Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Festivus

I almost forgot.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007 Bowl

I just noticed this game was on, and I couldn't help but wonder, why not just the Papa John's Bowl? Why do they need to stick the .com on there? I can understand if it was an internet company, like some of the recent bowls. And I can understand that Papa John's is apparently trying to push their web site. But frankly, if there is someone out there who wants Papa John's pizza, and doesn't realize that is their website, then they're probably too stupid to order pizza online anyway.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Anniversary Cruise Day 6

Today's our last sea day and our last day of the cruise. I think 5 nights is just enough. I really enjoyed the one 7 nighter we took, but those are more expensive and harder to plan the time off. It's not too hard to look forward to the end anyway, as I still have 6 days off. Here's what's going on today so far -

12202007 Michelle gets lucky
- We did the morning bingo because they had the drawing for a free cruise after the second game and we had 30 tickets. OF course, we didn't have to buy the $109 worth of cards, but what the hell. Let me tell you, being on a cruise skews my sense of what's cheap and what's expensive. And after that, just let me say that I fucking hate bingo. After years of playing, I've won one $25 game. I was on for three numbers today, but of course I lost. However, Michelline's mother won a $280 jackpot. Needless to say, she'll have to find another way home. Bingo players are sore losers, since one person's win is everyone else's loss.

- I'm off to round 2 of beer tasting in about 30 minutes. Of course, I'll be posting a picture of the beers here as well as the trivia questions. Wish me luck!
12202007 Beer tasting lineup part 2
Beer tasting round 2! You see the lineup above. This time, I'll give my impressions in order.

  • Sam Adams Boston Lager - It's good, everyone knows that. The flavor has a depth you don't find in run of the mill american beers.
  • McEwans IPA - I've had McEwan's Scotch Ale, but never the IPA. I generally don't like IPA's as I don't care for the overly hoppy bitterness, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It was not overly bitter at all. It was smooth with a nice mild flavor.
  • Franziskaner hefe-Weisbier - The only heffenweizen in the group. This was very good, with a fruity taste in front that I couldn't quite identify. I was thinking banana, but that wasn't quite it.
  • Celebrator double bock - This was my favorite of the bunch. Strong and full-bodied.
  • Beamish Irish stout - Another canned beer with a nitrogen widget. Just like the Guinness and Boddington's from Monday, this seemed very weak and thin. I'd try it again from the tap, but I'm going to stay away from these cans.
This time I was smarter and made sure I had an empty stomach, so by the time we were finished, I had a nice little buzz (helped out by the Samuel Smiths nut brown ale I had right afterward). Ok, now for the trivia. For some reason he started off with three gimmes -
  • What beer is called the king of beers?
  • What do you use to keep the beer from sticking to the napkin?
  • What's the larget brewery in the US?
  • In what country is beer considered a food staple?
  • How do you make a redeye?
  • Give the city and year of the first American brewery.
  • What vitamin complex does beer provide?
  • What European beer uses a red star in it's marketing?
  • What US state has the most breweries?
  • What's the term for a collector of beer mats?
  • What's the term for a collector of beer bottles?

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Anniversary Cruise Day 5 - D-Day

It's the big day. As of today we've been married for 15 years. It's been great so far and I'm looking forward to 50 or 60 more. We'll be one of those couples in their 80's on their 37th cruise getting free champagne. A few thoughts from today -

- One thing new this cruise has been cell phone service onboard. The ship has a satellite relay for the major carriers. We noticed this after checking our phones and seeing several missed calls. If you don't have an international plan, you have to pay international roaming rates, so I'll just keep missing calls, I think.

12192007 Michelline in Grand Cayman
- This was our first time in Grand Cayman and we liked it a lot. We were scheduled to do a tour, but we decided to skip that and just walk around the port area. We both thought it reminded us a lot of Key West. In that it seemed a lot more first world than third. Nobody following us around trying to sell us stuff, no crazy jerry-rigged wiring arrangements, no noticeable abject poverty. In Mexico, Central America and the Bahamas, you seem to see all these I've heard the Virgin Islands are more like this as well.

- This weak dollar may be good for exports, but it sucks ass for traveling. Pesos are about 10.5 to the dollar and the Cayman Islands dollar is .8 to the US dollar. I'll bet it was reversed 5 years ago.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Anniversary Cruise Day 4

Today was our first port, Cozumel. Nothing too exciting here. We wanted to shop for some Mexican art for the area in the backyard by the pool. You can also do tours to some Mayan ruins in the area, but that's a 7-hour deal, and we saw some neat Mayan ruins at Altun Ha in Belize in 2005. You can also do the beachy stuff, like snorkeling or swimming, but we're not beach people and besides, we could do that at home. Random stuff from today -

12182007 OTC prescription drugs for sale in Cozumel12182007 A light pole in Cozumel
- Signs you're in a foreign country. As I was taking a picture of the mess of wires, a guy walked by and said he was an electrician. He said he saw some guys on a job down the street using garden hose for conduit.

12182007 Michelline at Pancho's Backyard
- If you're ever in Cozumel, I recommend going to Pancho's backyard cafe. These fishbowl margaritas were good, and strong. After a light breakfast and one of these, I was feeling mighty happy.

- The crew had a talent show today and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. There were 5 or 6 acts, all singing. Everyone was really good, but a few stood out. One guy did a great rendition of U2's "With or Without You". Then a lady came out and they announced she would be singing something by Evanescence. Sure enough, it was "My Immortal". I was very wary because it would be so easy to butcher that song, but she was great, even with the Filipino accent.

- And I almost forgot, I actually exercised today! I stopped by the gym to see what it looked like and it's large and very well-appointed(I need to take a picture). Each machine has its own TV with a headset. Anyway, I generally run somewhere between 2.5 and 3 miles at 6.5 mph. I set it to 6.5 and I'm thinking this is way too slow. Then I notice it's set on kilometers per hour. I couldn't remember the exact conversion, so I bumped it up to 11 kph. You would think, though, that on a ship with 2200 Americans out of 2400 passengers, the equipment would be set to miles and pounds, no?

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Road

So, a while ago, I saw a post about this book over at Tart's blog, and made a note to myself to check it out sometime since I like reading post-apocalyptic type fiction. So I picked it up one day along with The Golden Compass, which I had to read after getting an email at work about how we should avoid the movie because it was going to turn our kids into little heathens or something. Anyway, I almost didn't get it when I saw it was an Oprah's Book Club book, but then I decided that was pretty closed minded. Anyway, I'm about a third of the way through it, and normally I wouldn't post anything until I'm done reading a book, but I might not even be able to finish this one. Not that it isn't good, because it is, but holy shit, it might be the most depressing thing I've ever read or even heard of. Maybe it wouldn't seem so bad if I didn't have a young son, but fuck this is really getting to me. And it's even worse because I can see what's coming. Well, I hope I can't, actually. Anyway, movies and books don't usually get to me too much, but if what I think might happen happens in this book, I'll probably cry like a little baby.

Oh, and I found nothing whatsoever that was controversial in any way in The Golden Compass.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Anniversary cruise - Day 3

Jewel itinerary
It's day 3 of our anniversary cruise, and our second day on board. Today is a sea day as we cruise toward a Cozumel landing about 7 AM tomorrow. Right now we're heading west just a few miles north of Cuba. 12172007 Cuba. Random thoughts from today -

12172007 The bingo machine
- We played bingo this morning. Bingo is big on cruise ships, as is any and all forms of gambling. Anything to part us from our money. We bought the $69 package (heh, heh) which came with a sheet of paper cards, 12 raffle tickets, 20 pull-tab card and this electronic bingo machine loaded with 48 cards. This is what bingo has come to - you give them your money, the machine plays for you and it tells you lost, and you don't even have to listen to the numbers. We didn't win any bingo, but we did get $54 on the pull-tabs, so we nearly broke even and had some fun along the way.

- I'm connecting to the internet through the ship's satellite connection. Cruise ships are very slowly starting to realize that this internet thing is here to stay, and that hey, some people use the internet for leisure. I've been on 8 cruises and the advances have been painfully slow.

  • First cruise 1998 - no internet
  • 2000 through 2004 - A small area set up as an afterthought with 4 or 5 PCs called the internet cafe
  • 2005 - Wireless arrives at the internet cafe! But only if you're actually in the cafe. And it's painfully slow
  • 2007 - On the Jewel, the first advance since wireless - ethernet connections in every stateroom! And wireless in the public areas of the ship. Not bad. Of course, the internet cafe is still 6 PCs in a hallway and they have one guy who has to answer all the questions/complaints, and he's swamped.
Now that they've finally got the access nearly up to snuff, they really have to work on pricing and speed. I'm paying 0.40/minute to connect and to get that rate you have to drop $100 for 250 minutes. Needless to say, I'm composing this offline. And I swear the entire ship has one internet satellite. It's not dial-up, but it's definitely reminiscent. Fortunately, I'm somewhat savvy, so I've connected my laptop to the ethernet connection and set up a secured wireless adhoc connection with mine as the gateway. So for the same amount of minutes, we can have Michelline and her parents on too. Speed is about the same since the bottleneck isn't the 100mbps ethernet connection, it's the internet connection itself. Ok, I'm off to a beer tasting.

1217207 The beer lineup
- I signed up for the beer tasting at the beer bar, Maltings. We had a little fun at the beginning when they dragged a very heavy, blind drunk guy off his barstool onto the floor. Eventually they brought a wheelchair and rolled him away. Luckily he wasn't belligerent. He was very pleasant but unhelpful as they were manhandling him into the chair. You can see the offerings above. I found both the Boddington's and Gunniess in the can to be quite bland. The Guinness didn't seem like the same thing I had gotten on tap. The lagers were ok. I'm really not much of a lager person. The Newcastle was the best, but I've always liked Newcastle. Along with the beer, they had trivia. There were 7 questions, but we only got three. Three teams got five right and they had a chug-off to name the winner. Damn, the winner drained a tall beer glass in about 4 seconds. Had to be about 20 oz. For your enjoyment, here are the questions -
  • What's the oldest brewery in the US?
  • What's the first foreign beer, an American brand, ever imported into Germany?
  • What's the national beer of Jamaica?
  • What country has the most varieties of beer (starts with a b)?
  • What brand was the first light beer, in the 70's?
  • How many years did prohibition last in the US?
  • What's the strongest beer, ABV, sold in the us at 17%?
  • What's the most expensive beer in the world and where does it come from?
The answers may not be accurate, but as the cruise guy said, it was his game. All-in-all, a lot of fun. I'm going to do it again on Thursday.

12172007 Hand Sanitizer
- This is something new on this cruise for us. These things are everywhere. They're automated hand sanitizer dispensers. The cruise lines have gotten a real black eye over all the cruise ships that have come down with Norwalk or some other stomach virus. I don't know how effective it is, but I've been using them. Better safe than sorry.

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Anniversary cruise - Day 2

12162007 Chris and Michelline at muster
Embarkation day! Today we boarded the Norwegian Jewel, our third time on NCL. Also with us are Michelline's parents. We gave her mom a cruise for her 50th birthday last year, but this is the first time we could get it scheduled. Random stuff from today -

- After getting to the cruise terminal and boarding the ship, Pete, Michelline's stepfather, realized he didn't have his credit card. We decided to check the truck. This meant going upstream and getting off the ship. If you haven't been on a cruise before, the security is similar to an airport, but not quite so tight. And when the ship is boarding, everything is designed to get people onto the ship, not off. So we're crossing under ropes, cutting around barriers and we get to an unmarked, unmanned door leading out to the baggage area. We exit and are almost to the parking lot when a guy stops us and says we're not allowed to be there. He says we have to go back through the building. So we go back to the unmarked door which now, of course, is manned and locked. Fortunately, we were able to scoot past the security guard while he was confused. It turned out that Pete did, in fact, leave his card in the truck so all was well. On the way back in, we saw the baggage area guy. He said that we could have been arrested for being in that area. Maybe he was exaggerating, but what a shitty day that would have been.

- Norwegian does what they call freestyle cruising. This means that instead of having a set time and assigned table for dinner, which is customary, you just go when you want. We don't really like this - it's fun to go to dinner with the same people every night and have the same waiters. But this ship is designed for freestyle, so they have 10 specialty restaurants. Tonight we ate in their teppanyaki room. The food was good, but probably not worth the $20 cover. Tomorrow we're trying the Italian place, which has no cover.

- Guinness Stout is good beer, even at $4.50 a bottle. I got 6 for the price of 5 and I have 3 left. One of the problems with cruising is you want to eat like a pig, but you also want to get heavily buzzed (or wasted). You really have to work a schedule if you want to do both without getting sick. I had a liquid lunch which left me pleasantly glowing until dinner. I think I may go see what kind of buzz I can work up now that dinner has settled.

- Unless Michelline's downstairs winning right now, we're down $160 in the casino. If we win any big jackpots (like my $700 slot win 2 years ago), I'll be sure to let everyone know.

- Looks like it was a bad day for all the couch regulars except for nightshift. How do the Redskins and the Eagles beat the Cowboys and the Giants on the same day? And why is the station that just finished showing the Redskins-Giants showing Sportscenter from the UK? Anyone want the score of the Liverpool-Man United game?

12162007 Michelline in our cabin
- We have a balcony for the first time in our 8 cruises. So I'm wondering what kind of interesting stuff we can do out there without getting kicked off the ship :).

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Anniversary Cruise - Day 1

12152007 Chris and Michelline by the boats at Bayside
We started off on our third vacation in the last 3 weeks today, this one being a cruise commemorating our 15th wedding anniversary, which is coming up on December 19. We're leaving tomorrow on the Norwegian Jewel for a 5-night cruise to Cozumel, where we've been twice before, and Grand Cayman, where we've never been. We decided to drive down to Miami today rather than getting up at the crack of dawn tomorrow. That way we get to start our vacation a day earlier, we don't have to rush, and we have a cushion just in case anything happens (flat tire, locking your keys in the car and waiting 2 hours for a fucking locksmith as the ship is filling up, no of course I've never done that). Some random things from day 1.

- Last year we finally got tired of the sluggishness and grainy quality of the pictures our Pentax Optio was taking, so we bought our first SLR, the Nikon D40. Now this is a great camera and it takes great pictures. In fact, many of you know that we had our original stolen in London this year and bought a second one as soon as we got back. The one drawback is the size. It's not the kind of camera you can strap on and forget about. We decided we needed a pocket-sized camera to get the shots when we didn't want to lug the Nikon around. After much research we decided on the Sony Cybershot DSCW55. Out of all the sub-$200 cameras we researched, this one got universally great reviews for features, price and picture quality. We went to Circuit City to get it and found this, the DSCW80 as an open-box special for $119 instead of the normal $199! The picture above was taken with our new camera.

- We went to the Bayside Marketplace to do a little shopping and eat dinner. It's in a great location, smack in the middle of Downtown Miami, on the bay, next to the Arena where the Heat play and in front of the Port of Miami. So we're looking for a place to park, it's $20 to park in the damn garage!, This is just for the privilege of shopping in the fine stores of Bayside, such as Brookstone, Claire's and FYE, among others. After aborting the approach to the garage with sticker shock, we find a sign pointing to self-metered parking. We get down there and find a spot and it's a $10 flat rate. It's pretty bad when you feel like $10 is a bargain to park at what's basically a mall.

- Driving in downtown Miami sucks. Leaving Bayside, I head back west toward 95, as we're the next exit north. I find the onramp, and see our exit is next, a left-exit, all the way across the road, blocked by a fucking cement median. So I head north and look for an exit where I can turn around. I get off on 112 West, which goes to the airport. This is good because our hotel is next to the airport. Well, it's not so good because you can't get back on 95 South from this goddamn exit. So we head west all the way down some scary-looking streets to 57 ave, only to find that the entire fucking airport lies between us and our hotel, and there's no going through. We head back east, and get back to the original 95N exit we started from. At this point tempers are flaring and I head West again, this time farther south of the airport. Finally, we get to our hotel, about 90 minutes after leaving Bayside. This should have been a 15-minute trip. And the shitty thing was, we knew exactly where we were in relation to the hotel the entire time, but the fucked-up streets in Miami wouldn't take us where we needed to go. And let's not even get started on the damn toll-roads that they spring on you just before the toll plaza.

- Overall, outside of a tense few minutes, we've had a very nice day. We'll be getting to the port tomorrow at around 11, and we should be setting sail about 4.

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So, I noticed this movie was OnDemand and realized that I hadn't ever seen it, so I thought I'd check it out. I have to say that I didn't really expect to see so much full frontal nudity in the first two minutes of the movie. And isn't there some kind of law against showing naked girls, even when they're of age, if they're portraying underage girls? Oh, and crap, if you add up all the pubic hair I've seen in movies and porn for the last 10 years or so, there's no way it even comes close to being as much as what even one of those girls had going on. Also, Sissy Spacek is horribly unattractive.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Yes, Everyone has rights!

In the car today I caught some of today's Talk of the Nation. The segment I heard was about the latest Supreme Court case concerning the rights of detainees in Guantanamo. I only heard about 5 minutes or so, but it was enough to make me start yelling at the radio.

This guy calls, and he's clearly got the winger talking points memorized. He says -

  • Why are we worried about giving rights to people who would slash our throats in a heartbeat? Why worry about protecting people who aren't even Americans?
  • Why are we wasting time arguing about the rights of criminals when we have other problems in this country?
  • What about all the reams of vital intelligence we've got from Guantanamo?

A woman answered him, I assume it was Gitanjali Gutierrez, and she was far too nice to him. She took the approach of explaining that American citizens have been detained as enemy combatants and that whatever intelligence we might have gained from Guantanamo has come at far too high a price, and has cost us the ability to gather more meaningful intelligence in the region with the cooperation of people we have now alienated. She also mentioned that we already have a system in place to deal with criminals and we should use that system.

She was followed by David Rivkin an attorney and a member of the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, who argues that the legal system is not appropriate for the detainees and that, in fact, if tried through the system, that most would go free. He claims that most of the detainees are Al Qaeda fighters.

Let's be clear about what's being said here -
  • Non-citizens don't have inalienable rights. The only rights they have are those we deign to grant them.
  • To win the war on terror, these guys are prepared to pick up and imprison innocent men along with the guilty. There is no other reasonable conclusion to draw if they're unwilling to grant them the right to challenge their detention and to force the government to meet a minimum burden of proof. So Rivkin is a lawyer and a member of a human rights commission who believes neither in basic human rights nor basic legal protections
One thing I find encouraging about the possibility of a Democrat in office, any Democrat, is that I think this system is going to change. If the nutjob Giuliani gets in, this will only get worse. Hearing the Democratic candidates talk about addressing the roots of the distrust of America by Muslims, restoring our image and restoring habeas corpus is so refreshing after 7 years of these idiots in power.

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