Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Shadow!

Today, I've shadowed a DO resident at a hospital near my hometown. Essentially, shadowing means that you follow a doctor around all day, watching everything, trying to soak up everything, and convincing residents that, yes, you've really thought it through and, of course, you want to go to medical school.

Without going into too much detail, I'll just make a quick list of the highlights of the things I witnessed today: a rectal exam (yep, the ol' finger poke), an NG tube being shoved into someone's stomach via the nose, and some poor guy who's balls had swollen to the size of a grapefruit.

Super awesome!

Tomorrow, I follow a different doc around. More later.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Your Business Card Isn't As Impressive

An old camp counselor buddy who now works for the Atlanta Police Department dropped by the house the other day. I knew it was him from the way he knocked on the door: a loud, authoritative pounding. It was the opposite of a Jehovah's Witness knock; honestly, they could learn a thing or two from the APD.

Anywho, he left me with his business card. When I looked at it, I immediately felt that no matter what I did, my card would never be as badass as his.

His card has the elements of every kick-ass action movie.

Mine might say "Man of Leisure" or something but nothing nearly as cool as having the combination of S.W.A.T., Bomb Tech, or freaking Rappel Master.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Action Figures

The other night, I dreamed that I was in a store full of old toys and discovered the old Star Wars action figures from my youth. When I started playing with them, I realized that they actually had "The Force" in them. I could make the action figures actually levitate things or convince others that these were not the droids they were looking for.

I was pretty impressed until someone told me that the action figures were made from injection-molded Mitichlorians. Damn you, George Lucas, damn you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What I Did on My Vacation, Part 3

For the final portion of our vacation, we returned to San Francisco for a birthday celebration for our friend Smitty. The cornerstone of her celebration was a visit to several vineyards in Napa.

Smithwicks for Smitty
Thursday evening when everyone arrived, we headed out for some drinks. What innocently began as an evening of Smithwicks Irish Ale, ended as a high octane evening. When my friend, Soulsby (a.k.a. Martin Van Buren due to the mutton chops he was starting), started ordering "Jack & Cokes," I took it as a sign that I should follow suit. After all, I'd not seen him in a few years and we were having a good time catching up. For the record, I rarely drink liquor these days; if I do, it's often a clear variety. Also, I've been caffeine-free for almost two years now. So, it should be stated for the record that bourbon and Coke makes me crazy or, if you prefer, crazier.

Van Buren, Bad Joe, and J3K

The evening ended in the hotel suite with my surprise homage to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Winning Run had gotten ready for bed and I decided to walk into J3K and Bad Joe's*** room wearing three socks. After standing there watching TV with them for what seemed to me like a minute, they both looked over and recoiled in horror. I laughed like a child and immediately went to bed and fell asleep. Winning Run has never been more sure of the correctness of her decision to marry me; she was so proud. By "proud," I mean "shaking her head with soul-crushing disappointment." The next day, the I received a petition letter from J3K and Bad Joe to avoid future "sock" visits to their room. I told them I'd do my best to honor their wishes but I just couldn't promise anything for sure. (And that my friends, is how the legend of "Two on the Feet, One on the Meat" was born.) I am a man-child. Seriously, though, it was really funny.

***For the record, Bad Joe is not "bad" but one of the best guys out there.

California Academy of Sciences and Sausalito
The next morning, we began with an awesome breakfast at Sears Fine Food before heading off. Several of us headed over to the newly opened California Academy of Sciences, a kick-ass Renzo Piano building, complete with 2.5 acres of living roof. In a few short hours, we got our "learn" on. It is a fantastic building and a great museum.

A dome on the living roof with skylights.

J3K surveying the wildlife in the gift shop.

Later, we caught the ferry to meet up with the gang in Sausalito. Shortly after arriving, we three guys realized that we'd been duped into a shopping trip. We had a nice pizza lunch in a fly-infested pizzeria overlooking the bay before heading back to the city without buying anything.

Wine Country
On Saturday, a limo picked eight of us up from our hotel and took us to several vineyards. En route, J3K and Bad Joe had assembled a mobile football viewing station so they could watch their alma mater's football game. If you've never been to a winery, here's the skinny: you head into their tasting room, pay a nominal feel ($10 - $35, depending on the vintner), and receive a taste of several of their wines. Also, depending on the winery, you might have to deflect a ton of pretension and douche-baggery.

