Two months ago. In a planning meeting at church, a group of us decided to host a variety show. Anyone who’d like to showcase their talents– whether they be singing, acting, playing an instrument, or just bringing some art or photography– would be invited to participate.

One month ago. In a different planning meeting with the teenagers in the church youth group, someone suggested that it would be cool if all of the kids (about thirty of them) created an act for the variety show. In the past, large group acts by the teens didn’t turn out so well. They have a hard time coming up with original material, and many of the jokes that seem hilarious at the time end up falling pretty flat. So I sort of cringed inside at the idea, but I put on my brainstorming cap and thought about how we might pull it off. Finally, inspiration struck and I suggested that perhaps all of the kids could get together and do a dance number to Michael Jackson’s classic “Thriller”. I had visions of YouTube videos (there are a lot of them) where the groomsmen at a wedding do the dance, or a flash mob springs up, and so on. They always seem really fun, and the dance seems pretty straightforward.

One week ago. My friend Talise volunteered to work on the dance and organize a practice. She’s very musically inclined and incredibly talented, so she was a natural choice. She found a web site called Thrill the World which is dedicated not only to teaching people how to do the dance, but has apparently become an annual event where thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands, of people plan to dance at the same time. Who knew.

Tonight. Thirty teenagers and about a dozen adult leaders– including me– gathered in the church gym to practice the dance. Talise went through all of the steps from the Thrill the World guide. It seemed like there were about two hundred of them. I had no idea “Thriller” was so complex. As you might expect, the twenty or so girls (including Kyra) picked it up pretty quickly and actually looked relatively synchronized. Meanwhile, the ten boys (including Alex) and most of the adults struggled to keep up and looked pretty lost.

A week and a half from now. We’re going to perform at the variety show. We’ve all been asked to wear dark pants, a white t-shirt, and (of course) a white glove with sequins. It will almost certainly be a night to remember. I suspect it’s going to look like thirty epileptics who are off their medication, lurching around, while Talise and a few girls do something relatively “Thriller”-like and everyone else can’t remember whether the next step is the “roar” move or a Michael Jackson “kick and point”.

It’ll definitely provide funny stories for a while.

Today there was a decent snowstorm, so we were all sitting around watching the snow fly and decided to play some games. We started with Ticket to Ride, and Alex trounced us pretty well. He manged to get several overlapping cross-country routes, and it’s hard to lose with those.

Then Zack and Alex insisted on a game of Axis and Allies, which we’ve talked about for a few weeks but never got around to playing. We’d attempted this several years ago– in 2008, to be exact— and it didn’t go so well. But now that the boys are older, I figured we’d see what happened.

I explained the rules and we played a few turns. I was the Axis powers, and Germany was rolling into Russia pretty well. I was threatening to take over the capitol, which of course is pretty serious. Japan had established a beachhead east of China, and the little U.S. base in Sinkiang was about to be destroyed (I’d already taken out the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, of course). All in all, it was looking like I was going to crush them. But then Alex took the British forces in for a surprise invasion of Italy, and Zack’s American research team developed heavy bombers. Ouch. The tables turned.

In the end, we called it quits because the boys were getting bored. It reminded me of the interesting dichotomy of Axis and Allies: it’s a very interesting (and historically accurate) game, but it takes bloody forever to play. In high school I think we regularly spent entire Saturdays playing a single game– five or six hours at a stretch. Yikes.

After dinner, Kyra and I played a couple games of Dominion. It was ugly; the first game saw me with 107 points to her 54, and in the rematch she scored 136 only to be bested with my record-breaking 154. She demanded that we play Mario Kart tomorrow, since that’s the game she can regularly win against me.

Good times on a blustery winter day.

A few days ago Zack drew the picture below. I have no idea what it means.

Who is Ant Man, the huge guy stomping around with an evil grin on his face?

What I like about this drawing is his meticulous detail. It’s hard to appreciate here on the web, but all of the little people are really tiny on the paper. Still, they have detail that makes it clear who they are. Cool stuff.

While I’m working this afternoon, I’m rocking out to Queensryche. I really like several of their albums, particularly Empire from 1990.

Even now, 20+ years later, it remains one of my favorite albums of all time. That said, I feel like Queensryche in general had a definite bell curve in the quality of their albums. Here’s a graph that sums up my feelings about it:

They peaked with Empire, with a couple of good albums on either side of it, but their really early stuff was too “metal” for my tastes, and their later stuff just sort of sucked on a bunch of levels.

I see they’re on tour now, coming to Denver in April. I think I’ll pass, and instead just continue rocking out to their early 90’s stuff…

Tonight I went out and ran a mile with the Boy Scouts (in the snow, no less). Alex and I are the only ones who finished it– all of the other boys slowed to a walk after about a quarter mile.

