November 24, 2010

A thought or two on Thanksgiving

I have always like the holidays. Sure, there are hassles I hate, like the shopping for people I barely know, the hustle and bustle, the cold, icy and snowy weather, all inflicting their influence.

At the same time I think that Mrsfabp and I have done it right. If there is one thing that we have been able to convey to our kids, it is the idea that the holidays are really about family and the positive feelings we have for each other. This really became evident when MillieJupiter went away to college and returned for Thanksgiving and then again a few days before Christmas. This had the benefit of making the holidays about being together and this is a feeling all of us enjoy very much. And then there is the turkey, or more exactly cooking together.

The very best part about having CollegeBoy home from school is all the planning that we do for the Thanksgiving meal. The four of us plus MissNicole (CollegeBoy’s SO) have enjoyed the last few days playing games, planning the day and getting ready to cook our meal together. We will all be in there, each doing things we like, helping each other out. Mrsfabp has the dressing and gravy, MillieJupiter and MissNicole in charge of pies and keeping us organized, I have the turkey brined and ready to go into the oven, CollegeBoy has the Mimosas ready for watching the parade. This experience has changed the way we do holidays and has made them a most enjoyable time of the year.

So if you are stressed out during this season, if you are wondering just how to get all the things you “need to do,” done, take a second to sit back, count your blessings and remember to enjoy the time. That is my Thanksgiving message to you all. Enjoy the time. That is what counts the most.

To all my family and friends, and even to those I may not know, enjoy this wonderful time of the year…

November 23, 2010

My attempt to "blow up" Reddit

Reddit is a very popular news/social networking / communication site that has filed the void the last few months, created when DIGG, at one time, another very popular site, jumped the shark by changing the way they did business. Social networking geeks (and I include myself peripherally in this group – I twitter, Facebook, and blog…) were ticked off because DIGG went way too commercial with sponsored posts and the users complained about a plethora of issues including: terrible interface, spurious accounts, poor content posts, and multiple posts about the same stories. This turned its readers against them. I had been dissatisfied with DIGG for a while. I used it to look for Podcast content and did not find anything for months. I started using Reddit 9 months ago and kept telling CollegeBoy about it. He resisted but now both he and MillieJupiter thank me for having turned them on to it. Especially some of the sub-reddits (sub sections of the board) that focus on things such as humor, politics, news, DAE (Did anyone else…) and AMA (Ask me anything…) sections. Additionally you are encouraged to comment in any area and other readers can give you up votes for appropriate and pithy comments you make.

I want to thank Reddit for being such a great space and so I thought I would do two things.

First I will encourage everyone that I know who read the interwebs to give the site a try – Maqz, Clairz, Bill, Peggy, and the rest of you, go to and give it a whirl. Search for some subs that interest you and follow them for a week or two. One of the best is the “I am a” (AMA) which announces something like “I am a Pixar employee, ask me anything” and this opens up a generally insightful, often funny and occasionally deep conversations in the comment section. Just try it, I am sure you will be glad you did.

Second, I have gotten about 100 points/up votes for comments I have made but have not started a thread yet on Reddit. If you remember this blog post you are familiar with my picture with and story about Aunt Bee. I am thinking of posting that to the site to see if it can generate some buzz. Being that Reddit is not just limited to the 18-25 year old group, and has lots of older followers, I betting that many will have fond memories of Aunt Bee and will like the photo especially. You may just want to join so you can watch the website blow up…

I will report on what happens if/when I make the post submission.

November 18, 2010

The Book

I haven’t felt like writing too much in this blog for the past week or so and that is mostly because for the last several weeks I have been thinking about and have started to write a book. I figure if George Bush can get out the old crayons and write down a few memoirs, I should at least try to do so also.

I got the idea for a book maybe 10 years ago. I wrote a few paragraphs, a bit of an outline and then allowed it to percolate for a while. Earlier this year Mrsfabp asked me what I wanted to do in my retirement and I said write this blog (boy, aren’t you lucky!) take some pictures (look out Las Cruces) and then surprised even myself when I said write a book. I hadn’t looked at the notes I had written for maybe 5 or so years but they were right where I left them and I decided to give it a chance.

One thing I have learned about writing is that you have to do it, not just talk about it. I am sure that if you write your own blog and read this, you are nodding your head right now. You have to put the time into it. I started writing this blog each day at lunch time and on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately I cannot do it every day at work as sometimes real work interferes but most days, it gets 30 minutes. I figured that once I am retired or at least just working part time, I can afford to put more time into it.