Buena Visa Carneros
Our first vineyard was Buena Vista. Their tasting was seven wines moving from a Pinot Gris to a Merlot. (Note that we didn't get a full glass but probably about maximum of 2 oz. per taste.) Their white wines were fantastic. Winning Run, who generally doesn't care for whites, suggested that we get a couple of bottles. We did. On leaving the vineyard, we scarfed some breadsticks, cheese, and salami in the back of the limo. Coincidentally, many people commented that they were feeling a little loopy.

The snack of champions: breadstick and Havarti.

Silver Oak
Our next stop was Silver Oak. These wines are fantastic and expensive. The gent at the main bar in the tasting room was a little "stuffy," so we migrated over to a smaller bar with a cooler cat.

Silver Oak for Smitty!

By the end of the tasting, everyone was pretty well lit. J3K and I decided to reenact "The Lady and the Tramp" spaghetti scene with a complementary bread stick from the bar. (Yep, leave it to us to class up a joint.) Furthermore, we developed a hand signal to let everyone in the group know that we'd turned a corner, "The Fun Corner." The signal: three fingers extended and placed on your left shoulder. That way, if someone (me?) in the group began to get belligerent, one could just show the "three on the left" and, immediately, any potential situation would be diffused. On returning to the limo, we decided to open another roadie (a bottle of Cabernet) to tide us over to the next vineyard.

We've turned the Fun Corner. Three on the left.

The third stop was the Franciscan winery. At this place, we had a fantastic time and continued our descent into chaos. Winning Run continued to gather flowers for her straw hat and become more opinionated and vocal about the wines she tried.

Winning Run discussing a particular vintage she tasted.

After unsuccessfully trying to get service by a major-league a-hole on one side of the bar, we went to the back of the tasting room and found Fred, a cool California hippie-type. Fred took care of us as we did a tasting of some incredible reds. Due to less than rational thought-processes, J3K and I decided to buy several bottles.

When Hippie Fred gave us the price list, J3K looked at me and exclaimed, "We can't afford this, we're paupers!"

"Not today," I replied, draining the last of my Cabernet. "Not today."

Because we bought so much wine, Hippie Fred gave us a few complimentary tastings of port which we obviously needed. As we were heading out, J3K thanked Hippie Fred for his help and congratulated him on "not being a douchebag like his co-worker on the other side of the bar." Hippie Fred looked a little puzzled but uttered "Thank You" in such a way that it sounded as much of a question as it did an affirmation. Then, it was back to the limo for more food and another roadie.

St. Supery
St. Supery was heralded by Tom, our driver, as a very nice winery. After what seemed like an eternity to physically exit the limo, I made my way into the tasting room and joined the gang. It was during this tasting that Winning Run shared that she enjoyed the previous wines a little more and that, although she appreciated these, she didn't feel that we should buy any of them. Thinking back on it, she said something like "This stuff is terrible. We're not getting any of this; it's piss." My tasting didn't leave me with nearly the same impression. I thought the wines were good but preferred the offerings from the earlier vineyards.

During my second taste, J3K managed to pour his glass of red wine all over the bar and menu. I think that I managed to yell something like "A little club soda will take that right out!" He felt pretty bad about it but managed to suck it up and continue with the tasting. He and Smitty got involved in a conversation while Bad Joe, Miller, a tasting room employee, and I looked at a book about the dogs of wine country.

In the tasting room at St. Supery.

Domaine Chandon
Our final stop was the famous Chandon winery. We ducked in for some sparkling wines and some heavy-duty douchery.

Tilted due to pretentious asses but still pretty.

Evidently, all the pretentious asses migrated to this particular location. Winning Run surveyed the scene for about 30 seconds before announcing that she'd wait for us in the limo. We gave her the "three on the left" sign of approval.

After walking in and bellying up to the bar, I thought about how Chandon is so frequently name-dropped in hip-hop and rap songs and wondered how this place would react if Snoop Dogg walked through the doors. Brushing aside my thought, I managed to order a tasting of sparkling wines and a half dozen raw oysters to complement them. Bad Joe, Smitty, and I repeatedly offered J3K money to eat a raw oyster. At the end of our bidding war, he would've made $600 for eating six of them. For us, it seemed a safe bet that he wouldn't do it as he's terribly allergic to shellfish. For a brief moment, it seemed like he was really considering it.

