Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bye 2008

What a year!

On the one hand, I can't wait for it to end, on the other I feel nostalgia for all it's great moments.

The year started at the Desmond. It was where I most wanted to be in the world, and with the most glorious company imaginable. Although my new job had started in November, January was when it really took off.

February 7 - I will never forget that day. And then, the very next Thursday, the first meaningful V-day in my life.

I never in a thousand years would have predicted spending March in Argentina by myself this year, much less with her. Those were perhaps among the best 8 days in my entire life. There is a certain joy in showing off one's own country - it's an even greater joy showing it off to someone special.

April came and went. I had a new reason to dread April 15 this year. It was a personal obstacle that I had not expected to confront for a long, long time. April 15, 2008 marked the one-year anniversary since we lost my dad.

May was both personally satisfying and emotionally complex. I received my Masters degree with family from all around the globe present, literally. My mom flew out from Colorado. My grandmother, uncle, and cousin came from Argentina. Charlie flew out from Spain. Abuela Else came from New Mexico. The emotional complexity came from the fact that if one other person from Argentina had been able to come, none of the others would have made it. Don't get me wrong, I was thrilled to have them - but I would have much rather have had my dad be present and receive a phone call from the others.

About 15 minutes after graduation, while we were out to dinner at the Ginger Man, I got a job. Yup, if that's not a ringing endorsement for Rockefeller College, I don't know what is.

Before May ended, one of my all-time dream trips came true: a week in St. Maarten.

In June, I started my new job. It was baptism by fire. The end of session is not gentle even for the most veteran staffer, let alone a rookie. And on the Education Committee of all places. I also fulfilled another lifelong dream and dogsitted Mia. Aww, Mia. And I met two new puppies: Hudson and Ruby. Aww, Mia.

July and August were good. I bought a house, my sister came to visit for six weeks, and I became acquainted with the Valley Cats. I think I spent more time at The Joe than at work! We roadtripped to see Timmy in Crapeonta where we had a horrifying encounter with that jerk LaMonica. "Shut up, LaMonica!" Note to self: never let Timmy pick the bar again. Scituate, Kayaking...there was so many great times this summer I can't recount them all.

September...fall in the Capital Region. It is quickly becoming my favorite time of year. I found out how Adirondackly Extreme I am in September.

October was great because one of my favorite people moved to Jay Street. 'Nuf said. Later in the month I took a surprise trip to Colorado and scared the hell out of my mom and sister. And I got to see Barack at a rally in Fort Collins.

I will never forget November. It was so cathartic. I drove down to Carbondale, PA to Barack the vote. When they called Ohio, I knew it was over, but I will still remember Keith's call. Small problemo: what would I do with this new found spare time?

And here we are in December. In the second week of the month, I lost my budget virginity. I will lose a whole bunch of work-related virginities in a few days. My mom and sister came to Albany for the holidays, and, thankfully, she was around too. If she shows up tonight, it will complete one of my 2008 New Year's resolutions: to end the year the same way I started it.

Airplaney additions to 399 State

Christmas was last week, and I am already stressing out about what to get people next year. That's how desperate the gift idea drought is in my mind. I'm not joking. I almost bought my mother a hermit crab this year. I was there, they were getting the crab, the dude was dumping sand into the crate. Only the slightest of cracks on the crate enabled me to back out of the transaction and electroshock me back to cohesive, logical thought.

For everyone that bought me gifts, it had to have been much easier. If it is airplane or airplane accessory related then you're golden. Here's a rundown of all such aviation goodies I received this holiday season:

Christmas Eve I got this surprise...
Yup, that's a "Boarding Pass," but not the one you get on a plane with, but rather, the one you drink. A contributor to the site located this gem in Queens. And, look, it even has a luggage tag and safety instructions. Neat-o!
I have no idea where two of the Capitol Region's finest found this...
I even think it matches the shirt and tie they got me!
And look at this Hallmark Christmas tree ornament...
It's going to a home full of new friends.

I also received a remote-control helicopter. Unfortunately, it received icorregible damage on the afternoon of it's maiden flight. RIP.
Thanks everybody for these and all the other non-airplane gifts I received. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Un Argentino en Nueva York...Times

One of my projects for next year is the selection of four members of the New York State Board of Regents, which is the State's education policy board. The first step of this project was pretty elementary: place an ad to let people know that we are looking for new Regents.

As the contact person for this search, my name appeared in the ad, which, among other places, ran in the Sunday New York Times.


Yessir, this Argentino, from Mendoza, who grew up in Las Heras, was born in Godoy Cruz, attended San Luis Gonzaga, and played in acequias had his name in the New York Times.

When I heard that such a prestigious opportunity was going to present itself, I said to my boss, "I always knew I would be in the Times, I just figured it would be in the police blotter."

Monday, December 29, 2008

We are all Algerians

In these harsh economic times, I can ill afford to alienate any part of my readership because I cannot risk losing any of my advertisers. I love you, Advertisers. Anyway, I bring all of this up because last week I may have inadvertently pissed off the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria.

During the course of my analysis on African flag carrier color schemes, I commented on how "I don't even know where Algeria is" and how Air Algerie's tail design is too "cliche." This apparently has been the talk of the nation. Their equivalent of "Countdown", called "Let us Recount the Stories that Algerians Will be Conversing About Whilst at Our Place of Labour on the Morrow", listed my characterization of their national airline's tail design and my general geographical apathy as the number one story.