So, the 30 minutes has given me ample opportunity to write, edit, rewrite, all the blog entries you have seen in this space over the last 9 months. When I am diligent, I get a few posts ahead and have one or two in the pipe but not posted. About a month ago when this happened, I opened up the idea of my book and made an effort to get it under control.

In the last month I have written a Forward and the first 5 chapters. Or that might be an afterward and 5 of the first 7 chapters, or some other combination. I have also completed a basic outline for the entire book even though I am not sure where it was going to go at times.

It was at this point that I figured I needed some feedback and so I asked Mrsfabp to give it a whirl and Saturday morning over coffee she read the first 30 pages. I was not worried about grammar or punctuation at this point (Mrsfabp is a great proof reader and I will use that skill set later). I needed some feedback about whether this was an effort or a waste, was it worth continuing. Was it a book? I was nervous and anxious and a bit emotional as I let her look at the words. At the end she told me that she liked it but even more important, it WAS a book and worth my continuing effort.

So my plan is in place. I will continue with the story. My hope is to share it or at least some pieces of it along the way. I also hope to get some additional feedback from a couple of other people whose opinions I have a great deal of respect for, who will tell me if it should continue. I expect to report on the progress from time to time, maybe once a month or so.

November 17, 2010

MASS Exodus: November 2010 Update or "The good news is we haven’t had any more bad news lately!"

It has been a while since the last timeline for retirement was reviewed, and several major things have happened, none good, so I thought I might take a couple of minutes to put it all down on paper.

As readers would know, we had two major setbacks in the late summer and early fall. The first was when our septic system failed its Title V test, which was pretty much expected. It was 30 years old and even though it had never given us any problems, it was probably not going to meet current standards. We got a guesstimate to repair at about 12K, again which was expected. We spent several weeks trying to figure out how we would pay for this until we were told about this escrow account allowed to be built into the house sale where money from the sale was put aside to pay for the repair. Until we discovered this, we were unsure what was to happen but this seems like a good solution.

Our second major setback is the fact our well failed. We had a shallow well, it had been a very dry last year here and the well was also 30 years old and it failed. We had a new well drilled and this has set us back tremendously because of the cost. It tipped the scale at $6500. There was no magic escrow account to fall back on, we needed water, we got it drilled; 360 feet. We spent all of the money we had saved to make repairs to the house and still owe $1500 to the pump company. The money that was going to go to house repairs, exterior painting, deck clean and stain, engineer hire and septic repair design and the last of the rubbish removal from the basement is now gone. This has set us back around 4-6 months at best guess.

We were going to try to put the house on the market in the fall but obviously have missed that date. I am optimistic that we can get what we need done by late spring and get house for sale by April. Over the winter we can do the painting of the inside trim and living room as well continue to weed out the junk and downside.

So, what does this do to our timeline? I figure it has gotten moved back about 5 or 6months. Originally it was - house on market, October 2010, up to 9 months to sell (area market average), July 2011, move to Las Cruces by October 2011. New timeline is probably more along the lines of house on market, April 2011, up to 9 months to sell, January 2012, move to Las Cruces, March 2012.

On a good news front, Mrsfabp has noticed that there has been an increase in the area house sales as published in the newspaper. We are hopeful that this means that the average time on market will begin to fall. There are two houses on our block that have put up for sale signs in the last 6 weeks so we will be watching them to see what the attitude of the market will be.

As for our plans in moving, I have to admit that these setbacks have really affected what I want to do. Originally we wanted to build a new home in NM but the shrinking valuation of our home really put a crimp into this plan. We then were thinking about maybe just wanting to purchase a condo because it would require less money down and no maintenance worries. This latest setback has just about killed that particular part of the dream. After paying for the septic repair, and then paying back our other house loan and the loan to make our house handicapped accessible, there will be little left for a down payment. So, Mrsfabp and I have grown into the idea of apartment living. It is not how I wanted our retirement to go but it is the necessary steps to keep the dream of Las Cruses, NM alive.

We shall endure! The dream lives on…

November 14, 2010

One of my favorite old things...

There is a joke here, but I think I will take the high road, and move right into this post.

I pride myself on being pretty contemporary even in my old age. I blog, podcast, follow cultural trends and social network. I use a computer competently, text, stream TV and the like. My kids help keep me young at heart by their actions and allowing me to be a part of what they see and experience. This is a good thing.

But every once in a while, I find myself really liking something, something that sort of runs contrary to this technologically advanced, gadget driven world we live in. This morning I experienced it full force and it made me smile.