After that I played dodgeball for an hour with a couple other adults and about thirty teenagers. It was a blast, and good to know I can still fire those things at near-sonic speed. I may not be the best at catching dodgeballs, but it’s sure fun to take out a bunch of swaggering kids.

When it was all over, I wasn’t sore at all. Take that, old age!

Yesterday Laralee returned from a trip to Salt Lake City to visit her family. She flew, of course. Before she left last week, we were talking about all of the stuff she was packing. She wanted to bring a lemon. Yes, a lemon. Don’t ask me why– I don’t actually know, nor is it relevant to this story.

She was concerned, though, because she wasn’t actually sure if she could bring it. Are lemons some kind of controlled substance? Would the TSA confiscate it? Would they ask questions about it, demanding to know why she wanted a lemon on the plane?

As it turned out, nothing happened and the lemon (thankfully) made it through security. But it made me think about how ridiculous the whole situation was.

Congratulations, terrorists. You won. You’ve left our country in such a state of fear that we don’t even know if a stupid lemon is going to trigger alarms or violate the absurd rules we’ve built around air travel, all in the name of hiding from the bogeyman.

I don’t know where Zack gets it, but today he shared this nugget of wisdom with us:

Being in love is like peeing in your pants. Everyone can see it, but only you can feel it.

Laralee may have left me for Valentine’s Day to visit her mom in Idaho, but she dropped off a nice rose on my desk.

What a sweetheart.

Okay, that’s weird. Amazon just sent me an email to tell me that a CD I bought seven years ago is now available to me as MP3 files in Amazon’s music cloud.

Of course I ripped the CD to MP3’s as soon as I received it, so it doesn’t really matter, but this seems like kind of a strange thing…

This is why I love having a big desk.

It’s tax time, which means I have all kinds of paperwork to review, two screens so I can have spreadsheets and PDF’s and my tax software open, and of course the usual accroutrement of pens, a calculator, and old file folders.

Here’s an obligatory macro shot:

My desk is actually a solid-core oak door I bought back in 2001. I sanded, stained, and varnished it, and now it sits atop two heavy-duty filing cabinets. The door itself probably weighs close to a hundred pounds and if the upper two floors of the house were to collapse atop me, I’d probably be safe beneath it. To call this desk “sturdy” is an understatement. I love it.

What I don’t love, however, are taxes. Argh. Back to work.

I bought some sandals today.

For the past decade or more, I’ve been repeatedly buying Mossimo sandals from Target; they cost around $20 and last maybe two years or so. I wear sandals all year, including in the winter– my rule is if there’s actual snow on the ground, I’ll put on boots or at least close-toed shoes, but other than that it’s sandals. Every time a pair wears out, I’ve bought another. Well, Mossimo stopped making the particular sandal I really like, so now that my sandals have worn out, I don’t have a way to replace them. I’ve been wearing my current pair for several years now, and they’re completely shot. Both soles are cracked and falling off, the upper surface is worn through, the straps’ velcro isn’t sticky… in short, they’ve served their useful life and then some.

So I thought maybe it’s time to get a quality pair of sandals– meaning more than $20 a pair. I was at REI in Denver yesterday and saw a really nice pair by Ecco. They looked pretty much like my old ones but were much more comfortable and (in theory, anyway) should last longer because they’ll have higher-quality materials and manufacturing.

The problem? These are $130. Wow, that’s the equivalent of maybe a decade of buying cheap sandals! The economics of this situation are tough. Then again, many years ago I used to buy $10 sunglasses time after time, usually breaking or losing them and then buying another cheap pair; at some point I dropped $80 on a pair (shocking!) and I still wear that pair. I’m guessing these sunglasses are 15 years old by now. In short, sometimes it might be worth the big investment rather than the series of cheapies.

So I dropped the $130 and bought a pair online. Now I eagerly await my sweet new footwear. We’ll see if this turns out well.

Today I took my lovely wife on a date. We went down to Denver, and when it was time for lunch I suggested we stop at Maggiano’s. We’d never been there before, and in fact I hadn’t even heard of it. But it looked kind of cool, and it sounded Italian.

It turned out to be really nice. We had a wonderful lunch, and in the end I’d say Maggiano’s has two big things going for it:

1) If you order a pasta dish (I ordered lasagna, of course), you get a second helping of that dish to take home. They actually cook it separately and bring it to you in a box at the end of the meal. It’s like two for one!

2) The disposable hand towels in the bathroom are, without a doubt, the nicest hand towels I’ve ever used in my life. They have the Maggiano’s logo on them, and they’re made out of paper but in a way that almost feels like cloth. I literally felt bad throwing mine away after I was finished, because it was so nice.

So that’s my review. Double pasta and sweet hand towels. If you’re ever in the DTC area, stop in and enjoy a nice lunch there.

