Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Kids and Zombies

Stacey is gone for two weeks, and I'm bummed. Summers are pretty hard because I don't see her at all when she is with her mom. During the school year, I see her after school every day, and she usually spends the night when her girl scout troup meets.

Summers are harder when she isn't around, but more fun than usual when she is around. Take the last two weeks: School just ended and all the kids are excited. We set up a pool in the backyard, got a dog, and when the kids aren't swimming, they're helping Stacey and I run the dog until she gets tired. Afterwards everyone stays for dinner, and I then go back to the store and stock up on my emergency surplus of macaroni-n-cheese and various box dinners that can quickly be thrown in the oven and ignored for 20 minutes.

We're having some filter problems now, so I had to close the pool until I figure out what's going on, so as a substitute Stacey and a girl across the street went out with me to the Rec Center pool, and another day to an outdoor pool with her mom. This obviously takes time out of the other mom's and my day, but during the summer it's a given that kids are going to need entertainment, so parents' plans become penciled in for three months.

We've also got big plans like my vacation week, Stacey's Girl Scout camp, and Grandma and Grandpa coming down to camp for a few days. All of that helps alleviate the depression that comes with the periodic absence of the person I love most in the world.

I went to see "Land of the Dead" as a pick-me-up; zombie movies have always been a favorite of mine. The semi-recent "28 Days Later" and the recent remake of "Dawn of the Dead" were just fantastic, and "Shaun of the Dead" was so funny it damn near made me spit soda through my nose about a dozen times. "Land of the Dead" was directed by Romero, and had the interesting concept of zombies becoming slightly organized, so my hopes were high.

** Warning -- spoilers! **

The first thing I noticed was that the zombies returned to their meandering gate. 28 and the remake of Dawn introduced the concept of zombies being much more terrifying by being able to run quickly, and having a sort of scared, confused look on their face... as they ate you. This was a nice change, and added a lot more tension as they didn't have to sneak up on you while you were doing something stupid in the open, but could just run you down at any time. But, Romero's original zombies shuffled and poked along, so he's being consistent, so I can't fault him for not accepting the new paradigm.

The movie did also have some noteable good points, like a general disrespect for the people who were now undead, for example instead of just killing them, soldiers would string some of them up to use as target practice, and entertainment entrepreneurs would stage fights between them, or chain them up to have people pose for pictures with them.

I didn't like the thing with fireworks being a distraction, but a did like how a pack of zombies could immediately tell when their current set of victims were all dead and would turn as one and start mozying towards new victims.

Ultimately, Big Daddy wasn't cool. Is he a mutant zombie? Does he teach his fellows, or are they evolving as a whole and he's just doing it faster because he's Big Daddy? Why are they getting smarter? Why, if a single bullet to the brain kills them, and they are clearly breathing can they survive underwater where brain damage would be done due to lack of oxygen? These were interesting concepts, but were just kind of left out there as "sure, why the hell not."

It was interesting, but it's not going into my book of great zombie flicks. It wasn't the pick-me-up I was hoping for, so I'll have to find another way to pass the remaining 13 days.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Headline Highjinks

The following are a sample of news headlines concerning the Detroit Pistons recent game 6 NBA finals win over the San Antonio Spurs:

Pistons force Finals finale
Tim comes up short in chance to stand tall
Pistons drive to stay alive
Not a slam Duncan
'Sheed's deeds silence critics
Rasheed keeps Pistons pumping
Spurs' stars sputter, fizzle down stretch
Detroit motors to rare Game 7
Rundown: Detroit dials long distance to save season

The last is in reference to good three-point shooting, the rest are attempts at poetry, alliteration, or double entendre. Watching this series has allowed me to hear at least three comparisons between the name 'Duncan' and the verb 'dunk'. You know what, sports commentators and journalists, you just aren't that witty. And why do you need to fill every moment of a game with speech?

