Saturday, May 31, 2008

Spelling Bee, Bill Simmons and Numbnuts - LOTD for you...

You probably couldn't miss it this year, as the Scripps National Spelling Bee had its quarter-finals, semis and finals broadcast by ESPN360, ESPN2 and ABC.

First observation - didn't it used to be the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee? (Answer: Yes, as recently as 2003). What happened to Howard? Did the dude pass away? Did Scripps stage a coup or hostile takeover? Has the "Howard" been scratched off the trophy? We need the answers.

I actually missed it this year. I don't normally watch it start to finish, but I'll usually turn in for a few spellings, try them on my own and go a big, fat 0-15 or so. ABC had the finals on during the Celtics/Pistons Game 6 (which, incidentally, got bumped from the mother station for the Bee), so I watched that instead.

For me, best part of the Bee isn't watching our next generation of scholars in action, seeing the cooperation and good sportsmanship they always demonstrate or learn some new words to add to my everyday lexicon. Nope. I watch for the astoundingly high levels of unintentional comedy. Just check out the "Numbnuts Clip" from eventual champion, Sameer Mishra:

The second highlight, after seeing a new batch of homeschoolers, band kids, chess-club members and social pariahs gesticulate and hyperventilate on national television, is re-reading Bill Simmons' classic running diary of the 2002 Bee. Absolutely hilarious and still funny six years later.

If any of you haven't read Simmons, I have him linked on the right for a reason. Sure, he's "just" an Internet sports columnist, but he's also one of my favorite writers. He's hysterically biting, relatively incisive and he's a Sox fan, so what more could you ask for? Definitely check him out.

Those are your links of the day... Bee well. Ha.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I've given an arm; or, what price will you pay for gas?

I think the Daily Show said it best, when it quoted a M.O.S. soundbite, "I just close my eyes and pump."

(Their punchline, "That's what he said about his wedding night, too" was good. But I would've gone with "Rejected Vegas slogans."

Don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with yet another "OMG gas prices are high! WTF? I am seriously not ROTFL" story - there's enough hot wind out there to power all the turbines on the eastern seaboard (eco-joke, hey-ohh!). I'm sick of those.

However, I am considering doing what I can to save myself some cash - especially since I'm really not making a whole lot at the moment. I read an article on hypermiling a couple weeks ago and I'm happy to report I'm now getting about 40 extra miles a tank by shifting to neutral, coasting down hills and generally pissing off tailgaters.

I am of the opinion, though, that gas prices still haven't reached the point where they'll actually affect everyday American life on a widespread level. Yet. Oh, they'll get there, sure enough. But we've only started to see small lifestyle shifts - the big ones have not yet come.

On a small level, if you're interested in rollin' down the block in a tricked-out S.U.V., they've never been cheaper. That's because people are eating up the small, 4-cylinder Civics, Corollas and the like. They're not going hybrid or electric or bio-diesel - just going smaller. (For proof, just visit your local used-car lot... all those types of cars will be listed at retail price, which never happens, while S.U.V.'s are basically buy one, get one free). While some might think this is a big step, that opinion falters when you look across the pond and see what everyone over there is driving - you could basically fit two Peugeots inside of one American Toyota.

The big changes in oil consumption, when it comes to autos, are still a couple years away in the U.S. But they're coming - just check out the recently announced Volkswagen (pictured above) that will get 235 mpg or the start up competitor Aptera that'll get over 300 mpg AND be priced in the mid-$20,000 range. Both space-age looking cars should hit the streets in 2010.

I've come to the point in the life of my 1998 Toyota Camry (200,000+ miles and a bushel of dings and dents) that I need to start thinking about my next car. I've like the Camry and, although it's pretty banged up after a half-dozen years of parallel parking, it's still running well. But who knows how much longer that'll last as I near the 1/4 million mile mark? I've started the preliminary research into buying a new car - a decision that I'll have to pull the trigger on next year, more than likely.

However, I'm debating waiting until 2010 until that VW enters the market. Think about it - a car that gets that many miles to the gallon could potentially pay for itself. I did the math and even though I currently get 30 mpg, I could save roughly 8 bazillion dollars a month (I might have carried a 5 one too many times). In reality, I probably could save close to $200 a month in gas (at current market value). But that amount might pay for a car loan.

