Thursday, June 28, 2007

I'm not addicted to poker...

I'm addicted to winning.

I've started playing poker online again; we've often found ourselves watching poker on TV, and that got me interested again. Moreover, watching the pros - who are often sponsored by this poker outfit or that - gave me the idea I'd try out Full Tilt, since many pros are sponsored by them.

And I've liked what I've seen. I used to play on PokerStars a lot, mainly because I had several friends that did as well - though we never did hook up to play. But PokerStars had tournaments that were too infrequent for me; it was often an hour-long wait before the next sit-n-go (SNG) tournament would begin.

Full Tilt has SNGs going constantly. They're usually 90 players; as soon as one tournament fills, another comes open for registration.

(I should add I don't play for money. I play for fake money; if it were real, I'd have an extra $50,000 or so right now. But I'd rather have a lot of fake money than a lot less real money.)

I've had some moderate success, taking second in two tournaments, winning one and making a few more final tables (one of which happened Weds. morning, as you can see in the pic above). I busted out of that tournament pretty quickly, since I had to get ready for work and I didn't have a very big stack of chips to begin with. Still, my "winnings" covered the cost of entering the tournament, and there was a little left over.

My one win was pretty memorable. I made it to the final table and outlasted all but one opponent. I got a run of great cards and took a pretty big lead; my opponent rallied nicely, however, and my lead shrunk just as quickly. (Be warned, we'll get a little jargonish here. If you get lost, try here.)

On what turned out to be the last hand, I was dealt J-5 offsuit. Not great, but enough to try to play with. The flop, of all possible things, comes J-J-J. Four of a kind - a hand outranked only by a straight flush and a royal flush. Sensing I might scare my opponent off with a bet, I checked.

My opponent, apparently, was dealt a pair, giving him/her a full house. He/she followed with a minimum bet, which I raised (I had not check-raised at all until now). If I remember right, my opponent re-raised, at which point I forced him/her all-in. There was no way to beat me, so I knew I had it won.

I've had a few decent runs since then. I was all set to go tonight, signed up for a SNG which cost $2K to buy into. I stayed in the first hand (which I usually don't, given the propensity of clowns who tend to go all-in), and sure enough someone went all-in. Giving their betting pattern I was convinced I had the best hand.

And I did, all the way until the river - when he got the card that gave him a low straight, beating my pair of queens.

Not the way I wanted to begin the night.

But I'm addicted to winning. I signed up for the next SNG, which was moderately more successful (27th place).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A different kind of video wall...

OK, so I know this isn't as cool as the music. But indulge me for a moment.

United 747 takeoff from San Francisco (notice the succession of radio frequencies: tower, departure, center; also, "Cactus" is an America West flight):

In case you're wondering, United flights have an audio channel dedicated to radio transmission: Channel Nine.

And you thought landing at Reagan National was a difficult proposition: A Cathay Pacific 747 lands at the old, notorious Hong Kong airport, Kai Tak:

OK, so maybe National is a challenge...

And, lastly, a Boeing 777 takeoff from Dubai. Man, that's a long wing:

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Now I get why iPods are popular...

I'm happy to be writing this with a set of headphones on.

Last weekend, there was a Woot-off over at (I'll let you surf the site to figure out what a Woot-off is.) But one of the deals that came up during said Woot-off was a Sony 1GB MP3 player for all of $40.

By comparison, here's the same item on Amazon - though mine is purple. Cost for a new one on Amazon: $189.95. For the price I paid, I can deal with the purple, even though it may bother the dude running the Uni Watch blog.

It finally arrived in the mail yesterday morning. Last night - though I knew I had to get up early - I immediately set out to use up as much of that 1GB as I could. I rolled out to the giant turning CD case and plucked every CD that interested me. I'd guess I used somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of all the cases there.

All told, I burned 206 songs and bought four more from Sony: "Brian Wilson" and "If I Had A Million Dollars" from Barenaked Ladies, "Smiley Faces" from Gnarls Barkley and "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" by P.M. Dawn. The combined total of those 210 songs leaves me with just over 20 percent of the space remaining.

At four minutes a pop, that's over 13 hours of music. And it's stuff that I like - all of it.

I can't believe I didn't drop the coin for this before...