Hungry Like the Wolf
(but not for raw oysters)

After leaving Chandon, we climbed in the limo, uncorked another roadie and began the drive back to San Francisco for our dinner reservations. At one point during the ride, J3K threw a giant chocolate bar as hard as he could from one end of the limo to the other, missing the six other riders, and hitting me squarely in the figs. When imbibing, his throws are deadly accurate. It was definitely not a "three on the left" sort of move.

Tom, the Limo Driver, and Smitty, the Birthday Girl
(Not pictured: Joe, the Plumber)

Trattoria Contadina
For dinner, Bad Joe made reservations as this great Italian place. We managed to get there, head upstairs, have even more wine, and incredible meals. After dinner, Smitty, Bad Joe, and I hopped a trolley back toward the hotel. Thank goodness those things move slowly because I was hanging off of it the entire ride. It was pretty damned cool.

The San Francisco Treat!

The next day, I had the wine hangover that I'd been expecting, only worse. Evidently, the body does not appreciate drinking wine and eating rich foods all day. It let me know. Message received, loud and clear.

Photos from wine country and the weekend in SF.
(Click photo for a larger view.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What I Did on My Vacation, Part 2

When you're in the middle of a bunch of giant redwoods, you hear absolutely nothing. An overwhelming silence surrounds you. Everything is dimly lit and muted. It's peaceful but a little unnerving. You sort of half expect to be attached by a velociraptor, or swept up by Treebeard at any moment.

During our hike, the wind hit the top of the trees. All I can say is that our mouths dropped open and we turned to gaze to the tree tops. Honestly, the trees serenaded us with a song that sounded like that of a blue whale. We listened for a while before we decided to move on in the event that something fell.

The Lost Coast
After leaving the redwoods, we headed about 30 miles east to an area known as The Lost Coast. Several years back, I did a multi-day hike there with KDawg, Blackass, and Griffer. The scenery was fantastic: miles of protected, undeveloped coastline with rugged mountains almost meeting the ocean. Although we didn't have the time to really stay and explore like I wanted to do, I wanted Winning Run to at least glimpse it. You know, plant the seed for a return trip and all.

Last time I was there, I got a great photo. This time, I took another one that I love.

Starfish from my first trip.

Hike-in surfing from the recent visit.

It's a place that you should visit at some point during your life. It's awesome.

Photos from The Lost Coast.
(Click a photo for a larger view.)

A Visit with C-Dub and Family
We spent Wednesday night with one of my old roommates and his family. He and his wife just had their third child! All of them are super cute and outgoing. On arriving, his son put on an airshow with his favorite camo jet that coincided with the first 10 minutes of "Top Gun." It was awesome. That night, we dined on fare from The Dutch Goose. The next day, we tromped around "The Dish" at Stanford which, I suspect, was on top of part of the linear accellerator.
We had a fantastic visit. It was great to see C-Dub, C, and the kids.

Photos of the kids.
(Click photo for a larger view.)

A review of our wine country antics to come.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What I Did On My Vacation, Part 1

On the 11 OCT, Winning Run and I flew out to San Francisco a week in advance of a close friend's birthday celebration. We took the extra time to visit a few friends, get to the northern part of the state for some great hikes, and take some R&R.

Driving across the Golden Gate, heading north from San Francisco.

Fleet Week in San Francisco
On arriving Saturday morning, we met up with your friend Eric (a.k.a. Blackass) and his wife, G, at their place in the city, near the Ferry Building. As we were pretty beat that night, we went out for a bite to eat and ended up just hanging out with them, catching up, and watching the Red Sox game. The next morning, we had fantastic Dim Sum nearby and then drove to Tiburon, caught the ferry to Angel Island State Park, hiked to the top, and watched the Blue Angels Air Show over the bay.

One of the views of San Francisco Bay on the way to the top of Angel Island.

View of S.F. with Alcatraz in the foreground.
The jet has just flown out of the top right of the frame.