The thing with any of those high-mileage concept cars is that they require you to give up some of the luxuries we Americans have grown accustomed to. For one, none of them are fast (most top out at 75 mph), nor zippy. Others, like the VW, have the unfortunate requirement that the passenger sit BEHIND the driver - like Woodstock and Snoopy chasing the Red Baron. They also concede a ton of space in the name of economy (forget Big Gulp-sized cup holders). Some have to be plugged in. And all of them look quite ridiculous, guaranteeing the driver will the be talk of the party, but might be asked to park in the back next time.

But, hey, if gas hits 6 bucks a gallon, I can get real good at holding conversations via a rearview mirror and toting around extension cords real fast.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Coming to a YouTube link near you...

Today, I went out and bought The Flip Ultra. It's a handheld video camera that's about as basic as basic gets. It's roughly the size of a cell phone, has a 1x1 inch screen, three buttons and a U,D,L,R control pad.

And that's it.

To record a fairly decent quality video, all you have to do is press the record button and point the camera and whatever you're shooting. It's so easy, my mom could do it.

The best thing about The Flip, though, is that it has a built-in USB connector. So, you can shoot a video, plug it into your laptop and load it onto your computer almost instantly. You can then edit the video in pretty much any program - iMovie, Final Cut Pro, whatever crappy program Windows uses or on the camera's included software. After that, you're just a couple clicks away from YouTube fame.

I'm planning on using it to do short and simple travel videos while I'm in Japan and China. I do have a YouTube account, but I've never uploaded anything - that'll change in a bit. I'm going to try to do a test video or two in the next few days.

If anyone has any travel video suggestions - just let me know!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mike and his blogging alter-ego...

Many thanks to my friend and blogging compatriot Justin (of Letters from Suburbia) for posting a link to Emily Gould's NY Times Magazine article about her motivations to blog and how, why and when to share personal details on a completely open and unfiltered platform.

In the lengthy piece (which, if you have some time, is well worth the read), she details her history with blogging, her time at Gawker and, after a series of personal revelations, her experience being stripped and exposed on a very public level.

It got me thinking about how I pick and choose what I write about here. I've been working on this blog for almost a year now and I'm nearing the 100-post mark. While I don't actively promote the site, I do link to it on Twitter and Facebook and include it in the signature of all my emails. My readership isn't anything to brag about, but it holds steady at around 100 visits a week or so - mostly from people I know, but I do get reasonable traffic from complete strangers who stumble across the blog looking for Anchorman quotes or Googling "Puerto Rican bosoms." (Seriously).

Knowing how accessible anything on the web can be, I'm generally very careful about what I write here. You'll notice I've never written anything negative about the jobs I've worked, refrained from sharing political views and haven't even mentioned the name of the town where I live. Where I'm ever more careful, though, is stuff that I consider private. Very little of what's on this site is uber-personal. Sure, everything I write is about me. It's got my name on it and I'm not making any of it up. But you will rarely catch me talking about anything that I wouldn't tell a complete stranger, either.

After reading the article and weighing the amount of sharing that I've done here, I realized that I had, subtlety and unconscious, developed a blogging persona. I'll call him Blogger Mike.

Blogger Mike is not too different from Real Mike in many ways - they both like the same foods, the same sports, the same music and the same coffee. But the Blogger Mike doppleganger (should I call him B.M. for short? ha.) is both way more self-deprecatory and pretentious than his R.M. counterpart. I think B.M. is also funnier, more cynical, thinks he's more tech-savvy, asserts himself with too much self-important mannerisms and has better breath than R.M.

Sonja, who is the fiancee of both B.M. and R.M. whether she likes it or not, hates that B.M. never talks about her. Whereas, as R.M.'s friends know, he never shuts up about her. That online silence was a very intentional choice. It's just that my relationships (family, friends and the many, many, many love interests) have always been a very personal experience for me. One I didn't feel was necessary to share online with God-knows-who's-reading-this.