In case you're wondering, my tracklist includes all of the following (most with multiple songs):

AC/DC, Alice In Chains, Az Yet, Blackstreet, Boston, Boyz II Men, Garth Brooks, The Cars, CCR, Def Leppard, The Doors, Carl Douglas, Dr. Dre, Faith Evans, Foo Fighters, Foreigner, The Four Tops, Fuel, The Fugees, Groove Theory, Guns 'n' Roses, Jimi Hendrix, Journey, Iron Maiden, Jay-Z, Montell Jordan, Judas Priest, R. Kelly, Kiss, Korn, L.L. Cool J, Led Zeppelin, Limp Bizkit, Live, The Mamas and the Papas, Megadeth, Motley Crue, Naughty by Nature, Nirvana, N.W.A., Oasis, Ozzy Osbourne, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, Poison, Ratt, Red Rider, Scorpions, Simon and Garfunkel, Snoop Dogg, Starship, Stone Temple Pilots, Survivor, TLC, Toto, Tupac and W.A.S.P.

And I still have some CDs in my car. Looks like I better bring those in tomorrow, because no collection of mine will be complete without Frank Sinatra.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Missed opportunity

Who knows what to expect when you pull into a 7-11 at 11 p.m.? I didn't. But I needed milk. I missed having my cereral in the morning, and that just throws the whole day off.

So after a shift on the desk Wednesday night, I was willing to take my chances. Plus it was on the way home.

I pulled in to a parking space right in front - this particular 7-11 is a non-descript building among towering apartment complexes - and saw some people congregated out front. They went their separate ways by the time I got out of my car, and as they walked by, they didn't appear very threatening anyway, so no big deal.

Had I been more concerned, my fear would have been alleviated in a few minutes.

As I was walking to the checkout line, in walks a guy in the Army, presumably on his way to or from work at the Pentagon (or perhaps Fort Belvoir). Fatigues, a cap, the whole thing - and he was a big, big guy. Six-foot-four at least and well-built; enough to make a flabby 6-2 guy feel shamed.

But it didn't stop there. Another Army guy followed him. And another. Another. And some more. A group of about five came in at once, and three more or so trickled in behind them. And at least one more of them was as large as the first guy. All with the same fatigues, though some without the caps.

Suddenly I wasn't so concerned about safety.

Since the 7-11 wasn't busy, a couple of them happened in line behind me. I bought my milk and walked out - but not before I encountered one final serviceman. He and I played a game of who's going to hold the door for who; finally, I insisted he walk in while I held the door for him.

It's the least I could do for all that they do for us.

Or was it?

I drove off, hoping their days would continue to be safe ones, days with late night Red Bull runs to 7-11. Then, an angry feeling fell over me.

I should have done more. I should have had the awareness to have the cashier put $30 on my card and pay for a few snacks for our guys. It might not have taken care of all of them - they didn't seem to be shopping for the week - but I'm guessing it would have been a few of them.

I'm still kicking myself that I didn't; honestly, I'm really, really pissed about that.

I guess I'll just have to stop for milk there again soon.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Some of the best money we've ever spent

"You never post anymore," Tara said on Friday night. "I'm tired of seeing that Michael guy that sucks."

Well, let the record reflect that he still sucks.

But the point stands. It has been a while, and I see Matt wondered where the hell I've been. More on that a little later.

My wife invited some friends over because Tara will be leaving us soon, headed off to Florida. So this was a chance to drink and reminisce. (I should note it was a girls' night party, so I mostly kept to myself here in the computer room.)

But eventually I was invited out to share in the revelry. Hey, just because I'm in here doesn't mean I can't drink a beer.

We ventured onto the deck for a lovely evening.

Our deck has become a place of refuge from the real world in recent weeks. Sure, we enjoyed being out there, but those plastic green chairs are ridiculously uncomfortable. We had talked about upgrading the furniture out there, but it had never gone past that.

Until one day...

In a joint trip to go shopping and test out my new E-Z Pass, we rode out to Ashburn to visit the Wegmans out there. (For those of you unaware, Wegmans is about the damn finest grocery store you'll ever see. Anything you could want, really, is there.)

We parked the Explorer and walked in to grab something in the food court. We ate outside and headed toward the main entrance when we were distracted by the patio furniture; we picked out one of the nicer looking sets and sat down.

The chairs were comfortable enough that we didn't really want to get up. (They're here on p. 16-17; you'll see them in the photo in the lower left.) Then and there, we made the decision that we should take these home.