For all this heartbreak, I sincerely apologize. However, I ask for a moment to explain my statements. First of all, if this blog is being taken seriously by anybody out there, then that is a serious problem. I would conservatively estimate that about 85-88 percent of the posts here are either made up or grossly exaggerated.

Second, you cannot expect to have a cliche color scheme and then be offended when it is pointed out. If anybody doubts the objectivity of my analysis, then consider that I even voted down my own country's national airline in the final - against one of our archrivals of all things.

Third of all, of course I know where Algeria is. It's right there.
But, I feel bad, tisk tisk. And to compensate, I will give some space, free of charge, to Air Algerie on this prestigious site. (<-- example of gross exaggeration) And let's relax for a minute and remember that before all those mean comments about their tail design and lattitude and longitude, I actually said that Air Algerie sported " good-looking plane[s]" and had a "fancy red/white livery." Why must we always focus on the negative?

Well, to show that I am the bigger person in all this, I will say another nice thing about Air Algerie: it was the first airline in Africa to adopt e-tickets, thereby eliminating paper waste.
Are you still mad at me, Algeria?

Friday, December 26, 2008

De-fense! (clap, clap) De-fense! (clap, clap)

As I pointed out earlier this month, defense is too gentle a word to describe some of the techniques employed by the ladies in our lives. I likened it to an airplane (me) facing anti-aircraft artillery (her).

And this is what it looks like:

For stat junkies out there (especially those with pulled groins), her save percentage is .987. Not too shabby. "What a save by Beals!" "Glove save, Beals!" "Another brilliant shutout..."

Isn't she cute?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Africa Regional

Wow, it has been a long, long, LONG time since I did one of these. I'm not sure if I am going to remember all that wit and charm that I used to employ on these Color Scheme brackets, but I guess we're just going to have to find out, aren't we?

Today, we are headed to Africa...a continent that is at times rife with conflict and poverty, but beautiful nonetheless. I was there last year 'round this jolly time of year.

But today we will settle once and for all which African national flag carrier has the best color scheme - the winner, of course, advancing to the Final Eight.

I did some minor preliminary vetting to get our field down to 16 participants. Look, I'm one person. The day I hire somebody to manage this blog for me, then I'll go through every friggin' country, OK?

Anywho, there will be two 8 airline brackets. Seeding was determined by population size. Here we go...on to Round 1 in Bracket 1...

#1 Virgin Nigerian Airways v. #8 Tunisair: I was somewhat shocked and dismayed to see that Nigeria's national airline had collapsed in 2003 and that this UK-backed alternative was the national flag carrier. Frankly, I'm not impressed. It's the Virgin Atlantic color scheme with green highlights. You can do better, Virgin. Tunisair is unimpressive, and actually embodied every stereotype I had coming into this bracket with the impala-like creature on the tail. In this match, though, that's enough to move on. Winner: Tunisair.

#2 South African Airways v. #7 Air Senegal: I don't like it when this happens - two basically white-based liveries with crazy tail designs. I am a fan of the boomerang "S" on Air Senegal, but, still, there's too much white on there. The tail on South African Airways is very eye-friendly, but it's clear from the get-go that if they are going anywhere, it's on the strength of that and that alone. Winner: South African Airways.

#3 Sudan Airways v. #6 Air Madagascar: OK, now we are getting some interesting variety here. Unfortunately, it's too distracting. What is the deal with that sharp directional change on Sudan's fuselage? Why? The colors themselves are not necesarily problematic, but the change in direction is too distracting. Air Madagascar was surprisingly pleasant. The have the Thai model going on with the white-based scheme and rear color splash. Not bad. Winner: Air Madagascar.

#4 Royal Air Maroc v. #5 Air Algerie: This is the toughest battle yet, and it's fitting since it is the 4/5 match-up. I thought that Royal Air Maroc was a darkhorse candidate to win this because they are a fairly large and successful airline. On the other hand, I don't even know where Algeria is. Boy was I surprised to see that good-looking plane and that fancy red/white livery. This is a tough call, but I the tie-breaker is the tail design. RAM's shooting star caught my attention immediately and Air Algerie's is too cliche. Winner: RAM.
Now, for Round 2 in Bracket 1...

#2 South African Airways v. #6 Air Madagascar: What I like here about the South African jumbo is that the tail design fits perfectly into the winglet. That's classy. Is Madagascar even part of Africa? My peeps are checking into it now, until further notice, I can't advance them in the tournament. Winner: South African Airways.
#4 RAM v. #8 Tunisair: It's not that the Tunisair tail design is bad. It's just that it looks weird running up the tail like that. Sorry, but it's true. Winner: RAM.
And the Bracket Final...The winner of this match will face off with the winner of the second bracket for the honour to represent Africa in the Big, Big, BIG Dance...

#2 South African Airways v. #4 RAM: I said it once, I'll say it again. South African was going to live or die by the tail design. Unfortunately, it's death for them. Ok, it's a good design, but RAM is not a pushover. RAM has pleasant colors, a very captivating tail design, and the Arabic writing to give it that mystique. Beyond the tail design, South African is too...blah. Winner: RAM.

Now I remember why I stopped doing these - they're exhausting.

Ok, Bracket 2, Round 1...Let's roll...

