Thursday, November 30, 2006

Moravian > UConn, Notre Dame, UW, OSU

You can always count on friends: Keith e-mailed a link to the College Football Victory Chain Linker. By using some programming gobbledygook that I don't understand at all, it provides a chain of victories that "proves" one team is better than another. For instance, the old 'well, team A beat team B who beat team C who beat team D, so team A must be the best' deal.

Obviously this isn't infallible logic, but it still gives me a chance to skewer all of your favorite teams. (C'mon, smile with me.)

So, in my senior season of 1996, let's take a look at all of the regulars' favorite teams and see just how Moravian is better than all of them:

Moravian beat
FDU-Madison who beat
Johns Hopkins who beat
Bridgewater VA who beat
Hampden-Sydney who beat
Methodist who beat
Maryville who beat
Ky Wesleyan who beat
Bethel TN who beat
Cumberland KY who beat
Georgetown KY who beat
Kentucky St who beat
Albany GA who beat
North Alabama who beat
TAMU-Kingsville who beat
Sam Houston St who beat
SW Texas St who beat
Hofstra who beat

Suck it, East Coast Huskies.

Notre Dame
Moravian beat
FDU-Madison who beat
Johns Hopkins who beat
Bridgewater VA who beat
Hampden-Sydney who beat
Methodist who beat
Maryville who beat
Ky Wesleyan who beat
Bethel TN who beat
Cumberland KY who beat
Georgetown KY who beat
Kentucky St who beat
Albany GA who beat
North Alabama who beat
TAMU-Kingsville who beat
Sam Houston St who beat
SW Texas St who beat
Idaho who beat
Nevada who beat
UNLV who beat
San Diego State who beat
Air Force who beat
Notre Dame

Suck it, Irish.

Ohio State
Moravian beat
FDU-Madison who beat
Johns Hopkins who beat
Bridgewater VA who beat
Hampden-Sydney who beat
Methodist who beat
Maryville who beat
Rhodes who beat
Austin Col who beat
Howard Payne who beat
Mississippi Col who beat
Henderson St who beat
West Georgia who beat
Jacksonville St who beat
W Kentucky who beat
Murray St who beat
W Illinois who beat
N Illinois who beat
Arkansas State who beat
Louisiana Tech who beat
Mississippi St who beat
Alabama who beat
Michigan who beat
Ohio State

Suck it, Buckeyes. (Wow, that felt really good. Sorry Mandy.)

Holy crap, it's a good thing we beat FDU-Madison that year. Otherwise, we'd be worse than all of these schools!

(For what it's worth, Keith tried to brag about his alma mater, Randolph-Macon. Said they were better than Moravian, and provided a chain with like 10 links. I looked it up the other way, and we needed four links to prove we were better than Randy Mac. So suck it, Jackets.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Did I just see what I just saw?

In a moment in life, a story is begging to be told. I had one of those moments this morning, but only wished I could discover the backstory.

Some backstory of my own to tell you how I got to that point: Since I don't usually carry cash, I had to stop at the local 7-11 this morning in Seminary Towers in Alexandria, a large apartment complex just off of I-395. I bought some OJ and got $5 in change; three in singles and two in quarters.

This was necessary because, once a week for 16 weeks in the fall and winter (you can guess why), I drive out the Dulles Toll Road, which costs $1.25 a trip. Take away the 25-cent can of Coke I'm drinking, and the quarters came in handy.

While I was waiting in line, there was a woman in front of me. Late 40s, early 50s I guess. She bought two things: a pack of Marlboro Lights and a six-pack - cans - of Natty Light.

At 8:45 a.m.

There are a lot of whys here, and none of them have to do with the Marlboro Lights.

Why is someone buying a cold six-pack so early in the morning? Why is does it need to be cold that early in the morning?

Perhaps most importantly, why is someone buying Natural Light?

My mind pondered the possibilities as I waited for her to clear out. Obviously, it would not have been wise to inquire about those possibilities - or at least not very neighborly.

I came up with a few scenarios, but all have their flaws. And I'll leave you guys to come up with your own conclusions.

But when you see something so seemingly out of place, your mind can't help but wonder. Perhaps if I knew this woman better, maybe it wouldn't be a surprise at all.

-- I SHOULD BE BETTER ABOUT POSTING, I KNOW, but we've had some internet trouble at home this week. I'm writing from Redskins Park, where we're in the middle of a two-hour, 45-minute break between a conference call and open locker room.

