Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Like It Or Knotts

Ok, so this is a couple weeks old now, but on Mother's Day I had my first taste of Knott's Berry Farm. I had heard that there was a lot of fun stuff and that in its heyday it rivaled Disneyland. While I wouldn't quite go that far, it was an enjoyable experience, overall. The Ghost Town area especially was nicely themed. For example, I got my picture taken in the cemetery, and from inside the coffin you could hear a Western preacher giving a eulogy:
Jenny's Visit May 2009 001
However, theming in general felt like the park was what Disneyland would be if it stopped trying so hard. The Mine Train ride, in which you get on a train and a conductor drones on slyly (I think, I could hardly understand what he said since he apparently swallowed the microphone while speaking) as you pass "animatronic" miners was especially embarrassing. They were clearly going for a Jungle Cruise meets Pirates of the Caribbean thing and it just didn't work. The sets were kind of pretty, but the miners were basically wax mannequins with a rotating motor in their shoulder. Kind of sad.

Another area where the park didn't live up to Disney was in overall maintenance. Disney freaks like to point out every time they see chipped paint or debris on the ground, but I don't think they realize how good they have it. Many of the rides and buildings (especially outside of Ghost Town) looked like they hadn't been renovated in decades. It's little touches that can make a park feel like something special. In the end, Knott's felt more like Six Flags than Magic Kingdom, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The food was good (I bought some Boysenberry and Strawberry jams for sandwich making) and the rides were fun, overall. One piece of advice- go on Mother's Day! We didn't wait in a single line for anything all day. It was incredible. Like we had the park to ourselves. Anyway, here's some thoughts on a few specific rides:

Ghost Rider: Our first ride of the day. It was a monsterous wooden coaster. Very fast, a lot of good hills. One of the bumpiest wooden coasters I've ever been on, though, and the second trip hurt my neck.
Silver Bullet: A pretty standard inverted (hanging) coaster. Melissa rode it once and that was the last of her big thrill rides (she's not a coaster person). A lot of inversions and speed, but the highlight was the 360 degree helix spin at the end, where the G-Force nearly blacked me out.
Jaguar: A fantastic, Aztec (or maybe it was Mayan, I can never tell) themed line leads to- a pretty lame and boring coaster. Oh well.
Sierra Sidewinder: An interesting coaster where you sit in a kind of disc vehicle and you spin around (not unlike a teacup) as you go through the dips and curves. An interesting sensation, though maybe a little too short.
Pony Express: A neat idea- The cars are shaped like horses, and they strap your legs into "stirrups" and the support bar presses on your back, not your stomach. It was kind of a cool feeling. Unfortunately, the ride is basically one short oval with a couple of hills and a tunnel, like the kiddie coaster at a touring carnival. Wasn't the pony express a LONG and grueling trail? I couldn't help but think that Disney could have built a killer themed indoor coaster with the horse car- maybe even simulating the varying landscapes of the pony express. A disappointing use of innovative design.
Xcelerator: This was one of the most unique experiences I've ever had. It's a "launch" coaster (like so many are these days), that shoots you off and then straight up at a near 90 degree corkscrew, then you crest and drop 90 degrees straight down. The rest of the ride is a couple of hills, but it doesn't matter because all you're doing is recovering from the initial thrill. Most launchers I've been on go 0-60 or so in about 3 seconds. This one goes 0-80 in about the same time. It's intense. Then the thrill of dropping straight down face first? Incredible. It seems like nothing special, but it was a super-cool feeling that I had to ride twice. Very neat.

And that's about that. There were other rides (a couple of coasters, a fun steam train, a log ride) but these were the ones that stood out. Back again tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Our New Child

Melissa is fond of saying that in our apartment we don't have children or pets, we have technology. Well, add another one to the roster. This weekend we upgraded my 5 year old HP Windows XP Media Center PC to the shining, 24" iMac you see to the right. It's a thing of beauty. The old PC was great for several years, but it was to the point where it took 20 minutes to fully power on and we turned it on no more than once a month (using my Macbook as our main computer). The new iMac starts up in a matter of seconds. I can have it up and running Photoshop in the amount of time it takes for Windows to even start loading on the PC. Plus, the PC's main feature- built in DVR -isn't as necessary as it was before I got a DVR from the cable company. And it doesn't work at all with DirecTV or HD broadcasts, so it's a moot point. Anyway, it was certainly time to upgrade.

