Monday, November 29, 2004

The Da Vinci Code

Last month I bought a copy of The Da Vinci Code on eBay. I like books about drama and intrigue, secret agents and double agents. My favorite authors are Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham plus an occasional Caleb Carr. I heard a lot of good things about The Da Vinci Code, so when the prices got reasonable on eBay, I took a chance. I started reading it a couple of weeks ago.

I usually read about 15-20 pages each night. I find that reading relaxes me, makes me drowsy and is the perfect way to end a stressful day. I'm now two-thirds of the way through the book and so far I love it.

The movie version is suppose to come out in 2005 and will be directed by Ron Howard. Tom Hanks has been cast as Robert Langdon, the male lead. Somehow I see the Langdon character as an older person, more professorial in nature similar to Indiana Jones. (Not as old as Harrison Ford, but he would have been my choice if the book had been written ten years ago.) The role of Sophie Neveu, the female lead, hasn't been announced, but Rachel Weisz seems to me to be the perfect actress for the part. She has been in a number of movies, including The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Enemy at the Gates and The Runaway Jury. I don't have a clue who will eventually get the role.

The book is a definite keeper!

Dead housewife revealed

Mrs. Huber, the nosey next-door neighbor, was the housewife whose demise was revealed Sunday evening on Desperate Housewives.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Blogging with dogs

When I started this weblog, I committed to myself that I would attempt to post something every other day. I haven't quite met that commitment, but I try. Usually I'll put my thoughts down on paper and then start typing away. I'll save it as a draft, go back later and edit, save it again, check for grammar and spelling and then post. I often edit a message after posting to make sure I've accurately conveyed my thoughts.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, we have four dogs in our household. Three of the four are smaller lapdog-type dogs. All are under three years of age. My stepdaughter has three small dogs and when she's over (which seems like a lot!), we have seven dogs in the house! Two of our dogs (Mozart and Katie -- a Papillon and a Maltese) are close to me and compete with each other for my attention. It's not unusual for either or both dogs to be lying with me when I watch television. They lately like to sit in my lap when I'm working on the computer. Add to this mix Ginger -- my stepdaughter's Teacup Chihauhau -- who is definitely a lapdog.

Unless they're sleeping or otherwise preoccupied, I'll bring one of the dogs with me into the den. They know it's "computer time" and immediately find a comfortable spot on my lap, stretch out and lay down. I can then start working. I'm right-handed, but I'm forced to type with my left since my right hand strokes and supports the dog. Ever try to type one-handed with your non-dominant hand? It's not easy.

The result is that it takes much longer to write, edit and post than it would if I could use two hands. But would it be as much fun? I guess if you're a dog- or cat-person, then you'll understand. Those who don't care for pets will think I'm nuts. My record, by the way, is to have the three dogs on my lap at one time while working on the computer.

I posted this solo while they were busy eating breakfast!

Friday, November 26, 2004

TV shows

I have to admit that I am hooked on two new TV shows this season. Both Lost and Desperate Housewives are now part of our standard viewing habit.

I've also gotten into the CSI shows this year. I never watched them before, but I gave CSI - NY a try and now I usually watch it. I'm also watching CSI - Miami. I'm not sure that "watching" is the correct term, I usually taping them on my VCR for later viewing. Maybe we'll break down and get a Tivo next year!

And another season of 24 returns next year!

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving morning 2004

Picture of my backyard taken at 7:30 AM, Thursday, November 25th. The sun is peeking between the branches of my Bradford Pear tree that still has red leaves on it.

Behind the fence is a forest preserve. It's mating season for deer and last Sunday there was a large buck with two does running behind the fence. We also have coyotes in the preserve and we often hear them howl late at night.

The Chicago area received a couple of inches of snow and sleet Wednesday and Wednesday evening. The day began with rain and as the temperature got colder, it turned to snow. Thanksgiving morning is sunny, but cold.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban, the eccentric billionaire owner (why is the word "eccentric" always paired with "billionaire" or "millionaire" instead of with "impoverished" or "dirt-poor"?) of the Dallas Mavericks, has a weblog that serves as a forum for his views on the world of sports and the media. His comments are pretty interesting and, as you can imagine, subject to debate. He weighs in with some interesting comments about the recent brawl in between Indiana and Detroit.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Thanksgiving thoughts

Thanksgiving Day is almost upon us and, as usual, my family will gather together for dinner. It's hard to believe that this will be our 11th Thanksgiving in our home. It seems like only yesterday that we crammed the family into the kitchen and extended the kitchen table as far as it could go.