The connection was so spotty that I was prepared to take the cable modem to the local Comcast office and trade it in for a new one. So you can imagine what my outrage level would have been if I'd done that - only to find out that wasn't the problem.

As it turned out, a Comcast technician showed up early Wednesday morning. (Because of the 10 a.m. conference call, I had to leave early, and couldn't be around for the full 7-11 a.m. window that the service reps told me. So I called last night to cancel the appointment and re-book for Friday. I thought I had done that, but whatever.)

He found out that the connection between the cable and the splitter was a little loose - something I'd not at all considered. The TV in our bedroom, further down the line than the net connection, was working perfectly. But he got everything up and running, so kudos to him.

-- VIRTUAL PILOT HUSS has a late-night departure out of Austin, Texas, bound for Monterrey, Mexico. While I was offline, I was working on my landings (because Lord knows, they need work) and used a quick flight from BWI to Dulles.

While looking at the aeronautical charts for Dulles, there's a waypoint or intersection just south of the airport called 'SKINS'. (You can see in this instrument approach chart for Runway 1L, a PDF hosted by

I'll have to ask some of the guys who have been around here a long time, but my guess is that it has something to do with Old Redskins Park. The current Redskins Park sits north of the airport in the middle of the approach paths to runways 19R and 19L. I've been to Old Redskins Park a few times, and it sits south of the airport; if it is where I think it is, it would be right along the path for inbound northerly flights.

Still, it was pretty interesting to see that pop up on a flight chart.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Really, why bother?

I can't imagine what kind of money Best Buy pulled down today. The one above (thanks to Reuters via Yahoo) is in Fairfax, one I used to visit frequently.

Furthermore, I can't imagine what a zoo the local Best Buys were. The one closest to us is in Baileys Crossroads, which happens to be the intersection of Rt. 7 and Columbia Pike. It's situated in a strip mall with limited parking. Zoom in and click on the tab that says "Aerial View"; see that white building to the left of the star? That's Best Buy. Now look at the parking (considering there are shops all around it, too).

And that's not even my worst Best Buy experience.

Back when I was in Pennsylvania, the nearest Best Buy was in Whitehall, a suburb of Allentown. Heading back to Mapquest, you can see the store here. Zoom in again, and again, the white building to the left of the star is Best Buy. Here's what made it such a mess:

The road in front of Best Buy is Macarthur Road, a pretty big thoroughfare into Allentown and Center City. If you study the parking lot closely, you'll see there's one way in and one way out. You can't turn left onto Macarthur; and as you can see, less than a quarter mile down the road is an exit ramp onto Rt. 22 west. Well, most folks don't want 22 west.

Perhaps the situation has changed, but I recall spending 45 minutes waiting to get out of there once.

And to think, this is being repeated all across the country? Why bother?

There's this awesome thing called the internet nowadays. Provided that the place you want to buy from has reliable servers (and that's not always a given, is it Wal-Mart?), you can accomplish damn near all your shopping in one sitting.

Sit and shop for Christmas presents in your underwear with a beer in your hand. Technology is a wonderful thing.

I'll let those folks fight over their spot in line at Best Buy.

-- WHERE IN THE WORLD IS HUSS? As you'll remember, I've taken a keen interest in my virtual job with UPS. Though I wasn't flying the big birds back then, I've graduated to them in the weeks since. Just today, I took a couple of long-haul flights: First from my hub, Philadelphia, to the main UPS hub in Louisville. Then, looking for a slice of adventure, I went west.

So, to answer the question, Virtual Huss is in Albuquerque, N.M. after 2.5 hours aloft from L-ville. That means I've got takeoffs and landing in eight states since joining UPSVAC: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Massachusetts, Kentucky and New Mexico.

Hopefully I'll remember to include this when I post, so you can keep up with where the heck I am now. Next stop is LAX, but I'm unsure where to go after that, so I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Would it just freaking snow already?

My little Weatherbug display tells me it's 41 degrees, with winds out of the ENE at around 9 mph. They deduce the wind chill at 33 at my local reporting station, John Adams Elementary School, one block over.

Typically, my body does not do very well with these transitional seasons. Today, I'm all sniffly and really need a tissue nearby at any given moment. But this isn't much of a surprise; it's the day before Thanksgiving. After a lifetime spent in the Mid-Atlantic, I've learned what happens at this time of year: We never know what will happen this time of year.

Last year, it was comfortable enough to wear shorts to work. Folks were in flip-flops and we were enjoying the warmth's swan song.

This year, well...the wind chill just dropped to 32.

