Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Great Way to Spend the Day With My Daughter

A few months back the wife and I bought a car for the kids. Well, it wasn't specifically FOR them, but with them in mind... a 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis. It's got about 160,000 miles on it, the body is immaculate, and we bought it from the stereotypical old guy. I've had to sink a little bit of money into it since purchasing the car... new tires and so forth, but overall it's been quite a good little car. In fact, it's good enough that I actually enjoy driving it.

The one thing I wanted to improve was the stereo system. Don't get me wrong, I don't need a 500 watt system, subwoofers that vibrate your seat, or anything like that. But one speaker had totally gone out, and what remained pretty much sucked, so I decided to upgrade the system.

I've done a few stereos in my day, so I was confident that I could to the upgrade in a couple of hours. Little did I know what I was in for. I ordered the parts, and within a week, I had everything I needed and was ready to go. I also told my kids that I'd be doing the swap-out... the older one so that she wouldn't take the car on the day I had planned to work on it, and the younger daughter because I thought she'd appreciate the finished product. The younger one did me one better and asked me if she could help!

I was VERY pleasantly surprised when she expressed interest in this project, and immediately said that she could help. I also told her that it would be a full-day job, so she knew what she was in for. She didn't care.

The reason I said full-day is because my research indicated that I'd have to do a rip and replace, because this was not your run-of-the-mill upgrade. I found out that I'd have to run all new wires, and run an antenna cable from the trunk to the dash. You see, this car came with the "premium" sound system, which was a JBL receiver with no built-in amplifier, so the amplifier was in the trunk, and all cables ran from the amplifier to the speakers, and the antenna wire ran from the rear window to the amplifier. This required pulling the back seat, and lifting carpet to run the wire, and pulling door panels to install the front speakers. I had done the rear speakers a couple of days earlier.

Like I said, I told the kid in advance, and she was in. Not only did she SAY that she'd help the whole, she DID it! The process took about five hours, and she actively helped me every step along the way. She stayed focused, and asked intelligent questions along the way. It was a wonderful way to spend the day with my little girl.

Oh, by the way, the new system cost less than $200, and is light-years above the old setup.

I bought XPress brand 6x9 3-way 700W speakers for the rear deck. ($25)
The front speakers are Boss Audio Chaos Extreme 3 5x7 3-way 300W. (18)
The deck is a Sony Xplod CDX-GT40UW. ($80)
Various adapters and wiring cost about $40

Like I said, I don't need something that will make the windows rattle. I simply wanted better sound than I had, plus the old deck was a cassette deck, and I wanted to play CDs and our various MP3 players. One nice feature about the Sony deck, is that it comes with a remote control. Initially, I thought "why?" But then I realized that I could let the kids change channels and so forth from the back seat on long trips.

So yeah, it was a really good day. The stereo install was a good way to kill an afternoon, but the fact that my kid hung out and helped dad -- and she REALLY did help -- made for a memorable day.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What God has Done for Me

Today's post isn't designed to preach, and it's not designed to actively convert anyone. But if you are looking, I can tell you what God has done for ME. Before I talk about what He HAS done though, I should tell you what He HASN'T done.

-He hasn't commanded me to condemn homosexuals.

-He hasn't made more righteous than you or anyone else.

-He hasn't compelled me to turn my back on my non-Christian friends and family.

What God HAS done for me, is basically bring a sense of peace. It's not that I believe God will fill my life with nothing but puppies and rainbows, but He has helped me see and experience a life beyond myself.

-God has helped me not sweat the small stuff.

-He's helped me realize that virtually everything is small stuff.

-He has helped me become more generous.

-He's increased my compassion.

I'm not perfect. But having a relationship with God has helped me become a better human being.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Another Accidental Recipe

One thing I don't eat very often is fish. Growing up in the Midwest, good fish wasn't readily available. Furthermore, the fish that my dad liked was really strong-tasting stuff like catfish... stuff that was so strong that the whole house reeked of fish. I didn't gain an appreciation for fish until well into adulthood. Even now, I need to actually be in the mood for fish... though I can always go for crab, lobster, shrimp or a good clam chowder. I got a craving for fish a couple of weeks ago, and finally decided to make something from the swai that's been in our freezer for a while. I didn't have a specific recipe in mind... I just threw something together based on what was available. The result is best described as "inspired by chicken piccata." I didn't use a recipe, so I can't tell you the precise amounts that I used, but it was some of the best fish I've ever cooked, so I need to share.

The basic ingredients are approximately as follows...
1/4 stick of butter
1/3 cup of white wine
1/3 cup of lemon juice
1/4 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup artichoke hearts
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup capers

Throw all of this into a pan and sautee it until thoroughly cooked. Add the swai (tilapia or other mild white fish will work as well) and cook, covered. Flip the fish about halfway through the cooking process. After the fish is cooked, generously cover with parmesan cheese on both sides.

This was some tasty stuff! I hope that I can duplicate it one day. If you try it, let me know how it turned out for you.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Watching the Super Bowl on the Internet

This year, for the first time, the Super Bowl was legally available for viewing on the Internet. "Just in time," I say, because I cut the cord last spring, and have been without cable, network and satellite TV ever since. I'm not a big sports fan, but I do watch the Super Bowl every year, and I had been hoping that I'd be able to see it on the Internet.

In addition to watching the game, I usually throw a small Super Bowl party. I didn't do that this year, because I realized that there could be a technical glitch. If this glitch caused ME to be unable to see a big play, that would have been one thing. But if there had been a problem causing a major fan to miss a play, that would be another matter entirely. So, I decided to just watch and evaluate.

I've got to start by saying I was impressed with the outcome. The video stuttered and froze a bit during pregame, and the frame rate was occasionally a little low during the game, but overall, things were good. The only real problems occurred during short passes, when the low frame rate would cause the football to "disappear," but this really wasn't a big thing.