On weekends, I like to play “retired.” I try to experience at least part of the day as if my retirement has come and I am enjoying my time. I like to get up early and follow a bit of a routine each day that I can. This includes a cup of coffee while checking email, news and blogs and then a second cup (sitting right next to me right now!) while I do some writing for the day. That cup of coffee is the subject of my technology protest.

My wife likes her instant coffee and heats up water in the microwave. On weekends I would make a pot of coffee in the old “Mr. Coffee” and be quite content. But then I realized that we were wasting a bit of coffee. I do not finish a whole pot. God, I’d never get to sleep with all the caffeine. So I began to make it one cup a time. My first reaction was to want one of those Keurig machines that make one cup at a time but then felt it odd to want to save some money on coffee by buying another expensive gadget. However I am not crazy about using the microwave for this so I put on the old tea kettle and set it to boil.

I sit and get everything ready and then watch the pot come to a boil with its shrill whistle to let me know it is ready to pour. I use the time to organize my thoughts about what I want to read or write or look at on the internet and always find myself surprised when the kettle begins to whistle. I found myself smiling at the whistle this morning, letting it go for a couple of seconds, letting it call me a bit longer. It was good to hear it, it was good to sit there smiling and enjoy the start of my day.

I just love the tea kettle whistle...

November 12, 2010

The Canonical Penguin: Breezy Point Summers

Summers in New York City are hot and sticky and seem never ending. When I was growing up air conditioning was not the norm, so we had box fans in all the windows blowing warn air around and prayed that the latest heat wave would break sooner, rather than later. For this reason, weekend drives to Jones Beach were a regular treat. We would switch between the gigantic salt water pool and the waves of the beach until the sun set and the air cooled a bit.

For a few summers (the exact number is not remembered but it was at least 2-3) we enjoyed spending a few days at a friend’s family cottage at Breezy Point. From Wiki: “Breezy Point is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens, located on the western end of the Rockaway peninsula, between Rockaway Inlet and Jamaica Bay on the landward side, and the Atlantic Ocean. Breezy Point Tip, to the west of the community, is part of Gateway National Recreation Area, which is run by the National Park Service. This isolated, 200-acre area includes an ocean-facing beach, a shoreline on Jamaica Bay, sand dunes, and marshland. It is a breeding spot for the piping plover, least tern, black skimmer, American oystercatcher and common tern. According to the United States Census Bureau, the community's ZIP code (11697) has the nation's highest concentration of Irish-Americans, at 60.3% as of the United States Census, 2000. It functions mainly as a summer get-away for many residents of New York. Estimates put summer residency at 12,000, while year-round residency was 4337 in the most recent Census. Notable residents included Frank McCourt, author; Angela's Ashes, who mentioned in his memoir Tis, that his mother Angela McCourt spent time with him at a house in Breezy Point. Due to its large concentration of Irish-Americans, Breezy Point has been called the "Irish Riviera."”

Our friends were the Kammeran’s, a nice Irish Catholic family in our neighborhood. My mother was friends with their mother through the school and I was in grammar school with one of their sons and my brother Mike was in class with one of their daughters. There were other little Kammerans, but I do not remember an exact number, just that there was a lot. As I said, they were a good Irish catholic family.

They owned a cottage on the beach at Breezy Point. There were rows of them from the beach back and theirs was one that was right on the waters edge. To get to it you had to pass at least 3 or 4 rows of cottages. They all looked about the same, painted in a white clapboard, green trim kind of way. It had a small porch on the back that segued into a kitchen/dining room area, past a bathroom/laundry room combo, past 4 bedrooms and then onto a front porch that overlooked the beach. The house was raised about 12 feet in the air, the better to avoid flooding during hurricanes and had a flight of steps in front, back and an outside shower without cover for rinsing off sand.

There was plenty to do for the kids. We swam all day, went fishing and boating in a 12 foot rowboat with a small motor attached. There was a tiny boardwalk about 300 yards down the beach with a few rides and a couple of restaurants for hot dogs and clams and ice cream. At night we were all “smooshed” together in a couple of bed rooms, sleeping on beds and couches and floors but there was never much sleeping as we fooled around late into the night and were up early for swimming and fishing.

One of the best features of Breezy Point was being able to see the Marine Parkway Bridge, later renamed the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. It was a draw bridge with the center span totally lifting up to allows ships to pass through. It was noisy and we were close to it, so the sound of it raising always drew a crowd on the beach top see what huge ship was coming through. I also can remember one summer it had been painted a different shade of green and looked so different. But the sounds were the same and that helped it remain familiar.

We would go for a few days, eat grilled burgers and hot dogs and just enjoyed being kids at the beach.