#1 Ethiopian Airlines v. #8 Air Namibia: What a shocker? Namibia is another country I never would have expected to have had such impressive aircraft. This officially becomes the toughest decision yet. Ethiopian has bold lettering, which I am a big fan of. I think that the downfall of Namibia is, once again, the cliche bird figure on the fuselage. A hearty pat on the back to Namibia, though. Winner: Ethiopian Airlines.
#2 Egypt Air v. #7 Cameroon Airlines: Egypt Air is one sexy beast. It's a very compelling combination of white-based fuselage with the right highlights. And the eagle head on the tail is reminiscent of AeroMexico. Hey, remember that AeroMexico rode that to the championship. Cameroon, cute Cameroon, has interesting lettering, but again, falters due to the wow factor. What would make you look twice at that plane? Exactly. Winner: Egypt Air.
#3 Air Tanzania v. #6 Air Zimbabwe: Apparently, Zimbabwe hired the same people as the Sudanese to paint their planes. That change in direction is so god-dang annoying and distracting. Thankfully, Air Tanzania has merit and probably would have advanced in this match anyway. Zimbabwe and Sudan look more like some sort of post modern art that you would see in the Guggenheim than the official aerial envoy of their nation. Winner: Air Tanzania.

#4 Kenya Airways v. #5 Linhas Aereas Mocambique: Sorry, Kenya. You had a good idea but I can't get past the circle K. It's too, Mobil gas station. It's also a bit presumptous since there are many other countries that begin with the letter K. In fact, the whole design is presumptous, including the "Pride of Africa" painted on the fuselage. It's too bad, really, because the rest of the design is actually captivating. LAM is decent. What's most striking is the interesting take on the bird feature. Even though, in actuality, I am becoming quite bored with bird imagery. We get it, planes fly, birds fly. Get over it everyone. Winner: LAM.

Wow, far fewer upsets in Bracket 2...Let's go to Round 2...

#1 Ethiopian v. #5 LAM: It was a good, albeit short, run for LAM. This match-up was won on the lettering. The tail-designs, for me anyway, were a tie. In the end, the LAM logo on the fuselage was a little to amateurish for me. Winner: Ethiopian.

#2 Egypt Air v. #3 Air Tanzania: I don't know if I have ever had such a sudden change of heart. I have always had a soft spot for Egypt Air, but in an instant a feeling came over me telling me that Air Tanzania IS Africa. That giraffe running with the herd must have done it. Seriously, isn't wildlife what we all think of when Africa comes to our minds? Plus, look closely at the top of the tail - you can see a representation of the snowy top of Kilimanjaro. Upset city, baby! Winner: Air Tanzania.
Now, the Bracket Final...the winner takes on RAM for continental bragging rights.

#1 Ethiopian v. #3 Air Tanzania: The more I think about it, Ethiopian is the South African Airways of this bracket. Both are inherently pleasant color schemes. On the other hand, both are one-dimensional. From the get-go, the appeal of Ethiopian has been the bold lettering. That can only take you so far. Air Tanzania has that and more. Winner: Air Tanzania.
Time to decide the continental representative to the Big Dance. Who will carry Africa's hopes to the grand championship? I don't know, let's find out...
#3 Air Tanzania v. #4 RAM: In many ways, these color schemes are very similar. They both are essentially white-based. Each has a traditional tail design. In another sense, it is not surprising that we have a representative from the northern muslim part of Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. It's your typical upstate/downstate battle. How could I possibly find a winner without upsetting one entire region of the continent? I cannot, that's why it is important that I make these important critical decisions for the rest of us. I blathered earlier about the imagery of the wildlife on Air Tanzania. Along those lines, should RAM be punished for hailing from a less well known part of Africa? Probably not. But then again, it is undeniable that if you were to ask a representative sampling of people, most would point to wildlife as one of the most distinguishing features of the entire continent. That same sample would probably also point to Mount Kilimanjaro as another important African symbol. Both are featured on Air Tanzania. Seems like the Tanzanians boxed me in. Winner: Air Tanzania.

Bucket showers for everyone!

X marks the spot

Suddenly my current version of flight sim (Century of Flight, 2004) does not seem good enough. Check out these screen shots from Flight Simulator X. (The rest of the screenshots are here.)

I don't care what you may think of me, but that Airbus is damn sexy. It's a huge upgrade on the liveries by the way. My version has a similar design, but it is less sharp than this.
I can see my house from here.As you can see from the taxiing aircraft below, they made huge improvements to the airports by adding actual gates and airport vehicles. I never realized how crappy my airports were until I saw this. Damn you, Microsoft for making a better product just after I started using the last version of it! (Pop Quiz: What airplane cockpit is displayed below? -- There will be a prize for the winner.)Look at this in-flight view. Again, what a sharp color scheme that is.By the way, I found out how to get a pushback from the gate on the game. Before, I relied on turning on the thrust reversers, which is highly unrealistic. Now, I simply press Shift + P and voila!

It's amazing the things you can learn by Googling random stuff like that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The fine line between being nice or stupid

One of my father's mantras was that it is important to be nice, but not stupid.

Very simple words, but powerful nonetheless. Essentially, it is a lesson in personal worth. While it is important to be a nice person, you also have to be careful not to be taken for an idiot. He would most often say this when it was incumbent upon him to let somebody in ahead of him in traffic. We've all lived through this situation, right? Picture yourself on Wolf Road, or College Avenue, or Avenida San Martin in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic. There are dozens of cars hoping to get onto those major streets from the various parking lots and whatnot.