In the last two posts (and a little in this one), R.M. broke through. I'm not at all sad that he did, it's just funny that it almost took a year for it to happen. And who knows if it'll happen again? If it does, it'll probably take another year.

Emily Gould's piece just got me thinking about why I blog and how much of myself I'm really sharing with the world. In one sense, I'm sharing a lot - people would never know half the stuff about R.M. if it wasn't posted here. But 95% of everything that's here comes from the B.M. version - and he doesn't even know half of what makes up the R.M. At least, I like to think there's a separation. When doing any kind of writing, it's always good to keep a little mystery in there; you have to leave 'em wanting more.

(You get more hits that way.)

Question of the day: Do you, too, have an online persona in order to maintain a semblance of privacy? If so, how do you balance the two?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spreading news in the modern era (or, it's impossible to keep a secret)...

It's funny: universal connectivity and the Internet both make life easier and more difficult at the same time.

Example A: Sonja's and my engagement.

We got engaged on a Friday afternoon. It was a great - and personal - event. While we both wanted to tell the world and shout about it from the proverbial rooftops, we had to be careful about it.

Yes, sadly, the fact that I gave my girlfriend (now fiancee) a ring, became a news story that had to be spun.

We couldn't just change the status of our relationship using Facebook or post a MySpace bulletin. Though it's now the easiest way for us to reach everyone in our extended network of friends and relatives, it's also super-impersonal.

However, using the old-school method of calling up people or putting an announcement into the newspaper wouldn't work, either. Who's got the minutes to spare on their cell plan to call dozens of people? And does anyone under the age of 70 actually read the engagement page anymore (most papers don't even put it into their print edition anymore, unless you pay for it).

We knew that we would have to, eventually, share the news of Facebook. But before we did that, we had to carefully control the news and "leak" it out to the right people. If we had hired a mouthpiece and a press secretary, it couldn't have been more orchestrated.

Sonja and I started, of course, by calling our families with the news. Both sets of parents knew that this past Friday was THE DAY I'd propose, so they weren't too surprised to hear the news. We then called our siblings and started the process of clicking through our respective cell phones and making sure our closest friends heard the news first. For her, it meant her best girlfriends and a few from college got the news. On my part, I called my senior-year housies from college and a couple other close friends over the course of the weekend.

But that was it. To be honest, it's sort of a big pain to call and rehash the story time after time (anyone's who's had a kid or gotten engaged knows this). We knew that an email would be the best method of telling everyone. When it's a big piece of news, like the engagement, you want to have everyone tell their side. So it took a while to compose the email together and then put together our lists and send it out.

Hence, the web 2.0 silence for 3 days about the big news - we didn't want to just announce anything to the entire world before we told the people that we wanted to. It was kind of funny, not updating my Twitter, hinting at news on Facebook until we wrote every word, made every call and made sure the timing was right. It was the equivalent to an outlet breaking a news story at 3pm - just in time for the evening news to crash a piece.

So, now you all know. That's what's important. The news is out there and now Sonja and I can figure out what the heck it is you're supposed to do next after you're engaged.

To everyone that we didn't call or missed out on the email - it was an oversight and I'm sorry. I could barely think straight while I was on one knee, proposing to the woman I love. Do you really think I can keep my address book organized? I'm still on cloud 9, pinching myself and making sure it's real.

Thanks for all the love in return from y'all - it means a ton!

Marriage is why we have gathered together today...

Please allow me to share some exciting, personal news before I get back to talking about whatever it is I write about here. This is a copy of an email that went out yesterday... Sonja will guest-blog part of it. Perhaps it's not the best way to make the announcement, but, hey you found out about it!

(And now, a letter from Mike and Sonja)

Dearest Family and Friends,

Please sit down.

Are you sitting? Good, because we have some big stuff to tell you.

We would like to take the opportunity to share the exciting news of our engagement! Mike proposed, Sonja accepted and now comes the exciting part of wedding planning and debt! (Just kidding…it’ll all be wonderful!)

We know you all want the juicy details, and that’s exactly what this email will (hopefully) do!