But that's the thing that bugs me most about the transitional seasons. They never seem to end. Look, we know winter's coming - it's already hit parts of the country like Buffalo and Denver. Let's get some snow and kickoff winter and be done with it. Let's get winter started, so we can get closer to spring.

(And I should note that when I say transitional seasons, I don't mean fall and spring generically; I mean that time of year when summer and winter are on the doorstep, on the cusp of breaking through. It's not a months-long process, it's a few weeks.)

Yet, we're supposed to get rain this afternoon. Is there anything more miserable than a cold, windy rain?

Indeed, there is: A cold, windy rain that, a few weeks later, would be a blizzard.

At least then we'd know winter had started.

Friday, November 17, 2006

That Screech you hear...

is the sound of women and children in pain; and the sound of people putting on the brakes as they reach the porcelain god.

I myself feel physically ill. Literally.

See that guy to the right? Yeah, Screech - Dustin Diamond. He did former Saved by The Bell castmate Elizabeth Berkley one better.

He's starring in his own porno.

Quick, click here. You'll feel better.

The fine folks at industry rag Adult Video News have the news. (Link probably SFW, but why risk it? Wait 'til you get home.)

Look, I don't begrudge the guy. If every guy that reads this is honest with himself, he'd hop at the chance to earn a paycheck by jumping in the sack with a couple of porno starlets. Some of us would have to ask permission, of course, but you're damn right we'd want to do it.

It's a way to try to jumpstart a career or stay in the public eye a little longer. Exhibit A: Paris Hilton. Exhibit B: Manassas' finest, John Wayne Bobbitt.

(A funny aside to Mr. Bobbitt: Floating around our office somewhere is a signed copy of his divorce agreement - it's like a treasure passed down from generation to generation, and I saw it exchange hands when uber cop reporter Patrick Wilson bolted for Winston-Salem, N.C. At the end of his signature, he drew a bloody knife.)

At the same time, I know that the general public doesn't want to see me in, uh, intimate moments. That's fine. I ain't Fabio, and that's OK.

I guess I'm just really curious as to how this deal went down. His agent calls and says, 'Look, I got this great opportunity... but it's a little unusual.' And, for the reasons outlined above, he went along with it.

But the fact is that he's just not the best-looking guy on earth. He's pornstar material as much as I am. And that ain't much.

Really, I don't begrudge the guy. But at the same time, you've got to recognize your limits, you know?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Update on Hank -- and me

It's been a full six days since Hank came home. And since then, I've been reminded of a line from a certain Chappelle Show sketch. In it, through circumstances better left discovered by watching the YouTube clip, Chappelle says with a hearty laugh, "Oh Lord! This racism is killing me inside."

Obviously, this isn't racism, unless feline-human relations have deteorated without my knowledge.

But laughing in the midst of a hurricane swirling around you? That I know.

It's now early Thursday morning. I think the last time I slept more than six hours at one time was Tuesday; before that, it was probably last Thursday. One thing or another has kept me up, though it usually relates to Hank, here-to-fore resident cat Grace, or the potential interaction between the two when they finally meet face to face.

Or maybe it's that I am tired and ready for bed, and have to struggle with Hank to get off my side of the bed. I was nice and tired and ready for bed; now, suddenly, I have to think and do some work to get Hank to move - since he's not really willing to give up a warm spot on the soft bed. As I think about that and the other stuff, it takes time to once again find that happy place of pre-sleep bliss.

And since I never know just what's going to happen between the two - since it's merely a door that separates them - I don't sleep particularly well when I do dose off.

Then when morning comes, Hank's all ready to start his day. Except our hours don't jive. So he's making his presence known around the bedroom, when all I want to do is sleep. Two straight days I've been forced up before 7 a.m. - that's fine for lots of people, but not when you usually go to bed around 2-3 a.m.

At this very moment, I sit here to type this are relieve some of the stress that's built up. Yet I hear Hank's near-constant whining and an occasional thump from the bedroom. And I wonder to myself, what next? Though I'm almost afraid to ask.

So I'll go check and see what's going on and try to salvage some sleep from another morning gone awry.'s killing me inside.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cereal killer

I don't know if I could live off of cereal - but I'd make a damn good go of it.

What other meal takes less than a minute to prepare? You can get a good chunk of the vitamins and minerals you need every day. And you can find an incredible variety across this one genre of food. (Genre?)

With that in mind, I'll try something a little different here: cereal reviews, categorized by manufacturer. To keep this list somewhere north of bearable, I'll only include products from the big four companies - Kellogg's, General Mills, Post and Quaker. Bolded are my favorites.

