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Off for two weeks

March 13, 2010 2 comments

Tomorrow we head off to Spain. We leave Chicago at 2:30, get to Dallas at 5 and have 40 minutes to lug all our stuff through DFW and get on the flight to Madrid. God, I hope we make it.

We haven’t been to Madrid in over 7 years, which is a shame because my parents own a condo there so staying there is pretty cheap. Zachary was the result of our last trip there, let’s hope that we don’t have a duplicate outcome this trip.

My suitcase for MadridOne of the advantages of going to a place where you have ready place to stay is the elimination of the need to pack for the entire trip. We pack enough for 5 days and just do laundry there. Makes for much easier packing. Here’s what I’m bringing for two weeks. A carry on.

Still, even when I don’t have a “home base” with a relative or friend, I tend to pack light. When I spent three weeks in Germany, Kenya and Uganda, I brought 2 (!) carry-ons. Just turn your underwear inside out and you get twice the use out of them 🙂 (my wife wants you all to be aware this was before she met me).

As a result, even though I will have a netbook with me, I will not be tweeting and blogging as often as I would normally. Hope to see you all on the interwebz when I return.

Categories: Travel

Webcomic – A Softer World

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Unpredictable, acerbic and at time surprisingly thoughtful. asofterworld.com

Categories: Humor

Prius Issues – Worry or Ignore?

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

So we own a Prius. We’ve had it since November of 2003, purchased as soon as the new body redesign was announced. Paid in cash. Full price. Have loved it for over 6 years now and never had a major issue with it.

Now, with the issue of the recalls and sudden acceleration of the Prius driven by the gentleman in California, we are a bit worried about driving it. Suzanne and I would rather play it safe and transport the children in the Odyssey Mini-van and then have the other driver use the Prius (we take turns dropping the kids off at school).

It’ seems to me an irrational concern; however, it takes one incident such as the incident above or the one involving the fatal accident of the California State Trooper and his family to put you and your loved ones in danger. So, given that we are on the money savings bandwagon, and given that we pay for our cars in full (We hate owing money – our only debt is our mortgage) we’re in a frustrating place. We don’t have the money to buy for a new car right now but we’re scared of the car we have. Logically, the odds are minimal but we can veer from calm to hysteria faster than the Prius can accelerate so we can either bite the bullet and take out a car loan (I shudder just saying that) or hope that we don’t have the issue or they can fix it soon (although Toyota still doesn’t have an understanding of sudden acceleration issues in the Prius). If we can stay the course vis-à-vis our savings, we should have enough in the bank by the end of the year to buy a new car. the question is, should we wait that long?

As for what we’re looking at, we will probably stick to Hondas and Nissans as that’s what we’ve had the most luck with. Since we live in an area that receives a lot of snow, a CR-V or a Murano are possibilities, as are a Crosstour, and a Pilot. We do try to be observant of gas mileage so the likelihood of getting a LARGE SUV is very minimal. We would also look at the Civic, the Altima and the Accord. We’ll see.

If you ARE ever in a car that experiences sudden acceleration, you can use some of the practical suggestions below (found on pr-inside.com)

“When drivers don’t have time to think through their various options and the possible consequences, they can make mistakes which are fatal to themselves, their innocent passengers, and to people in other vehicles,” public interest law professor John Banzhaf (who has written on and litigated about vehicle safety) says. The very fact that there have been so many sudden-acceleration situations shows that many people do not know how to take the simple steps which in most cases could prevent a serious accident.

If confronted with a sudden-acceleration situation, drivers should:
(1) brake hard without pumping;
(2) shift into neutral (or depress the clutch);
(3) turn off the ignition only once fully stopped.

“BRAKE, SHIFT, TURNOFF” is a simple message people can remember and follow, Banzhaf says.

As Consumer Reports [CR] has demonstrated with actual tests, even vehicles with stuck throttles can often be stopped or at least considerably slowed by pushing hard on the brake, perhaps with both feet. But, warns CR, don’t pump the brakes because this could lose the power assist and make it difficult to stop the car.

Shifting into neutral (or depressing the clutch) will immediately stop the engine’s power from being transmitted to the wheels, and allow the brakes to bring the car to a quick stop. This one simple step, which takes only a second at most, should prevent most sudden-acceleration situations from becoming serious accidents.

However, since switching from DRIVE to NEUTRAL at highway speed is an unusual maneuver, and may require first releasing an un-locking device on the shift lever or elsewhere at least on some vehicles, drivers, especially owners of vehicles at risk, might want to practice this simple step several times at moderate speeds on uncrowded roads. A few practice runs will help assure that drivers will react quickly and correctly in an emergency, and instill confidence rather than panic.

Indeed, if drivers act suddenly in panic, they might think that turning off the ignition would help by stopping the engine, but this maneuver could be very dangerous for several reasons. If the engine is suddenly shut off, the driver might lose both power-assisted steering and braking, making it impossible to avoid an accident.

Also, warns Prof. Banzhaf, in turning the key in the ignition, the driver could easily go too far and engage the automatic steering-wheel lock which helps guard against theft once the vehicle is parked, a mistake which would make it impossible for even the strongest driver to steer the car away from obstacles, pedestrians, etc.

So, on cars with a key ignition, it’s important not to try to turn the engine off by turning the key in order to stop the acceleration, he says.

In the words of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

Categories: Family, Money

On the Business of Books and Bruce Campbell – a guest post by DB Grady

March 8, 2010 7 comments

On the Business of Books and Bruce Campbell

Welcome to week 2 of the Red Planet Noir blog book tour. After minor technical difficulties yesterday, Ody was very kind to offer this space today, on the subject of the business of writing.

On most days it feels like what I know about the business of writing, “you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first.” (To borrow a line from Douglas Adams, who no longer needs it.) I went into the business blind and naive. I did my homework. I read all the right blogs and websites and books, but everything I really learned has been through one mistake or another.

So I wouldn’t presume to give advice, and anyway, the publishing business is in turmoil and nobody’s really sure what’s up and where’s down. But here’s a good social suggestion: until you’re published — until the contract is signed, anyway — don’t tell anyone you’re a writer. Yes, you’ve written millions of words. Your mom loves them. In your mind, you’re having dinner parties with Richard Russo and Philip Roth. But unless somebody’s written a check for your words, just say you’re a prostitute or drug dealer. It’s a lot easier for everyone involved.

There is a perception out there that once you’ve completed a manuscript, the book is magically published, and Barnes and Noble has immediate plans to erect a turret display. Non-writers don’t know about arduous months of queries and rejections. The contracts and copy editing and delays. The sweating over the cover and everything else that comes with typing THE END.

Before Red Planet Noir was released — before I’d even been accepted by a publisher — the most common questions I heard was:

Who do you want to be in the movie?

After the book came out, the most common question I heard was:

Are they talking about a movie yet?

(Runner-up question: Do you think you’ll get on Oprah?)

These are innocent questions, and completely understandable. (God I wish they — whoever they are — were talking about making a movie. And Oprah, I’ve got rollover minutes. Let’s chat.) I have no idea how contractors build houses or how cash registers work. Why should readers know how books are made?

Numbers vary depending on the source, but two frequently cited statistics say that forty percent of people read one book a year, and twenty-five percent of people read no books at all. That means if someone’s read a book, it was probably written by J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, or John Grisham. In other words, in the universe of the average reader, every book written really does get made into a movie.

Once you’ve said, “I’m a writer,” but no book suddenly appears, people look on you with pity. “He’s a writer,” they say, but the same way they might say, “He’s homeless.”

So start with drug dealer. Beat them to the punch.

Here are a few things I’ve learned though error and inexperience. Your mileage may vary:

1. Get an agent. I don’t have one, and a great many of my headaches could have been avoided with someone savvy on my behalf. Stephen King advises not to bother with an agent until you’ve made enough money worth stealing. He’s probably right, but at the same time, agents open doors to publishing houses that my query letter alone never will. If I don’t snag an agent with my next manuscript, I’m shelving the project and starting another. It’s that important.

2. Set in for the long haul. You might get an immediate yes. My editor at The Atlantic has never had a piece of writing rejected. (And I believe it — he’s a genius.) I’ve not been so lucky, and I think my experience is in line with most writers. There’s no shame in it. His Holiness Philip K. Dick wallpapered his study with rejection slips so that he’d never forget how lucky he was.

