It’s All Real-ative

April 30, 2007

On Saturday, Mindy, Rachel, Talos and I, had fun joining thousands of North Carolinians checking out the Greater Greensboro Builder Association’s 2007 Parade of Homes. We visited many impressive houses during the day, but the jewel of the parade was the 8600 sq. ft. property from R&K who’s listing price was $1.5 million. Houses in this range are always impressive, but this one stood out from all others in recent memory.

Obviously $1.5 mil. for a home is much more than 95% of us can afford. The house at Toscana Trace featured three full kitchens, a basement “playground” including a movie quality home theater, home gym, full bar, billiard room, wine cellar and a patio that was both huge and beautiful. Hundreds of people were filing in and out of the house admiring every aspect of it. We heard “ooohs” and “aaahhs” the entire time and left in a state of amazement. $1.5 million dollars evidently gets you a heckva lot of very cool house these days. That is unless you live someplace like, oh say, California.

I had been posting some picts of the house on Twitter Saturday night and friend Arlo Rose responded that the price tag of $1.5 mil. barely gets you a foot in the door in California. I knew prices there were high from Craig, who lives in Laguna Beach. But after a bit of research, I really wasn’t prepared to learn just how much the people of California pay just for the privilege of living on the west coast.

This 1040 sq. ft. home in sunny Palo Alto that Arlo sent me lists for almost the exact same price at the 8600 sq. ft. mansion in Summerfield. Yes, you read that right, this 2 bedroom home is only 1040 square feet. Its kitchen is about the same size as the Toscana home’s screened-in porch. If you’d like to see what passes for a “Patio” in California, just click here. Step out the back door, take 12 paces and you’re nose to nose with your neighbor’s fence. Not exactly the sprawling back yard one had hoped for. Click the image to the left to get a detailed view of the house’s “master bath” where the toilet is evidently 3 inches from the jetted tub.

People who live in California will tell you they wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I think all that sunshine is starting to go to their head. How else do you explain people wanting to live where wild fires and mud slides happen at the drop of a hat? Who cares about the high cost of living when you’ve got earthquakes to worry about? Sure NC gets the occasional hurricane every now and then, but the Triad itself is far enough from the coast not to have to lose any sleep. North Carolina may not be nearly as glamorous as sunny CA, but our beaches are just as pretty, we’ve got wonderful mountains and friendly people. I might just be a crazy “hick”, but if I actually had $1.5 mil. burning a hole in my pocket, I’d rather have a house like the one on Toscana Trace. Maybe that’s just me.

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Without a doubt, one of my favorite all time television events was HBO’s award winning mini-series, Band of Brothers. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, fresh off the tremendous success of Saving Private Ryan, took all of the production team for that Oscar winning film and successfully transfered it to the small screen as Band. Today comes word from Variety that they will team up for “The Pacific” to tell the tale of WWII once again, this time from point of view of the Asian-theater of battle.

Variety reports that cast members and a director have not yet been named, but I’m willing to bet we’ll see some familiar Band of Brother’s faces crop up in the production. Band of Brothers walked away with a grand total of six Emmy awards and a Golden Globe for its portrayal of Easy Company through Europe in World War II. Hanks and Spielberg are sure to try and capture that lightening in a bottle once again, and I for one am VERY happy. I’ve heard rumblings about this series for over two years now and I simply can’t wait. When Band aired in 2001, Mindy and I would count the days between episodes so we could sit and watch the tale of these brave men and their real-life acts of courage. Variety says that this series will highlight the differences between the European and Asian fronts in WWII and how the fighting was so different. As a guy, I look forward to the battle scenes with anticipation, but I also hope the team recaptures the human element and drama that made Band so profoundly excellent. 2009 can’t come soon enough.

This past Saturday, Anthony and I headed toward downtown Greensboro and Tate Street to check out the submarine offerings of Manhattan Pizza and Subs. The shop was recommended to me a couple of times and I finally decided to check it out. I was looking forward to visiting a sandwich shop that was outside my normal hunting grounds, but I’m sorry to report that what I found left both of us less than enthusiastic.

The Location

Manhattan Pizza and Subs is located practically on top of the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s campus in the heart of Tate Street. Being so close to the college, Manhattan seems to have a clientele built in, which might help to explain how the place stays in business. When we arrived, we actually almost missed the restaurant completely. Manhattan’s street sign is faded and worn, with only a single large neon “Subs” sign on the building itself. If I had not been looking for it, I think we would have driven right by. This isn’t something a restaurant owner wants to hear, but I’m afraid it’s the truth.

