Frozen Irish

Hello from a veyr frigid Northern Indiana. I am sitting in a Bruno’s pizza just north of Notre Dame, waiting on a pizza and sort of passively glancing at the fourth quarter of the Colts-Jets game. It is cold as hell here, I think in the teens, and I’ve done more ice and snow driving in the last 24 hours than I have in the last several years.  I spent a week in Milwaukee, and yesterday, drove through Chicago (with a stop in Chicago to have lunch with John Sheppard and Helen) and then zipped down the Indiana toll road to our hotel.  We’re now seeing my side of the family, and I’m also visiting various ghosts of decades ago.

The level of nostalgia isn’t as high as it has in the past.  I mean, I’ve been out of Indiana longer than I actually lived here.  And so many things have changed since I left.  Like I drove by University Park mall last night, and was astonished how much it has changed since the early 90s.  But I still see bits and pieces of the Michiana I knew way back when.  Elkhart was never a big city to me, and Chicago was my main urban center, but South Bend held wisps of big city to me, the way the downtown grid creeps between the couple of tall buildings.  Back in high school, I’d drive around South Bend, driving up Michigan and down Main, wishing I was in a real big city, in New York or Los Angeles.  And now that I’ve lived in both, it’s odd for me to be back here.

I also drove to Scottsdale Mall last night, which is no longer there.  It has been “de-malled”, torn down and replaced with Erskine Plaza, a collection of big block stores.  I can kind of see where some parts of the old mall used to be, the McDonald’s on Miami; the Kroger across the street from the mall.  But it’s weird to see the mall gone.  I never shopped there as my main choice, but when I went to IUSB, it was the closest mall, and I always ended up there on paydays.  It’s weird to be driving through a parking lot full of strip mall, knowing a giant two-story mall used to be there.

Not much else to report.  I’m coming off a cold and need some sleep…


Hello from the land of cheese

Hello from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I am here for the week, visiting Sarah’s family, and hoping we don’t get hit with a foot and a half of snow.  We flew in on Saturday, and took a relatively painless Southwest flight to Midway airport in Chicago, where we got a rental car and drove up.  Our plan is to spend the week here, and then drive to Indiana on the 26th and visit my side of the family for a few more days, then head back in time for work on the 31st.

The flight out proved to be the first test for the Kindle.  I sat in the airport in Oakland, browsed the store a bit, and picked up the e-version of George Carlin’s latest, which is an autobiography he had worked on for years, which was completed after his death.  No problems buying it at the last second in the airport, and I got about halfway through it on the plane.  Maybe I will save a future report for the actual end-to-end experience on the thing, but I find it pretty easy to get lost in the book.  You really do forget the interface and get lost in the writing, which I guess is one of the major concerns with any non-paper reading.  Probably the only major drawback with the Kindle is there is no old-fashioned way to give someone books for Christmas.  I guess you could give them a gift card, but I’m the kind of person who always ends up with many dead trees wrapped up and under the soon-to-be-dead tree during the holidays.  There’s no easy way to get around that.

I saw this funky documentary last night called Alone in the Wilderness, which was about this dude who went to Alaska and built a cabin, with the original plan being to stay there a year, but he ended up staying for about thirty years.  The whole time, he filmed himself cutting lumber and notching logs and building a fireplace and tracking the wildlife and surviving through a -45 degree winter.  Later, his son-in-law took all of this silent film footage, added sound effects and narration, and made it into a documentary. Its good stuff, and makes me wonder if I could ever do the same out on my land.  Of course, I don’t have a bunch of trees to cut down, and I’m not right off a lake where I could fish and haul my own water.  Still, very interesting stuff.

Time to get my act together and go off to a lunch.  Had a very good pizza for lunch yesterday, that ultra-thin crust type, from Balisteri’s.  I have no particular pizza religion between thin versus thick, but I always appreciate a good specimen of either, and this was good.


Christmas has come early

kindleLook what Santa (i.e. Sarah) got me!

I’ve been on the fence about the eBook thing, not because I am so fiercely loyal to dead trees, or that I see it as some sort of threat to the publishing industry.  My main gripe about the Kindle is that it provides such a great reading experience, plus the ability to one-click a ton of books from Amazon’s catalog, which is essentially like locking a heroin junkie in a narcotics factory.  But now that one is in my hands, let the floodgates open.

First impressions: this thing is amazingly light.  I think it weighs about as much as my phone.  Also, the screen is shockingly clear, especially when I’m sitting in bed with a light over my shoulder.  It would not work in a no-light situation, as it is not backlit, but if you can read a book, you can read this screen.  It is so amazingly crisp though – it looks more like the fake display sticker they put on an LCD that you peel off to reveal the actual screen.

The first book I bought was On the Road.  It took me about 60 seconds end-to-end, and I was staring at the pages in my hand.  They also have a service where you can email yourself a PDF at a special address, and for 15 cents a meg, they will reformat it and zap it over the air to you.  I did this with Rumored to Exist and for three nickels, had a copy on my kindle, perfectly readable.

(Hint to other Kindle owners: you can download any of my books for free and zap them over to your kindle.  The complete Konrath library will cost maybe a buck and some change.  Or you can email it to another address (prepend .free to the domain name) and it will do the convert, but you get it next time you sync with your PC.  I have not tried this one yet.)

Anyway, I really like it.  It will be perfect when I’m stuck in airports this holiday season…


Requiem for an iPhone

Well, my must-last-two-years-according-to-AT&T iPhone 3G just crossed the magical Apple rainbow at nine months.  It was working fine, but it started developing a crack in the back case, just above the dock connector.  It probably could have lasted another year, but I figured I would make the trek to the Apple Store and see if they would swap it for a new one, even if I didn’t have AppleCare, and they did.

