Jan 28, 2008

My Wife, The Celebrity

My wife's winning essay secured $60,000 for her school and earned her a spot on our local NBC morning news. Here she is (along with her principal) on the show:

She said she actually wasn't that nervous, and I think she handled the cameras and the attention quite well. Now that she's a celebrity, we'll see if she can keep her cool when the paparazzi start chasing us around town! (It was an absolute nightmare the last time we were on TV!)

BIG NEWS!! With Two Exclamation Points!!

My wife is one of 30 first-prize winners for the 2007 Samsung Hope for Education Contest!! She won $30,000 worth of Samsung merchandise and $30,000 worth of Microsoft software for her school. Gnarly! As the writer of a winning essay, she wins a Samsung Ultra Mobile PC (with Windows Vista), keyboard, optical drive and case...estimated retail value? $1,500.00!! It's called the Samsung Q1.

I found out that first she made it into a group of 300, and then into a group of 150. From there, hers was selected to be among the first-prize winners! We've known since September, but had to keep it under wraps or face disqualification. I wasn't aware of that fact when I published a congratulatory blog post four months ago, but I took it down ASAP when I found out about the gag order.

Actually, my wife and I each wrote an essay for the contest. You can click here to read my piece of trash.

Congratulations, honey!!

Jan 25, 2008

Famous Swords: Tizona

Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as El Cid Campeador, was a Castilian nobleman in medieval Spain who became the chief general of Alfonso VI, fighting against the Moors in the early Reconquista. Later exiled by the king, El Cid left service in Castile and worked as a mercenary for other rulers, both Muslim and Christian, earning tremendous respect and esteem from both.

Tizona was taken in battle from a Moorish chief named Malik Bucar, and became the sword carried by El Cid while fighting the Moors in Spain. It is now one of Spain's most cherished relics and can be found at the Museo del Ejército (Army Museum) in Madrid. The sword carries two inscriptions: “IO SOI TISONA FUE FECHA EN LA ERA DE MILE QUARENTA” (In medieval Castilian: I am Tisona, made in the year 1002”) and “AVE MARIA – GRATIA PLENA – DOMINICUS TECUM” (In Latin: Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you.)

Jan 24, 2008

Famous Swords: Excalibur

I've decided to begin a new installment of blogs, entitled "Famous Swords". These blogs will reference facts and myths about the blades and their respective owners. I've tried to keep the narratives short and to the point (HAHA) for the benefit of those not inclined to reading lengthy accounts of history (like my wife). And if this series follows the path of my "Punctuation Marks" series, it will be short-lived and incomplete. Enjoy!

Where else could we begin? The legends of King Arthur include his establishment as England's king through the sword in the stone episode, the advice of the wizard Merlin, the castle Camelot, the institution of the fellowship of the Round Table, the quest for the Holy Grail and numerous magical adventures.

There are two originally separate legends about the sword's origin. The first is the “Sword in the Stone” tale, in which Excalibur can only be drawn from the stone by Arthur, the rightful king. In the second, Arthur draws a separate sword from the stone, and instead receives Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake after breaking his first sword in a fight with King Pellinore. The Lady of the Lake calls the sword “Excalibur” and Arthur takes it from a hand rising out of the lake. On his deathbed, he asks Sir Bedivere to throw Excalibur back into the lake. Before the sword strikes the water's surface, a hand reaches up to grasp it and pulls it under.

Jan 23, 2008

The Great Wii Hunt (Cont'd)

Yesterday, I called a local Wal-Mart and found out that they had two Wiis that arrived at 10:45 that morning, but they had already been sold (I called at 12:10). The window of opportunity was only open for less than an hour and a half. What would I have to do? Call every hour? Stalk the UPS truck? I could spend my lunch breaks at Wal-Mart waiting for UPS to show up, but there was no guarantee that any Wiis would even be on the truck.

As I was contemplating the dire situation, I called the Chipley Wal-Mart (about 45 miles away). They also received two…and still had both of them in the store! I couldn’t believe my ears. I must have asked the guy four times to confirm. (“In stock?” “Yes.” “At the store now?” “Yes.” “Right now?” “Yes.” “Available for purchase?” “YES!”)

I called my mother-in-law, but she had an eye appointment and couldn’t leave for Chipley until after 1:00. I immediately went to my supervisor, and asked if I could take an extended lunch break. She was a little hesitant because the other team leader had called out, but when I explained about the Wii she understood (she also has a Wii). I promised that I would come back to work, so she said it would be fine. My wife called just then, so I updated her and I was out the door and on my way.

Man, talk about a nerve-wracking trip! The whole time I was wishing I could go faster, and wondering if the Wiis would still be there when I showed up. I kept thinking about that Chipley buttmunch on EBay with the pile’o’Wiis and I was sure he was going to beat me to the store. At the county line, the road switches from four-lane to two-lane, with 30 miles to go. It was raining and we were behind a truck, so passing was out of the option.

