Hello Again

Well, it’s been quite a while since I’ve done any real posting on here. Been pretty busy with work and school; although, the cool thing is that I’m in my last semester now, and I’m only taking 1 class. I’ll be done in early December.

It’s cool to be so close to graduation. I never thought I’d go back to school, but it really hasn’t been that bad. I’ve learned some cool stuff. It was in March of last year that I really started thinking about going back. I posted about it at the time, but it was still sort of just a “what if” then. In some ways, I’m still kind of surprised that I actually did it.

But anyway, things have been going well. The kids are getting older, my hair’s getting grayer (and yes, those things are directly linked), and Star Wars is kicking off a long TV series this Friday! Things just keep rolling along…

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.

— JRR Tolkien

Okay… Cure for Hiccups Unveiled…

Wow, it’s been so long since I’ve done anything here…  WordPress has even updated their dashboard.  Kind of threw me off for a minute.

Right now, I’m sitting in the computer lab for UAB‘s School of Business working on a take home final for my last programming class in C#. I’m working on a little project that combines web development (ASP.NET) with database manipulation (ADO.NET), and I’m feeling a little frustrated. Maybe later I’ll post the link for anyone who might like to see it (though it’s not much to look at).

Anyway, this frustration reminded me to write about two things that seem to irritate most people, but that I think I’ve found a solution for.

The first is hand dryers in public bathrooms. Usually, when people use these, they hold their hands under them for a few minutes, and then resignedly wipe their hands on their pants. I was the same way. But a few years ago, I happened to read (and follow) the directions printed on the dryer and discovered the crucial hand-drying step I had been overlooking all these years.

Rub hands vigorously.

You see, the warm air is not supposed to dry your hands completely on its own. Instead, you’ll find that if you rub your hands together while you’re holding them under the air vent, they dry quite nicely. It’s the combination of the warm air from the dryer and the friction of rubbing your hands together that does the trick. Try it next time…

Of course, if you’re using one of these newer hand dryers that has harnessed the power of a typhoon, then there’s no need to rub your hands. Just keep an eye on them and make sure your skin doesn’t fly away.

The other thing that has always been the bane of man’s existence is the hiccup. Well, I have found the cure.

Seriously, give up all that drinking water, holding your breath, having people scare you, standing on your head nonsense. I figured out how to cure these things several years ago. It takes some self-control, but it’s really not too hard to accomplish.

First of all, hiccupping is caused by involuntary muscle movements in your abdomen. Being involuntary, you can’t control them — at least not directly… I theorized that if you could calm your body down, starting with the muscles you can control, then the rest of your body should be able to catch up.

The best way to get rid of these things is to lie down and close your eyes. Then, you want to concentrate on your breathing. Take slow, even breaths and try to relax every muscle in your head, face, and neck. Then relax your shoulders, your arms, your chest, your stomach, etc, all the way down your body. Simply relax completely and even out your breathing. Try not to think about the hiccups. In just a couple of minutes, you’ll realize that you don’t have them anymore.

This takes a little practice, depending on how good you are at relaxing. Since I excel at laziness, this isn’t too hard for me. But for you over-acheivers and Type A people out there, this might take a little practice. Don’t get frustrated, just relax and enjoy it.

And let me know if it works for you… I never have trouble getting rid of them anymore, and it even works for my 4 year old daughter.

Take it easy, and I hope to post again soon!

Election 2008 – Who You Pulling For?

Has anybody been keeping up with the candidates so far? I’m pretty undecided at this point. I mean, I’m not the most politically savvy person out there (actually, I’m probably one of the least), but I’ve been trying to follow some of the coverage for the upcoming primaries, and I still can’t pick a favorite.

Republicans
Ok, for the Republicans, Mike Huckabee has been my favorite. I like his core values; I like the fact that he’s not so staunchly “Republican” that he won’t work with others; and I’ve really liked a lot of his answers in the debates. I think he makes a lot of sense, and everytime I’ve seen him, he’s stayed calm and cool. I like those things.

But I do have a strike against him: as I’ve learned more about his tax position (and you can read more about it here), I’ve become more leary. He’s a big supporter of the “fair tax.” Sounds great with a name like that, doesn’t it? The fair tax works like this: instead of taxing people on their income — that’s right, no income tax! — you simply charge a higher sales tax. That way, people are only paying tax for the things they buy. If they don’t buy much, their taxes drop substantially.

Now on the surface, that sounds really good. But here’s the problem: lower and middle income people spend almost 100% of what they make, while upper income people spend a lower percentage of their income. Therefore, the gap between rich and poor becomes much wider, and people with lower incomes will carry a much bigger tax burden than those with more money.

Huckabee says this “fair tax” would be about 23%. Considering you might pay 8-10% already, that doesn’t necessarily sound outrageous. But remember, only 4% of that is federal. And that 4% would be replaced with 23%, which is substantial. And you should also know that 23% isn’t exactly accurate. It’s actually closer to 30%. Most people, when they talk about sales tax, talk about it as a separate thing from the cost of the item. In other words, if I buy something that costs $100, and it has a sales tax of 23%, I’d expect to pay $123. But Huckabee isn’t talking about tax in the same way. He’s talking about the tax as a percentage of the total price. In other words, that $100 item would actually sell for $130, because the $30 of tax only accounts for 23% of the total figure. Basically, we’d be looking at a national sales tax of 30% on everything we buy. Once you add back in your state and local sales taxes, you could easily be facing a sales tax of 34-36%, maybe higher.

To be honest, that scares me to death. When you contrast it with the current system where low and middle tax brackets are able to take advantage of many different deductions, the “fair tax” would take us in the opposite direction.

But to be fair, you have to remember that the future President can’t just do whatever he wants. Congress would still have to approve an idea like that, and I doubt it would fly. Aside from that issue, I do really like him. And if he’d change his stance on the tax issue, I would easily pull for him to get the Republican nomination.

Romney is a guy that I still need to do some research on. The fact that he’s Mormon doesn’t bother me, especially after the speech he gave. But in the debates, he sometimes seems to have trouble deciding how he wants to answer questions. That could be for many different reasons, but it still makes me feel a little less certain of him. Is he just unsure of how he wants to answer, or is he just trying to tell people what they want to hear?

Ron Paul is the other Republican candidate that I’m really interested in. Personally, I completely buy in to his ideas on foreign policy. I think many of our problems stem from us rubbing our nose in everyone else’s business for so many years, and I highly favor less military action and more diplomacy. We’ve got enough issues in our own country that should be dealt with. I’d prefer we leave everyone else alone. I’m not as familiar with his position on some other issues, and he’s another candidate that I’ll have to do more research on. The only thing that has concerned me a little with him is that he sometimes seems anxious in the debates. I want a President who can stay calm and rational, and I have less confidence with Ron Paul in that area than I do with Mike Huckabee. But at the least, I’m still intrigued by him, and very interested in what he has to say.

Honestly, the other Republican candidates don’t do a lot for me. Fred Thompson seems to almost be an extension of what we have right now, and I certainly don’t want that. I have a lot of respect for McCain, but I think his position on the situation in Iraq seems just a little too one-sided. I don’t pull for Giuliani because he doesn’t really mirror my own moral and social concerns, and those are the only real reasons I ever vote Republican. Honestly, if he wins the Republican nomination, I’ll definitely vote Democrat. I like him, but I wouldn’t vote for him. Now, I’ve liked some of what Tancredo has had to say, but I don’t think he really has a shot at it. And Hunter just makes me nervous. It seems like everything he says is for effect, and I just don’t want a car salesman in the White House. It looks like he’s trying to wink and grin everytime he says something.

Democrats
I’m still researching the Democratic nominees right now. If I had to choose one out of the bunch it would probably be Joe Biden. I like the things I’ve heard from him on health care, Iraq, Iran, and education. I also like the fact that he’s been in Washington politics for a very long time. He seems consistent and seems to be the real deal. I’ve even heard that he takes public transportation to work every day. I think that’s impressive. I think it’s really unfortunate for him and the American people that he hasn’t had as much attention as the other guys.

I’m also interested in Barack Obama, but I’m woefully uninformed about him right now. And the same thing applies to most of the other candidates. I’ve listened to some debates, but that doesn’t always give you the deeper issues in a campaign. The only one I really don’t like right now is John Edwards. I’ve really gotten tired of hearing about his father’s factory, or whatever it is. Edwards seems to blame every problem America has on “BIG BUSINESS.” I’m not an economist. But I do know enough about economics to know that there are many factors that go into why jobs come and go. But it seems like he wants to blame everything on trade deals and Corporate America. Someone who continues to oversimplify a problem like that seems to have an agenda in my opinion, and for that reason he tends to scare me.

The Bottom Line
Anyway, I really wrote this stuff out just to get my thoughts on paper. But feel free to comment on it. Like I said, I’ve tried to stay informed and keep up with what’s going on, but there’s a lot of information I’m still not aware of at this point. So I’d love to hear some other ideas on the different candidates. Who do you like and why? If I’ve misunderstood something about any of these guys, let me know. The Alabama primaries aren’t until Feb 5, and I intend to do some hardcore research between now and then. I’d absolutely welcome direction from anyone.

Good luck to us all, and God bless America!

Some Cool Comics

Lauren, who has managed to stay married to me for over 6 years now, has finally given up on me ever growing up. As a matter of fact, I think she’s starting to suspect that I might be regressing.

Lately, I’ve really gotten into comic books. I liked them as a kid, but never had the money or means to really collect them consistently. I would typically find one or two consecutive issues, but then would miss out on the conclusion to the story arc. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with comics, that’s how they work. You typically won’t get a full story in one issue. The story arcs are usually spread between 3-6 issues, and so when I was a kid, I liked comics, but couldn’t get them enough to make it worthwhile.

A year or two ago, I heard that Marvel was going to release a series that revolved around Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, which greatly intrigued me. I had kind of forgotten about it until I was working in Huntsville last April. Since I usually had nothing to do each night when I got off work, I decided to check out this comic book shop I had kept seeing, The Deep.

407px-marveldarktower.jpg
They’ve really got a great set up. One wall is dedicated to new releases, and then they have boxes and boxes of back issues spread throughout the store. There’s also the typical smattering of action figures, collectibles, card games, T-shirts, etc, and large area for gaming (just wish the comic shops in Birmingham were this good). While I was perusing the new releases, I happened upon The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #3. I couldn’t help myself. I went ahead and picked it up, and my obsession has been growing ever since.

I now have all 7 issues of the Dark Tower series (more will come out in February), and it was fantastic. The artwork is probably the best I’ve ever seen in a comic, and I’ve actually heard that the series has brought many other Stephen King fans into the world of comics.

But I haven’t stopped there.

legacy1.jpgI’ve also gotten into two different Star Wars titles (and in part, I blame the guys over at ShowMeSciFi for getting me hooked on these). The first one is Star Wars Legacy, which is set about 140 years after Return of the Jedi and tells the story of Cade Skywalker, the last known Skywalker descendant. Though trained as a Jedi, Cade has turned his back on his heritage and taken up the mantle of bounty hunter. Though the comic sometimes seems a little too cliche, such as Cade’s typical “bad boy” persona, the overall story is excellent, and the revelation given in the last issue was flat-out shocking. Even though I’ve had to play catch up, I’ve managed to get all 15 issues (though I’m missing the promotional Issue #0).

The other series I’ve gotten hooked on (and I’m trying not to get into any others) is Star Wars Dark Times, which takes place shortly after the events of Revenge of the Sith. The inside front flap of the 1st issue has this quote from Obi-Wan Kenobi: “For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire.”.

dttwo.jpgBasically, the story follows several different groups of people who are trying to find their place in this new Empire. You see glimpses of the internal struggle that Darth Vader faces as he shrugs off the last clinging remnants of Anakin Skywalker. You see the anxiety of Clone Troopers who wonder what will happen to them now that the war is over. Jedi Master Dass Jennir is forced to choose between survival and following the Jedi code, and his companion undergoes a frantic search for his wife and daughter. And those are only some of the story lines that unfold in this comic. The writing is great, and the art is superb. As much as I like Legacy, Dark Times is my current favorite.

For some reason, the Dark Times series has had several delays in its release. It hasn’t followed the typical one issue per month format, but it’s still been great, and I highly recommend it. I’ve got all 4 issues that have currently been released, and they’ll put the first story arc in trade paperback before long.

Happy Birthday, Neville!

Well, as many Harry Potter fans know, today is Neville Longbottom’s birthday, and tomorrow is Harry’s!

I probably wouldn’t have thought about that, but last night I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and it was better than I could have hoped for. I won’t ruin any of the surprises, because I’m not that kind of a guy. I can’t stand it when people flip to the back of the book to see what happens before they even read it, and I certainly won’t take part in ruining stories for people. But I will say that all your questions get answered: What are the other Horcruxes? What really happened to Dumbledore’s arm? Where do Snapes’ allegiances lie? In my opinion, Book 7 was the best of the series. And after reading it, I can now say that I like the Harry Potter books better than any other series I’ve ever read – and that’s saying quite a lot.

I’ve read most of the Ender books by Orson Scott Card, I’ve read the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, the Lord of the Rings series by Tolkien, the Dune books by Frank Herbert, and many others, but I think I’m most impressed with Harry.

Too often, a series will start out great, but after a couple of books, the author seems to realize that he’s really got something going. At that point, a larger plot is often woven into the story that just wasn’t there in the beginning. I really felt that with the Dark Tower books. King seemed to have had a vague sense of where he was heading, but by the time we reached our destination, it was vastly different than the original feel of the story. Things got stranger and stranger as they went, and Frank Herbert’s Dune universe started getting pretty wacky around book 3.

But Rowling really impressed me with the Harry Potter books. In the beginning, they seemed rather mild. The ending (of the first book) definitely had some pretty cool elements, but the book was still fairly juvenile. As the books progressed, however, so did the overall story and the maturity level. And beginning in Book 4, readers found that major characters could actually die! The stakes had been raised! The depth of the overall plot grew with each installment, but it felt totally natural. I’ve never read a series that remained so consistent.

For me, the entire series has been a complete joy, and I count myself among those who are currently dealing with their withdrawal symptoms. I confessed to a friend earlier today that when I finished reading it last night, I immediately reread the last couple of chapters. Turns out, he did as well!

It’s rare that something that has generated so much hype actually lives up to its reputation, but the Harry Potter books do. If you’ve never read them, you absolutely need to. As Stephen King has said, “I think Harry will take his place with Alice, Huck, Frodo and Dorothy, and this is one series not just for the decade, but for the ages.”

School Daze (yeah, I know it’s cliche…)

School’s going pretty well so far. Hopefully, I’ll be able to stay caught up in there.

One of my professors, Dr Crigler seems really good so far. I’ve heard some other students say that he’s tough, but you really learn the stuff in his class. That’s the impression I’m getting right now too. We’re moving at a slower pace than I had expected, but that’s really good – any faster, and I probably wouldn’t be able to process it all. This is my second C# class, and he’s actually gone back and explained some things from my first class that I now realize I hadn’t fully understood. He’s an older guy who has some interesting stories about the evolution of programming that he’s witnessed.

He requires a lot more detail for our homework assignments – instead of just turning in code, we have to do charts and diagrams to explain how the solution should work. In every class he emphasizes the importance of being able to “solve the problem” before you ever type your first line of code. I think it will be really helpful in the long run.

My other teacher, Dr Hailey seems really nice, but I’m not sure that all of him is making it to class every night. A couple of nights ago, he was showing us something in Excel, but we spent half the class telling him how to correct what he was typing in. For his lectures, he turns to the back of the chapter and talks about the key terms listed there. The main problem with this is that the terms are listed alphabetically, but of course, they don’t show up that way in the chapter. So you end up discussing terms without even understanding their context. On top of that, his definitions for things don’t always match the book’s. It’s a lot of fun…

Sometimes, he seems to get a spark of inspiration and will actually go through a period good teaching. He did that last night, just when I was starting to think that I would have been better off skipping his class and reading through the book (which I’m doing anyway. I’ve decided to do that in both classes to make sure I’m really getting this stuff).

He’s retiring this summer.  I’m starting to think he may have done it already and just not told anyone.  Click on the link above (his name) and you can check out what people have said about him at RateMyProfessors.com.  It’s a fun read.  🙂