The junk versus the reality

I always seem to get SMS messages with requests to reset my Facebook password. Considering I don’t have anything of particular value there, I wonder why some unknown person keeps wanting me to reset my password. (It is said many of those unsolicited requests are accidental.) I wonder why my SMS inbox can’t be more real people wanting to do real things rather than some bot wanting to reset my password or alerting me to gas price hikes or offering me discounts on convenience store items I don’t intend to purchase. I’m pretty sure I lead a real life—you just wouldn’t ever know it based on what flows through my inboxes.


Taking money from that state to the south is always fun!

Early Saturday morning, I decided to pay another visit to Hollywood Casino in Toledo. It gave me an opportunity to play some slot titles that aren’t at FireKeepers. This included the new Flintstones slot, which didn’t really have any large payouts despite all its hoopla (the show clips were top notch). But I think the biggest payouts I got were from a “Win It Again” title where I got a big line hit, then I was able to trigger the “Win It Again” feature three or four times. Suffice it to say, at 40 cents per spin, being able to hit for over $200 within 5-6 spins is never a bad thing. Then I hit a bonus on the first spin of a Bally game which (through a retrigger and a premium symbol hit with wild multipliers) amounted to $96 on a 50-cent bet. Before leaving, I sat down at a pai-gow table and left up $100 when they decided to change cards. Through all that, I ended up doubling the cash with which I entered.

Of all the casinos I’ve encountered, I have to say that Hollywood is one of the nicest designed in terms of its theme of 1930s film culture. If you even think about the floor’s layout, it could very well resemble a film reel. The only gripe I might have is that minimum table limits tend to be high (forget about finding a $5 table here), but the tables themselves are nicely designed with marble rails with built-in cupholders. I also have to like their house way of playing straights and flushes in pai-gow, which are ignored with a pair of tens or better with an ace top. (It allowed me to push my hand with a straight whereas more usual house rules would have resulted in a loss.)

Coming back to Michigan, I took the part of Ohio Route 2 that I hadn’t yet clinched and got to see two roadgeek-worthy things. The first was some goof OH 475 shields marking a detour for a closed ramp at I-475. The other was seeing a HAWK signal in the downtown area of the village of Delta. Much of the land is the same as seen from the nearby Ohio Turnpike, which is mainly flat farmland.

Overall, it was a relaxing spur-of-the-moment drive. The fact that I got some “Buckeye money” (as the guard at the casino put it) made it that much sweeter. I got to donate some of that for a spaghetti supper held for an anti-domestic violence charity, so it’s doing some good.

Our self-made purgatories

By now I’m sure most people are aware of yesterday’s passing of actor Leonard Nimoy. His role of Spock in Star Trek leaves an everlasting legacy. While I certainly can identify with many of the character’s traits, a part of the New York Times obituary really struck out at me.

In Episode 24 [“This Side of Paradise”], which was first shown on March 2, 1967, Mr. Spock is indeed transformed. Under the influence of aphrodisiacal spores he discovers on the planet Omicron Ceti III, he lets free his human side and announces his love for Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland), a woman he had once known on Earth. In this episode, Mr. Nimoy brought to Spock’s metamorphosis not only warmth, compassion and playfulness, but also a rarefied concept of alienation.

“I am what I am, Leila,” Mr. Spock declares after the spores’ effect has worn off and his emotions are again in check. “And if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”

In one quotation, Spock expresses the despair and hope of human emotion. It rings true with me. While I have a lot of anxiety about how I carry myself, I can take solace in the fact that everyone else does as well. The details of our self-made purgatories will certainly vary, but as Spock says, none is worse than any other.

Beautiful autumn

I entered my favorite season with a lot of happy news. My niece was born last month, I’m working full time again, I’ve gotten back into Team Trivia again on a somewhat regular basis, and somehow I can still win radio contests from time to time (the latest being tickets to this weekend’s Western Michigan game). As I’ve always said, persistence pays off. Getting a new Prius just before September kind of helps the other things, although I am a bit bummed I’m not joining several of my friends in Alabama this weekend.