"I think the team to win this game is going to be the one that scores the most points."
"You're right, Bob, and I also think good defense is going to be the key to keeping points from being scored."
"Good observation, Joe, and as you'll note, Ben Wallace has tamed his wild afro into his 'road hair' again for this game."
"Road hair?"
"Yes, 'road hair', where he styles his hair in corn-rows for road games."
"Ah, why do you think he does that?"
"Well, it may be superstition, or it may be that it makes him look like less of a criminal, since we know how all the Sheriff Lobo's down in Texas have that itchy trigger finger."
"Good observation, Bob."

My new solution to all that nonsense, and to help get through the boring parts of the game is to let my Tivo record the game for awhile, and play it back on 1.5x fast forward, which silences the commentators and helps you to see patterns that would otherwise be subtle, like how the Spurs in game 6 were moving slower and holding onto the ball longer, and how a three point score on one side was usually followed by an attempted three on the other side.

In the Autery household news, most of the neighborhood kids (5 of them) went with me and Stacey and the dog to the local middle school, where we took turns running with Heidi in an attempt to get her tired out. She loves all the kids, and didn't try to bite any of them when they fell down, which is a good sign. We also finished setting up our inflatable pool on the deck last night, with some of the kids helping us with leaf removal and smoothing out wrinkles while it filled up.

The dog and the pool are helping to make our house a popular summer hangout, which makes it a little more difficult to follow the "nobody leaves hungry" rule, and much harder to just sit and be alone when I want to. Such are the trials of being a good daddy. Those being my biggest problems, life ain't so bad.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

News of the day

I've been reading lately about Stetson Kennedy, the anti-bigotry activist who infiltrated the post-WWII KKK. His claim to fame was giving the producers of the Superman radio show information about the Klan, such as passwords, rituals, and coded speech used to identify fellow Klansmen while traveling. The information promptly made it into a four-part "Superman vs. the KKK" series, which humiliated the Klan.

Interesting man, outspoken and a little full of himself, which I find likeable in this case. I was just reading through an essay of his about us gearing up for war against Afghanistan and Iraq at http://www.stetsonkennedy.com/terrorist_hunt.htm. Interesting read, and I don't agree with all of it, but he makes a number of good points.

On the lighter side, some of today's Google news headlines eerily match some popular television shows:

Miss. jury split 6-6 in 1964 murder trial- Cold Case
Democrats playing politics with Bolton- West Wing
Intruder fatally shot in US courthouse- The Insider
Rigases sent to prison for looting cable firm- Law and Order
Cruise to sue water squirters- Nip/Tuck
15 Iraqi police die in suicide bombing- Over There
FBI Chief Won't Mandate Terror Expertise- The Closer
Justices fault defense lawyers for not digging deeper for evidence- CSI

Friday, June 17, 2005


I finally purchased some life insurance, and my policy just came in the mail yesterday. My work gives me twice my salary, which is nice, but wouldn't send my kid to college after paying off the house and my other debts, so I opted to buy some more. $250,000 more, to be exact.

So what is the likelihood of someone like me dieing in the next 20 years? Thanks to my insurance company and some unresearched assumptions, I have a rough idea that it's about 1 in 125. Here are the basic facts:

I am a 34 year old white male.
I don't smoke or drink.
My blood sugar and cholesterol are normal.
My resting heart rate and blood pressure are normal.
I am a parent.
I live in the suburbs doing white-collar work.
I excercise moderately.
I don't have any diseases.
I don't have a criminal record.
I haven't been involved in a traffic accident in the last 10 years.
I have had two traffic citations in the last 10 years (one speeding, one running a stop sign).

Apparently that profile is good enough to qualify me for "preferred", but not "super preferred", which would require me to be a little younger and skinnier, and a slower driver. I came to my 1 in 125 estimate by running the numbers and guessing at the insurance company's expected profit.

$300 per year buys me a 20 year term of $250,000.
$300 * 20 = $6,000 to the insurance company at the end of the term.
$250,000 / $6,000 = about 42.

So basically to make any money off of this policy, it would need to be sold to myself and 42 of my peers, and only one of us dies in the next 20 years. They would do little more than break even after holding our money for 20 years, which I doubt is good enough for them. No, they want to make 5% a year or more on our money. Let's run the numbers that way:

$cash = 300;
while (++$counter < 20) { $cash *= 1.05; $cash += 300 }
$cash ends up being 9919.78623086652, according to my trusty perl interpreter.