(These are stories about things that actually happened with plenty of witnesses. It has passed from the apocryphal to canonical in nature. Wiki says of canon – “material that is considered to be "genuine", "something that actually happened", or can be directly referenced as material produced by the original author or creator.”)

November 7, 2010

The Influenced Penguin: Bob Dylan

(This new series is posts about the people, places and things that have had significant influence on my life. Whether real or fictional, having had direct contact or not is less important than seeing how these people and events and situations have changed my life for the positive…Hope you enjoy reliving them with me.)

More than any other musician, more than any figure from the early sixties, more than any activist, I have been profoundly affected by the music and words of Bob Dylan. Perhaps it was the timing, perhaps the rebel spirit, perhaps the clear voice and heart on the sleeve, perhaps the 6 decades of doing “IT”, he embodies so much positive for me.

I first became aware of him in the mid sixties when I was about 10 years old. I was not too into music then but found a copy of “The Freewheeling Bob Dylan” in our house. I have no idea who it belonged to as my parents did not play records often. I think it might just have been something my dad, ever the hoarder and collector, found. It had among other classics, “Blowing in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and “I Shall be Free.” To be a borderline rebelling teen with music like this to drive me, is the essence of what Dylan meant at first. But then he changed and I changed with him.

In 1965 when he was the star performer at the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan upset the establishment by performing a set with an electric guitar. He was booed off the stage after three songs and subsequently, music reviewers castigated him for losing touch with his audience and fans and the “folkies”. His response was to immediately go back into the studio to record some of his most famous, driving, meaningful music ever with “Positively 4th Street,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and his next two albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. This was the double hammer, the ultimate “finger” to the critics and at the same time, beginning his “next” career, as a rock and roll icon, one that would continue to bring him the accolades of the industry and fan alike. For me, this change was unbelievable, a life changer. It helped me realize that the only one we need to please is yourself, and this is a lesson that has stuck with me ever since.

By the time I got to college in 1972 Dylan was entrenched in the music scene and in my playlist. Through my college years, I bought his albums which today remain as some of my very favorites – Planet Waves, Blood on the Tracks and Desire. (blogger note: If I had not become T Fab P and had the title Penguin Droppings fall into my lap thanks to my Brother-in-law’s creativity, the second choice for my blog title was going to be Blood on the Tracks. I still hope to use that one day!). At this time too I met a friend and eventual house mate Mike, now a priest, and certainly one of the biggest Dylan fans ever. We listen to his music, discussed his relevance and went to his concerts. We commiserated when our apartment was broken into and all his Dylan albums were stolen.

This influence has continued all of my life. I still look for information about what Dylan is doing and when the next album is due out. This influence is so strong that we named our son after him and CollegeBoy has accounted himself well in my book. He is progressive and caring and unafraid of change and challenges. He has lived up to his legacy’s name and gives me something to very proud of. A very positive influence on both accounts. Thank you Dylan.

November 5, 2010

On The Streak

Please indulge me a sports moment…

When does a streak stop being about the dedication and start becoming just about the streak? How does one manage to balance the desire to help your team win with being a slave to the numbers. When should a streak end? How should a streak end? Well Bret Favre is showing us the down side of starting consecutive games, when a streak takes on a life of its own and ends up starting to effect his legacy.

This is not about Favre retiring and un-retiring so many times that we lose count. This is not about the controversy related to cell phone pictures or getting back at the Packers or using the NY Jets or any such folly. This isn’t about him or his career jumping the shark. This is about when a player needs to see that he is no longer helping the team he plays for and moves on with the rest of his life.
Unfortunately we are a sports fan nation that is over indulgent of streaks. A baseball player hits in 10 or 15 straight games and DiMaggio’s 56 game streak is brought up. A player hits 10 home runs in the first month of the season and we are inundated with “on a pace to break Maris/Bonds” claims for weeks on end. We honor streaks that can “never” be broken like Gehrig’s until Ripken comes along and does break it. Then his becomes a “never be broken” too.

I can’t help but think that SOME of Ripken’s legacy was affected by being enslaved by the streak. Yes, it is honorable to want to be in their every single game but what to do when your performance is no longer up to the accepted standards and yet you are enslaved to the streak. This is what the Yankees and Derek Jeter are going to go through this winter as he looks at a new contract. Although there is not a “streak” per se to be enslaved to, the fact that he has been with one club for so many years, going against the grain of free agency and the norm in baseball now a days and that this contract is said to represent not only expected performance but a reward for what he has done for the team, bring about the same sort of feelings.