Of course, the civil thing to do is to let a car in ahead of you every now and then. Especially in Argentina, when you let that one car in ahead of you, the three cars behind the one you let in suddenly think that they have a free pass, too. Not so fast, would say Bob, "Soy bueno, pero no soy estupido."

But this mantra can be so much more meaningful than just a traffic flow paradigm. It can apply to work, friends, and relationships. And, as I said above, I think it is clearly a matter of personal worth because you have to be strong enough to realize that no matter how nice you are to people, eventually they may try to take advantage of it. So, the key question becomes, when do you draw the line? At what point do you stop being nice so that you are not being taken for a fool?

It is not as easy as you may think. I would say, for the most part, that I am a reasonably nice person. Sure, I curse out other drivers from my car, I make fun of people, I laugh at things that I probably should not laugh at. But, I don't hit people or yell at them. I'm not like an altar boy, but I'm also not Marilyn Manson. As a camp counselor, I would "punish" misbehaving campers by making them write essays - harmless, right? So, in the grand scheme of things, I would say that I am probably "nice."

At the same time, I would also say that, after thinking of my father's saying recently, that I have also very frequently in my life crossed into the "stupid" side of the continuum. Take a for instance that I just thought of: I was walking out of Price Chopper last month and this organization was selling random crap to fundraise. I was unable to just say "No" to their appeal and walk away. Instead, I got a worthless $10 water bottle that does not even work right. Yes, a water bottle that does not work.

This may seem like a "nice" moment. "Aw, he supported [insert good cause here.]" First of all, no shit that it was a good cause, it's not like the Nazi party can set up a table outside Price Chopper. Second of all, it's not like I can afford a $10 water bottle. I wouldn't have a use for it even if it worked. Verdict: estupido.

But that was an easy example. I think it is more precise when you are being stupid in situations like that. It is less clear to discern being nice from being stupid in your day-to-day interactions with people, especially people that you have built a relationship with. For example, I had a good friend in high school - my debate partner, actually - who suddenly stopped communicating with me. Then, when he flew home from college on winter break one year, he called me and asked me to pick him up at the airport - which for me at the time was an hour and a half drive, in snow mind you. I agreed and gave him a ride.

Then, after he ignored me the rest of winter break, I realized what a jackass I was. That is the type of stand that my father's saying suggests. I would never ever have thought twice about picking up a good friend from the airport - in fact I would have been happy to do so. On the other hand, I would never ever have picked up a random stranger, either. It is the peripheral relationships that are dangerous because when people realize that you are stupid, they will run over you like a herd of bufa...buffa...buffo...bison and not give a damn about it.

Look out world. I'm done being a nice idiot. Wise words from the old man.

It's a write off

This picture...
...made me think of this clip.

Flight sim milestone

I landed a B737 last night on ORD's 32L on a short hop from Indy International. It was a clean landing, but there was a sharp descent at the end which probably would have caused some people to puke.

Even better, the taxi to the gate was very controlled as well.

Why did I bother with the B737 after so many heartbreaks, you ask? Well, as it turns out, there is a new and improved version of Flight Sim out, called Flight Simulator X. It has 18 new aircraft, one of which is an Airbus A321, which for some reason, I think would be easier to fly than a Boeing.

So, long story short, I am trying to improve the skills with the Boeing enough to justify an attempt at the Airbus on Flight Sim X. The new version, by the way, also has a CRJ...woot.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bad start to the holidays in Denver

In case you had not already immersed yourself in this story, here is a passenger's account of the Continental Boeing 737 that skidded off the runway in Denver this weekend. Pretty scary stuff.
What struck me about the passenger's account is that it seemed like the whole event lasted so long, when in reality from the moment that the plane started heading down the runway to the moment when they stopped skidding, it could not have been more than a minute.

I have been fortunate to never, ever be involved in anything nearly as scary or imminently dangerous aboard an airplane. And that's just fine with me, thank you very much.

The worst I can remember are a couple of violent landings, a few instances of especially bumpy turbulence, and watching Cast Away. Actually, some of the scariest parts of flights for me have been the people I have had to sit next to. (Relax, you were a pleasure to sit next to.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Avoiding the anti-aircraft fire on the couch

In one of the most perceptive scenes in Seinfeld, Elaine learns that men have preferred sides from which their move on the ladies. There are those that like to approach from the left, and those that are more comfortable from the right. Elaine then blurts out that women just play defense.

In my very limited personal experience on this matter, I have found the defense claim to be wholly accurate. In my particular situation now I do not think defense is a strong enough word for what goes on. It is more like I am the aircraft facing hostile anti-aircraft artillery.

Bang! There goes Engine #2.

Boom! There goes the right wing...Mayday! Mayday!

And that's the end of that approach.

If I were an observer to this advanced defensive technique, rather than its target, then I would be impressed. When I think about it, words like accurate, persistent, and crippling come to mind. It's also adaptive, preempting my future moves.

But I am persistent, because eventually it has to run out of missiles. It HAS to.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Free time goings on

There has been a lot of flight simming in the Sparticus household lately. In fact, it has almost gotten to the point that it is embarassing to answer when people ask me, "What are you up to right now?" It would be so cool to have a good answer to that question. Something along the lines of, " Well, as a matter of fact, right now I am grabbing my epee and heading to fencing lessons."

Instead, my callers get an under-the-breath, "I'm, um, well, kind of, um flying around on flight sim."
As I posted a while back, I had been using BTV as a hub for my flights. I kept at it, to the tune of this:
Two of my favorite parts of flight sim are taxiing and landing because those are the most "hands-on" parts of flight sim. Take-offs are fun, but do not last more than a few moments. Climbing and cruising are important, obviously, but not too engaging. Meanwhile, landing is just thrilling because it is essentially the final exam of any flight. And taxiing has become engaging on this version of flight sim because of the ATC and the automated traffic on the ground.

I have been working pretty hard on perfecting both landing and taxiing. The taxiing just requires being more pacient and being willing to take it slow so as to not veer off the taxiway. To improve my landings, I have been working primarily on my routes, as evidenced by this approach into ALB from the southeast:
The goal was to preempt the landing runway and approach the airport from a distance that allows a pleasant and steady descent. It has paid off, as the vast majority of my recent landings have been very successful.

In the last week I also started operating some flights in the Caribbean, based, of course, out of Princess Juliana Airport. It may come as a surprise to you, but I had never flown out of St. Maarten on flight sim, despite my clear obsession with that island. I was shocked, SHOCKED, when I saw the realism of St. Maarten on flight sim.

Here is my approach.
The landing.
And a look at the La Plage. (This is where we stayed on St. Maarten!) I kid you not, the place looks just like that. They even have the famous warning sign.
Impressive, eh? Not me, the graphics I mean.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cats? Yes, please...

I was raised my whole life to be afraid of cats.

My mother says she is allergic to them. That may be true - she is, after all, allergic to most things on Earth. She also thinks that cats are not trustworthy, and potentially vengeful. Yeah, what's her point?

Bob was terrified of them. Once, a few years back, a stray cat had taken to sleeping inside the hood of his car to keep warm in the winter. Everytime he needed to use the car, he asked my cousin to go with him to the parking lot to make sure the cat was not around so he could drive off.

Of course, Hemasida tows the party line and repeats whatever my mom preaches.

For the first 25 years of my life, I concurred with them.

Then, I met the Misty cat. For a while, things were no different with her than they had been with any other cat I had ever encountered. She was terrifying to me, and I kid you not, she actually had a reputation of being somewhat "difficult" and "a biter."
But as I have gotten to know Misty, a mutual understanding has developed between us. We have common interests, primarily that is keeping the Capital Region's premier environmentalist happy. And neither of us care for mice. This last point has actually gotten me to think that it is really odd that my mother and sister do not like cats because they are both terrified of mice, too.
Over time, Misty and I have upgraded our relationship from one of mutual understanding to shared affection. I think about her when it's been a while since I've seen her. I feel self-conscious when she acts distant - thinking perhaps that I have done something to alienate her. I try very hard to avoid situations where I would need to scold her so that she won't resent me. And playing with her is genuinely entertaining.

I grew up never really having a pet. Of course, there were the mandatory gold fish, and a bird in Argentina - but those pets don't count. Now that I am living in my own place, I wonder eventually about the prospect of a having "real" pet. With my unusual work hours from January to June to August to November to December, it may be difficult to care for a dog on my own. A cat, on the other hand, is a much more independent pet, and would be good company after a long day at work. Plus, dogs are not allowed in my building.

The evolution of my position on cats has been a matter of some discussion within my family. My mother and sister are somewhat perplexed on my change of heart. My position remains, however, that my previous opinions about cats had been developed in a vaccum. I had never had the chance to become close to a cat before, and therefore had never appreciated what they add to the human-pet relationship.

It is normal for one to change their mind on preferences like this. A year ago, I had never eaten sushi - now it's one of my preferred meals. I never liked Seinfeld until I saw the end of the Soup Nazi episode while I was waiting for another show to come on.

The fact is that being a static human being is no fun. What would be the point of trying anything new if you were expected to never change your preferences? Is being open-minded only good when you agree with whatever the person is being open-minded about? No! Change? Good. Trying new things? Good. Learning to like something you did not like before? Good - except for things like learning to like smoking crack cocaine. That would not be good. But, learning to like cats? Good!

So, what would the future hold should my mother and sister be confronted with a cat in my home? Of course I would never demand that they feel the same way I do about the cat. I would, however, expect that they respect my feelings towards it.

After all, wouldn't that be change we can believe in?

Holiday movie time

Ever since I reached the age where I was socially expected to disburse Hanukah gifts, the high holidays have been somewhat stressful for me. It was fun at first to see everybody so pleased with my thoughtful gifts. Then, seven years ago, I ran out of gift ideas - hence the stress.

No worries, though. When the stress kicks in, I sit back, relax, and enjoy one of a plethora of holiday movies. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, New Year - whatever. If it has something to do with turkey, Santa, menorahs or midnight then I want to see it.

These are a few of my faves, organized by holiday:

Planes, Trains & Automobiles - The first time I watched this was in Argentina with my dad. It's a comedy, but a strange one in that at one point in the movie, the f-word is used 18 times in one minute. Also, there are airplanes in this movie.
Scent of a Woman - This movie takes place during Thanksgiving Break. This is not a movie that you necessarily sit down with a cup of cocoa to watch. It is too intense for that. It is worth the watching for three great scenes: the tango dance, the dinner, and the school disciplinary hearing. My grandfather, Fidel, was a huge fan of this movie.