During the next year, I’ll look to continue to improve all the aspects of my life. Since I now have a car with better gas mileage, I hope to take some more road trips and see places I haven’t before. I may also start to look for another place to live, since I wish to have a dog. Life is getting better for me, so I might as well put it to good use. I might have to expand on these thoughts later, but for now consider this a quick update on things.

Band list

I’m using this post to keep a list of bands I’ve seen over my lifetime. I’ll try to include dates and locations when possible. After tomorrow, I can add at least four more to my list. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go to many shows before I was an adult, so pretty much all of these occurred during adulthood. I’m not including local cover bands here as they may be too numerous to mention, but rather major artists which have toured nationally.

  • Vince Neil—played a free concert at Kellogg Arena for WRKR; I’m unsure of the date, but I’m thinking it was sometime between 2002 and 2004.
  • Greensky Bluegrass—numerous times, but I first saw them at a small bar in Augusta called the Barking Frog. They’ve gotten way too popular to ever play a show there again.
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo—played at Common Ground in Lansing July 2006. I think I was walking around the festival grounds during their set, but I did hear at least two of their songs. I was primarily there to see the next band on the list.
  • Styx—like I mentioned above, Common Ground in Lansing July 2006. By that time, Dennis DeYoung had left, which is why I’m planning to see him at Ribfest this year.
  • Downplay—first of three bands I saw at Common Ground on July 15, 2011.
  • Black Stone Cherry—second of the bands at Common Ground on July 15, 2011.
  • Theory of a Deadman—the headliner at Common Ground on July 15, 2011. What’s odd about it is that since then, I haven’t really been big on their music (or the other two that played that night, FWIW).
  • Skid Row—I had forgotten I had seen them at Ribfest in 2012 until I saw it on Timehop. The funny thing is that even though they headlined the night, another local band played after their set.
  • The Verve Pipe—two times, the first at Bronson Park in Kalamazoo when they played their kids songs, the other at Taste of Kalamazoo July 28, 2012, when they played their more traditional material. I also got to see Brian Vander Ark at a private event the following month.
  • The Wailers—Seen at Common Ground July 9, 2014. I wasn’t really all that impressed, even though their music is quite fine with me.
  • Flobots—Common Ground, July 9, 2014. These guys put on a performance worthy of the main stage, but as it was, they were slotted into the pavilion stage between the Wailers and Violent Femmes. My buddy listened to more of their set than I did, but that was simply because I wanted a decent spot to see the Femmes.
  • The Violent Femmes—Common Ground, July 9, 2014. Their set was much better than what I saw from the Wailers. The shoutout to the singer’s mother was a nice touch.
  • 311—Common Ground, July 9, 2014. By far the best performance I’ve ever seen at a Common Ground. I’m not a huge fan, but their 90 minute set kept me groovin’. The highlight was P’nut’s solo of “The Imperial March.” If you haven’t seen 311 live, this is something you need to do. I’m very thankful that I won tickets from the Lansing State Journal to have the opportunity.

One of these days, I’ll have to come up with my bucket list. There are plenty of bands I’d like to see live, and hopefully I’ll be able to do so in the coming years.


Review: Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind

Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind
Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind by Biz Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit that I wasn’t very interested in Biz Stone before I read this book. However, I’ve found him to be an entertaining storyteller, and his story rather intriguing. He has a rather engaging personality that I probably would never realize he had if I hadn’t read this book.

Stone writes this as part memoir, but mostly it’s about how he wanted to build a company that wasn’t only successful financially, but successful altruistically as well. He reveals how various aspects of both personal and professional lives shaped him to be willing to give to others. Of course, much of this is focused on how he helped build Twitter, where he was able to put his corporate philosophies into practice. His relationships with the various people throughout his life are a source of refreshing humor.

If you’ve ever wondered about about some of Twitter’s backstory, this book simply cannot be overlooked. Stone’s candidness makes for a truly entertaining read, and I find that I respect the man a lot more.