My wife will make her usual wonderful meal. There is, of course, a lot of work involved and we all have our assignments to help the preparation move along. I get the husband's traditional job of carving the turkey and pouring the wine. (My wife will probably say those are the only tasks I can handle!) Even with a double oven, four-burner stove, microwave oven and all the modern gadgets and gizmos that Williams-Sonoma can invent, it still is an effort to pull it all together.

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. It's centered around two of my favorite pastimes -- football and eating! It's also one of the few holidays that isn't really weather-dependent. The 4th of July should always be hot and sunny while Christmas, of course, should always be white! But Thanksgiving can go either way -- here in northern Illinois we've had warm Thanksgivings and we had a White Thanksgiving a couple of years ago!

I also consider Thanksgiving to be the forgotten holiday. It's sandwiched between the more popular, participative holidays of Halloween and Christmas. It seems like the stores are all decorated in fall and Halloween colors beginning August 1 and as soon as the jack-o-lantern candles are blown out, the stores switch to Christmas decorations. We were out driving last Saturday evening and a lot of houses had their outdoor Christmas lights on -- and it's only November 20! Two houses even had a fully decorated tree inside! Maybe I'm just "old school" when it comes to Thanksgiving.

I think back to when I was a little kid and my mom would make holiday dinners for us with only a single oven, no microwave and no fancy cutlery (although Dad finally gave in and bought an electric carving knife). We lived in a postwar, 1950s-era tract home with a small, cramped kitchen. To this day, I don't know how she did it, but we always had turkey with all of the trimmings -- and she seemed to do it so effortlessly. I imagine all the moms did that too. I know my recollection is as a child so it's not the most accurate depiction of what really happened, but it's still a happy memory.

Please keep all of our service men and women in your prayers this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

"Desperate" Nicolette Sheridan clip from MNF

I received a link to the controversial Nicolette Sherdian clip from Monday Night Football. I didn't watch the game, so I didn't see it as it happened. After listening to the uproar and outrage the past couple of days, I guess I'm disappointed because it seems pretty tame to me.

You be the judge. Was it pornographic? To me, no. Was it appropriate for the audience? Since the audience is primarily male...probably.

The do-gooders are trying to compare this to the Janet Jackson episode from the Super Bowl. This doesn't compare. It's suggestive, but that's it. I think the Cialis and Viagra TV ads are far more suggestive.

I think the "acting" was more offensive to me! :-)

Monday, November 15, 2004

Great Excel site

I use Microsoft Excel and Word a lot for work (along with Access, PowerPoint and FrontPage). Recently I found a site specializing in Excel tips and tricks. It's called Ask Mr. Excel - Tips and Solutions for Excel. I'm trying to stay current with pivot tables and the site has a wealth of information about using Excel and uncovering some of its secrets.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The art of the deal

Yesterday I went to a garage sale. I usually don't go to many garage sales or flea markets, but this one intrigued me because Depression glass was advertised and I collect it. The sale was in an older home with a detached garage where the sale was held due to the cool outdoor temperatures.

I was looking around and found nothing remotely interesting. Everything seemed to be picked over. I was about to leave when the owner, an older woman in her late 60s or early 70s, came over to me. "Did you find anything that you liked? she asked.

"No," I said, " I was in the area and thought I would stop in. I was hoping you might have some musical instruments such as a guitar."

"Oh," she replied, "I do have a guitar, but I didn't put it with all of this stuff. Would you like to see it?"

I told her that I would be interested although, judging from the quality of the stuff in the garage, I figured it would be a junker.

She said something to a younger woman who I believed was her daughter. She led me outside the garage and through the back door of the house. It was in an area of those 3-story homes with an attic on the third floor. She was telling me that she and her husband bought the house when it was only a few years old and they had lived there ever since. Her husband had recently passed away and she wanted to sell a lot of the old stuff so she could move closer to her daughter and her grandchildren.

We entered the house and walked up an old staircase and into what appeared to be a bedroom that now serving as a storage room. She opened a closet door and I could see the outline of a guitar case leaning against the wall. The case was dirty and dusty, but I could distinctly make out the word "Gibson."