That makes about $10,000 per policy that they want to have after 20 years from our $6000 per policy investment, for a profit of $4000 per policy. A little basic algebra gives us:

6000x - 250,000 = 4,000x
2000x = 250,000
x = 125

The insurance company can only make 5% a year on our premiums if it sells to 125 people like me, and only one of us dies. Hence, my peers and I have a 1 in 125 chance of dieing in the next 20 years. Assuming that my wildly slung together numbers and my insurance company's life expectency estimates have anything to do with reality.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Batman Begins

This movie is a nice compromise between the darker Batman comics, and the farce that was the preceding 4 movies in the franchise. In this movie, Batman employs stealth, dropping from above to grab a badguy and quietly drag him to the shadows without giving his position away. He uses more believable martial arts. The Batmobile is a good hybrid of the previous movies and the behemoth used in the graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns".

The movie departs from the Michael Keaton Batman storyline in that the murderer of his parents is not the Joker (dance with the devil by the pale moonlight, indeed), and he actually obtains his training and gadgets as part of the storyline rather than just background noise that is unimportant to the plot. Obtaining things didn't matter that much in the Keaton movies, for example, Danny Devito as the Penguin just happened to have schematics of the Batmobile laying around. How did he get them? Not important.

This was gritty enough to appeal to fans of Frank Miller, with just enough lowest-common-denominator standard Hollywood BS to appeal to standard moviegoers, and of course cross-eyed, obese fanboys sporting their Spock ears and alt.jar-jar.die.die.die t-shirts will have a roaring good time nitpicking the movie to death. Good fun for all.

I hope that this will begin its own franchise and my fellow old-school comic fans can pretend the earlier Batman movies never happened.

Go see it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Timing is everything

Columbus Ohio is getting to be a big city. The population of Columbus and its surrounding suburbs is close to 1,500,000 as of 2000 according to a few minutes of census Googling. The office building I work in is 32 floors with a 7 floor parking garage. The drive from my house is approximately 17 miles, most of which becomes congested with traffic during morning and afternoon rush hours.

At 34 years old, I have all the grey hair I want for awhile. Working 9 to 5 would be nothing short of a nightmare for me. My day would consist of dodging other people in the house to make breakfast, competing for shower time, getting stuck in traffic, waiting in the garage for people in front of me to find parking spots, being aggressively hustled past as they attempt to save a minute or two going into the main building, pushing my way into an elevator and watching it stop on every floor on the way up to mine, and doing it all in reverse at the end of the work day. By the time I got home I'd have murder on the brain and no love to give to my family. And it would repeat, day after day after day, until it broke me.

Fortunately, I'm a morning person, following the sage advice of my grandmother of getting the worm, and becoming healthy, wealthy, and wise all with the simple chore of going to bed and getting up early.

I'm the only adult I know who falls asleep at 9pm, but it works out perfectly for me. I roll out of bed at 5am, having slept a full 8 hours. No one else in the house is awake, and I have an hour and a half to make breakfast, check email, watch a little TV, and take a shower. An hour and a half of "me time" every day, uninterrupted, first thing in the morning. Nothing does more to keep me sane.

The ride to work is usually pretty calm, but at 6:30am some of the roads are already getting full. One particular bottleneck through some freeway construction can make you stop and wait to merge onto the freeway even that early. After that one bad spot, it's just me and my audiobook of the week, and clear sailing. After work, the book is eagerly waiting for me to listen to more of it, and I get home just before rush hour gets going.

Because of all this, I'm happier, have more love to give the family, and more energy both at work and home since less of it is being sapped by waiting in traffic. By the way, listen to these audiobooks (ranked by my preference, links take you to the Westerville Ohio public library catalog):

Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
Faster, James Gleick
Hegemony or survival, Noam Chomsky
The Minority Report and other stories, Philip K Dick
The Neil Gaiman audio collection
Between Good and Evil, Roger Depue
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Electric Universe, David Bodanis
Matchstick Men, Eric Garcia
Edenborn, Nick Sagan
Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen King