Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pandemic or Flash in the Pan?

The news coverage in the last few days has been all about swine flu. Despite the hysteria I'm not yet convinced that this is going to be as bad as the 1918 epidemic. However, as an engineer I understand how quickly numbers can get huge when they're growing exponentially.

I think this mashup someone created on Google Maps is an interesting way to get an overview of what's going on. We will see what happens but in the mean time everyone wash your hands!

View 2009 H1N1/A Outbreak Map in a larger map

Friday, April 24, 2009

You're Kidding, Right?

If this was truly "Philly style" it would be covered in Cheez Wiz and sold out of a truck on the street.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why do you read?

Just last week when I reviewed a Jodi Picoult book I had enjoyed, I alluded to the fact that some literary critics are not her biggest fans. Newsweek must read my blog because they published an article about that very topic this week!

When we talk about tv shows, we all have trashy favorites or guilty pleasures, whether they be reality tv like "Pirate Master" (tragically canceled before even one season was completed) or pre-taped shows like "Gossip Girl." But are books the same way?

What this article asks is an issue I have thought about before. Are extremely popular mass market books like Jodi Picoult's work or the Twilight series just low brow reading that is no better for you than a bad tv show? Is any reading good reading? And more importantly, does it even matter?

I'm of the opinion that any time someone is reading it's a good thing. I definitely enjoy my share of chick lit and Jodi Picoult but I tend to intersperse those books with more serious fare. I get a different type of satisfaction from different types of books. There are classics I have loved (please go read The Great Gatsby and Atlas Shrugged immediately!), those I struggled through (everything by Dickens), and those that I finally gave up after many false starts (Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment). But I have the same range with lighter reading. I'm glad I have read a lot of the classics because it's fun to understand allusions in movies and tv. Lost fans, I'm talking to you!

So in the end if you come to me asking for a book recommendation you never know what you might get. I'm interested to hear what other people think about this. Give me your opinion in the comments!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Max Attacks!

Max has a nice bed in the living room where we keep his toys and where he actually does sit and play with some frequency. But once in a while he decides that it is an enemy which must be attacked and shown who's boss. I was able to capture some pictures of this exercise in futility for your viewing pleasure.

Once he feels the bed has been thoroughly subdued, he can relax.

The Storm of the Century!!!

When I lived in Pennsylvania about once every five years the newscasters would declare that a blizzard was the storm of the century. I think if I watched the local news tonight they'd be calling it the "non-hurricane storm of the century" or some other such nonsense. Regardless, it was very severe.

There's a pond across from our house that is usually not very full...easily 8-10 feet below the level of the sidewalks. I went out and took some pictures of it when the rain eased this afternoon and was shocked at the volume of water. It was so high that the drains that back into it were actually at water level.

Once the rain calmed a little, there was a huge rainbow outside. The picture I got doesn't do it justice!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Book Reviews

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share the books I've enjoyed and get some new recommendations but so far I haven't actually told you what I'm reading! Thanks to my airline delays I have gotten quite a bit of reading done in the last few weeks so here are my thoughts.

American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld
I had to wait a long time to get this from the library and it was definitely worth it. I was expecting an almost-biographical novel about Laura Bush but I was pleasantly surprised by how little of it was based on fact. I think the book could have stood on its own even without Charlie Blackwell (a thinly disguised Dubya). It definitely made me think about how different relationships are from the outside than the inside. The plot moved along quickly and the entire novel was more action driven than I had expected. I definitely recommend it!

Keeping Faith
, by Jodi Picoult
I have heard a lot of reviewers pan Jodi Picoult because all her books are similar or because she manipulates the readers. While that isn't totally off base, I still enjoy her writing and don't mind being manipulated a little for the sake of a good plot! Keeping Faith was one of her better books in my opinion. The plot centers around a 7 year old girl who begins having visions of God after her parents divorce. Some of the secondary characters were a bit two dimensional but the main characters, especially Faith herself, were intriguing and well developed. As in many of Picoult's books you are forced to think about issues in shades of grey instead of black and white. This joins my top three Jodi Picoult books along with My Sister's Keeper and The Pact.