The Dreidel of Life - This inspirational story is about a family of four struggling to make ends meet in Brooklyn. The oldest child, Jacob Storellistein, develops a keen skill with the dreidel at school. In spite of the family's financial difficulties, Mr. Storellistein, who works as a baggage handler for United Airlines at JFK Airport, surprises Jacob placing a dreidel in his stocking on the holy third day of Channukah. Inspired by his father's generous gift, the shy Jacob enters a dreidel spinning tournament at the local synagogue. When he wins and advances to the regional tournament, where the grand prize is $100,000, the family sees a way out of poverty - on the back of Jacob's special talent. They put their life savings together to send Jacob to the regional tournament in Tenafly, NJ and are shocked to find out their son will have to beat Eli Castrowitz to claim the title, the son of famed dreidel spinner Seth Castrowitz. With all of the family's savings on the line, will Jacob come through? It's a story of despair, hope, faith, and finally, redemption. Starring Jonah Meyerson as Jacob, and an inspirational performance by Jason Alexander as the legendary Seth Castrowitz.

Trading Places - No, this is not the David Paterson story, although the similarities are uncanny. A rich, Wall Street-type white guy is busted with a hooker, loses his job, and a black guy from Harlem replaces him. That's a little too eerie for me, thank you very much.
Home Alone - A classic that I am still more than happy to sit through. Although I am bit disappointed that the airplanes shown for the trans-Atlantic flights are Boeing 757's. That's so unrealistic. Duh!
A Christmas Story - Licking a flagpole covered in ice. 'Nuf said.

New Years (moments)
Godfather II - "I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart." All of this, of course, preceded by an on screen kiss between Michael and Fredo. Not only is it a theatrically captivating scene, but it's also interesting for the history buff. The scene takes place as Cuba is overtaken by Fidel Castro.
When Harry Met Sally - "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible." What a line. I've always wanted to use that one.

Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day - I don't think that there are many movies dedicated to Groundhog Day, but even if there were, this one would still be my favorite.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Adventures in hockey - the blue collar sport

Oh, 1996. What a banner year in the life of Nicolas. I turned 14 and survived my first year at Preston Junior High School - barely.

I only spent two years at Preston, and actually I have very few good memories of the place. There were a lot of cliques and I was, of course, on the losing side of that situation. One of the few good memories from 7th grade, however, was the end of the school year when the Colorado Avalanche made an amazing playoff run and won the Stanley Cup Finals. It became the topic of conversation every day at lunch. We would either start by asking about the game coming up that night or the one played the night before.

When the Avalanche won the Cup, it marked the first professional sports title for any Colorado team, and it started a love affair between me and hockey that is going strong to this day.

I started playing hockey during the summer of 1996. I would occasionally draft my sister and we would play one-on-one games in the street. Eventually, I saved up some money and bought a hockey net and got my generously proportioned Indian friend Andrew to come over and play. He would put on my catcher's gear and play goalie. And I would shoot away at him all afternoon. Good times, great hockey.

Towards the end of high school, my interest in hockey got a bit more serious. Andrew and I would start venturing to the Colorado State University roller hockey rink and play with the big boys. And, yes, Andrew would still wear my catcher's equipment to those events as well. Isn't it wonderful being young and not feeling inhibited by embarassment?

In college, I took the big step of signing up to play on a roller hockey team at OD's - as a goalie! I had never played in goal before, but since I did not have a team, I signed up as a "free agent." The Blue Dogs called and said they were short a goalie. Sure, I said, why not? That afternoon I went to Play It Again Sports and bought all the necessary equipment - mostly all of it used.

I played with the Blue Dogs for two seasons. We won the league championship in the second one after an undefeated regular season, and a 3-2 victory in the championship game. But by then I had the itch to get back to skating as a forward. The next few years I played on an assortment of teams: Tsunami, Brew Crew, and Proformance Auto.

I won a second OD's championship with Tsunami. The championship game that season against the Untouchables was perhaps the greatest moment of my life, so far anyway. The Tsunami team had a terrible goalie and an amazing offense. We had an undefeated regular season, mostly because we won games by scores of 8-5 or 7-6. You get the idea. We always worried about our goalie, but as long as we scored one more than the other guys, that was all that mattered.

Although we should have blown out our opponents in the championship game, our goalie played worse than usual. It was a high scoring game that went back and forth all day. In the second half, with the game tied 6-6 and just over a minute left in the game, the Untouchables scored on us taking a 7-6 lead.

We pulled the goalie and put out all our ringers for the last minute of the game. I was on the rink as the last man back, trying to prevent an empty net goal. As the time wound down under 15 seconds, the Untouchables recovered the puck behind the net and tried to clear it around the boards. I stepped up and stopped it.

What I am about to tell - I kid you not - is completely, 100 percent true.

After I stopped the puck on the sideboards, I glanced at the scoreboard and saw that time was about to run out. 5...4...

There was no time for a pass so I just wound up and shot. As I was following through on the shot, I could see a defenseman for the Untouchables racing over and diving trying to block the shot. The puck sailed over him and then I lost sight of it behind the crowd in front of the net.


Then, all of a sudden, I saw the back of the net jump. GOAL!!! ...1...0 BUZZER...