So…get ready to experience the Mike and Sonja Engagement Story:

---Sonja’s Version---

On Friday, May 16th, Mike and I went on a picnic. Now, this wasn’t really a huge shock because we had planned on picnicking for quite some time; he just decided to keep the location a secret. He picked a perfect spot on Rye Beach. We dined on a grassy patch high enough to view the ocean’s unlimited waters. It was a beautiful day, even though it was slightly chilly and breezy. After stuffing ourselves full of sandwiches and goldfish, he decided to have a surprise up his sleeve…

He had a little date planned in the Fuller Gardens. It’s a turn of the century rose garden on the Seacoast. When we walked over to the gate and realized it was closed, Michael got really upset (if you know Mike, you know he’s not exactly crazy about shrubbery…) I told him that it was not a big deal…we’d just visit another day. He started to get pouty and all grumbly because he called ahead of time and was POSITIVE that the garden would be open! But, knowing there was nothing we could do about it, we decided to take pictures from the gate.

Directly across the street from the Fuller Gardens was this tiny chapel. Michael asked if I wanted to go in, and hesitantly I said “sure”. We heard someone doing construction behind the chapel, so he insisted on talking to the fellow to see if we could go in, even after I told him that we shouldn’t interrupt and just visit another time. After a few minutes of waiting for Mike to return, I walked over to where he and the carpenter were and was introduced to Mitch. Mitch, who was “totally bodacious,” was kind enough to allow us to go inside and peek at the adorable building while he worked outside. The chapel took my breath away. Complete with stained glass and arched open beams, I completely fell in love with the little place. While we snooped around inside, I kept noticing Michael fidgeting behind me… but if you know me, I take things with a grain of salt, and I thought nothing of it. While I was at altar looking around, I turned around and Mike was on his knee! He took my hand and said something… but to be completely honest, I have NO idea what he said. I was in complete shock that he was actually PROPOSING! I asked him if it was a joke, and (thankfully!) he said no. Then, the big question came: “Sonja, will you marry me?” Of course, I said YES!!!!!!

His proposal couldn’t have been more perfect. Afterwards, we thanked Mitch (who Michael had met and planned the proposal with a week before!) and headed for the beach again to celebrate with champagne. I think I cried about a million and twelve times because I was so incredibly happy and surprised. I had NO clue that he would ask me that day, let alone before his departure to Japan and China! It was one of the best days of my life, and I couldn’t ask for a more perfect engagement.

(Oh…and the ring is ABSOULTELY STUNNING! )

Mike and I are so excited to start another chapter in our lives…TOGETHER! This is such an amazing time for us, and we thank you all SO much for the love and support that each and every one of you gives.

We are beyond thankful.

---Mike’s Version---

I don’t have too much to add, I suppose. But I’ll fill in a few of the details.

Since I’m a Nagel (and therefore, totally type-A), I plan things out. The proposal had been in the works for quite a while — I talked with my parents back in February, spoke with Sonja’s at the end of March and then bought the ring in mid-April. I’d been holding back on proposing while I waited for the weather to warm up (Sonja loves flowers, so I wanted to do the proposal outdoors).

I visited Fuller Gardens and the Union Chapel a week earlier to scope things out. The gardeners told me that they’d be open for business, but I either misheard them or they wound up being closed randomly on the day of the proposal. However, when I visited the gardens, I also met Mitch, the friendly surfer-contractor, and arranged for him to let us into the chapel for a viewing when I came back with Sonja. She had no idea that Mitch and I knew each other when we walked up to the church.

We got into the chapel. I had the ring safety-pinned to the inside of my jacket pocket (totally paranoid about losing it). Sonja kept walking around, looking at the Tiffany stained glass windows. I tried to deftly maneuver behind her to get the ring out, but mostly wound up flopping around awkwardly and helplessly. Finally, though, I got it free and shifted it to another pocket.

Just then, Mitch came back into the chapel. He knew I was going to propose there (I’d told him 3-4 times), but the poor dude seemed like he spent too many hours baking in the sun, so I’m not sure if he forgot or what. Anyways, he interrupted us and asked to see Sonja’s ring. Luckily, she wears a promise ring and he seemed satisfied to see that and left. Otherwise, I would have hit him over the head with a 2x4.

Alone once more, I got down on one knee, grabbed Sonja’s right hand, told her that she was the love of my life and asked for her hand in marriage. I like to think I did so eloquently and gallantly. However, I don’t really remember what I said, but I do remember fumbling around with the ring, noticing I had the wrong hand and mumbling, “I need your left one now.”

Despite my poor attempts at a proposal (Guys, if I have any advice it’d be, “Write it out and read it out loud.”), she said, “Yes.” And she cried a lot. And said, “Yes,” some more. I just smiled so much my face hurt.

It was awesome.

I’m so unbelievably excited — Sonja came into my life at just the right time to be my perfect soul mate. I couldn’t imagine a future without her. I love you with all my heart, Sonja.

“And they lived happily ever after…”

To answer your questions, no we don’t have a date. But we’re thinking for late-May, early-June of 2009. In lieu of gifts, please just send large wads of cash. Mike has a ring to pay for, thanks.


Sonja and I outside the closed Fuller Gardens

Post-proposal in the chapel

The altar where she said yes.

Outside the chapel (with Mitch's van).


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Big Day: Dunkin Donuts and Apple Store

Tomorrow's going to be a big day in New England, my friends.

Not only is it the most wonderful day of spring and the first, official sign of summer - Dunkin' Donuts Free Iced Coffee Day - but Thursday also marks the opening of the very first Apple Store in Boston.

It's unfortunate that I no longer live in Boston, since I used to work right around the corner from five D&D's AND the newest Apple Store. You can bet I'd be down there on Boylston, a coffee in each hand, waiting for the store to open so I could be one of the 1,500 people to get my greedy paws on one of the t-shirts they're giving away.

Seriously - how cool are those Apple t-shirts? My brother has been working for them for six months and he still hasn't given me one yet. I'm calling BS on that. Lil' bro, it's time to stop hoarding the shirts and sending one my way, okay? Otherwise, I'm going to stop buying that Hennepin beer you like so much.

My love for Dunkins is well documented. However, I do have to admit that my performances on previous free iced coffee days has been somewhat lacking. I don't believe that I've had more than two in a day, which is just sad. I can generally visit D&D's up to four times on a hot summer day for a medium iced, one cream no sugar. I had better do at least three tomorrow - I'll keep you updated. I'd say I'd go for more, but I am genuinely trying to cut back on the caffeine right now. I'm down to a half-pot a day. Not too shabby, eh?

How about you guys? How many iced coffees are you going for?

Also, anyone going to the Apple Store's grand opening?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Chasing cars...

I don't know if anyone else has been reading the Times this week, but they've been running a terrific daily series on Saudi Arabia. The articles focus specifically on what it's like to be a young person looking for love in the world's most conservative Muslim country.

I highly suggest you check it out. They haven't, as far as I've been able to find, set up a separate section of their website for the series. But here's the link to today's story. If you scroll down to the bottom, you'll see links to the other pieces.

This is a terrific look at the day to day life inside one of the world's most influential countries. Saudi Arabia, in addition to being the largest country in the Middle East, is also (arguably) the most influential. While Iraq and Iran might be in the news more on a regular basis, the other Islamic governments look to the Saudis for leadership on an international front.

The country, and (to a large extent) the Middle East as a whole, is at a crossroads. In an era of globalization and an ever-shrinking world, the isolationist, dictorial, religious-run governments of the past are losing their iron grip over their people - in particular, the younger generation. With cell phones, blogs and web 2.0 networking, lines of communication are penetrating fundamentalist areas like never before. People in their teens and twenties, who once had no future but that which was thrust upon them, now have something that many of us Americans take for granted - choice.

The reason these articles are so striking is that any potential rebellion against traditional values or ways of doing things won't start on an international level; it's not necessarily about opening dialog with leaders, permeating the Middle East with America's Coca-Cola culture or fighting jihadist fire with military firepower. Rather, this is a change that will take place on a personal level in the minds and hearts of the Islamic world's next generation. Each boy and girl will have to make a choice as to the direction their country will take as they step into adulthood.