The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood
The first Margaret Atwood book I read was The Handmaid's Tale and I know that will be hard to top. If you haven't read it yet drop what you are doing NOW and go get it! The second Atwood book I read was Oryx and Crake and it veered a little too much into science fiction for me. The Blind Assassin was more like The Handmaid's Tale in that it really focused on the characters. The opening sentence reads "Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge." It definitely seems like a striking start, but the book was actually a little slow to get going. Once it did pick up it sucked me in and a plot twist near the conclusion left me reeling. If you haven't read The Handmaid's Tale yet get that first, but if you have time to pick up The Blind Assassin it's definitely worth it.

Tomorrow night I am heading to Nujoud's house for a book swap and I am hoping to come home with a great find!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mom and Dad Visit Texas

My parents were here most of last week. Since they have been to Houston a number of times before we have done a lot of the typical tourist stuff so it was nice to have some time to just relax. They both were excited to see our new house and meet Max. He enjoyed having attention all day long! Mom and Dad did get to try crawfish for the first time at Boondoggles and they seemed to enjoy it. On Sunday Mom and I made a fruit basket and all four of us went to Erin's house for Easter brunch. It was quite a feast and featured bunny and chick cake pops! Any event where I wear bunny ears and eat cake on a stick is a success in my book. Erin posted some great pictures so go check them out.

Dad and the dude did a bunch of things around the house that I really appreciated. Dad assembled the compost bin we had ordered a while ago so now we have a place for all our vegetable scraps!

And once the box was empty, they decided to put Max in it and see what he would do. He mostly just sat there wondering what we all thought was so funny.

The best thing they did for the house (in my opinion) was installing a dog door for Max. Now he can go outside to pee, poo, or run around in circles like a maniac without me having to get off the couch. He seems to like it because he can eat beetles off the porch without leaving the comfort of air conditioning.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Space Station Colbert

NASA recently held a contest to name Node 3, a lab/living area on the International Space Station. Stephen Colbert, always one to jump on publicity for a) himself and b) NASA urged his Colbert Nation to vote to name Node 3 "Colbert." His name won by a landslide but a lot of people (myself included) doubt that NASA will actually name the Node 3 and will instead go with their pick "Serenity." However, there's a rumor floating around that they may name the new waste and hygiene compartment aka toilet after Colbert. Either way we'll find out tomorrow night! More information here. Personally I think NASA needs all the publicity it can get with the general non-science dork public so either way this is a win!

*Note: my parents were here this past week and once I get my pictures uploaded I will share!

Monday, April 6, 2009

An awesome weekend sandwiched between awful plane flights

This past weekend I got the opportunity to fly up to New York for Jess' shower and bachelorette party. All I will say about that is what happens in Albany stays in Albany. ;-) Unfortunately I had some airline issues getting there which resulted in me arriving in Newark not at 11:50 am as planned but at 7:30 pm. Here is an idea of how my day went.