I don't think the picture really illustrates how big a 24" computer is. It dominates the room. It's nearly 10 inches bigger than the monitor it replaces and only 6 inches smaller than our living room HDTV. And it gets a beautiful picture with very high viewing angle. I've transfered all of the files I need on to it, and it's backing up automatically (through Apple's wonderful Time Machine) to the 1TB disk on the corner of the desk (added bonus- my MacBook can backup to the same drive as long as it's on the home network). All in all, a killer setup.

What's perhaps most significant is this is the completion of the Macification of our home. We have kicked John Hodgman out and are surviving solely on Justin Long. As a side note, I think it's interesting that Justin Long (portraying the young, hip "Mac") has become something of a standard movie actor (no offense intended, I like his work), whereas John Hodgman (supposedly the stodgy ol' PC) has become sort of a King of the Hipsters, the exact people Apple is targeting. Maybe I'm the only one that thinks that's funny. Anyway, I don't want to start any kind of flame war here; I simply prefer Macs. I have extensive experience on both operating systems and they're both good in their own ways. I just find Macs to be more pleasant and that they maintain their performance longer. I'm willing to pay a little (but when you come pare the specs, not that much) more for a higher quality product, no matter what those Windows ads say.

Speaking of those ads, they bug me a little. First, they're ads for Windows, but they make no reference of the operating system itself. "PC" is not a unified product the way that "Mac" is. Second, their claims are dubious, and often outright deceitful. The computers that people pick out may be cheaper, but they pale in comparison to the nearest comparable Mac, or are at least missing several key features. The girl who says she is a video editor? She must just do it as a hobby or there's no excuse for not getting a Mac and Final Cut Pro. I know MANY professional video editors and they ALL work on Mac. It's just better at that sort of thing. To be fair, the kid looking for a good gaming laptop with Blu-Ray should absolutely go with the PC, that's not Mac's strong suit (though whether the Sony he chooses is really cheaper is debatable). Throw in the fact that the first girl featured was a professional actress ("real people," Microsoft?) and the company that makes the ads produces them entirely on Macs (this is a true fact, you can look it up) and you've got ads that really irritate me.

And they're part of the larger problem. I'm seeing this trend in car commercials, too- "Hey, the economy's bad. Our stuff is cheaper!" I've already gone on about the economy here, but I'll say it again- there are PLENTY of people (probably most people) who are doing just fine, not matter what the cable news shows say. I don't think people should use it as an excuse for buying shittier stuff just because it costs less money. But, that's what the commercials are telling everyone to do, anyway . If you're paying less money, you're probably buying an inferior product. That's fine, but I'm sick of seeing Chevy comparing themselves to Toyota. A lower price and a measly 1 mpg more don't make your car "better." You can say, "Our cars are cheap," just don't go around pretending like that makes you a BMW.

Wow, I really got off on a tangent there. Sorry about that. Anyway, I have a new iMac and it makes me very happy. Keep tuning in to learn how I spent my Memorial Day weekend and for the long-awaited/teased Knott's Berry Farm trip report.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pillsbury DON'T Boy (See what I did there?)

So, this is a segment that I'm hoping will become regular enough to warrant my drawing a logo for it: Chef Eli. I like to cook, and while I don't always have time to do anything fancy, sometimes I break out of my routine and try something new. Last night was one of those times.

I wanted to do a pizza, but was a little tired of making the standard pepperoni. I've recently become obsessed with goat cheese and thought that there was surely a recipe out there for a goat cheese pizza. For simplicity's sake, I settled on Rachel Ray's spinach and goat cheese pizza. There were only 5 ingredients- pizza dough, parmesan cheese, baby spinach, chopped tomato and goat cheese (I don't care for Rachel Ray the personality, but I like her cooking style). Now, normally I split my shopping between Trader Joe's and Ralph's, but this week we just didn't feel like making two stops, so TJ's was skipped. That's where the trouble begins.