I had tied the championship game at 7-all right as the buzzer sounded to end the game. I threw my arms up and celebrated with my teammates. We lined up for overtime. The opening faceoff was won by our center and it came back to me. I saw my defensive partner racing up the right wing all alone. I passed him the puck and he scored, about 20 seconds after I had tied it. In a matter of a few seconds, I had tied the game and assisted on the championship-clinching goal.

I had a short stint as the backup goalie on the Colorado State University Roller Hockey team. I did not get much playing time, but I do have one career victory against the University of Colorado. Woot! I have focused on ice hockey mostly since then. I played ice for a season in Northeast Colorado and had a fairly successful stint, placing second on the team in scoring and posting a 7-4-2 record as a goalie. I have recently started my first league play in Albany and so far my team is 3-0.

Besides the fact that hockey as a game is entertaining for me, I also think that the culture of it is fascinating. I like to think of it as a "blue collar" sport. For starters, the cycle of the game is based on shifts. Every line puts in their 2 minutes or so, and then we substitute out and let the next shift get to work. Then, after every shift, it is customary to spend time on the bench with your linemates going over the events of the previous shift, which is analogous to heading down to the local watering hole and discussing the day at the factory with your co-workers over a nice cold beer. And, before you know it, it's time go get back out on the ice and do it all over again.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

No seat for you!

As a former "top-heavy" (read: overweight) person, I am sympathetic to the plight of our generously proportioned fellow humans. However, at certain point, I believe personal responsibility needs to kick in for people who weigh, say, 450 lbs.

Apparently, our friendly neighbors to the north disagree. Starting January 10th, Canadian airlines will be forced to comply with a new court ruling that mandates that disabled persons who must travel with an attendant can only be charged for one seat on domestic flights.

Okay, that makes sense. But this ruling also applies to persons who are considered disabled due to morbid obesity. Not so fast, people (no pun intended).

It is not like an obese person goes from a pleasantly-plump 250 lbs. to a blimp-like 500 lbs. overnight. You have to literally make an effort to become that large. And I would argue that people become obese with a certain awareness of what they are doing. I mean, wouldn't you notice that perhaps things are getting out of hand at around 300 lbs. or so and you cannot sit in the chairs at the movie theatre? Or get into your car?
On the other hand, people with developmental or physical disabilities are forced to live with debilitating conditions through no fault of their own. They are often born with their conditions or acquire them, usually through no fault of their own.

I fear that this ruling is another instance of rewarding bad behaviour. In this case, the specific bad behaviour I am speaking of is the inability to take personal responsibility for the consequences of your actions on your body. And if somebody out there would like to make the argument that obesity is a disease, I would respectfully challenge you to a duel. Or a debate, whatever.

I could very well be obese myself. Eating is my second favorite thing to do in life. And I used to do it like it was my job. But when it came to the point that I could not fit into any of my clothes anymore, I realized that I had to start to take it easy at meals.

And I am not against this ruling because I'm a fattist or a jerk. I happen to think that if you choose to engage in reckless behaviour by choice, then you also implicitly have made a choice to accept the consequences of your reckless choices. For example, sometimes I drive over the speed limit. Is it reckless? Yes. When I get tickets, do I argue with the policeman? No. Why? Because a ticket is the consequence of speeding.

My reckless eating led me to look like this (below on the right - weighing in at over 200 lbs.)...
...and then I (below on the left) took personal responsibility for my eating choices...Voila! Success after decisive action. By the way, please ignore the fact that this picture is demonstrative of a specific night when I made other reckless choices completely unrelated to food consumption. Don't ask.Maybe the responsible party for an obese person's attendant's plane ticket should be the parents of the obese person who may have stood idly by while their beloved child was pushing maximum density. I don't know about your mother, but mine was always more than willing to remind me of the reason why she was always having to buy me new pants. I did not always appreciate it back then, especially when it occured in front of my sister, but I see why it was important.

Here's another interesting situation that could come up with this new policy. Airlines are required to provide wheelchairs for travelers who require them. Question: will airlines now also be required to provide free peanuts to obese passengers who get hungry? It would, after all, be considered accomodating to their "disease."

Three final points:

(1) How widespread of a problem is this? Most of the morbidly obese people I know are either bed-ridden or afraid to fly.

(2) This rule applies only to domestic flights. What happens when a domestic flight is scheduled on an E190 or CRJ? No obese person could even walk in the door of one of those planes. Would the airline have to completely renew it's fleet to accomodate this ruling?

(3) Shouldn't obese people pay more for air travel, as some argue?

Oh Canada...(not the anthem, that was more of a sigh).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Making this very glamorous list of the "Lamest Blogs" was a goal I set when I started this forum. Apparently, I was not lame enough. But, fear not, I am working on being lamer than ever in the coming year.

Me for NY

Once the nomination of Senator Clinton for Secretary of State became official, the big name pols no doubt started working the phones to jockey for position to be appointed to the open seat. And whoever ends up appointed will have the dubious distinction of being the unelected Senator appointed by the unelected Governor. In the increasingly dark blue New York, however, an open Senate seat is as close to the holy grail as you can come for a Democrat.

While the speculation has focused on, you know, elected officials, I would like to highlight here today a dark-horse candidate for the position: me.

The selection of myself, whose electoral history includes an unsuccessful run for the Washington Park Condo Board of Managers, would throw the entire system into shock. But in an already historic election season, why not continue making history by appointing the most unprepared Senator ever.