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So we are halfway through April. Many of us here in the States regard it as tax season, many more in the Northern Hemisphere regard it as when spring comes in full bloom (despite the occasional snowfall), while some people regard Easter as a holiday despite it never being federally recognized as such. But I regard it as a month to bring light to an ever-increasing neurodevelopmental disorder. April is Autism Awareness Month, and as someone who has autism, I must share my story.

Ever since I was diagnosed at about two and a half, I’ve felt that for the most part other people have wanted to ostracize me. I was constantly teased in my elementary years, and when I moved to Bronson, close friends were pretty hard to come by (any romantic bonds simply didn’t exist). I look back on those years with a certain amount of remorse. Sure, there were some fun times to be had, but I couldn’t help but notice my neurotypical peers had significantly more than I had.

Fast-forward to today. I’ve definitely outgrown the crying I did when I was teased as a little kid, but by and large people still tend to ostracize me more often than neurotypicals. The difference is this time, they pretty much do so not by speaking out, but by giving me the cold shoulder. I believe I can count on one finger the number of non-relative weddings to which I’ve been invited, so it is easily apparent that I’m not as well-liked as other friends who should be on equal standing. My only romantic interest I’ve had (she isn’t really someone I wanted to keep around knowing now what I didn’t at that time, but that’s a different story for another time) ditched me when an alleged former boyfriend returned to her life (never even said a word to me, she had just vanished without explanation). And people wonder why I have such a cynical view on humanity.

Somewhere along the way, I was able to develop what I would consider some pretty good friendships. The people who accept me for who I am are to be commended. But sometimes even they might make me feel left out. I’ve tried hard not to be bitter about this, because I know they have busy lives, but it just reeks of inconsistency on how I may be treated versus more neurotypical friends. And while I don’t necessarily pick up on every social expression, I’ve tried hard to get better at it. I want to get a better balance of companionship/alone time but know that such balance might not ever get to my preferred ratio. (40/60 would be great, but I’d settle for 35/65!) And as crazy as this might sound, I might be even willing to pursue romantic interests again. As for that, I’d like to avoid someone with an unrealistic backstory. But above all, I’ll keep fighting for acceptance, even though it isn’t something for which I should have to fight.

Review: The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a refreshing read! At first, I was thinking that dual first-person narration might be a detriment, but it’s absolutely critical to the story. Sarah and Handful come together in a way fairly typical of early 1800s Charleston, but of course Sarah’s acceptance of her own slave was always reluctant. And while the protagonists’ friendship form the basis of the story, the characters which surround them are also fully drawn out. This can be seen in their mothers, which serve as classic foils to each other. Sarah’s mother has always been expected to receive care, while Handful’s mother always strives to make her own way despite the constraints of slavery.

Sue Monk Kidd tells this tale over a period of 35 years. And while Angelina and Sarah Grimké were actual people, Kidd takes some artistic liberties with certain events to make them more dramatically appealing. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating look into the earliest figures of the abolition and gender equality movements.

If you are a fan of The Secret Life of Bees, you owe it to yourself to give this title a read. There are similar themes between the two, although the situations are obviously different enough that one is not a rehash of the other. Kidd knows very well how to tell stories of women finding their place in the world, and she succeeds beautifully in The Invention of Wings.

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A day with FIRST Robotics

Yesterday I finally took the opportunity to attend the FIRST Robotics Competition held at Gull Lake High School. My friend’s son is pit captain for Team Stryke Force, and another friend was a judge for the first time and was trying to convince his company to start its own team. But really, teams came from various parts of the state to take part, and as might be expected, the area around the gymnasium and cafetorium was packed! Between the time that the preliminary matches ended and knockout matches began, every seat in that cafetorium was packed with hungry teens (fortunately breakfast had me sated), and finding an empty spot in the bleachers to watch matches was daunting.

But what I took away from the event more than the crux of the competition (which is saying something as the robots and the game are impressive) was the enthusiasm displayed by the teams and their supporters. It was such a joy to watch these kids lend their cheers during the matches, and while I may have sarcastically derided it on Twitter, it was truly entertaining to know songs like “YMCA” and “Macarena” haven’t fallen out of fashion with their generation. And while Team Stryke Force itself got knocked out after its alliance was swept in the quarterfinal round and didn’t pick up any further awards, I couldn’t help but stay through to the end. It’s inspiring to see them all support each other. If all this talk I hear of our next generation being doomed really has any credence, I didn’t see it at all at Gull Lake High.