Many years ago, I bought a bunch of inexpensive Acer nettop machines. They were a screaming deal, small, quiet, and did a good job for my daily work. They came with cheap white “chiclet” keyboards that I really liked. Picture Apple’s mini Bluetooth keyboards, except crappier. Regardless, I liked the feel of them and used them for years. One at home, one at the office, and life was good.

Recently, I upgraded the nettop to a “real” desktop machine that has considerably more power, and it’s noticeably faster and smoother. I decided to see if there was a nice keyboard I could add as well, so I went to Best Buy and clacked away on all of their shelf models. Once I found one I liked, I bought it online (because you should never, ever buy anything from Best Buy– it’s always more expensive!).

It’s the Logitech K750 solar-powered wireless keyboard, and it’s super sweet.

The keys are really quick and easy, and I think that my typing speed has probably increased 10% as a result. I’m already a screamin’ fast typist, but I didn’t realize how much those cheap chiclet keyboards were slowing me down. Now I’m that much more productive, whee!

So for the past three days, I attempted to switch to KDE4. Again.

My longtime readers surely remember the last time I attempted this and, a few months later, my return to KDE3. I just couldn’t get things to work quite right for me, and eventually threw in the towel and went back to a ten-year-old rock-solid desktop environment because I knew it would work.

Time has marched on, and it’s always kind of a pain to track, compile, and update source code for the hundreds of software packages that make up a full desktop system. I thought that, heck, KDE4 is now on version 4.9 and has five years of maturity behind it. I had used the Kubuntu distribution in the past with good success, but heard that Mint was a better (and now more popular) distribution. So I downloaded Mint, installed it, and set to work reconfiguring my system and my daily workflow to use KDE4.

The result? Much sadness and frustration.

I spend the majority of my working day reading and writing email messages, checking my calendar for appointments, and managing a complicated and always-changing task list. Yes, I could do all of these things right on the web, in Gmail and Google Calendar. But the interface just isn’t all that great, and I really like the desktop integration KDE gives me: I get alerts that pop up, I can hit a key to compose a new email, and I don’t have to migrate 15 years (yes, really) of email history that currently consumes about 25GB of archived disk space. So, at least for now, KDE is the right answer for me.

Unfortunately the KDE personal information management (PIM) module is still in an unbelievably crappy state. It uses the oft-cursed Akonadi indexing database and the all-but-useless Nepomuk search engine, neither of which are optional or can be disabled. Their awful names aside, these two pieces of software are critical parts of the KDE4 foundation and almost universally disliked by end users. The developers of the KDE system are totally in love with them and refuse to change PIM so it doesn’t require them.

Add to that the weird bugs like the fact that once you’ve configured dual monitors (which I have, of course), the next time you login the system has forgotten the settings and you have to do it all again. Every time.

In the end, after three solid days of frustration, I found that my shiny new KDE4 system just wasn’t useable for me. My mail kept crashing and had to be re-indexed (a process taking close to an hour each time), and it’s nearly impossible to “share” the environment across multiple systems, which is critical for me because I have an office computer, a home computer, and several laptops– all of which need access to the same set of data. KDE4 just isn’t designed for that, and no amount of coaxing and clever filesystem trickery could make it work well.

Perhaps most shocking of all, the flagship email software, KMail, has no support for auto-completion of email addresses in the “To:” box of a new message. Unbelievable. You have to click in the “To:” box, then click the “Select” button to the right… that opens a search dialog for your address book, from which you can start to type a name and select it from a list. Click the name and the dialog closes, populating the “To:” box. Now you want a second address? Rinse and repeat. It’s such a huge pain when I’m used to just typing the first few letters of a name, hitting Enter to accept it, and Tab to start a new name. I mean, doesn’t every email program in the world do it that way? Not KDE4’s KMail.

As my annoyance continued to mount, I even went so far as to recompile the entire KDE3 PIM package from scratch inside my KDE4 system. If the plan had worked, I would have a crazy Frankenstein system with mostly KDE4 except the email and calendar stuff, which would be KDE3. The mail useability was so bad I was willing to accept this. But in the end, the two systems didn’t play well together and I had to give up the attempt.

Finally I threw up my hands in despair, wiped Mint from the system, and rebuilt it as KDE3. Back to my old friend again. It’s a pain to maintain, but gosh darn it, at least I can write an email in a sensible way. Maybe someday KDE4 will finally reach a state that’s on par with KDE3, but that day isn’t today.

Every boy who was a kid in the mid-80’s loved the movie Red Dawn. I mean, Patrick Swayze! So I was amused to see there was a remake of it last year, and I’ve been thinking about seeing it now that it’s been released on DVD. However, the reviews of it are almost universally bad. The one that really caught my eye was this:

Red Dawn is like the cinematic equivalent of burping and having some barf emerge at the back of your throat.

Now that’s an image! Maybe I’ll pass on this one…