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11:46 PM by Eric: September Update Culture | Kids | Movies and TV | Personal | Reviews | Work

Yeah, so these things seem to be monthly, so here you go for the month of September. ;) I'm just kidding... or am I?

Anyway, last weekend was lots of fun. Sandy flew in from Florida (between all kinds of crazy business trips: we appreciate the stopover! ;)) and hung out all weekend. We went to the Botanical Gardens, and also a nearby collection of animals who had been rescued. Many of them had been people's pets, which makes you wonder about humanity (I mean, who thinks a bobcat would make a good pet?) I did feel bad for the coyote, Martha, though; she had grown up on a ranch with a family and dogs to play with, and now she's stuck in a small cage with no entertainment at all. She just paced back and forth, back and forth, and she really reminded me of the poor dogs at the Humane Society, the ones who keep hoping their family will come back and find her again. Some kids came by while we were watching her, and the way she perked up was kind of heartbreaking. The vultures were kind of cool, though, especially since it was feeding time (yum, rats!). Jen was a little squicked out by that, though.

Anyway, like I said, it was lots of fun. We went to see The Illusionist at the Alamo; I really liked the movie. It was all stylish early-1900's Vienna, and magic, and love, and an ambiguous ending (I love ambiguous endings), and Jessica Beal's te-herr-ible "Generic Euro" accent didn't detract too much, seeing as she didn't have all that many lines. I liked Edward Norton's role a lot, though, and Paul Giamatti did a good job too. Anyway, if magic and intrigue in Imperial Vienna sounds interesting, you should definitely check it out. We hit the Texas State History Museum as well, which had an interesting exhibit on Braggin' (It's not braggin' if it's true!), including a Cadillac covered in rhinestones (the glitteriest car I've ever seen) and an actual, working, VW Beetle made from wrought iron (which was amazingly cool). All in all a fun visit, with a very nice mix of activities and full-out lazy relaxation. My kind of holiday weekend. :)

Lately work has been madly busy. We have a major deadline Monday (I've been working 10- and 12-hour days, highly unusual for us), and another at the end(ish) of October, and somewhere in there we're moving offices. Well, I say "we", but I'm not moving offices, because I already did. I packed up my office at work, including my work PC, and brought it home, and I now work from the dining room 4.5 days a week. (The other half day I have to be onsite for meetings etc.) Working from home is, in a word, delightfullyawesome. It's definitely nice to have separate work and home PCs--easier, at least for me, to keep the two activities separate and be able to "leave" work even though I'm still here. I feel more productive, able to concentrate better; I couldn't imagine working in a cubicle farm again. A private office, maybe. ;) The lack of commute is really, really nice. It does take some discipline, but I guess I don't really find that all that hard to manage.

This weekend we're just kind of chilling. USA Baby was having a huge sale, so we picked up a full-body pillow for Jen and a car seat/stroller system. We also took down the popcorn ceiling in the nursery (which is terribly messy, by the way; there's fine white dust everywhere), I primered it today, and will be painting it tomorrow. We need to do the polka dots soon as well, just to get that room totally done and ready.

Ollie is really active lately, and he's pretty strong. It's very weird (in a cool way) to feel him kicking or punching. Today Jen said she tapped her stomach and Ollie immediately kicked her there, so she may have invented a new game. ;)

Charlie is finally back down to his ideal weight, but Cara managed to put on five extra pounds in the meantime. The dieting never stops here, man; we just take turns. ;)

Anyway, aside from Sandy's visit, my life is all about work and Ollie, so not much else to say. I hope all you guys are having a good time of it. :)

07:29 PM by Eric: Power Bars: Tri-O-Plex Reviews

One more Power Bar Review...

Name: Tri-O-Plex
Flavor: Cookie Dough Chocolate Chip
Calories: 420
Weight: 118g (4.2oz)
Effectiveness: 3.55 cal/g (100 cal/oz)
Overall: 9

I am a cookie dough slave. When I make chocolate chip cookies, I generally get a yield of 1/2 whatever the recipe says, and not because I make big cookies. I have, in my misspent youth, made entire batches of cookies and never once turned on the stove. That's how much I love cookie dough.

So you understand where I'm coming from when I say that this bar misses greatness by the slimmest of margins. I'm sure it has to do with the requirements at hand, namely that a power bar be able to sit in an unrefrigerated cupboard, survive nuclear holocaust, lie undisturbed for the entirety of the following Dark Age or Ages, and still be fully consumable*. Also that it be at least slightly more healthy than just eating those refrigerated tubes of cookie dough at the supermarket. Whatever the cause, though, this is definitely a POWER BAR, not a bar of pure cookie dough.

As I remarked to Jen at the time, this power bar must be beaten into submission. Victory must be total; conditional surrender is not an option. But hey, at least it tastes good. :)

* Okay, those might not be actual requirements. Those are my guesses at the requirements that produced the general characteristics of power bars, though. Also, consumable might need some scare quotes, there, for some of these bars. :p

07:24 PM by Eric: Power Bars: Myoplex Storm Reviews

Yet another Power Bar Review...

Name: Myoplex Storm
Flavor: Chocolate Peanut Caramel
Weight: 80g (2.72oz)
Calories: 340
Overall: 5

I'm sensing a trend here. Peanut Butter Rage*, Myoplex Storm... it's almost like they're marketing some kind of associated image with these bars, like they want people to think of them in a certain light... huh. I wonder why?

This candy bar really wants to be a Snickers. Chocolate, Peanuts, Caramel. It sounds like a match made in heaven. Unfortunately the caramel really lets the other elements down here. I mean, it's caramel. You melt some sugar, how hard is that? You can caramelize onions, you can caramelize créme brulee, you can caramelize just about anything. I've done it myself, it's not hard. And yet. The caramel in this bar, I don't know. It's like they caramelized sandpaper or something. Concrete mix, maybe. I might recommend the caramel in this thing to my dentist as a tooth polishing compound, except you'd end up with no enamel whatsoever.

Other than that, it's fine. Have a drink handy, but fine.

* I recently discovered (via my trainer) that there's a whole range of "x Rage" products, not just Peanut Butter. This makes me giggle as I consider the image of some big burly man plunking down an entire case of "Rage" bars. You go, man.

10:14 PM by jenny: Guest Review Reviews

Hi all, this is Jenny. I had a 4 hour rehearsal Saturday over lunch, and as I was meeting with Stephen, our trainer, following it, I snagged a bar.

Name: Clif Bar
Flavor: Crunchy Peanut Butter
Weight: 68 grams
Calories: 250 cal
Effectiveness: 3.67 cal/gram
Overall: 6

First off, the first word in the title is an absolute lie. There was nothing crunchy about this bar at all. But, come to think of it, there is not much crunchy about crunchy peanut butter. It does not actually crunch. It just has larger peanut chunks in it than creamy. That could be true for this bar as well. I like things that crunch, however. And the misnomer was disappointing.

Basically, this bar tasted like a soggy Nature Valley Peanut Butter granola bar pack- a lot of peanut butter, some oaty looking things. It was very dry. It needed jelly. It wasn't chalky, one of Eric's frequent complaints, but it did make me need water very badly.

I purposefully selected one of the lower calorie bars from his stash, as I'm not needing all the extra amounts he needs. Unfortunately, though it has the amount of calories I generally spend on lunch, it is not nearly as filling in the long term. I still needed lunch when I got home a few hours later. It did prevent my medical issues from occuring (long periods not eating is not good for me at all), but so could a Luna Bar for much better taste and only 180 calories (with more folic acid).

I would like to say, however, that I have had different Clif bars on other occasions (having run a half marathon) and those were pretty yummy. I think I'm just a peanut butter connoisseur and this did not meet my exacting standards.

04:43 PM by Eric: Power Bars: Promax Reviews

Next in my series of Power Bar Reviews...

Name: Promax
Flavor: Black Forest Cake (with real cherries!)
Weight: 75g (2.64oz)
Calories: 290
Effectiveness: 3.86 cal/g (109.85 cal/oz)
Overall: 6

First thoughts: Well, the promax definitely has a hint of the same gritty/chalky texture as the other power bars I've had so far, but really only a hint (or maybe I'm getting used to it... heaven forfend).

The packaging claims there are real cherries in there, and I actually believe it. There appear to be actual chunks of actual cherries embedded in the bar. That's a plus, since the biggest problems with power bars (in my rapidly-less-uninformed opinion) is that they're dry as a bone, and the cherries help with that.

The bar does have both chocolate and cherry flavors, but I don't know if I'd actually grant the full "Black Forest" moniker. "Dark Grey Copse" maybe. Still, not a bad effort, and thus far my favorite bar. They have several more flavors so I might give those a try when the current supply runs out. :)

Nutritionally this is not bad; not quite 450 calories, but it's not as large either, so ounce for ounce it almost keeps up with the Peanut Butter Rage. All of the other nutritional numbers are middle of the road (10-30% DV on most things), so this seems like a safe bet.


Flavor: Double Fudge Brownie
Weight: 75g (2.64oz)
Calories: 290
Effectiveness: 3.87 cal/g (109.85 cal/oz)
Overall: 9

It's hard to really screw up chocolate. I mean, some kinds of chocolate are clearly better than other kinds, but chocolate in general is pretty foolproof. Peanut butter can go awry. Even caramel isn't immune to the Power Bar Curse. But chocolate, chocolate is different, even in the topsy-turvy world of power bars.

Double Fudge Brownie? Yes please. :) While this bar suffers to an extent from the "way too dry" problem, it's certainly acceptably tasty, with no weird ingredients or surprises. A solid recommendation. The only gripe I have is that this power bar is good enough that it's hard to find anything amusing to say about it. So sad.

Edit: I forgot to fill in the links. They're fixed now. :-p

10:18 PM by Eric: Power Bars: Peanut Butter Rage Reviews

First in my series of Power Bar Reviews...

Name: Peanut Butter Rage
Flavor: Chocolate Fudge
Weight: 110g (3.9oz)
Calories: 450
Effectiveness: 4.1 cal/g (115 cal/oz)
Overall rating: 3

First of all, how can you not laugh yourself silly at the name? Peanut Butter Rage? What, like a jar of Jif got really angry and ... made a power bar? It just doesn't make any sense!

This is a "chocolate" (we'll get to that in a moment) protein bar wrapped in "Peanut butter". The peanut butter is approximately the same consistency and quality as the generic peanut butter crackers you can buy out of any vending machine, and is really quite inoffensive.

The chocolate bar, on the other hand, is a dense lump of extremely dry, untasty protein-stuff. Each bite must be chewed for at least 30 seconds before even attempting to swallow it, or else you risk serious esophagal damage (or worse, the fear that the lump you just swallowed will prove indigestible and will just sit there in malevolent lumpiness until you die, and the medical examiner discovers it). The worst part is that the peanut butter coating means that even after swallowing, you have chunks of the stuff stuck to your teeth, the roof of your mouth, etc, which means a long-lasting, icky aftertaste.

Nutritionally the thing is a caloric thermonuclear bomb -- 450 calories is the highest I've seen in a single bar yet (at least without the bar being a half-pound triple decker monster, which is cheating). It also comes loaded with 190% of your daily recommended value of Vitamin C, which is actually kind of scary. What the heck is so much Vitamin C doing in a chocolate bar?

It didn't make me want to vomit, though, which is a step in the right direction, so it ends up at a 3. If your approach to power bars is "pack in the calories so I don't have to eat as many of these things" this guy is right up your alley.

04:26 PM by Eric: Power Bars Ahoy Personal | Reviews

For those of you who don't know (which is probably everyone), the personal trainer Jen and I consulted with has told me I need to add calories to my day (this will not come as a shock to anyone who knows me) and add about 12 pounds. To this end I have been advised to eat breakfast as well as some sort of mid-day (and mid-evening, if I can manage it) snack.

Jenny has taken to this idea with great relish. We have had several shopping excursions where we go down the entire power bar aisle looking for the bars with the most calories. We then pile varieties of these bars into a shopping cart, and I go home and eat 1-2 a day in addition to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and an apple.

Since I have to eat these (so far mostly) godawful power bars, I figure someone might as well get some entertainment (or would that be infotainment?) from my experiences, so I'll be reviewing each bar as I try them. All scores are on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being "Oh my god I can't believe I put that in my mouth" and 10 being "Fill up the shopping cart tasty". Different flavors of the same bar will be added to the original bar review, so check back often for updates! And may god have mercy on my soultastebuds.

The Reviews:
Peanut Butter Rage
Clif Bar

08:31 AM by Eric: I love the smell of sawdust in the evening... Music | Personal | Reviews | Tech

...it smells like... victory. ;)

So Saturday we ripped all the carpet out of the office and bought enough new laminate flooring to replace all the carpet left in the house. Unfortunately the laminate needs to acclimatize to its new environment (you know, sniff around, set up its den, mark the perimeter... oh wait) for 48 hours before installation, which meant that the office was empty all weekend but for stacks of laminate--which meant that the front hall was full of office furniture, and the living room was full of stacks of books. (We have a lot of books. It doesn't seem like nearly so many when they're on the shelves, but we could build fairly substantial forts out of these stacks of books, and still have paperbacks left over for ammunition...)

So last night while Jen was at a New Works (er, sorry, The University Co-op Presents the Cohen New Works Festival) meeting, I spent 3 hours putting the new floor down in the office. I think I've gotten the hang of this flooring, since that was all it took. Tonight I'll do the closet and the bedroom hall, put in the mouldings, and then we can reassemble the office.

I'm really digging my Creative Zen Touch. My first impressions were that it is a bit more substantial than Jenny's iPod, specifically slightly heavier and slightly wider. I'm okay with that; it's still pretty small, and the extra size is due to a larger battery. So far it seems as if the claims of ~24 hours continuous play life are more or less true (it's hard to say because I'm not using 96Kbps WMA or whatever the claim is based on; I have both high bitrate MP3s and some WMAs that were automatically converted). I am a little disappointed with the software integration. The Touch isn't yet 100% compatible with Windows Media Player; you can copy over all the songs on a playlist (or all songs in your library), but you can't copy over the playlist(s) themselves. Supposedly a firmware update due in March will bring it up to full MTP compatibility, after which AutoSync should make life wonderful, but until then I have to use Windows Explorer to create playlists. I didn't bother to install any of the Creative software (except the required drivers), since I've never had a good experience with Creative software. :)

As far as sound quality, I'm very happy. I'm not sure I can hear any difference over Jen's iPod, but it might be the default earbuds; the sound is very clear, though. The player's interface is interesting; it does a very good job of not ripping off the iPod without sucking. It has a touch-sensitive strip used for scrolling; I've read a lot of complaints that scrolling through long lists is painful since you have to repeatedly stroke the strip. Apparently none of these people discovered that if you stop at the end of the strip and hold your finger there, the player will keep scrolling. :-P Anyway, so far I'm really happy with the player itself. The carrying case is annoying, though. It's very protective, but once the player is inside the case the only control you can actually access is the power button; you can kind of get at the volume buttons through the elastic sides, but the play controls are all covered by a stiff protective guard. It's really a shoddy design. The worst part is that nobody makes MP3 accessories for anything but the damned iPod; there's no such thing as a third-party Zen Touch case. Sigh. I'll probably post an update to this once the new firmware comes out.

It is not much fun to come home to an apartment empty of dogs and Jenny. Not much fun at all.

House hunting was not quite as productive as we had hoped; we saw about 20 houses on Saturday, revisited 5 on Sunday, and picked 3 we wanted to make offers on. Made the first offer on Sunday night, and Monday the fellow came back with an offer that was a) more expensive than his original asking price (?!) and b) wouldn't appraise anyway. People are weird about selling their house. To make a long story short, we passed on even trying to negotiate with him. Made the second offer yesterday; haven't heard back yet. Hoping for the best, but trying not to be too hopeful in case we get shot down. :-P

I had a job interview Saturday as well—a completely informal not-really-an-interview-but-really-an-interview lunch, anyway. Came out of it very excited about the job. I was the first person they'd talked to, as they had seized the opportunity to talk to me while I was in town anyway. Like I said, I would be delighted to take this job if it were offered. Again, trying not to be too hopeful…

Tonight I went and finally saw Matrix Reloaded. As for whether it was a worthy successor or not, I'm reserving judgement; I just don't think anyone can really say until the third movie comes out. It's possible that some of the slightly disjointed stuff will make more sense once some of the meta-mysteries get resolved (assuming they do). Overall it was reasonably enjoyable.

Okay, I have to respond to Lileks' post about M:R. I actually have two parallel responses to his criticisms, one of which spoils the plot twist and one of which doesn't (for the spoiler versions, hit this).

11:02 AM by Eric: A Myth of the Far Future Redux Books | Culture | Reviews

It's been eleven years since Mike Resnick published Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future. The original was a galaxy-sized frontier tale, the Wild West set among the swirling spiral arms of the Milky Way. This year Resnick published the sequel, The Return of Santiago. The question is whether the author can live up to the vivid characters and style of the first book.

12:08 AM by Eric: The Beauty of the Rain Culture | Music | Reviews

Dar Williams, perhaps one of the best-known modern singer-songwriters, released her 6th solo album, The Beauty of the Rain, on February 18th. This album is an interesting mix of symbol and story, solo effort and collaboration, though it continues Dar's gradual sidle towards a more mainstream sound.

11:36 PM by Eric: (Not exactly) bringing down the house. Culture | Movies and TV | Reviews

This is the first of possibly many reviews I will be doing for blogcritics.org.

Start with a trite, shallow plot. Add Steve Martin as every other role you've ever seen him play. Mix in a little Eugene Levy working those bushy eyebrows to reprise the wannabe hipster we saw in American Pie 1 and 2. Stir vigorously with a Queen Latifah playing a role which, after her work in Chicago, can only be described as "meh". That's pretty much Bringing Down the House in a nutshell.

12:13 AM by Eric: Adaptation Culture | Movies and TV | Reviews

Jenny notes that we saw Adaptation tonight:

At one point the deus ex machina character tells the fictional Kaufman to at all costs avoid a fucking deus ex machina, and the fur coat brigade hastily whispered to each other, "What's that?" Sigh.

She leaves out the best part, which is that the fellow sitting next to me knew the literal translation of the phrase—"god out of the machine"—and still didn't know what the phrase meant. Didn't these people ever take a high-school level English class, for crying out loud?

Anyway, the movie itself: Very complicated. Almost fractal in a way, in that the major structure of the movie is replicated several times on smaller and smaller scales. I thought it was clever, but I'm not sure if it had any real value aside from pure cleverness (structure-wise, anyway). The ending was very surprising. There were a number of what I felt were fairly profound statements in the movie, but I think the cleverness of its structure might actually have detracted from them—but then, that might have been intentional as well. Who can tell?

01:12 AM by Eric: Charter and movie night Culture | Movies and TV | Reviews | Tech

So since we're losing our DSL, I went down to Charter a few days to pick up a cable modem to tide us over till we move. Picked up the self-install kit after about an hour wait in line, brought it home, forgot about it for a few days. Yesterday I went to open it and start looking at installing it… and there is no cable modem in the box. Geniuses. Better yet, when I went to take the box back and demand an actual cable modem today, one of the bad blinkenlights in the Passat started going off. So now I don't know how I'm going to get to Charlie's class tomorrow (probably, I'm just not), and I get to spend my Monday morning getting towed to the dealer.