See, Trader Joe's makes great pre-made pizza dough. It comes in regular, (almost) whole wheat, and garlic and herb (my favorite). The recipe called for Pillsbury pizza dough, which I've never used, but Ralph's had it. "Fine," I figured, "It may not be gourmet, but it should be easy enough to use." The time came to make the pizza last night and I opened the tube of dough. I placed it, as instructed, on to a greased pan and started to stretch it out (both by stretching and pressing, as the tube told me to). But every time I took my hands off the dough, it shrank back to its original shape. At one point, I tore a hole in the dough (which happens with regular dough sometimes, too), but no amount of squashing and kneading could make the hole disappear. This stuff, whatever it was, wanted to retain its original tubular shape no matter what I did. It was infuriating. After half an hour of stretching, rolling, and pressing, I gave up. The dough was as thin and large as it was getting (roughly 3/4 of the size it was supposed to be). I very nearly went out to Trader Joe's to buy their dough several times, but didn't want to have wasted my effort. Needless to say, I won't be bothering with the scientific abomination that Pillsbury calls "pizza dough" again. I don't know what that was, but it wasn't bread.

For a happier conclusion, the pizza turned out quite nice. The goat cheese was rich and it was a flavorful pizza for so few ingredients. The recipe called for way more spinach than was necessary, and since it had already been tossed in olive oil, I added tomato and mozzarella for a basic salad. It was a nice addition, even if it was a little too much oil (I don't know if you've ever had an "oily" feeling in you mouth, but it's not pleasant). Melissa, it turns out, doesn't care as much for the taste of cooked spinach as she does raw spinach, so I doubt we'll be retrying this one. However, I'd definitely try another goat cheese pizza (with TJ's dough, of course). Next time, I'm thinking something with pesto. Suggestions?


Monday, May 18, 2009

Odds and Ends

Hey everyone, sorry I've been delinquent for nearly a week. Not the best foot on which to start out. I went to Knott's Berry Farm a week ago Sunday and have been meaning to write a post about it, but there's a picture I want and it's still on my camera. I promise a post about it when I clean off my memory card. Anyway, so as not to let the pool of creativity stagnate, here's a few things from my world:

Melissa and I bought iPod shuffles yesterday. Melissa got a bright green one of the old model, and I got the new black one. It's about the size of a stick of gum and seems pretty cool so far. Unfortunately, I'm starting to read about how the in-line controls freak out when they get sweat on them, and since this is going to be my running iPod, that worries me. Updates if necessary.

We're also likely to buy a new iMac soon. My poor old PC takes about 15 minutes from startup to actually be usable, and I don't think we've turned it on more than once in the last month. We still want a desktop, but it has to be more convenient. I got a notice that my Norton antivirus subscription is about to run out, and I'd rather go ahead and get the new computer now (in the budget for a little later this year) and not have to worry about it.

Finally got the latest Weezer album. Wow, disappointing. Looking forward to listening to the new Green Day, though.

Why does anyone care what Miss California has to say about anything? Have you ever met a beauty queen? Did they strike you as someone who could form intelligent opinions about things? The fact that she's anti-gay marriage should be proof enough that same sex couples should be allowed to wed. It's media blitzes like this that get actors and athletes elected in to public office (which has never turned out well for anyone).

Minor earthquake last night. Melissa, who is trained in crisis management, was rearranging our DVD shelf (which has several small items on top of it) and didn't even move out of the way. That's how minor it was. It felt like the house was driving down a gravel road (kinda fun, actually).

I'm absolutely sure there was one more thing I wanted to say, and I can't think of it to save my life. Oh well, that's what a Monday will do.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dressing the Part

I haven't been an actor for several years now. While I recently find myself missing performing, I can't justify calling myself an actor when I'm not actually doing any acting. However, there are some habits from my performing days that seem to have stuck with me. For example, I always found that no matter how much time and work I spent developing and a character for a role, I was never able to truly inhabit the character until I had the costume on. It was sort of an immersion thing. It's much easier to pretend to be something when you look like the something you are trying to be. It is certainly a challenge to pretend to be a pirate when dressed as a professional bowler, for example.