-- All Bran: I want to say I had this once. Once.
-- Apple Jacks: Nothing tastes better than the milk after a bowl of Apple Jacks. Getting to that point, however, is less satisfying.
-- Cocoa Krispies: See above, but with a much better beginning.
-- Corn Flakes: Even with sugar, they're bland. But I guess that's what they're designed to be.
-- Corn Pops: I like this one a lot, but the pops are too airy. As a result, it's not very filling.
-- Crispix: My tastes trend towards sugary, not Crispix-y.
-- Crunch: I'll take my Raisin Bran without the extras, thanks.
-- Froot Loops: Come on - not liking Froot Loops is un-American.
-- Frosted Flakes: I'm hit or miss with this. But it's usually a solid choice.
-- Frosted Mini-Wheats: Underrated cereal. The fact that they're 'mini' helps a lot too; I never cared for the logs that popped out of the un-minis.
-- Honey Smacks: I can get into these, but burn out on them just as quickly.
-- Mini Swirlz: Never had 'em. If I want cinnamon buns for breakfast, I'll make them myself.
-- Raisin Bran: I am a complete and total brand snob when it comes to Raisin Bran. Another highly underrated cereal.
-- Rice Krispies: A good all-around choice, and a dash of sugar isn't necessary either. Makes a super dessert treat, too.
-- Scooby Doo Berry Bones: Must've been one of Shaggy's well-I-was-high-when-I-thought-of-it creations.
-- Smart Start: Call me a dumbass.
-- Special K: The cereal designed for hot women in bathing suits. Of which I am neither.

General Mills
-- Apple Cinnamon Cheerios: A good choice. Good taste and, as Cheerios are, good for me too.
-- Basic 4: It's like the Fantastic Four, except they're not really fantastic.
-- Berry Berry Kix: Kix-ed to the curb.
-- Berry Burst Cheerios: The "O"-shaped Cheerios try to contain the overwhelming flavor, but alas, they simply cannot.
-- Berry Lucky Charms: You know, maybe General Mills isn't paying their marketing department enough. Come up with a new brand already!
-- Boo Berry: Clearly, they've made a major play for the berry-flavored cereals market.
-- Cheerios: Sure better than the Berry option. Makes for a perfect morning with a bowl of Cheerios and the right amount of sugar.
-- Chex (and its six sisters, like Chex Frosted and Chex Honey Nut): Back in the day, I remember buying Graham Chex. That brand didn't last long, and I didn't stick around with Chex long either.
-- Chocolate Lucky Charms: As if regular Lucky Charms weren't sugary enough.
-- Cinnamon Toast Crunch: I remember the cartoon chef getting on my nerves in CTC commercials when I was young. But I remember it all these years later, so it must be a victory for the marketing folks - even though I've bought less than five boxes in my lifetime.
-- Cocoa Puffs: Good choice, though also a little airy and unfilling. Advertising efforts at a standstill after Sonny finally got to taste them - where does the story go from here? Hmm.
-- Cookie Crisp (and its three sisters): A children's cereal predicated on robbery. Wonderful. Though in fairness, it looks like they've got a new mascot these days.
-- Count Chocula: Best in limited quantities. Marshmallows don't taste as good to me as Lucky Charms; still the best of the monster cereal gang.
-- Dora the Explorer: Uh, no.
-- Fiber One (and its two sisters): I'm regular enough, thanks.
-- Franken Berry: Because Berry Berry Kix, Berry Burst Cheerios, Berry Lucky Charms and Boo Berry just weren't enough.
-- Golden Grahams: Among my very favorite cereals, and has been for a long time.
-- Honey Nut Cheerios: This can get me by in a pinch, but not for more than a day or two.
-- Honey Nut Clusters: Ditto.
-- Kaboom: Imagine my excitement when I imagined a cereal based off the Atari game. Sadly, that's not the case.
-- Kix: Underrated choice, though one we don't get often.
-- Milk 'n Cereal Bars (three options): This is supposed to be a cereal?
-- Oatmeal Crisp (three options): Anything touting its grain probably won't make the cut for me.
-- Raisin Nut Bran: I'd probably like it, but I'm a brand snob, remember?
-- Reese's Puffs: Too early in the day to enjoy chocolate and peanut butter.
-- Total (and its four sisters): An OK choice if you're looking for a healthy breakfast. But who wants that?
-- Trix: Too sweet for me. I can't stand it anymore.
-- Wheaties: The best non-sweetened cereal on the planet. And it's not close.
-- Yogurt Burst Cheerios (two options): The "O"-shaped Cheerios try to contain the overwhelming yogurt, but alas, they simply cannot.