When I finally arrived in Chipley, after what seemed like hours, I found the Wal-Mart and parked the car. I suspected every person around me was here for the same purpose. As I walked in, I could see the electronics department, and saw several shoppers that were much closer than me. I was panicking! I walked calmly (though I wanted to run), and when I got to the video games section I didn’t see any Wiis. I asked one of the sales associates if they still had any Wiis in stock, and he wasn’t sure, so he asked another guy. This other guy seemed very entitled, and I suspect he secretly enjoyed the distorted sense of power that came with the question, and he toyed with me by saying, “Yeah, I think we might have one of them left.” Then he walked away. I didn’t know if he was going to look, or going on break, but I played it cool and forced myself to remain calm and to resist beating the other associate to a bloody pulp for not knowing, and not rushing to check.

After an eternity of staring at reduced videos, the entitled guy popped up from around a corner holding the Wii. I have to admit, I melted a little inside. I was gleaming. The search was over. I pulled out my credit card and made the purchase. Then I walked straight to the car and covered it up on the backseat with a blanket (to prevent theft, of course). Before I left Chipley, I found a phone, and called Angela to tell her the good news. It was pouring down rain, and there was no shelter over the phone, but I felt all sunny inside. I knew Angela was probably stressing out as much as I had been, and I was looking forward to ending her misery. Check out this email she sent me while I was on my way to Chipley:

I'm freaking out. WHY DON"T YOU HAVE A CELL PHONE?!?! I'm so excited and nervous and I wish you'd get back to work so I could find out. Dude! Hurry! I love you so much. You are my hero. I'll love you even more if you got one. I feel all tingly inside. Kinda like when I found out about the sharks. Hurry and call me.

Love, Angela

(The sharks comment is in reference to our upcoming Disney trip - she was scared and yet excited when she found out you can swim in an aquarium with sharks and other tropical fish at Typhoon Lagoon.) After I told her about finally getting the Wii, she sent this:

Thank you so much for calling me to tell me we got a Wii and also thanks for going and getting it. You rock! Thank Lisa for letting you go. We are so getting Wii crazy tonight! Awesome! We have to go to Best Buy after work tonight to buy Wii Play and maybe another nunchuck. Anything else you wanna get now?

I'm so happy. I'm doing the Wii dance.

Thank you!
I jumped back in the car, and headed back to town (and work). The rest of the day went by pretty fast, and we were home setting up the Wii in no time.

Even though we only spent a few days looking, the stress and despair were starting to take their toll. But now the maddening search has come to a close. And what a relief it is! I know what's going to happen, though. We're going to accidentally start finding Wiis everywhere we go!

Oh, and by the way, we did get Wii crazy last night. It was awesome. You should totally get one!

Jan 22, 2008

The Great Wii Hunt

My wife and I recently decided to get a Wii. My parents got one for Christmas, and we’ve been over at their house playing it and waiting for the novelty to wear off. And guess what? It didn’t.

So when we found out we’d be getting a nice little chunk back on our taxes (we switched to the “married filing at single rate” payroll deduction option) we decided to get one. Well, it’s not like you can just run down to Wal-Mart and pick one up. We’ve been casually looking for about a month, but we’ve never spotted one.

On Friday, we started the aggressive searching. Of course, everywhere we went was sold out: Target, Best Buy, Wal-Mart.

On Saturday, we expanded the search by turning to the phone. Some of the replies were less than energetic, and I had severe doubts that some agents were even looking. So, we used a two-pronged attack: we called, we drove, we called as we drove. Still, nothing. Though we did start putting some pieces together: Wiis arrive via UPS, not the regular store delivery trucks (this was confirmed by a couple of different retailers). I found out that UPS usually delivers to Wal-Mart late in the morning, around 11 or 12. This was a big relief – I was glad to hear that going to a store at 7am wouldn’t help.

On Sunday, we started enlisting the help of family and friends. We asked those close to us to keep their eyes peeled and their ears open. If they heard or saw anything Wii, they should notify us immediately. We continued the fruitless search online, but found nothing at the major retailers – all were SOLD OUT. We found a couple of package deals at EBGames.com, but we would end up paying around $475 and we’d get some games and accessories that we weren’t really sure we wanted or needed. Plus, the orders wouldn’t ship until 11 days later. EBay was no help at all. The Wii consoles alone were “buy it now” priced at $400. And some idiot was out there buying them all up on the live auctions with X***X profiles that were created two days ago (X being a random number or letter). We even tried searching EBay for nearby locations (to save on shipping) and found some creep in Chipley who had a sickening picture of a number of consoles all stacked up against a wall. He was selling bundles for some ridiculous amount. Cleary, a few “enterprising” morons are buying all the available stock online and in the stores to increase demand and garner a hefty markup.

By this time, the phone list had expanded to include Sears, K-Mart, FYE, and other lesser-known retailers. Still no luck.

On Monday, we found some Wii-tracking websites (like this one, or this one) that monitor online availability. We found out that UPS was delivering on the holiday, so we made another round of calls. Net result – nothing.

Today we had to go back to work. I’ll continue the search at lunch break.