It is clear that there is some sort of constituency for people like myself serving in office. How else can one explain the continued/annoying media fascination with morons like Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber? But in addition to shoring up the average idiot vote, I would also draw in the coveted Latino, birdwatcher, hockey player, and Seinfeld enthusiast voting blocs.

And consider the lack of Hispanic diversity in the Senate. With the already announced retirement of Senator Mel Martinez from Florida, the Senate Spanish Speaking and Soccer Watching Caucus will lose a third of its membership in 2010. Who will laugh at Ken Salazar Mexican jokes when Mel is gone? Nobody, that's who. Okay, maybe Bob Menendez will, but you get the point.
I bet state Senator Carl Kruger agrees with me on this point. Nobody is a bigger advocate of Hispanic and Latino issues that Carl Kruger. Yup, that's Carl Kruger, whose family name was originally Krugeriguez or Krugercia (can't remember which), but was shortened when they immigrated from El Salvador. I understand that you may be uncommitted to my candidacy at this point, given the fact that my historic selection as the most unprepared Senator is not convincing to you. Allow me a few moments to clarify some of my agenda should I have the extreme pleasure of serving the Empire State in the greatest deliberative body in the world.

1. Enact a National Bigger Better Bottle Bill.
2. Require all airports to provide insulated and heated viewing facilities for plane enthusiasts.
3. Deport Dean Skelos.
4. Sponsor renewable public transportation by strapping rickshaws to the homeless in NYC.
5. Mandate Green Bags for every student and professional in the US who takes their lunch to work, and impose $250,000 fines for violations.

If you are convinced, write a letter to the Governor encouraging my candidacy. New York will be better for it - or worse, can't really tell at this point.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Leave Snarlin' Arlen alone

Chris Matthews, host of Hardball, is believed to be eyeing a US Senate run from Pennsylvania in 2010 against "Snarlin' Arlen" Specter, a moderate Republican. If the hype turns into an actual run by Matthews, whom I consider to be a decent TV host, but a flaming partisan at best, then you will no doubt find my name among Mr. Specter's donors. And I will probably be back in Scranton knocking on doors.
It would not be because I am a Republican - I am not, far from it, actually. But Arlen Specter represents everything that is right with the GOP. And these days, it is not very easy to point to much that is right with the Republicans.

A loss by Specter, who, by all accounts, has been an effective and respectable Senator, would be one more nail in the coffin of the mainstream Republican Party. And even your typical San Francisco liberal would suffer as a result because such a loss would embolden the extreme right wing of the GOP even more.
I will let you in on a secret. Whenever I see a Republican in the Specter mold have to fend of repeated challenges to his right, as Arlen has every six years since 1980, it tells me that he must be doing something right. Look, Republicans are going to be elected in this country - that will never change. If that is going to be the case, then I would want to know that the Republicans we get will be more like Snarlin' Arlen and less like Billo the Clown.

Monday, December 1, 2008

St. Maarten who?

Last night was another glorious installment of Hockey Night in Colonie. The Black Team was once again victorious, this time by a 4-1 margin. Yours truly once again found his way into the scoresheet, with 1 goal and 1 assist, and an impressive +3 on the night. I should add that I think the +/- statistic is bogus. The White Team scored right as I was coming off the ice on a line change. For those of you interested, I was also +3 on the number of falls last night.

Then, after retreating to the countryside to recuperate, we headed back to the city by way of Albany-Shaker Road, which at one point winds beneath the short finals zone for Runway 1 at Albany International.

And wouldn't you know it, right as we were driving by the end of the runway, a US Airways 737, which I later learned was arriving from Reagan, was on short finals and passed directly overhead of my Subaru. I suspected something was up when I saw another US Airways airplane (this one an E190) holding short of the runway.

I do not have pictoral evidence of this event, but would I make something like that up? I think not.

The most glorious part of all this was the fog trail left behind by the wings which was being illuminated by the runway lights. This all led me to ponder that if the end of Runway 1 was about 70 degrees warmer and more plane-watcher friendly (i.e. not transversed by a four-lane road and instead led into the Caribbean), it wouldn't be all that different from the famous Runway 10 in St. Maarten.

Did I just really propose Albany = St. Maarten? Oh, New England late fall, your eternal cloudiness has already gotten to me.

A sign of fees to come?

Seriously, The Onion is hilarious.

I was on there today, doing work-related web-based research, and their front page story was headlined: "American Airlines now charging fees to non-passengers." Which, incidentally, is an issue that was briefly covered earlier on this prestigious blog.
Check it out if you have the time (i.e. are at work), otherwise, here are my favorite excerpts:

Cash-strapped American Airlines announced a new series of fees this week that will apply to all customers not currently flying, scheduled to fly, or even thinking about flying aboard the commercial carrier.

According to company officials, these charges will include a $25 tax on citizens traveling with any other airline.

Some additional charges would also apply, including a $15 fee for every piece of luggage customers have inside their bedroom closet, and a one-time payment of $40 for any American whose name is Greg."American Airlines charged me for cleaning out my attic," said 74-year-old Samantha Pratt, a New Jersey resident who has not left the state since 2005.

Some have even expressed doubt about whether they'll be able to afford to see family members they currently live with during Christmas. "It's just not worth it anymore," said Caroline Huza, an Ohio native and mother of two. "Plus, every time I stay at home, I always get trapped next to some kid who won't stop crying."