So rather than going out tonight, Jen and I rented MIB 2 and Goldmember. MIB 2 was merely a pathetic rehash of the original, with some random plot inversions. Goldmember, on the other hand, was actually painful to watch. I'm serious, this one goes on the Movies To Avoid list right below The Velocity Of Gary. :shudder:

Today's only upside is that the apartment is now squeaky clean, top to bottom, as that's pretty much all we did from 10 this morning to about 7 this evening. Though there is still laundry to be done. :(

04:32 PM by Eric: Copenhagen and Dar Culture | Music | Reviews | Theatre

Okay, this last week and a half has been insane. I'm going hermit tonight.

So here's a big chunk of an update, because I've been too busy to post any for a while.

Anyway, Jenny and I ushered at a play called Copenhagen Monday night. There's no action in the play at all; it's nearly pure dialogue. I mean, obviously, the characters move around, gesture, and whatnot, but everything interesting happens vocally. The basic plot of the play is that Werner Heisenberg (of Uncertainty Principle fame) is visiting his old friend and mentor, Niels Bohr, and Bohr's wife, in their home in Copenhagen.

Actually the play relays multiple visits, from as early (IIRC) as about 1924? to as late as post-World War II. The whole plot, however, centers on one specific visit Heisenberg made in 1941, the motives for which had been shrouded in mystery. (Yes, this play is all about theoretical physics. Well, sort of.)

Heisenberg, Bohr, and Bohr's wife are all dead, and Heisenberg (in some sort of unexplained afterlife sort of thing) is trying to explain his actual motives for that 1941 visit. The crux of the dilemma is that 1941 was, of course, the height of German power during WWII in Europe, and Heisenberg was the head of the German nuclear program. Bohr lived in Copenhagen, and Denmark was at that time a "conquered" nation.

If you really want all the details of the plot, I'm sure you can find a review or a plot summary somewhere; the play apparently won a Tony. What I wanted to say about the play is that a) it was quite good—much better than you might expect a nearly purely dialogue-driven play about theoretical physicists to be, and b) I was both torn and interested by the discussions of actual physics in the play. As you might expect in any work which is intended for mass consumption, the discussions of Uncertainty and quantum and nuclear physics were heavily simplified. This is a good thing, and a bad thing.

It's a good thing because it allows the play to make a point about the human condition—that is, the play drew an interesting metaphor between human perception, memory, and introspection, and the difficulties (better, impossibilities) inherent in the scientific ideal of pure, objective measurement independent of subjectivity or observational effects. It's a bad thing because the metaphor has limits. I rather enjoyed the discussion of "the unobservable observer", for instance, but the play did bring to mind my Art History class in college. In that class, the professor brought up Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in relation to art. I don't remember the precise way in which he used the HUP, but suffice to say that it was based on a hugely erroneous "understanding" of the HUP specifically and quantum physics in general. The four or five of us in the class who were engineers were pretty uniformly horrified by the usage, but several of the other students in the class seemed to take it as an excellent point.

Now, my point here is very definitely not to say that art students are idiots, or even that art students don't understand physics. As a matter of fact, I told Jenny about what the prof had said, and she was of the same opinion as I was—in fact, she more or less condemned even the art history the prof was teaching as well. My point, rather, is to say that there are (admittedly indistinct and wavering) limits as to how far a metaphor may be pushed, and in some cases I felt this play flirted with those limits. I still liked it, though. :)

The Dar concert last week was, as expected, fantastic. The opening act was Kris Delmhorst, who I had never heard of before. Jenny's assessment was that she had a gorgeous voice, but could use some help in the songwriting department. Personally, I strongly regret that I did not have some sort of recording device, because Kris came back out to sing harmony on both Iowa and If I Wrote You, and as much as I already love both songs, she added a whole new dimension to them. Especially to Iowa; her harmony was this sweeping, rolling sound, indescribable but wonderful. I wish I had a copy of those two songs.

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This page was last updated Sun 23 September 2007 at 08:46 AM CDT