The jets screamed into view from our left, taking everyone by surprise.

It was pretty cool. Later that night, a wildfire hit the island and scorched over 350 acres, included the area from where we watched the airshow. Guess we were pretty lucky to have made it off the island before anything started. Anyway, we considered it a close call.

That evening, we drove up Hwy 1, through the Muir Woods.

An overlook at Muir Beach.

As darkness fell, Winning Run got ridiculously freaked out by the hairpin turns of the coastal highway which prompted us to bolt for the freeway and head north.

Photos from Angel Island and Muir Beach Overlook.
(Click the photos for a larger view.)

The Giant Redwoods of Humboldt County
For our redwood portion of the trip, we decided to make Garberville our base for hiking and driving through the groves of giant trees. We did an 8-mile hike through an old growth redwood forest. Holy crap, did we feel small. Honestly, there was nothing in there except for these giant trees and tiny, tiny us. The problem with our photos is that, although they show beautiful trees, they do not present the scale or depth of field in a way to accurately show how damned big these things were. Anywho, hopefully the following photos help out a little:

Winning Run inside a "goose pen," a hollow area in the base of a tree.

Me inside the base of a fallen tree.

At the base of a large tree that was at least 300 feet tall.

A forest full of trees that were that big!

Garberville seemed to be a quaint little mountain town with more than its fair share of dirty, unshowered hippie drifters. In fact, one could sense the "subtle" antagonism between the locals and the drifters by simply looking around a little.

These days, I'm with them on the patchouli oil.

Photos from Humboldt Redwoods State Park
(Click the photos for a larger view.)

More to come on the trip.

Monday, October 20, 2008

West Coast Vacation

So, Winning Run and I are just getting back from a West Coast vacation. I'll recap our visit with friends and our jaunt from San Francisco up to the Humboldt County area and back for a descent into Napa/Sonoma wine country. I'm getting photos uploaded and will post more about the trip very soon.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Chicken Little and The Barry Bonds Incident

After my last post regarding my chin's affinity for softballs, a good friend reminded me that I have a clearly defined history of saying exactly the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time. So, I thought I'd share this thoroughly embarrassing gem from my past***. Readers, I give you "The Barry Bonds Incident."

***It is important to note that at the time of the incident, Barry Bonds was pursuing the single-season home run record. In those heady days, he was considered one of baseball's premier assholes but was neither the poster child for baseball's steroid era or the ruination of the sport.

The Barry Bonds Incident
At the dawn of this millennium, I was working for a start-up software company. My job was to design and develop a training curriculum to teach our customers how to use and administer our software. Glamorous stuff, I know. It was a fun job; I met a lot of people and had a blast teaching classes. Frequently, I'd teach a multi-day system administrator class. Often, class participants would be a mix of our customers and our newly hired employees who would eventually be helping our customers to configure and administer the software.

Generally, the system admin class was uneventful. I taught people about the structure of the database, the nature of what could be configured in the software, and provided some examples of how to quickly customize the software. Then, we'd do a ton of exercises that let class participants make the changes. As an instructor, I quickly noticed that participants could be categorized based on their behavior in class.
  • One type of person, for example, would always be about 15 pages ahead in the text, doing their own thing, rarely listening or contributing to any group discussion.
  • Another type vocally asked questions or declared answers in an attempt to paint themselves as the "most knowledgeable" in the room. Mostly, they were not.
  • Another type was the ideal class participant: attentive, responsive, polite, and intelligent. On the whole, most participants fell into this group.
  • Perhaps the worst participant type, however, was "The Chicken Little." Often, this person was a customer who had a deer-in-the-headlights expression that was a mix of genuine surprise and barely suppressed terror. Frequently, Chicken Little had been randomly selected to configure or administer the software, a set of tasks that might've been far above their skill level.
During one class, I'd spent a great deal of time with a Chicken Little from one of our new and prominent customers: a small-framed lady with a Noriega face and glasses. With each topic I introduced, I felt like I had to talk her down off the ledge because everything I said seemed to drive her toward jumping. I was in a bizarre juggling act of roles: part instructor, part sedative, part self-esteem coach. Honestly, the subject matter could be overwhelming but, at the very least, it was logical and well-documented. If you didn't understand everything discussed in the class, you had a great text to guide you through it. If you could read, you could get it done.