Bret Favre is on the down side of his career and has been for a while. Because his week to week appearance is so tied to the streak, it has lost the meaning of what he can mean to the team’s chance of winning. We just spent the past week wondering if Bret was going to be able to keep his streak alive. If you are a Viking fan, you are probable more interested in can the team win this week, not can the streak win this week.

I guess the real question will be “when will this stop being about Bret, or the streak, and start being about the team again?”

Thanks for the indulgence…

November 3, 2010

Movie AND Book Review: The Social Network / The Accidental Billionaires

Recently Maqz and I were talking on Countless Screaming Argonauts, the Podcast of Record, about movies that were not as good as the book they came from and movies that were better than the book. Well today I am going to review both a book and the movie it spawned. This is the story of Facebook.

The book is “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich. (For those interested, Mezrich was also the author of “Bringing Down the House” about the gambling MIT students, made into the movie “21,” another interesting combo, done successfully.) This book is about the founding of Facebook, its meteoritic rise to fame and fortune for its founder Mark Zuckerberg, and a detailing of the bodies left behind. Actually it is not that bad, Zuckerberg comes across as a socially awkward, possible Asberger’s young adult with a wonderful idea and set of skills to do what he wants to do. In the process he makes 65 Billion (that’s with a B) dollars. It is written in a narrative style and is most enjoyable. From the teenage antics to the California lifestyle, it is easy to identify with this kid and feel the excitement he must have felt as his project advances. We watch as this college student dream becomes a company and see the friendships and acquaintances left behind.

I would give this book 4 Penguins, my only issue being the abrupt ending. I understand that there were issues still to be resolved in the multiple lawsuits going on but still, he just stopped it. I wanted some more.

The movie is “The Social Network” which was released in October and gathered quite a significant number of excellent reviews. Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing and A Few Good Men among other credits) wrote the screenplay and his fingerprints are all over it. I like that style, the immediacy of the characters and their interactions, so I figured I would like the pace and style of the movie, and I did.

One of the marks of a good, successful book adaptation is having the movie characters being close to how they appeared in the book, so much so that you immediately recognize them for all they are worth. This movie captures this well with Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, and Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, leading the ensemble cast. Each captures the essence of his character, Eisenberg, the social awkwardness, Garfield, the business major with big dreams and Timberlake, as the paranoid, Silicon Valley wunderkind who turns everything he touches into gold and then back to straw. The movie is fast paced, filled with stylistic images and drives home the story well.

I give it 4 Penguins also, recommending it for almost everyone. If you have no interest in the internet (WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU?), you might be bored or confused by this story but I still think the relationships can carry the movie quite nicely.

To be fair, there are some inconsistencies in the movie when examined against the book. Timelines are fudged to make it all fit. Some of the obvious feelings are lost or covered over. Some of the reasoning is faulty. However in spite of that both the movie and the book stand independently on their own, as well as well together. This is quite a coup in my book when the book and movie are equally good. They entertain and enlighten. What more can you ask.

November 1, 2010

Book Review: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

When I first saw this book I wondered at first if Crichton would display his intense research as he often does with his novels. By the end of the first chapter, I was convinced he had and settled in for an interesting read while I learned a lot about the subject. Wiki says about it “thoroughly researched...packed through with great detail about navigation and how pirates operated, and links between the New World and the Caribbean and Spain.” Yes, I was going to learn about pirates and I was not disappointed in the least.

I like Crichton a lot. From the first few pages of Jurassic Park some 21 years ago, I found him to be stimulating, interesting, well researched and a great story teller. This book does not disappoint in the least. I was worried when I learned it was being published posthumously, figuring it had to be completed but from what I gathered in my own research about it, it was done and just needed some editing before hitting Barnes and Noble.

Again help from Wiki – “It is an adventure story concerning piracy in Jamaica in the 17th century. The novel stars a privateer named Hunter who, together with the governor of Jamaica, plots to raid a Spanish galleon for its treasure.”

It paints an interesting picture of a Jamaican port city, life in the mid 1600’s, piracy and all of its harsh realities, all the while reading like an action adventure picture. It is no wonder that Stephen Spielberg has purchased the rights to the book with the notion of making a real pirate tale, not the Disneyfied Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp (not that there is anything wrong with that. I love the PotC series!).

My only complaint is that that the book ends a bit suddenly with a quick review of what happened to the main characters in the rest of their life. I just felt that PERHAPS Crichton had some more in mind at the end but did not “finish his thoughts”, so to speak.

Overall I give this book 4 penguins

I enjoyed it very much, often times wishing my commute were longer so as to get more of the story. I found myself rooting for some of the characters, hating some others and always being on the edge of my seat. The reader of the story also did very well with the characters and voices which helped a great deal in visualizing the book.