I recently realized that I needed to be more creative in my day to day life. The revitalization of this blog is part of that decision. I basically felt like I was becoming mired in the corporate mindset and I think that was causing a lot of my general malaise (I would say depression, but I don't think that's clinically true). It was affecting my mood, as well as keeping me from writing, even when I knew I should. So, I decided to change. Along with making a concentrated effort to write and draw (see the post below), I made physical changes. I bought new notebooks (softcover moleskines) and pens and tried not to dress so formally for work (it's not required in my office). I'm ditching my overly bland and generic briefcase and having my suede messenger bag repaired. In order to get myself feeling creative again, it has been important that I look creative. It seems shallow, I know, but it's something that's worked in the past.

When I started dancing for my theater classes in college, I wore sweatpants and a t-shirt. I felt awkward and uncomfortable. So, I invested in dancewear (and it was a sizable investment), and the shoes, pants and tank tops helped me feel more confident. I never became much of a dancer, but I could get by. I think I got some jobs/roles because I looked like I should know what I was doing, even if my klutzy footwork didn't reflect it. When I decided to start running, I couldn't seem to force myself into the routine. But, I bought a nice pair of running shoes and several moisture-wicking garments and I have now been running on a schedule of 3-4 times per week for over a year and a half.

I don't know if it's because I feel obligated to myself to work once I spend the money or if on some primal level the visual element is enough to convince me that I'm someone else, but it seems to work for me. Maybe I should by a space suit, just to see what happens.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sci-Fi Bi

So, I liked my idea of being Sci-Fi Bi from yesterday so much that I decided to try my hand at a sketch. I'm no artist (obviously), but I'm getting better. Things I don't know how to do at all- hands and feet. Anyway, here it is:
Oh, and Star Trek? It was awesome. Go see it. So awesome.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Beyond the Rim of the Starlight

I've been in the closet about this for a while now. But it seems that now is the time to come out- I'm a pretty huge Star Trek nerd. Don't get me wrong, Star Wars is and always be my first love, but for a time in middle school (partly to differentiate myself from my Jedi-inclined brother) I fell into Trek hard, especially Next Generation (and that's why I was so cool in middle school). I guess you could call me Sci-Fi-Bi. Seriously, I wish I had some of the pictures to show you (but am secretly glad I don't): Me in my starfleet uniform (complete with cheap Geordi LaForge-style visor), me attacking a Klingon with a lightsaber at Dragon*Con...I even had Klingon language instructional tapes (though I never learned a word of it).

And now, with the new Trek movie coming out, I find that love re-emerging. I bought a box of cereal because it had a starfleet insignia flashlight in it. I'm considering ordering an Enterprise uniform t-shirt from the back of a different cereal box. I find myself thinking back fondly on Picard and Data- the adventures they had with Q and the Borg...even young Wesley Crusher, always saving the day. And I look around and notice I'm not the only one. Nerd culture has gone main stream. It's not just the cool new movie, either (JJ Abrams, the guy who did Lost, directed a Star Trek movie? Even if it had terrible reviews, I'm there opening day). Comic books and video games are cool. Geeks nowadays are the people who aren't on the internet, not the ones who are. It's interesting that I've inadvertently become kind of cool, just by being who I've always been. I guess those after school specials and Disney Channel movies were right.

p.s.- The post title is a reference to the words to the original Star Trek theme. I don't think they ever played on the air, but here they are:

Beyond the rim of the starlight,
My love is wandering in star flight.
I know he'll find in star clustered reaches
Love, strange love a starwoman teaches.

I know his journey ends never.
His Star Trek will go on forever.
But tell him while he wanders his starry sea,
Remember, Remember me.

Man, how wonderfully cheesy is that?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Frustrating Two-fer

I just got notification from my temp company that Disney (the company that has rented me out for the past six months) is cutting my pay by 5%. As far as I can tell, the cut is across the board for all temps, but I can't say for certain. This is actually great. I was just telling my wife last night that I make too much money. It's quite degrading being told that you will be required to do something you can't stand doing for less compensation.