After a couple of days of teaching, I grew tired of seeing the horrified expression on her face with each new topic I introduced. The other participants seemed to be getting everything just fine. They'd ask appropriate questions and would trust that it would make sense (eventually) and that they would master it. This was absolutely not the case with Chicken Little.

Near the end of the course, I introduced a complex concept. The reality of it was that our administrator software greatly simplified the tasks required to implement such a concept into the software. So, the "a-ha" moment of this section was set to be when people understood the complexity of the concept and how that complexity was greatly reduced by our software tool. Well, wouldn't you know it? This was lost on my favorite student. So, I decided to use a little metaphor.

As the class had been chatting about baseball during one of the breaks, I decided that I'd use a baseball reference to highlight the value of our software. Mentally, I formulated my approach: If you were in the Major Leagues, hitting a home run would be pretty tough. This would be the equivalent of life without our administrator software tool. Using our software, however, would be like putting a ball on a tee and having Barry Bonds take a whack at it; it makes hitting a homer very easy. So, I ran through my checklist. Highlight the difficulty without? Check. Use metaphor for how easy it is with? Check. Get a little laugh from everyone? Check.

Time to go to work.

With this in mind, I began to speak. Everything was going pretty well, I thought, until I heard myself say: "It's like putting a ball on a tee and having Barry Bonds whack off on it."

As those words tumbled from my lips out into the ether, I immediately felt the rush of the air being sucked from the room as everyone there gasped. In slow-motion, I saw people staring at me, open-mouthed in disbelief at what they heard. Others were starting their guffaws, tears beginning to stream down their faces. My gaze fixed on Chicken Little: the light in the room danced on her pock-marked cheeks, glinted off her glasses. She became rigid in her seat; her mouth contorted as her face twisted into a confused expression.

"Actually, it's nothing like that. Not at all like that," I immediately said, trying to wipe away the image that I'd just created for everyone. "If a ball was on a tee and he took a whack at it. That's what I meant. The other thing is completely different."

"Why are you looking at me?," Chicken Little implored as if I was in the midst of some freaky fetish fantasy. "Why are you looking at me when you say that?"

After that exchange, the details get a little fuzzy. I do remember that I abruptly concluded class and went to tell my boss, Larry, why I'd be fired in the very near future. To this day, I can't look at Barry Bonds without blushing.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Of Course, I Mean Softballs

Sunday, in the aftermath of K's bachelor party, I played softball with my neighborhood team. I knew that playing while running on only a few hours of sleep wasn't a good idea, I owed it to the team to be there to give them my support.

Boy, I was wrong. How was I wrong? Let me count the ways from The Scholar's E6 Spectacular:
  • Overthrew 1B on a routine play.
  • Underthrew 1B on a routine play.
  • Overthrew 3B on a routine play.
  • Made an amazing over-the-shoulder catch while running toward LF, promptly turned and overthrew 2B.
  • Bounced hard-hit grounder off of my arm.
  • Bounced hard-hit grounder off of my hip.
The best inept play of the day, came on a sharply hit grounder to my side of second base. I shuffled a few steps to my left toward the bag and bent to field the ball. It takes a nasty, nasty hop and pops me squarely in the chin as it rolls up my face, knocking off my hat and glasses, and standing me straight up. Everyone at the field made a wincing noise. Hell, even the base-runners stopped running. I felt something dripping from my chin and looked over at the second baseman to ask if I was bleeding. When she said that I wasn't, it just pissed me off a little more. Hell, I at least needed a little injury to the insult, you know?

When we got back to the dugout, everyone was asking if I was okay and checking on me.

"I'm fine," I confided. "Just a little pissed off at how I'm playing."

"Don't worry about it," one friend told me. "We can tell you're not your normal self out there today."

"Guess not," I said. "Seems like I'm getting tons of bad hops and just not playing well. Damn, it's like my chin is a magnet for balls."

As soon as the last phrase left my mouth, I kid you not, several heads whipped around to look at me, mouths agape, grins spreading across their faces.

"Softballs. I'm talking about softballs."

The important life lesson: don't perform activities requiring coordination if severely sleep-deprived. Also, do not speak in front of a group of people.