-- Honey Bunches of Oats (and its four sisters): I used to like a variation they had, but none of the current combinations sound very appealing to me.
-- Grape Nuts: Don't think about the name too long, or your head might explode.
-- Raisin Bran: Brand snob.
-- Shredded Wheat (and its two sisters): Actually not as bad as its bland name might imply.
-- Toasties: Corn Flakes rip off. If I don't eat the original, why would I eat a knock-off?
-- 100% Bran/Bran Flakes/Fruit & Bran: Take a guess.
-- Honeycomb (and its sister): Haven't had in years, but I recall it being slightly above average.
-- Golden Crisp: When I'm in the right mood, there are few better picks. I'm just not in that mood very often.
-- Oreo O's: Oreos are for dessert, not breakfast.
-- Waffle Crisp: Strange quirk about me - I like my waffles gooey on the inside, barely cooked. Unless Post is willing to go that far with Waffle Crisp, I'm not prepared to partake.
-- Cocoa/Fruity Pebbles: I like both, but neither are substantial enough to make a filling meal.

Quaker Oats
-- Cap'n Crunch: I like the taste a lot, but the fact that it never gets soggy bothers me. Sometimes, it feels like I'm swallowing loose screws.
-- Life (and its two sisters): With the addition of Honey Graham Life, I can offically call this my No. 1 favorite. I've loved Life, well, all of my life. Just like Mikey.
-- Quisp: Dear marketers, a crudely-drawn mascot and a name that makes me sound like I have a lisp are not a good combination.
-- Oatmeal Squares: Can't say I've ever had them. They get enough of my money with all the Life we buy.

So there you have it. Long live Life!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Welcome, Hank

We now have a fourth member of the family: Hank.

And the third member of the family is none too pleased.

We thought it would be best if the Hellion had a friend to gallavant around the house with on otherwise lonely afternoons; I also like to think a second, calmer cat would lead by example and show Grace you don't have to be over the top to get what you want.

We decided that Friday would be the day we made the trip. So we went and visited the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, a visit that was heartwarming and heartbreaking, all at the same time.

We made our way through the cat section, and there were cats of all kinds. Some were more memorable than others: the 15-year old male who seemed unfazed by anything; the kitten who climbed damn near to the top of the screen door that enclosed the kitten pen; the feisty 3-year old female, who gave us shivers when we tried to imagine her cohabitating with Grace.

Hank - who's given name was Sublime - was about 3/4 of the way through our first trip around the cat section. He was laying down, taking in the scene when we approached, but got up and moved to the front of his cage when we got close.

Each time we went back, he would do the same thing.

So we had one of the workers put us in a room with him. He seemed very content to have both of us hold him and give him lots of love.

The decision, for me anyway, was pretty clear. We found a cat who was pretty much like me - willing to sit around and relax and take what the day brought. (Except you'd have to throw in a beer for me.)

After filling out all the paperwork and getting some good instruction on how to introduce Hank and Grace, the three of us headed off.

We went home, though I dropped Linds and Hank off. They were going to the pet store to get everything Hank would need - and to get a few presents for Grace, to show that we weren't forgetting about her either. I had to run to work, since it was almost 3:00 - the witching hour for Friday rush-hour traffic in DC. (As it turned out, it took me nearly two hours to get to work anyway.)

Linds e-mailed halfway through my shift, telling me that things were OK, but not great. Grace was super-mega-ultra pissed off, standing outside of the door where Hank was and growling and hissing. (After living with Grace for three and a half years, I've not once heard her hiss. Though she's crazy and definitely a diva, she's pretty even-keeled.)

According to the e-mails, things would ebb and flow. Grace would forget about it, and go back to wanting love. Then she'd be pissed again, and on it went.

By the time I got home, Grace seemed pretty normal. She greeted me at the door and acted like nothing new was happening.

But when I made it into the bedroom, Hank was safely locked away in our bathroom. Grace stood outside and hissed and growled, and frankly, I found that pretty depressing. I knew it would be difficult, particularly that first day, but I didn't expect that.

Grace has been better today. No hissing or anything like that.

And I have to cut this short, because someone's locked in the bedroom and demanding attention.

I've known Hank for less than 24 hours, and I know one thing already: He's a bigger attention whore than Grace. So off I go.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ed Bradley, 1941-2006

Ed Bradley lived the good journalistic life.