And can I say that I don't think the economy is in as bad a shape is it's being portrayed in the media? Yes, housing and automotive are down, but most corporations are still holding up ok. Unemployment is up, but the vast majority of people in the country are still employed. Isn't it possible that the downturn in retail is just a reaction to what people see on TV? I mean, the modern media (especially cable "news") has a history of blowing things out of proportion (see- Swine Flu), and people in general have a history of making mountains out of molehills. "Hey, hon, I think we should buy a new fridge." "But the TV just said the economy is bad, even though we both still have steady jobs." "GET THE KIDS OUT OF SCHOOL AND INTO THE BUNKER! WE CAN'T AFFORD TO BUY ANYTHING, THE TV SAID SO!" (Yes, I'm being over-dramatic). I guess my point is- a company with the 3rd-highest paid CEO in the world (Bob Iger) could probably find better places to save more money than with a 5% pay decrease for temps.

The other part of the frustration (assuming you're still here) comes to me via Jay Starr's blog (linked in the left column). Jay gave me a shout out yesterday, and I'm returning the favor. I've only met him a couple times, but he's a funny guy with great taste. Anyway, he posted this link:
Texas Education?
Apparently, a Texas school board has voted, 11-3, that the universe is 6,000 years old. Now, let me get one thing straight- if you want to believe the universe is 6,000 years old, fine. Go believe whatever your moronic brain wants. But to teach that as science? It's absurd. There is ZERO credible scientific evidence pointing to a universal age anywhere near four digits. Not a bit of it. Anyone who claims otherwise has a different (ie-religious) agenda. If you live in Texas, and you want your kids to have a real education, I suggest you move them to another state. In fact, you remember those people who were calling for secession at those ridiculous "Tea Parties" (where people, theories? Tax increases that haven't happened? I seriously don't get it. See above re: People doing what the television tells them to do)? Well, maybe we should let them secede. Would the country really be any worse without them?

Ugh, if you're new to the blog, I promise I'm usually more lighthearted than this. It's just been a bit of a downer morning. On to a better Tomorrow!


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Scribe and Mouse- Re-Imagineered

Well, without further ado (and resisting the urge to make an Extreme Makeover reference in the post title), here it is- my redesigned blog! It's not complete; there's still a few small things I want to tweak (add a navigation bar, create a new profile image, etc), but the framework was in place and I decided to go ahead and launch. I'm working on some sketches that I would have liked to have had in place already, but I failed to take into account the fact that I would have to teach myself to draw first. Here's a few highlights of the new site:

I based the colors on this uniform (that's Dave Kingman, by the way):

The Cubs wore that on the road from 1978-1981. It's often considered one of the ugliest uniforms in baseball history. But, the colors looked pretty nice on a blog, so I went with it. I considered using the standard Cubs "home" colors, but red, white and Cubbie Blue ends up looking a little too "I have an eagle tattoo and a These Colors Don't Run bumper sticker" for my tastes.

This one I'm really proud of. I taught myself some basics in Adobe Illustrator to create the logo and some javascript to create the randomization. If you reload the page a few times, you'll notice that the blurb under the blog title will change. There's only 3 options right now, but I may add more in the future.

You can follow my Flickr Photostream (my, it's been a long time since I've taken the camera out for a spin) and my Twitter feed from the sidebars. If you have any other ideas for ways to connect, please let me know (though I'm not on Facebook, so there's no need to mention it).

And that's the basic rundown. I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions, so sound off in the comments! Looking forward to some great times here in my new blogging home.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Back to the Blog

Well, well, well, look what we have here. I had pretty much forgotten that I had a blog. Actually, that's not true- I'd just forgotten that it was mine. I think I checked here every once in a while to see if it had been updated. Hopefully you've done the same, but I can't blame you if you've abandoned hope that my words would ever populate this space again. Well, you Eli-Atheists are about to have your cynicism destroyed- I'm back, baby!

In the next day or so I will be introducing a big re-design of this blog. I've put a lot of time and effort into really personalizing it, and I'm hoping that will motivate me to keep writing here. Having a page that's really mine will at least make the experience more pleasant.

So, anyway, keep checking back for the new design and I'll see you back here real soon!