Sycamore Row review

Sycamore Row (Jake Brigance, #2)Sycamore Row by John Grisham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first read the description about how the case which features in this book could possibly be “as riveting and dramatic” as the events in A Time to Kill, I was dumbfounded. I don’t think I could ever equate matters of probate and beneficiaries (but no goblins) with what drove a man to avenge his young daughter’s rape, but this is how John Grisham lays out the story. As in his first novel, the action of Sycamore Row mainly centers on Clanton, Mississippi, a setting I’ve always regarded as having Grisham’s best characters.

Approximately three years after winning acquittal for Carl Lee Hailey, Jake Brigance hasn’t really had a notable case since then. This all changes when he receives a handwritten will and instructions from Seth Hubbard, a white man who explicitly mailed them in a way so Jake would receive them the day after Hubbard’s suicide in an area called Sycamore Row. This will is perplexing as it renounced a previous will that had left Hubbard’s vast fortune to his descendants and instead leaves it to his black housekeeper of three years, Lettie Lang. In racially-divided Clanton, this becomes the talk of the town. Jake is instructed to defend the handwritten will at all costs, and as would be expected, the children of Seth Hubbard challenge the document which completely cuts them out.

Jake Brigance is just as good a character now as he was when he was introduced 24 years ago. Although readers are constantly reminded of his success with the Hailey trial, they still get to see Jake’s sardonic side, which hasn’t missed a beat. His willingness to do what is right even though external forces may make that difficult was a major theme of A Time to Kill, and that is echoed in this story. The return of allies and adversaries alike are a great source of comic relief, as Judge Reuben Atlee has very little tolerance for bullshit in his courtroom. While Jake sympathizes with Lettie as the main beneficiary, he knows his duty is to the estate and thus defends the handwritten will “to the bitter end.”

For any fan of Grisham, this is a must-read. While you needn’t have read A Time to Kill to enjoy Sycamore Row, you might want to give the earlier tome a look just so you can familiarize yourself with Jake Brigance and company. Although the story may be anti-climactic, the world of Clanton is always an interesting one whatever the case may be. The extra insights into some minor characters (e.g., Lettie’s husband) are a welcome bonus, and exploring the motivations of Seth Hubbard felt authentic. I also hope we see more stories of Jake Brigance, although I enjoy the fact that a little of his character goes a long way.

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ETA: I don’t know why Goodreads didn’t upload this directly (I had to copy/paste), but I suspect it had something to do with my enabling two-step authentication on my WordPress account since the last Goodreads review auto-published. And while I would advocate using two-step authentication wherever possible, the quirks in WordPress were enough that I had to disable it. (For example, the mobile app would always ask to authenticate if launched in Reader, but not if launched in another tab such as Stats. How much sense does that make?)

Eleven days in, and I still feel how I did last year

It has always been said that new years are ripe for new beginnings. While that certainly seems to be the case for some people, I’m finding that I feel the way I did before 2014 turned over. The holidays were what they were. I kept trudging along with my life, the difference being I got to see some family on Christmas. Nothing really exciting at all happened. Of course, New Year’s Eve/Day was too boring to go into any detail.

Perhaps one of the things I’ll do more of this year is blog. After I got out of the habit of regularly posting to my LiveJournal, I’ve sometimes felt like I have expanded thoughts I wanted to get out that wouldn’t fit in the social media spaces. I want to review Sycamore Row at some point, but of course there’s that time issue and all the other thoughts that seem to swirl inside my head. Of course, the main thing is getting my work life back to a proper order and then hopefully I can fix the other things that need fixing. (My poor car will need some work, for example.)

If anything at all happens, I want this year to be the one where I finally turn the odds towards my favor. Even though I know it’s tough fighting against the rest of the world, I still believe I can win in it. I just have to figure out what winning means in this context.