted south towards the tropics and the 32 billion species of disease-vectoring mosquitoes that thrive in the fever swamps down there. We ended up with more disappointment than snow, naturally, but school was canceled so the kids are happy nonetheless.

The adults, on the other hand, went completely bat shit.

It's a little known fact, one I mentioned in my last Postcard, that Southerners and ice typically don't mix well. Our normal reaction - and you could be forgiven for assuming that this is required by state law for all residents over 18 to behave this way- is to stampede to the closest grocery store and buy copious amounts of bread, milk and eggs. No idea why, it's just a Dixie tradition. If the power stays on, we're having French Toast. Power goes out, we're throwing rotten eggs at each other.

So Mrs. Gnu stopped by the local Wal-2-Wal-Martians Supercenter to pick up a few things. State law, remember, and we're law-and-order types. The place was packed. Chock full of the entire county population, in a full-contact deathmatch for the last scraps of uncooked toast. Most of her list went unscavenged and she beat a hasty retreat before someone tagged her to go in the cage to take on Marge Trailertrash for the championship.

Then the weather forecasts finally solidified and agreed that, yes, we were actually getting something. Maybe snow, more likely sleet, most likely just that cold, wet rain that gets inside your coat collar and freezes you to the bone. Of course what falls down and melts during the day will freeze at night. I made the call to work from home today and let Darwin run its course on the highways this morning and evening, and thin the commuting herd out a bit.

Sure enough, reports came in from all over of people playing billiards in two-ton sardine cans all over the roads. Every year this happens: a thin sheen of ice and people completely forget about the laws of Physics. You get four basic types out there causing trouble on the roads:

1. The busy executive, driving the pricey small-penis-compensator who's too fucking important to plan ahead, slow the fuck down and allow extra time to get to work. You'll find them smashed up the ass of the last car they tried to pass before the lane closed down.

2. Captain Fucktard, proud new owner of a shiny big honkin' SUV that he bought just for this occassion. God only knows why he seems to think 4x4=TANK. But you can see the end results of four wheels actively engaged to that Hemi drivetrain but still spinning wildly out of control, as you pass by the Century Oak tree he just wrapped himself around. Dumbass.

3. The Citizen Snowplow, sauntering along in the left-hand lane at speeds normally considered too fast for continental drift. While it may be sensible to slow down a little when winter weather hits, these folks take it way too far and usually end up with a busy executive crammed up their ass.

4. Maladjusted Yankees. Every November, you hear them say, "We know how to drive in snow. We're from the Great White North!" Every January, you find them in the ditches, every last one of them. Right where we left 'em.

As for me, I'm waiting out this localized apocalypse, bunkered down in my zombie-proof house.

With French Toast.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Gnus on Ice

The Skating Gnu had an away game in the Twin Cities today. I volunteered to keep score along with three other parents, two from each team. Although the score was lopsided to the point where we stopped posting updates to the scoreboard, everyone seems to have had a great time. I've had the pleasure of witnessing a fine example of sportsmanship and good old Southern hospitality from a young team with great potential.

Our hosts are members of a fine organization. They have their priorities in proper order. Youth sports is about kids having fun. It's a game, not a career, and most folks seem to understand that. Some people have a notion that hockey parents are crazy: yelling at the kids, coaches and refereees, throwing tantrums, fighting or just acting like children themselves. Granted, there are cases where such foolishness happens, but I don't see it around this part of the country.

Instead, I see a cadre of dedicated parents, working hard to help run organizations in far-flung cities whose primary focus is on kids having fun playing a great game. The first rule is to keep it fun for the kids. The second rule is help them learn lessons they'll use for the rest of their lives: Teamwork, Sportsmanship, Communication, Practice and Perseverence. The third rule is to have fun, play hard (but fair and honourable!) and do your best.

The parents in the stands shouted encouragement, not curses. Coaches taught teamwork, communication and strategy, not aggression, showboating or dirty play. Those of us in the scoring booth had a great time swapping stories about how our kids got hooked on hockey, how well all the kids were doing in the game, complimenting each other on great moves, checks, scores and some good-natured joshing over missed shots, awesome goalie saves and slapshots. All-in-all, I'd say the sport is in good hands here with a bright future.

Hockey is not native to the South, but it's becoming one of the fastest growing sports around here. These hardworking volunteers help promote a sport in a region of the country whose normal reaction to a sheet of ice is to collectively stampede to the grocery store in mass panic to purchase the maximum allotment each of bread, milk and eggs.

Kudos to all the volunteers and parents who help keep the game fun for the kids!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year 2008

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' auld lang syne

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gies a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

-Sir Robert Burns
National Poet of Scotland

Just in case you'd forgot the words, here they are. Sing it loud, sing it proud!