Those Wacky Internet Domain Codes

Okay, so we're all familiar with ".com" as an internet domain code. I'm sure you've seen ".net" and ".org" as well. And you may even be familiar with some country codes...like Germany's ".de" or the United Kindom's ".gb".

Recently, I've seen a couple of ".tv" domain codes, and I just assumed that the preferred ".com" addresses were already taken. Actually, ".tv" is quite popular, and happens to be the Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for Tuvalu.

Yes, Tuvalu! It's a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia. Its nearest neighbours are Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji. Comprising four reef islands and five true atolls, with a gross land area of just 26 square kilometers (10 sq mi), it is the second-least populated independent country in the world. It is the smallest member by population of the United Nations. In terms of physical land size Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world, larger than only the Vatican City, Monaco and Nauru.

Any person in the world can register a .tv domain for a fee. The Tuvalu government receives a quarterly payment of US $1,000,000 for use of the top-level domain. The domain name is popular, and thus economically valuable (other similar ccTLDs are .fm, .am, .cd, and .dj). The domain is currently operated by dotTV, a VeriSign company. The Tuvalu government owns twenty percent of the company.

Here's some other ccTLDs you may or may not be familiar with:

.ac - Ascension Island
.aw - Aruba
.bf - Burkina Faso
.bj - Benin
.bv - Bouvet Island
.er - Eritrea
.fj - Fiji
.gg - Guernsey
.gp - Guadeloupe
.gw - Guinea-Bissau
.ht - Haiti
.im - Isle of Man
.iq - Iraq
.is - Iceland
.ki - Kiribati
.kg - Kyrgyzstan
.kz - Kazakhstan
.mm - Myanmar (Burma)
.no - Norway
.nu - Niue
.pn - Pitcairn Island
.re - Reunion Island
.sh - St Helena
.sr - Suriname
.tg - Togo
.ug - Uganda
.vu - Vanuatu
.ye - Yemen
.yt - Mayotte

Jan 18, 2008

Today in History - January 18, 1778

Captain James Cook became the first European to "discover" the Hawaiian Islands on January 18, 1778. He made initial landfall at Waimea harbour, Kauai, where he named the archipelago the "Sandwich Islands" after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, the acting First Lord of the Admiralty.

Cook returned to the islands in 1779. After a month's stay at Kealakekua Bay, on the "big island" of Hawaii, his expedition got under sail again to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific. Shortly after leaving, the foremast of his command ship (the HMS Resolution) broke and the party returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs. Tensions rose and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians.

On February 14 at Kealakekua Bay, some Hawaiians took one of Cook's small boats. Cook attempted to take the Chief of Hawaii, Kalaniopu'u, as his hostage. The Hawaiians prevented this, and Cook's men had to retreat to the beach. As Cook turned his back to help launch the boats, he was struck on the head by the villagers and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf.

Jan 15, 2008


...there's always light at the end of the tunnel!

Jan 7, 2008

Today in History – January 7, 1610

On January 7, 1610, nearly four hundred years ago, Galileo wrote a letter containing the first mention of Jupiter’s moons. At the time, he only saw three of them, and he believed them to be fixed stars near Jupiter. He continued to observe these celestial orbs from January 8 through March 2. In these observations, he discovered a fourth body, and also observed that the four were not fixed stars, but rather were orbiting Jupiter. He attempted to call the objects the Medicea Sidera ("the Medician stars”) after the Medici family, whose patronage he was trying to secure.

The names that eventually prevailed were chosen by Simon Marius, who claimed to have discovered the moons at the same time as Galileo. He named them after lovers of the god Zeus (the Greek equivalent of Jupiter): Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Galileo was perturbed by this, and refused to use the names. He referred to them instead as Jupiter I, II, III and IV, creating a numbering scheme that is still in use today.

Though his name for the bodies didn’t stick, Galileo is credited with their discovery and the moons are still referred to as Galilean Moons.

A composite image showing the relative sizes of the four moons as compared to Jupiter. From the top: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

Jan 4, 2008

What Is the Name of This Dinosaur?

If you said Brontosaurus, you’re wrong. If you said Apatosaurus, you’re way too smart for this blog and I would question what you’re doing here. Because frankly…you’re making me nervous.
A massive skeleton was found in 1879 by Othniel Marsh, a Professor of Paleontology at Yale University. Marsh incorrectly identified the find as a new species, and he called it Brontosaurus excelsus. What was actually discovered was an adult-sized Apatosaurus, a species that was already known at the time.

A display of the gigantic mounted skeleton (with a Camarasaurus head) cemented the name Brontosaurus (thunder lizard) into the public consciousness.

It wasn’t long before the find was identified correctly and the new name was dropped in the scientific community. However, the public had already latched on to the name Brontosaurus for the famously large creature and the term was used incorrectly for almost a century. In fact, the designation persisted as an official term in literature until at least 1974. Of course, the Flintstones didn’t help much!

Because of the wide use of the term, the words brontosaurus, brontosaurs, and brontosaurians (no capital 'B'; no italics) are often used to refer generically to any of the sauropod dinosaurs. But there is no such dinosaur as Brontosaurus.