3:45 am (central time): alarm goes off. Curse alarm. Hit snooze.
3:55 am: alarm goes off again. Get out of bed. Stumble to bathroom. Remind myself that it is worth getting up early because I will be eating lunch with Jess.
4:30 am: Leave house, head to airport.
5:45 am: Board plane. Discover someone else is in my seat. Wish Southwest would fly to Newark. Compromise and sit in a different seat because I don't care where I sit...I just want to go back to sleep.
6:00 am (supposed takeoff time): Rudely awakened from my nap by a pilot announcing that the armrest in one of the emergency exit rows is broken and will not stay up, and we cannot leave until a mechanic comes to fix it. There are no company mechanics awake at this ungodly hour so they have to call someone in. That unlucky fellow should arrive in 20 minutes. Annoying woman beside me starts complaining. Loudly.
6:20 am: Mechanic is not there. I am not sleeping. They tell me I will miss my connection but I'm confirmed on a noon flight to Newark so I'll still get in by 2:30. Fine, I'll have a late lunch with Jess. I just want to sleep. Annoying woman pesters the flight attendant.
6:50 am: They don't know where the mechanic is. They apologize. I wish we would take off so they would stop making announcements. I want to punch the annoying woman next to me especially since she is going to Philadelphia and my lovely city does not deserve her.
7:15 am: Mechanic shows up, tries to tighten the screw in the armrest and is unsuccessful. Secures the armrest in the upright position with duct tape (I kid you not). I fall back asleep.
8:30 am: I wake up halfway to Atlanta.
9:55 am (Eastern time): My flight from Atlanta to Newark departs on time.
9:56 am: My flight from Houston to Atlanta (with me on it) arrives in Atlanta.
10:00 am: I go to gate agent to get my boarding pass for the noon flight. She gives me a boarding pass for a 2:00 flight. Apparently the noon flight was canceled due to bad weather in Newark. Ok, I'll have dinner with Jess.
10:30 am: Finish my walking tour of concourse C. Settle in to read until lunch time.
11:15 am: Finish book #1. Pay 13 cents for lunch because the airline gave me a $10 voucher. Feel delight at getting a 13 cent lunch AND getting rid of 3 pennies. Resist the temptation to get ice cream from the Ben and Jerry's store.
12:00 pm: Starting to get bored. Take pictures of various random things in the airport to pass the time until I worry security will think I am a shoplifter/terrorist. Resist the temptation to get ice cream from the Ben and Jerry's store.
1:00 pm: Head to my gate. Flight is still on time, hurray!
1:45 pm: Board the plane. Sit. Sit more.
2:00 pm: Announcement that no flights are allowed to take off due to bad weather in Newark. We won't know whether we are allowed to depart until the next update at 2:45. In the meantime, we are supposed to sit on the plane.
2:05 pm: Call Jess. She tells me it is sunny in Newark. Curse silently, then tell my neighbors what she said and we all commiserate. Turns out my sob story is not nearly the worst one; the girl sitting next to me was supposed to fly out yesterday.
2:45 pm: The update comes in. We can't leave. They unload us from the plane and tell us to come back in an hour. At least I can have dinner with Jess.
2:47 pm: Get in line at Ben and Jerry's.
3:00 pm: Finish my ice cream and head back to my gate.
3:30 pm: Realize that despite the fact that I packed 3 books for a 60 hour trip, I may have to buy another book for the ride home. Debate smacking my head repeatedly against the wall but realize there is no free wall space due to all the people whose flights were delayed.
4:00 pm: Board my plane, again.
4:05 pm: Plane does not move.
4:10 pm: Plane does not move.
4:15 pm: They announce that we can't take off after all and will be sitting for 45 minutes again. Jess tells me that it is still sunny and now the radar shows the storms moving even further away.
4:45 pm: They announce we can take off.
4:46 pm: They announce there is still a problem in Newark but we are going to take off anyway and "cross our fingers." 12 hours ago this would have scared me but now I am thrilled.
7:30 pm: Arrive in Newark. Jess is there. It's all worth it!

PS for those who wonder I did buy an extra book but didn't end up needing it...I still have about 100 pages left in book #3.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April Fools!

Well I am surprised at how many of you believed we got another dog! I guess that tells me more about myself than about you. :)

I'm headed up north this weekend to spend some quality time with Jess and her other bridesmaids. Should be fun!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Latest Addition to our Family

As you all know animals have a tendency to just kind of appear in the dude's life and stay there. We heard about this dog who really needed a home, and we think Max will like to have a companion. Although she's big, she's totally friendly and she is a Great Pyrenees, which is the same breed as the dog the dude had growing up. All this made it hard not to want to adopt her! Everyone say hi! We haven't thought of a name yet...anybody got a suggestion?