The main motivator? Not Muhammad, not a hatred of Israel or the west and not oil money. It's love. The simple flirtatious courtship rituals we've held as routine here in the West are what could potentially change the direction of the Middle East. It's incredible to read about, really. Perhaps love really will conquer all? Only time will tell.

Do yourself a favor: read the articles. See what it's like to be a boy, desperate to win the heart of a girl and at the same time, uphold the traditions of Islam. See what it's like to be a girl and forced to dress up like a man to find love and see how the other half lives. Be a teen in the Middle East, in a pack of cars, flying down the highway and trying to catch a glimpse of a girl behind a veil.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I was tickled by this...

I played softball last night for my church's team. We won, 27-18, by the way, in what was probably the highest-scoring game I've ever played in. Being a small, local league, we play on pretty much whatever field is available. So, the game was at a Maine middle school's ball field.

In the school's parking lot, I spotted a Driver's Ed car. Pretty typical, right?

And then I saw the other side of it:


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dirty socks and three bags full...

As you know from previous posts, my living situation is a unique one. I live in a one-bedroom apartment that, for zoning purposes, is not actually a one-bedroom apartment, but a two-room office space completely with shower, kitchen and cable hookups.

I'm probably not supposed to live here, but live here I do (with the full knowledge and approval of my landlord, who has been nothing but gracious from Day 1). I live a pretty simple, quiet life - most of my day is spent indoors working or going on business meetings, so my neighbors never really hear or see me. Occasionally, I'll see someone the hallway, we'll do the cursory nod bit and pass without a word exchanged. The only thing that might get anyone curious is that my car is in the parking lot, 7 days a week. But after three months, no one's asked me what I'm doing here. The jig is not yet up!

While the place is a steal rent-wise, it does come with the drawback that I need to keep up the ruse that this is a place of business and not also a home. You can read the previous post (here's the link, again) to see some of the things I do on a daily basis. But what I didn't mention and has become a pressing issue is simply laundry.

I need to do laundry.

I'm out of socks. My last hand-towel is so over-used that it's constantly damp. I'm low on underwear and have been forced to (*gasp*) wear pairs that aren't color coordinated to my outfit. I'm wearing shirts that I hate because all the ones I like are stuffed into two giant, overflowing bags. And I probably should change my sheets, too.

The thing is, I don't have laundry in my building, so the simple solution of "just doing it," doesn't work. I would just load it into my car and drive around the block to my local coin-op, but if I did that during the day, someone would put two and two together and realize that, "Hey, that guy has leopard print boxers hanging out of that bag... he must LIVE HERE!"

So, in the past, I've done laundry by sneaking it out to my car before I go to bed - usually around midnight. However, the problem with that has been that I either forget to do it before I fall into bed or I'm just too lazy to make the walk out to my car. It's hard to get motivated when you can't keep your eyes open from staring at the computer too long. And, have I mentioned I'm lazy?

Good news, though... I did find out there is one remaining washboard factory here in the U.S. They make, by hand, the old-fashioned, metal-and-wood, elbow-grease models. I've got a bucket, if I get a board, I won't have to go to the laundry center. Maybe I could even string up a clothesline and dry my clothes secretly at night?

That wouldn't be creepy and get me arrested, right?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

PBR - the beer of champions...

Call me a beer snob, 'cause I am one.

I refuse to drink anything that might be found at a frat party. If it's American, it better be a micro-brew, Sam Adams or do a pretty dead-on impersonation of one. If it's international, it better not be a Beck's or warm.

I don't know what my top-10 beer list would look like, but it would include: Guinness, Sam Octoberfest, Hennepin, Gambrinius, Ithaca Brown (for sentimental reasons), Newcastle, Rogue Dead Guy Ale and Sam Summer. Anything by Bud, Coors, Miller or Busch is not allowed in my house or at my parties.

Although PBR is considered the nectar of hipsters, plenty of my friends drink it and you can regularly find it at exclusive clubs and dives (where it is universally the cheapest thing on tap), I've never had one - at least until Monday, that is.