Since they've been there, life has felt a lot better. Our apartment looks onto a wooded area (in a city of 200,000 in a region of several million; go figure!) and the serenity out there is wonderful. This morning, while what's left of Tropical Storm Barry rained down upon us, we enjoyed the sound of the rain and the wind while reading the Sunday paper. How relaxing...

What a wonderful way to start the day. It's nice to get out there and just chat or enjoy the peacefulness - so rare in the city and close-in suburbs. And honestly, it feels like we're living, really living; before now, there really weren't many places we could escape to. Now we have that place, and it's a great feeling.

Who knew comfortable patio furniture would bring such happiness?

-- SO, JUST WHERE IN THE HELL have I been?

Where to begin...

Work's been insanely busy, has been since a month ago. There was the run-up to the high school playoffs, which is always a bitch in the spring - there are so many sports going on. So far, I've done boys soccer, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse and baseball (the latter two are my beat). All while trying to maintain that NASCAR blog.

It'll slow down sometime soon. The lacrosse season is all but over, and none of our teams are left. There's one baseball team left, and its season could be over as early as Tuesday. In the meantime, I've got to e-mail All-Area photo notices to all the affected coaches; which is a problem, since I don't have them completely finalized yet. They're 90 percent done, but not completely.

In any other season, that wouldn't be an issue. But in the spring, the seniors are itching to graduate and get out of town to celebrate; we have to get their pics before they split. And the pics are scheduled for later this week. So that's one of my two must-dos tomorrow.

Then it'll be actually putting the All-Area page together and getting that sent; only then will summer officially begin.

Speaking of the NASCAR blog, I've found there's a racing component to Second Life, so I joined there to see what was going on. There's a track all right, but you need a car to use it. And to get a car, you have to buy one. And I don't have any Lindens (Second Life dollars); fortunately, I stumbled upon a group that gives out daily prizes in a writing contest (400 words or less). I've now won three contests at $25 a pop, but still well short of what I need to buy a car. So that's taken up time.

In case you're interested, here's one of the essays that won. Each day has a topic, and this day's topic was to write about going to a frog jubilee. So I came up with the idea to write from the frog's perspective; moreover, I roughly followed the script of "The Natural" and gave my character a performance-enhancer, too, bringing it more up to date. Enjoy:

See that tree over there? The one with the moss coverin' the scar on the bottom? My daddy died under there. A thunderstorm like we get here in the forest now and again. Bolt came outta nowhere, a boom like I ain't never heard, and he was gone. Just like that.

I always promised him I'd go be someone and not just another frog, that I'd use my God-given talent to jump. I know we all can jump like humans can think or cheetahs can run, but I was always better than most.

It almost didn't happen, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The tree, right. Right after daddy died, I took a few splinters and fashioned a leading edge for my arms. They're round, in case you didn't notice, and the wood made them more aerodynamic. Hey, it's all we had back in 1984.

I was flying higher and further than I ever had. No one had seen jumpin' like that, least that's what they told me. Well, one day I was practicing when some 8-year old kid wanders by. He's got a pointed stick and a mischievous look in his eye. I figured it was best to get the hell out of Dodge, but he caught me before I knew what happened. Put that stick right through my shoulder. I know you were wondering what that scar was.

Took me a long time to recover. I was always a bit of a loner, so I just dropped outta sight for a while. A long while, actually. I didn't need everyone seeing me all laid up.

I liked the solitary life I had.

Then one day, I ran across an old friend. Roy and I used to go at each other on the competitive jumping circuit. We got to talking about the old times, and he said his last event was coming up. We were both gettin' on in years and he thought it was time to hang 'er up.

"Why don't you come along? It'll be like old times, one last time," he asked.

"Nah, I gave that up a long time ago."

"You still got them wings?"

"Carry 'em with me everywhere, even though I've no use for them now. Just my way of bringing daddy with me."

"Lemme see you jump."

It took some persuadin', but I did. Just because it was him.

"Shit boy, you ain't never lost it."

So I met up with him at the jubilee. Some people recognized me, at least the older folks did - the ones who could see through the wrinkles. I heard them whisper but didn't pay them no mind.

And wouldn't you know it? I beat Roy in his last jubilee. Just like the old times - one more time.

Some of them folks grumbled. They said my wings was unnatural. What's the term they used? 'Performance enhancing.' Well no shit. Why else would I use them things? Ain't no law against it.

Just 'cause I figured out a better way doesn't make it wrong.

I'm the best that ever was.

Hope you liked it...