"My husband was a musician when I met him and he bought this guitar in 1959," she said. "He only played it for a year or so before he developed arthritis in his hands. I don't think it's been played since then and I doubt that it's been out of the case in many, many years."

I asked her if I could pick up the case and I nervously approached the closet. There were cobwebs attached to the case and I slowly lifted it up. The case was heavy and definitely old and I carefully carried it into the room and laid it on the wooden floor.

"My husband said it was one of the best guitars that was made at the time. He couldn't play anymore and thought about selling it. He was hoping one of the kids would take up the guitar, but the boys seemed to be more interested in sports and my daughter had no interest at all. Here's a cloth you can use to wipe off the dust."

She gave me a rag and I knelt down and started to clean the case. I could see the words "Les Paul" appear near the bottom of the case! I could no longer contain my excitement. I set the rag down, unlatched the case and lifted the top.

Inside was a Les Paul electric guitar. It was dusty and missing two strings, but it looked like it was in great condition. "Did you say your husband bought this in 1959?" I asked.

"He ordered it new from a music dealer and he had to wait for it to arrive. It came just before Christmas that year. I remember because our daughter was born a few weeks after it arrived."

I lifted it up and turned it over. The back of the guitar, except for dust, was flawless. I lifted it up to eye level and looked down the neck. It was as straight as if it was new!

The 1959 Les Paul is one of the most important electric guitars ever made...and certainly one of the most valuable. The '50s Gibson Les Pauls and Fender Stratocasters are considered by rock historians as two of the seminal instruments in the history of rock...and I was holding an original '59 in my hands!

Jimmy Page used a 1959 Standard Les Paul as one of his stage guitars during the Led Zeppelin years. Any of the guitar gods from the rock era either owned one in their personal collection or used one in their recordings.

Gibson even makes authentic reissues of these guitars which sell for thousands of dollars. They are even making a reissue of Jimmy Page's guitar.

"Would you consider selling it?" I nervously asked.

"Oh sure," she said. "I just didn't list it because I didn't think anyone would be interested in an old guitar."

OK, I thought, nothing ventured, nothing gained. "Um, how much would you want for it?" I asked.

"Would $200 be too much?"

And then I woke up!!!

Damn. Must have been thinking of last night's post!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

1979 Gibson Les Paul 25/50 Anniversary guitar

This is a 1979 Gibson Les Paul 25/50 Anniversary guitar. Based on Gibson's serial number system, the guitar was built in Kalamazoo, Michigan in December 1978.

The guitar commemorated Les Paul's 50 years in show business and 25 years with Gibson. The guitar is the tobacco sunburst model.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

You won't believe this!

Now I've heard everything!

NBA player Ron Artest has been benched for asking to take a month off to rest and recuperate after promoting his rap album. The poor baby needs time to recover from the rigors of his busy schedule before continuing on with his NBA career.

Here's a thought: Try getting a real job where you're expected to show up at least five days a week for 50 weeks out of the year. And you won't be paid millions of dollars either!

It's stories like this that make me question why I follow professional sports.

Veterans Day 2004

Today is Veterans Day and I want to thank all of the veterans for their service to our country and for their personal sacrifice. My grandfather and my father were veterans of World War I and World War II respectively and my grandfather was seriously wounded in France.

A special thanks to those men and women serving in the Middle East and to their families and friends who live with a great deal of uncertainty.

Thanks also to my good friend Henry who, although not a veteran of armed conflict, was stationed with the Air Force in West Germany. In the late-1960s, Henry nonetheless helped save Western Europe from the evils of Communism by keeping those latrines neat and clean for the officers!

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

1971 Martin D-35 S

This is a 1971 Martin D-35 S guitar. The "S" stands for 12 frets (in C.F. Martin's naming system). The 12-fret guitar features a shorter neck while the body is a little larger than a standard dreadnought guitar. The result is a warm, deep sound. It also has a wider neck allowing for some finger-style playing. A lot of bluegrass bands use a 12-fret guitar as a rhythm guitar.

As this 33-year old guitar ages gracefully, it's developing a deep pumpkin-like color at the bottom giving it some "character."

Monday, November 8, 2004

Wrigley Field 1929

I found this neat old picture of Wrigley Field on the Library of Congress photo website. The photo was taken in 1929 meaning that memories of their last World Series championship in 1908 were still relatively fresh!

Click on the picture for an enlargement. You'll notice that, back then, fans could sit on the outfield grass.