Think about all of the roles he held during his life, which, sadly, ended on Thursday after a battle with leukemia: Foreign correspondent in Paris and Saigon. War correspondent. White House correspondent. Fill-in network anchor. Long-form journalist.

Each of those titles, of its own accord, could make for a wonderful career for any journalist. Yet we know one person can do all of that, because Ed Bradley did.

In the sportswriting world, it would be like taking the current roles of Sports Illustrated writers Peter King, Tom Verducci, Jack McCallum, Rick Reilly and Gary Smith and doing each over the course of a career.

But Bradley's reportage dealt with far more weighty issues than games and contracts and firings, and that's why the journalism world sheds a tear for his passing.

I never watched much 60 Minutes. But in the few instances I did, he had a presence that overshadowed his piece. Usually that's a bad thing, but in Bradley's case, it lent a significance to the story. It felt like wow, they didn't leave this piece to Steve Kroft or Lesley Stahl - they got the big dog out there. (No disrespect to them, of course.) There was a certain palpable gravity he brought to the show and to his reporting.

His numerous obituaries will tell you he was a savvy interviewer. His trademark earring gave him a bit of street cred too, and he even earned a mention on The Chappelle Show. That sort of thing doesn't happen to Lara Logan, David Gregory or Christiane Amanpour.

This all serves to point out that Bradley was not your average journalist. He wasn't even your average Washington-based network journalist.

He was someone special. Lifetime achievement awards, like the one he received from the National Association of Black Journalists, aren't reserved for the average.

His success in many different areas made him special, and his reporting made a difference - something that, as journalists, is our ultimate goal.

And that's why we shed a tear for his passing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Climb and maintain interest

As many of you know, I've been looking for a hobby for some time - one I could really get into and enjoy. I think I may have found it.

You may remember from previous posts that I'm a pretty big transportation geek generally, and more specifically, an aviation dork. I find air travel to be fascinating, including the miniutiae of it all.

So what does any of this have to do with the pic above? I'm getting to that.

This started about three weeks ago when I hopping around YouTube looking at this and that. There are fabulous videos on there about flying, but my favorite tend to be the ones of shots into and out of Princess Juliana airport in St. Martin. (There's also this more famous video of folks literally being blown into the water as a KLM 747 departs.) There are other interesting videos too - my favorites are this 747 barely having enough runway to get off the ground and this superb landing in really windy conditions.

But I digress, of course.

For as many real-world videos as you can find, there are almost as many videos of virtual flights. Those videos all come Microsoft Flight Simulator, as dominant in its genre as any other piece of software out there.

I had FS several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I had no idea where that software was, so I thought it might be time for an upgrade. As it turned out, the latest version had just come out, Flight Simulator X. But I opted for Flight Simulator 2004 for two primary reasons: it's a good bit cheaper and I figured it would work better on my computer, which was built with budget - not high-end performance - in mind.

So I bought it, messed around with it and again thoroughly enjoyed it. While trying to look up some training hints - no one wants to pilot a Cessna forever, at least not virtually - I stumbled onto a reference to an online pilots association. While that site is dead, I did some more investigating and found there's a whole world of virtual airlines out there. Literally.

Wikipedia led me to a list of virtual airlines approved to fly on one of the most popular networks, VATSIM (Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network). Many airlines are fictional, though several others are tied to real-world operations, both current and past. Just a sampling of virtual counterparts you may have heard of: Alaska, America West, American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Continental, Eastern, FedEx, Frontier, Hooters, JetBlue, KLM, PanAm, Qantas, Southwest, TWA, United, and USAir.

In the end, I found a nice philosophical match with UPS Virtual Air Cargo. So, now my callsign is UPS1006, based out of Philadelphia (one of 14 hubs; among the others are Atlanta, Cologne, DFW, Miami, Newark/JFK and Louisville - the latter just like the real UPS). At the moment, I've got 2.6 hours of flight with UPS. And since I'm a newbie to the virtual flight and virtual airlines, I'm not flying anything like the nice Boeing 737 you see above. Instead, for the moment, I'm in a deHavilland Twin Otter that makes a loop between Philadelphia International with stops in Carlisle, Pa.; Wildwood, N.J.; Reading, Pa.; and Petersburg, Va.

The airline aims to run an operation as close as possible to its real-world counterpart. As a result, we're responsible for signing up for flights and filling out a pilot report (PIREP) after our run is completed. If I really wanted to go apeshit, I could sign up for a run between Calcutta and Boeing Field near Seattle (14 hours), Honolulu to Sydney (10 hours) or Anchorage to Hong Kong (just under 10 hours aloft).