I was also impressed with the PIP (picture-in-picture) options offered on the stream, though I didn't really take advantage of it. There were four or five different camera views, and viewers were able to swap on the fly. That was a neat feature. Another cool feature was the live Twitter-style commentary in the right hand area of the screen, which automatically disappeared during gameplay, and automatically re-appeared during the commercials.

Commercials and halftime were a bit of a letdown. The internet didn't show most of the much-hyped commercials. Instead, they primarily scrolled through four of the less-entertaining spots... the Samsung commercial, the commercial for the upcoming Navy Seals movie, the GE generator and cancer patient spots, and the Bud Platinum one. The halftime show was unavailable too, but not being a big Madonna fan, I didn't care too much about that one.

The bottom of the screen said that I'd be able to watch commercials after they aired, but they didn't pop up on my TV. (My computer feeds into my TV, so that I don't have to watch on an itty-bitty computer monitor.) I ended up going to other sites, after the game, to see the commercials.

In relation to this, though, NBC DID have the option to watch NBC-based commercials and interviews during pregame. I loved the 30 Rock skit, and the Jimmy Fallon Head Swap! Great entertainment to break up the incessant droning of the talking heads.

So... overall, I thought it was great. My recommendations for next year... make sure that the frame rate is a bit higher during the game... include the commercials and halftime show... keep the PIP feature... keep the twitter-style comments section... keep the "extras" bar on the bottom during pregame/postgame. Keep the feature that automatically hides the twitter/extras bars during the games. Good job, NBC. You did an admirable job of setting expectation for next year's game.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Right Back Atcha, RayRay

Today's post is a response to RayRay's blog post from yesterday. In his post, Ray takes issue with an Iowa Supreme Court ruling, and with the lack of action on an Iowa bill that would place fathers on equal footing with mothers in child custody cases. I had started to simply comment on his page, but before I knew it, I had enough material for my own post. Besides, it's been a while since I've written anything here. With that said, I'm going to re-write my comments here. This is going to be a long article, so grab a beer, relax, and get ready to think.

I'll start out with HF345, which is a bill in the Iowa legislature that essentially would mandate a presumption of joint physical custody of minor children in divorce cases, but does allow for deviation in cases of abuse, geographical separation, or when both parents agree to deviate from joint physical custody. From my perspective, this seems like a common-sense, straight forward bill... one that I have vocally supported since its inception, by writing congressmen, and giving others a framework letter that they too could forward to their congressmen. I do this despite, nay because, I am a father with primary physical custody of my kids, who appreciates what he has. In fact, I continue to PAY child support, despite having primary physical care of the kids. This is PRECISELY because it's not about the money, it's about the time with my kids!

Apparently, there's an old codger of a legislator who said "Men of IowaFathers (a FaceBook group) just don't want to pay their child support," though I've been unable to locate this specific quote anywhere other than on Ray's blog page. But let's go with the assumption that this cat actually made this quote... if so, I assert that he's misguided on two counts. First, it's a false presumption that Iowa Fathers are doing this for the money. I am not a member of Iowa Fathers, but I am associated with them. The ones I've talked to, or written to, are, to a man, NOT doing this for money, but because they want to be with their kids.

There's apparently another legislator who's a trial lawyer, and mother with primary custody of her children, who's receiving child support, and is on record as opposing HF345. Ray says that she's got too much of a personal stake to make an informed vote. I agree.

The second issue is one of personal choice and liberty. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that these Iowa Fathers WERE in it for the money. If that's the case, then custody would be strictly about the money for BOTH parents... that is, unless the legislator in question could somehow demonstrate that mothers are more altruistic than fathers. Either way, it seems reasonable to give these parents an opportunity to work the custody/financial balance out for themselves, as opposed to the current status quo, which still tends to favor the mother. Like I said, this is an issue of personal choice and liberty.

The second issue, the one where the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that Mennonites can continue to use metal wagon wheels for religious reasons, is an area where I disagree with Ray. This, again, is based on personal choice and liberty, but also includes a bit of logic.... well, at least I think it's logical.

I am a big fan of personal responsibility, personal choice, and personal liberty. This also means that, as a result, I need to tolerate the fact that others might make choices differing from my own, and that the Bill of Rights will (okay, SHOULD) protect our choices equally. I believe that drugs and prostitution should be legal, though I would not choose to engage in those activities, and I believe that the Mennonites should be allowed to drive their metal-wheeled, horse-drawn carriages on asphalt highways.

But let's throw the personal liberty issue aside. Let's, instead, discuss the logical side of things. First, the Mennonites are still taxpaying citizens. They, like other Iowa residents, have their tax dollars go toward road maintenance. This means that they too should be allowed the freedom to drive their buggies to town, just like we drive our cars. Furthermore, when I run across Mennonites (or Amish), I see that they are driving on the shoulder, utilizing the caution triangles on their buggies, and otherwise obeying laws that realistically compromise their desire to practice their religion as they view it, while acquiescing to the customs and laws of society at large.

Finally, there's the practical side of things... I will concede that on a mile-per-mile basis, the Mennonites' metal wagon wheels cause more wear and tear than a car's rubber tire. With that said though, others seem to neglect the fact that weight, speed, and the number of miles also cause wear and tear on the road. In all three of these areas, a car causes exponentially more wear and tear than a horse-drawn wagon. With this in mind, I assert that it's all a wash, and since there's no reason to punish the Mennonites for choosing to drive horse-drawn carriages. Also, in practice, as I mentioned earlier, I almost invariably see the Mennonites driving in the gravel shoulder.

So... dude, I agree with your HF345 assertion, but I think you're a bit off on the Mennonite thing.