First, if we’re in a recession, it sure didn’t look like it in the Bay Street Apple store.  They were wall-to-wall with people grabbing Apple gear for the holidays.  I’m curious what their actual numbers are for sales in the holiday season, and also curious if these new Microsoft stores are doing anything comparable.  Anyway, I made an appointment for the genius bar, and managed to get in at exactly the specified time.  And the swap was no hassle.  Thanks to the whole iTunes-centric backup recovery paradigm and the fact that I backed up right before leaving, the whole thing went almost seamlessly.  (Only exceptions: my WiFi and voicemail passwords vanished and had to be re-entered when I got home.)  I also sprung for AppleCare, just in case, and a new screen protector, which they installed for me.  (It’s pretty much impossible to put on an adhesive screen protector in a home with a long-haired cat, unless you don’t mind staring at a few stray cat hairs on your touchscreen for the rest of the protector’s life.)

What’s weird is that while the Apple genius boxed up my old phone and got ready to pitch it off to whatever Chinese landfill/salvage dumping ground old iPhones go to at the end of their lives, I felt slightly emotional about seeing it go.  Granted, I got an exact clone of the old model, and it even looks identical because it’s in the same old case, but I still felt slightly sentimental about seeing it go.  I think part of that is because this is one of the first cell phones that wasn’t just a vague utensil I occasionally used to make calls, but an actual fully-fledged computer that I used for a wide swath of applications within my somewhat-connected life.  I mean, I really used the camera; I listened to pretty much every Rockies game I could this season, and when I couldn’t listen, I followed along in the MLB app; I sent and read many an email; I used it as a real web browser, not a postage stamp approximation of a web browser; I found myself texting a lot more than I typically would; I even wrote a few blog posts on it.

I guess there’s always been this lack of a suspension of disbelief in my use of a palm-sized computer, either because it didn’t do what I wanted, or it had such clunkiness in what it did do.  Like, I used to have a couple of Palm OS non-phone devices, and while those were decent phone books and occasional game machines (mostly Dopewars), there was a big line to be drawn with all things connected, because there was no way for me to surf the web or read emails on those things.  Yes, you could attach on some giant pack the size of the actual device and sort of use it as a crappy cell phone, and maybe run an email program that barely worked, but there was a pretty hard stopping point in the usefulness of these machines, and it was clear that I would also need to carry a cell phone and a laptop to be semi-functional in the field with these.

I guess now we’re truly reaching this age where we can have a palm-sized computer that can really run apps and really do things and because of that, I feel the same kind of emotional (and somewhat stupid) bond I feel toward some of the primary computers I have in my life.  I mean, when I finally kicked to the curb my entirely obsolete PC that was my primary writing machine from 1991-2001,  I felt a bit of remorse to see that beige rectangle go to the garbage, even if it was fully useless even as a doorstop by the time it went in 2005.  There were many good memories of that thing sitting on my desktop as I chipped away at various books.  And I felt the same kind of nostalgia as that tiny black piece of plastic and glass (which probably had more CPU and memory than said PC) got sent back to the void.

And a side note, iPhone wise – I was tapping away while standing in line at Taco Bell, and curiously got a WiFi connection and didn’t know why.  Then I realized I was standing next to a Starbucks, which has an AT&T hotspot, and at some point I logged in at a different Starbucks, and the new magical AT&T hotspot connector mojo worked without interaction.  That sure beats the old days of having to enter a thousand characters of login info, including a password you can never use or remember.


A tale of two balls

…baseballs, I mean.  Calm down.

First, here’s a little early xmas present I got myself the other day: a signed Troy Tulowitzki ball. I netted it from eBay for only twenty bucks.  The guy also had Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi balls going for about ten bucks toward the end of their auctions, but I did not splurge as much as I could have.  This is only the second ball in my collection, the first being a Rockies spring training 08 ball that John Sheppard gave me at my wedding reception. I need to avoid getting into this particular hobby, though.  I think the ideal baseball collectible is the stack of plastic cups I have on top of my fridge.  They’re ideal because they always change from season to season and stadium to stadium, and every time I buy a five dollar Coke at the ballpark, I add to my collection.

On the subject of this, I saw this movie last night on Netflix called Up for Grabs. It was the story of the 73rd home run ball hit by Barry Bonds in the 2001 series, and the fight between two men who each claimed they caught the ball.  The story in a nutshell is that one guy caught the ball but then apparently dropped it when he was tackled by a horde of people, and this other dude picked it up in the ensuing melee. Of course, both sides disputed this, especially since the ball was going to potentially auction for a few million bucks.  Spoiler alert: a judge ordered them to auction off the ball and split the proceeds.  Fine, except the plaintiff in the lawsuit ran up something like $650,000 of legal fees and essentially made this lawsuit his full-time job.  When the ball got auctioned off almost two years later, it went for about $450,000, which the two guys split (and then had to pay income tax on.)  So yeah, sucks for that guy. There’s a lot more to the story, but it was an entertaining documentary. If you have netflix, give it a look – it’s watchable online (or on your PS3 or Roku box, if you’re now doing that.)

The moral of the story, I think, had to do with the greed and sensationalism of current-day baseball, which isn’t a good thing to have rolling through your head as you’re cruising through eBay listings looking for Rockies collectibles.  So I’ll stick to collecting the plastic cups for now.