I went out after the final final of my Master's career. My professor for the course treated the class to the first round and we were greeted with 8 pitchers of PBR. Never one to A) turn down a free drink or B) look a gift horse in the mouth, I had a glass.

The result? Good, not great. Drinkable, not horse pee.

PBR, in case you haven't tried it, is an extremely light, blond beer. The coloring looks like honey, there's minimal head (as it's mostly water) and it has a nice crispness about it that pretty much every other beer of its ilk I've had lacks. And it goes down, oh, so easy - you may as well ask for ice in the class and a straw, because it's like drinking water. It definitely doesn't sparkle, but it doesn't suck either.

The question I'd then pose to you, dear reader, what more could you ask for from a cheap, American beer? The answer: not much.

So, while I won't be stocking PBR in my fridge anytime soon nor will I order it while I'm chowing down on a steak, I may add it to my bar rotation. Quite simply, it'll become my "Mike is really, really poor and hasn't gotten paid in a while" standby.

"A pint costs $2? I have five. Well, then, barkeep... give me one for myself, one for my friend, keep the change and let's have a 1/2 hour conversation."

As my good friend Guinness would say, "Brilliant!"

I am Silent Thunder...

A while back, I was gmail-chatting with my friend and former co-worker Liz when the subject of nicknames came up.

Liz - "Some friends call me Lizzle."

Me - "Makes sense... I like 'Lizzle.' I've never had a nickname. Well, except for Nagel-Bagel, which all the kids in kindergarten used to chant."

Liz - "Well, we need to find you a nickname..."

She then went on to try a few until she hit on one that rang.

Liz - "I've got it! MURDERFACE! You'll be Michael MURDERFACE Nagel!"

It was my very first nickname.

It rocked. I liked it... it was unique, had a ring to it and matched nicely with my first name. Alliteration is always awesome.

The problem was, it didn't stick. Maybe it was because Liz didn't tell many people (I would have, but you're not supposed to spread your own nickname, a la George as "T-Bone" in Seinfeld). More likely, though, it was because it didn't quite fit me. You see, MURDERFACE is an imposing moniker. It signifies raw power, brute strength, tattoos and probable love for motorcycles. But, as anyone who knows me can tell you, that's not quite me. I'm 5'8" (on a good day, when earth's gravitational pull is less), 160 (when the pull's stronger) dislike needles and like shoe-shopping (tides, distance from the sun and the earth's rotation have no effect on that).

So, I found myself once again nicknameless.

At least, that was the case until my Beijing prep class at school. You see, it's traditional for Chinese to have both Western and traditional names (Hence, the plethora of "Johnny's" and "Rose's" at serving at Asian restaurants). For our semester-long class, our professor Shu-jen, gave us Mandarin monikers. They all were supposed to represent the common first names and surnames we'd encounter in China.

Mine was simple enough - "Lei Muo." There are accents on each syllable - the first goes up and the second descends. So, when you say it it sounds like "Lay! Moo-oh." Not too bad, easy enough to remember. It wasn't any big deal until I asked her what it meant.

We were going around the classroom, each person repeating their names and practicing pronunciation when I inquired to the name's definition. Shu-jen looked down at her class roster with Mandarin characters next to each person. Then, she smiled. And giggled. And laughed out loud. Until then, she hadn't thought of its meaning; she'd just put together two common names.

Lei Muo, in Mandarin, apparently means, "Silent Thunder."

You know what I learned that day? Besides the meaning of my Chinese name, that is.

I discovered that if you're nicknamed after a fart, it'll stick.

World, meet Silent Thunder! Bring it...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Coldplay - Violet Hill... LOTD

As promised, I have Coldplay's new single, "Violet Hill," up her for Pando-users to download. I don't know if it's illegal, but if you're Chris Martin and you somehow stumbled onto my crappy blog, then tell me to take it down and I will. I'm only putting it up here because you guys gave it away for free and I want everyone to go out there and buy the album and make you infinitely more wealthy.

How's that for a disclaimer?

Also, I'm putting it up because it took me three days to get the link sent to me via email and I'm assuming most of you are having the same problems.

It is still available on the band's site, so feel free to grab it there, too.

Happy listening! Let me know what you think in the comments...