Like the sign, the interior of Manhattan was a bit worse for wear. Its obvious the shop has been around a while and the seating, while spacious, was a bit on the run-down side. It seems as if the “high traffic” location next to UNCG has taken its toll on the little sub shop over the years and for some reason, the owners have not kept up with renovations. The entire dining area could use an update or at the very least a good scrub down. This, plus the fact that the dining room seats both smoking and non-smoking customers, lowered my expectations right away.

The Subs

As usual, I spied the classic Italian deli style sub on the menu and ordered an 8″ hoagie along with the Manhattan Special. The only difference between the Italian and the Special was the addition of roast beef on the latter. The size of the sub and its appearance seemed decent, especially considering the price. Both subs were just $4.29 and had a good amount of meat and cheese. Compared to the $6.00 sub I ordered at Giacomo’s from my previous review, I thought I was in for a bargain.

Unfortunately, unlike the fresh ingredients at Giacomo’s, the meats and cheese used by Manhattan were not particularly flavorful. The roast beef wasn’t very rare and didn’t pack a lot of that herby flavor you expect from a good deli roast beef. In fact, the addition of the roast beef didn’t seem to make any difference in taste from the Italian Sub and the Manhattan Special, both came with lettuce, tomato, onion and house dressing. The dressing itself tasted like a store bought Italian salad dressing and definitely over powered the natural tastes of the sub. When all was said and done, I would have gladly paid a bit more to have higher quality meats and cheeses on my sub instead of the rather bland fare we received. On the bright side, the bread Manhattan offers was indeed nice. I dare say it was homemade and was crunchy, fresh and just right for a sub roll.

The Wrap Up

There is a big part of me that would just like to report that Manhattan was a decent place to eat this past Saturday. The owners were pleasant and friendly, and seemed to care about the food they served. Manhattan has continued to offer up sandwiches and pizza to the good students of UNCG despite the fact that there is both a Subway and a Jimmy John’s Subs not half a block from their front door. I would have no problem recommending them and looking past the decor of the shop if the food had been outstanding, but it just wasn’t.

While Anthony and I ate, several students came and went. Many seemed to be ordering slices of pizza or munchie foods like cheese sticks and onion rings. Manhattan is what it is – a college joint. It caters to students on a budget and offers quick, standard food fare to those on the go. Due to its proximity to the campus, I suspect it will do brisk business into the future, but its simply not good enough to travel more than a mile or so for. As we were leaving Tate Street and heading back home, we drove past a place called Yum Yum’s that was packed to the gills with people. I’m told that its “the place” to eat for UNCG. I wonder if they have subs…

Think I’m off my rocker about Manhattan? Wanna send me to your favorite Triad sub shop? Post your suggestions in the comments thread and give me the low-down!

I was saddened when I learned of the tragic shooting at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute this past Monday. It had all the tragic earmarks in place and has turned out to be the worst single case of gun violence in US history. I add my thoughts to all of those grieving for lost friends and loved ones and pray that God gives them strength in their time of suffering.

And yet somehow, the midst of this shocking, horrific event, something even uglier has started to rear its head. The need by some, to blame the victims of this unspeakable tragedy for what happened. You heard me right, some people are now talking about how this could have been avoided if only the students and faculty at Virginia Tech had stood up to Cho Seung-Hui and pulled a “Let’s roll!” number on him.

I witnessed this conversation no less than twice today, and both times they came from local radio station 101.1 WZTK Talk Radio. The first was during the national broadcast of right-wing goon Neal Boortz who entertained the idea that state run institutions, and schools in general are teaching our kids that the government will “take care of you” in all things, and so there is no need to defend yourself. He said they should have rushed the shooter to take him down. If they had, Boortz and caller agreed, this bloodbath could have been avoided.

I think I feel sick.

The second time was during the Allan Handleman show when his guest, Ted Nugent, advocated that this massacre couldn’t possibly have happened if the campus had not been designated as a “gun-free zone”. Yep, Nugent argued that if only the general student populace was allowed to carry concealed weapons, someone undoubtedly would have shot this kid before he got as far as he did.

Boortz is an ass-hat of the highest order. He consistently chooses inflammatory positions, rails against progressives and rarely lets callers who disagree with him get a word in, so his comments don’t surprise me, they just continue to disgust me. When someone has broken into your classroom, killed your teacher and starts shooting wildly, I know my first instinct is to jump up, and rush the guy, not dive under the nearest desk. Yeah, that’s what I’d do, and I’m sure that’s what Boortz would do as well. Like I said, asshat!