Speaking of the Cubs and their fans, I see where they sold out the annual Cubs Convention in record time proving that it's never too soon for Cub fans to begin their summer angst! I wonder if Sammy Sosa will still be with the team.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Who let the blogs out?

I know the title is a cheap way to garner attention and it's definitely not an original headline!

I've been reading about the misinformation spread during Election Day regarding the exit polls that predicted a big win for Kerry. The mainstream media picked it up and it affected the late afternoon financial markets. When I began watching election coverage around 7:00 PM CST, there were still predictions of a big Kerry win.

To quote Maxwell Smart: "Missed it by that much!"

Dick Morris, on Wednesday's "The O'Reilly Factor," opined that the Democrats may have intentionally tweaked the exit polls to make it appear that Kerry was going to win big, thus encouraging Republican voters out west to shrug their shoulders and say: "Why bother." I seriously doubt that. I think the pollsters got some biased data and did not overlay their data with the actual votes. Once the networks figured it out, they stopped relying on them. The exit polls are good for showing what the hot button issues were and why one candidate did better on a particular issue. Bush did better than Kerry in "moral values" and "likeability."

It's been only 24 hours since Kerry conceded and Bush declared victory so, of course, speculation is already running rampant regarding the 2008 election! It sounds like Hillary Clinton has already earned the Democratic nomination so the Dems can save time and money and avoid holding their '08 convention. (I've also seen Howard Dean's name mentioned as Democratic party chairman.) I guess Rudy Giuliani's the choice of the Republicans although the moderates would prefer Arnold Schwarzenegger (if they can just get that pesky constitutional language changed)!

And so it goes...

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Election post-mortem

There's not much to say about this election that hasn't already been discussed around the water cooler or by the national media, the blogosphere, Internet bulletin boards and chat rooms. I guess that's the beauty of this modern information age -- the ability to discuss things with somebody across the room or across the country. This morning I was reading various reactions to the election returns as it was happening last night. I can just imagine someone sitting in their family room watching CNN and typing away on their wireless laptop!

Now that we've completed our quadrennial celebration of our democracy and the election has been won or conceded (depending upon your viewpoint), it's time to refocus on the economy, the war on terror and Bruce Springsteen's political activism.

And ... spring training is only a few months away!

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

I did my part!

I decided to vote this morning before going to work. In Illinois, the polls open at 6:00 AM and close at 7:00 PM. My polling place is at a new school in my subdivision so I drove over there at 6:20 AM to spend a few minutes voting. I knew I was in trouble when I saw all the cars in the parking lot and was further bothered when I saw a line snaking out the door.

Did I mention that it was drizzling and in the 40s this morning? Of course, my place in line was not covered and I wasn't wearing a topcoat.

We've lived in our house for 10 years and our original polling place was a high school that was several miles away. Our precinct consisted of scattered subdivisions, rural farmland and forest preserves so we rarely waited in line to vote. As the population of Chicago expands westward, our area is becoming more and more urban with all the associated congestion. Apparently, everyone had the same idea about voting early (and often!) so I got in line and waited. There was one large line with no signs or instructions regarding where our precinct poll was located (there were two precincts at our polling location). Finally, one of the election volunteers came out and steered several of us to the correct line. I ran into a neighbor who, at 6:45 AM, was finally voting after arriving just as the polls opened. I finally voted at 7:15 AM and as I walked out, the line was much longer than when I arrived.

I'm not sure what to make of this as there are no hotly contested races going on in Illinois. The state was conceded to Kerry several months ago and our Senatorial "race" will be one-sided. (The Illinois Republican Party forced the original nominee, Jack Ryan, to withdraw from the race after some nasty stuff was revealed from his sealed divorce papers.)

Must be the race for the county weed control board that's drawing the crowd!

I'll be watching the news tonight (and probably into the wee hours of the morning) to see who wins. Maybe it will be like 4 years ago when the Supreme Court decided our new president.

Monday, November 1, 2004

Election Day is here!

Election Day is tomorrow. I'm sure I'm in the majority that says that it's about time! Illinois was long ago conceded to the Democrats so we've been spared the nonstop political advertising that the "swing" states have experienced. There are no local elections of merit in my part of suburbia so I've had no door-to-door canvassers knocking on my door this year. Ah, the quiet.

I hope everyone exercises their Constitutional right and votes tomorrow!