There's even a virtual flight tracker which lets you check the progress of any UPSVAC currently in the air.

But don't look for me over the Pacific Ocean. I don't think the Twin Otter has the muscle to make it that far.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Fold it like a man?

Perhaps you've seen Domino's new commercial for its Brooklyn Style Pizza. It shows a handful of stereotypical New Yorkers - Italian mama's boy, Italian mama's boy's mom, cabbie, rude passenger.

The cabbie looks out his window and testifies that to eat the Brooklyn Style Pizza properly, apparently, one must fold the slice in half. He proceeds to do just that, though it's still mostly flat.

The rude passenger in the back, a female, looks out her window, conveniently on the same side.

"You call that a fold?" she asks. "Fold it like a man!"

Let's think about this for just a second: She's worried about how her cabbie is folding his pizza. Seems to me there could be more pressing things to be concerned with: traffic jams - you know how it is in the Apple - or getting to appointment on time.

Or maybe she should be more worried about a more fundamental problem: Just why in the hell her cabbie is peddling pizza and not driving. I can't imagine he was kind enough to shut down the meter, you know?

Am I reading too much into it? Of course. But it's one of a series of ads lately that annoy me. I can't get that damn woman out of my head. Fold it like a man! Perhaps she ought to pass that advice onto the clown who's living out of his Sentra for a week. I bet laundry's a bitch in a sedan.

The ad agencies must consider this a success. After all, I'm writing about their ads - more importantly, I'm remembering them. That's supposedly the goal, to get you to remember a certain product.

But why should that be the goal?

What if certain commercials annoy me? Has the ad agency really accomplished what it set out to do?

I can assure you that my business relationship with a certain other pizza delivery place will continue, due in part to the fact that the Domino's commercial bugs the hell out of me.

As for that idiot in the Sentra: If I were in the market for a car (I'm not), I'd want an SUV. And if for some reason I'd want a smaller car, I can assure you I'd steer clear of Nissan because that time of annoying advertising does not deserve to be rewarded.

It's gotten to the point that as soon as I hear "Hey, it's Mark again..." I flip the damn channel. Even if it means I have to watch those grating Empire Today ads.

We have 128 channels and by God, one of them won't have a commercial on.

If you're listening, ad folks, remember: people can just as easily be turned off to your product as they can be turned on. I realize that makes you walk a fine line, but hey, I'm the consumer. I've got the power, no matter how limited it may be.

Now get to tiptoeing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Come on down

I think we're all a little bit saddened by Bob Barker's announcement that he'll be leaving The Price Is Right this summer. It's hard to argue with a guy - 35 years at the same place and half a century in the biz? He's earned it, surely.

I've watched the show on and off for the better part of my life (and I realize that there are people out there who have been longer or more hardcore fans - or maybe both - than me). As a kid, it was a special treat when we had a weekday off from school. Later on, it was something to tune into if I was tired of listening to CNN.

But after my sophomore year of college, the show meant more to me. I was fortunate enough to attend a taping. Their schedule happened to coincide with my cousin's wedding in Ventura, Calif., and I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. My parents were cool with it, so we ventured south to Burbank early one day to CBS' Television City.

I can't remember why or when, but I took a quick walk around the neighborhood. I was struck by the fairly normal apartment buildings, which weren't too large - four stories maybe - and had architecture and colors that I would have expected to find in Miami. I wondered what it was like to live so close to Television City, but then I figured those people were like the folks who live within a few blocks of the Capitol or near old Boston or within spitting distance of the St. Louis Arch.

This is over a decade ago, so bear with me - my memory of the more important details is far better.

We arrived around 8 or so, if I remember right, and the line to get in was already quite long. The lines were in two long columns, with seats on one side. We got in line and waited and waited and waited – the first taping wasn’t until 1 p.m.

In the meantime, some network folks asked us to come preview a pilot for them. They promised we would keep our spots in line if we came, so we decided to do just that – anything to make the time pass. We walked into a screening room and were handed a little remote control-type device with a red button and a green button. If we saw or heard something funny, we were told to push the green button; if we didn’t like it, we were to push the red button.

Moreover, the people in charge told us, we shouldn’t worry about offending them or anyone in the room. And that was a good thing – the show pretty much sucked. It was some lame sitcom with a family of one type or another living in a sweaty, blue-collar apartment in New York. Ho-hum. My remote didn’t get much of a workout because there was hardly anything exceptional about the pilot – a few funny lines here and there, but eh. (And I never remembered seeing the show in the lineup, so I guess I wasn’t the only one that thought that way.)