As far as Handelman goes, I like him alot. He’s usually very fair and argues from a position of logic and reason. But not today. Today he was one step behind Nugent and his “let’s arm everyone!” agenda and it really, really bothered me. Shame on you Allan! Just for a moment, let’s pretend that Virgina Tech wasn’t a gun free zone and students could carry concealed handguns on their persons. How many parents do you think would send their kids to that college? Would you feel safer or more scared knowing that there could be a loaded weapon parked in the backpack of the person sitting in front of you? And please don’t tell me “accidental miss-firings never happen”. If the Secret Service has problems like these, what do you think the rate of accidents would be on a college campus?

In both of these cases, these people were railing against the victims of Virginia Tech. There is nothing that turns my stomach more than placing blame where it has NO BUSINESS BEING, especially to push an agenda. Common sense tells us that the students in harm’s way this past Monday did what they did out of survival. Who are we to judge them? Has Boortz, Nugent or Handelman walked a mile in their shoes? Have they crouched terrified on a stairwell while shots ring out all around them? We need to support these people, not second-guess them. They need to know that we approve of what they did and how they conducted themselves, and that we would have done the exact same thing in their place. All of us need to heal, and these men’s words are serving only to inflict further harm. Stop it. Now.

UPDATE – I’m not the only one asking people to stop blaming the victims of this tradegy. Keith Olberman has some pretty strong words for three such individuals on last night’s “World’s Worst” segment. And lest our right-wing friends think otherwise, Think Progress reminds us that even President Bush backed “gun-free” zones in the debates running up to the 2000 election. Why? Because they make sense for schools, plain and simple.

UPDATE II – Local talk radio hosts Brad & Britt have added their voices to those denouncing the comments of Neal Boortz, calling his tirade of blame against the victims “reprehensible” and “disgusting”. Bravo to you guys for standing up to him on this issue, and on your own radio station 101.1 WZTK Talk Radio no less. Well done guys.

It’s Hip to Be Square!

April 11, 2007

Today at lunch, the guys and I stopped by our local GameStop (ah, the memories) so I could pick up my reserved copy of Super Paper Mario for the Nintendo Wii. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much from this game. I’ve played Paper Mario on the Gamecube, and while fun, it just didn’t seem to grab me the way that Mario 64 or Mario Sunshine did. Tonight after dinner, I popped the game in and checked it out. What a delightful surprise!

At first glimpse, Super Paper Mario seems to be yet another traditional 2-D side scrollers with the familiar jump and stomp action that fans have come to know and love from the plumber in red. But the Wii folks have a few tricks up their sleeve this time including a fantastic twist that puts a whole new “perspective” on video games (sorry I had to do it). By pressing the “A” button at any point during the game, you instantly transform Mario’s world to 3-D. Flat blocks and coins instantly become rows of objects several layers deep. Paths that you could not see when looking at this paper thin world from the front, come into view with surprising satisfaction. What you thought was just an illustrated children’s book, instead becomes a dynamic pop-up book.

The game also avoids some of the Wiimote controller headaches I’ve experienced lately (Call of Duty 3!!) by having the player hold the Wiimote old-school style on its side. In this way, you don’t get carpal tunnel and all of the buttons are familiar and immediate. From time to time the Wiimote can be used like a flashlight to “point” at the world and find out more info about the baddies and such, but for the most part, controlling Mario is as easy as pie. I still have nightmares about how bad the controls for Super Monkey Ball 3D were and SPM is a joy by comparison.

I’ve only played to the end of the first chapter, but I can already tell the game will hold my attention. It is fun, extremely well written and has both visual and visceral appeal. Nintendo knows how to write games for its own platform and it really shows with SPM. You are constantly discovering new hidden treasures as you journey along. One moment you think the road ahead is impassable, then you flip to 3-D and the choice is obvious. You can become part of wonderfully graphic backgrounds grabbing extra coins, play secondary characters, or just relish in the super-cool sound design.

While Microsoft seems to be struggling with the XBOX, and the sales of the eye-candy intensive PSP have been languishing, I am continually impressed with the Wii. Time after time it has presented me with all new and exciting ways of playing video games. It makes me want more. Paul Thurrott, PC technologist and hack, wrote this past week that the Wii was “a joke”. This isn’t surprising considering that he makes his living by rubbing Microsoft’s rhubarb, but honestly he has no clue. The Wii is not a fad. Only now are game studios realizing its potential as its continued scarcity proves. Parents and players alike love the Wii and with good reason. While Microsoft is stuffing the retail channel to artificially inflate its sales figures, games like Super Paper Mario are giving gamers new reasons to be couch potatoes all over again. Its a genuinely fun title and, in my gaming experience, totally unique. What more could you ask from a video game? Check it out, the Plumber will thank you.

I’ve heard a great deal of discussion lately that the so-called “surge” of US troops is quelling violence in Iraq. While violent incidents inside Bagdad do seem to be down, it appears the killing has just moved outside the city as predicted. This is the classic game of wack-a-mole that so many said would happen.

Doubt it?

Here is a small five item snipet from an hour-by-hour account of incidents that occurred in Iraq on Monday, April 9th, 2007. For the complete list go read the full timeline. Things are not getting better despite what some would have you believe, and now the Pentagon says it must extend the tour of duty of 15,000 soldiers (4 brigades) to up to 120 days. Why? So that the surge can continue. Read the entire thing and pay attention to the location of the incidents. Of all of these, only three occurred within Bagdad proper.

• 4:30 a.m. Clashes erupted again in Buhriz, about 35 miles north of Baghdad, between gunmen and al-Qaida in Iraq fighters. Thirty civilians and gunmen were wounded, Diyala provincial police said. Al-Qaida casualties were not known.

• 9 a.m. A roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. patrol in the Al-Nile district, 12 miles north of Hilla. There were no known casualties, police said.

• 9:30 a.m. Police in Hilla south of Baghdad found the bullet-riddled, handcuffed and blindfolded body of an unidentified man, a spokesman for the Babil provincial police said.

• 10 a.m. A roadside bomb targeting an American patrol exploded in Jebala, 40 miles south of Baghdad. A Babil province police spokesman said it was not known if there were any U.S. casualties because American forces sealed the areas.

• 10 a.m. Gunman in a car shot and killed a civilian in Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad, according to Babil provincial police.

More…

Others have said it, and I’ll say it here again. There is no good military solution in Iraq. Their problems are systemic and only sociological and political changes will solve them. It won’t make a difference if we stay in country 5 years or 50 years. Not one damned bit.

For those that don’t know, I’m one of the founding members of an icon design firm called the Iconfactory. We’ve been designing icons, interfaces and other neat stuff for over a decade. Some of our clients include companies such as Microsoft, AOL, Oracle, and Apple Computer. Since the start of the Iconfactory in 1996, we’ve been giving away freeware icons and occasionally pieces of software, widgets and other stuff to the Mac community, in part to keep people visiting, but also as a creative outlet to balance the more restrictive client work we do from day to day.

One recent piece of freeware has been a little application that many people have come to know and love called Twitterrific. This helpful app lets you easily post and read “tweets” to the popular Twitter social network. Twitterrific started out as recreational programming for our lead engineer, Craig Hockenberry. Craig created it so all of us at the factory could Twitter without having to use the web interface. The software has been incredibly popular and we couldn’t be more pleased with its adoption rate and the wonderful comments we’ve received about it. There’s only one problem… we don’t make a dime from it.

Being a small company (fewer than 10 employees), the Iconfactory needs to constantly try and leverage the time and effort we put into our projects to help keep the company healthy. So Craig and I came up with an idea to try and play off Twitterrific’s popularity by giving away free copies of our other paid software to the first people who could answer some trivia questions via Twitter. We gave away 20 pieces of software, raised awareness of Frenzic & iPulse, and made history via Twitter’s first online contest.

While the promotion itself was a success, some Twitter users were concerned that the contest basically amounted to spam and several people actually “de-friended” Twitterrific over the brief course of the give-a-way. Although we tried to keep the promotion as “light” as possible, I can see their point of view and it gave us cause to think about better ways to handle similar promotions in the future. One way would be to separate general Iconfactory promotions from that of Twitterrific. Craig set up a new Twitter account today that we’ll use if we ever decide to do this again. Users who are then interested in winning free software can decide to “opt in” to the contest without having to worry about promotional messages coming down the Twitterrific pipe.

Today was an experiment, and one that we learned a great deal from. We take our responsibility as Mac developers very seriously and do not intend to abuse it. To all of those who enjoyed the contest, thanks for making it as fun for us as it was for you, we had a blast! To all of those with lingering concerns over “tweet spam”, rest assured we heard your tweets the loudest of all.