Once the lights came up, we headed back outside and resumed our spots in line. It looked a lot like the queue to a roller coaster, and in a way, it felt like that too.

Around noon, the line finally started moving. There were a lot of people that made it in before us; in fact, we were one of the last groups of people in the door for the first taping. I think the final group was a fairly large group of girls from Cal-Santa Barbara, who stood near us in line and sat right behind us in the studio. And no, that didn’t suck.

We made our way out of the queue, around the building and to the entrance. Just before the entrance, we had a brief interview with one of the producers and – I can only assume – his secretary. They both looked very Hollywood, and I can see the secretary to this day: dark hair, 50-ish, a woman who was once hot and still fancied herself to be hot (and may have taken, uh, unnatural steps to ensure it).

My interview was short and sweet. I’m sure I mumbled my way through it, ensuring I’d never make it out of the audience. (Apparently, we’d heard later, it helps to kiss a LOT of ass. Supposedly one of the UCSB girls said she watched the show since she was little and back in her home country, which was somewhere along the Pacific Rim.) Just before going in, we met with a page who wrote our names on the customary price-tag name tags.

Once inside, we sat pretty close to the back in the rightmost of the three seating sections, with the only two rows behind us occupied by the UCSB co-eds (which still didn’t suck). When the doors closed, again it felt like a roller coaster ride. We were going to see Bob Barker and the beauties and prizes and money – tell me that isn’t a ride. There was a sign near the stage telling us the planned airdate for this show, which was about a month from that day.

She stood on the lip of the stage, which looks huge on TV but in reality is maybe 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep. At least one of the cameras sit right onstage, front and center.

After some time getting settled in, announcer Rod Roddy (RIP, Rod) made his way onto the stage to warm us up. He got us cheering for what seemed like an eternity – so much so my hands started to hurt from clapping for so long. We obeyed the “APPLAUSE” sign and eventually, the opening music began (you know it; if not, click here). We tried to keep clapping and listen to the names being announced; a woman held cue cards at the front with the names on them because it was pretty loud.

Then, it was time for the grand entrance.

Rod: “And here is the star of The Price is Right ... BOB BARKER!”

The left-most stage door opened, and out walked the MC. The cheers got as loud as ever – no surprise there – and went on for another eternity. Even when he tried to start the show, the applause were just too loud and he had to wait another moment, thanking us all the while.

And just like that, we were off and away. The ride had begun.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the show per se. I remember one of the games was Penny Ante, and I remembered seeing it on TV numerous times. I thought the board resembled a ski-ball game, but in truth, it was mostly flat. None of the supergames were played – Golden Road or Plinko.

One of the co-eds from behind us – the one who had made the claim about watching from another country – made it to contestants row and even made it onstage. She was an Asian girl and won her pricing game, but it wasn’t for a car. (Though someone did win a car and used one of the payphones outside to call home and tell them the good news.) Her friends screamed like hell behind us, which isn’t difficult to imagine.

The reason I remember she was Asian was because, honestly, she looked nothing like us. My mom and dad and I are all hearty Germans from the east coast, in no way resembling any person of Asian descent on the west coast.

I make this point for a reason: When the show was broadcast a month later, we re-lived our friend’s success. Then, as she’s celebrating, the camera flashes to our section. Very much to my surprise, the girls are nowhere to be seen. Instead, virtually all you see is me and my mom. So, for a second, we were on network television. (I guess my sweet Moravian football windbreaker was too awesome to pass up.)

Barker was pretty cool. After each segment ended, there was a set amount of time he had off air; I don’t know anything about television, but I’m guessing they taped for a full hour and laid in the commercials when the show actually aired.

I remember the timing well because it was the week after Greg Norman’s sad collapse at The Masters. Barker, also a golfer, said he felt so bad that Norman wasn’t able to win a title that had (and still has) eluded him: a major on U.S. soil. Barker said all the right things about working with Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, though it’s not a secret that and Sandler did not become best buddies after filming it.

You’ll often hear him reference something happening during the break, and that’s pretty accurate. He struck up a conversation with an elderly lady in the audience during the second half of the show; sure enough, she was the next person called to contestants row.

We made it through the entire show without incident and heard the now-famous ‘make sure your pets are spayed or neutered’ line. We left and marveled at what we had seen; that sense of wonder is why, truly, it felt like a roller coaster ride.

On we went with our day, a lifetime of memories in tow.