Even once you get that wondrous yes, don’t expect things to steamroll along. Red Planet Noir was supposed to be released in August 2009. Then November. Then the first week of December. It didn’t appear on Amazon until midway through December, and because of a database mistake in Ingram’s [the distributor] database, wasn’t available for order by bookstores and didn’t proliferate across the web until January 2010.

Frustrating? Only until the first glass of Scotch in the morning, and that last drop by mid-afternoon. (Then it became frustrating again.)

Every delay was a comedy of errors — nobody’s fault, really — just a lot of one-of-those-things. In the end, my publisher produced a fine book that my mom really likes. (My mom is reading this, and I promised I’d tell her hello. So: “Hi Mom! Stay out of the comments!”)

3. Build a platform. This is the one thing I largely did right. By the book’s release, I had a relatively strong web presence and an active Twitter army eager to help get the word out. I suspect that well over half of my sales are due to the kindness of strangers.

4. Join a local writers group. Through my group, I’ve met authors, editors, journalists and readers who’ve supported me in ways I never expected. And this isn’t even to mention the tremendous collected wisdom and infectious enthusiasm for the written word they’ve shared. They’re my home field, and I love them for it.

5. Attend conferences. Don’t bust the budget on this, though. (Warning: that might be bad advice. Maybe it would be worth the plane ticket and hotel room to fly to San Francisco or wherever.) Don’t overlook the locals: Louisiana has three major writing conferences that I’m aware of. I’m pretty sure every state does. You never know who you’re going to meet. And I’ve never failed to learn something, get inspired, or make a new friend or great connection.

6. Have your book contract reviewed by publishing contract lawyers. Obviously, a good agent can handle this, but it’s also a free service for members of the Authors Guild. I wasn’t a member when I signed a contract for Red Planet Noir, but I am now. (Check out their site for membership eligibility. These men and women are fighting the good fight on our behalf.)

7. Don’t expect to get rich. If you want to make more money than a writer, get a job at Burger King.

8. Don’t settle.

These are just a few things I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve stepped on quite a few other land mines (so far), but I’ve got to save something for cocktail parties when I’m fabulously successful. Or something for the bartender when I’m an abysmal failure.

And just for the record, Mike Sheppard, the protagonist of Red Planet Noir, can only be played by Bruce Campbell.

If only they’d call.

Thanks, Ody, for inviting me to write today! I hope to see everyone tomorrow. Check here for the Bat-time and Bat-channel.

D.B. Grady is the author of Red Planet Noir.
He can be found on the web at http://www.dbgrady.com.

Categories: Books, Friends

Weather Report – Hell reports a temp of 34º

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

So tonight, my alma mater, William and Mary, will play for the right to go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time EVER. It’s been a really bizarre season for the Tribe as we beat UVa in NCAA Football, made it to the semifinals of the NCAA FCS tournament before losing by 1 point to eventual national champions Villanova, beating UMd at College Park in basketball earlier in the year, and now the chance to enter the Big Dance.

Here’s the thing, we’re a small school of about 6000 better known for producing presidents (Jefferson, Tyler, etc); entertainers (Scott Glenn, Glenn Close, Linda Lavin, Jon Stewart) and politicos (Robert Gates) than producing sports stars (Darren Sharper, Mark Kelso and Steve Christie being the exceptions). As a result, this year of EXCELLENCE IN ATHLETICS puts us in an unfamiliar situation. We aren’t sure how to act. Do we go and talk smack? I’m not sure we have enough dap to talk smack. We’ve been so used to losing that “that’s all right, that’s OK, you’re gonna work for us someday” is a part of the cheering repertoire at the College.

I’m cautiously excited but ever the pessimist, don’t expect much. I can’t even watch it at home. Since we got rid of U-Verse, I’m going to have to find someone that has ESPN so I can see the game. I’m not sure the Tribe have ever BEEN on ESPN before. It won’t be easy since we have to go through ODU; but stranger things have happened and if they do manage to make it through to the NCAA tourney, then the weather report for hell will be adjusted down.

*Update* I saw today that there was another earthquake that topped a 6.0 on the seismic scale, this one in Turkey, bringing to 8 the number of 6+ earthquakes since the new year began. If there is an upset tonight, will it signal the start of a cataclysmic domino effect? Should we start heading for the hills? Nah. Ain’t gonna happen. ODU 77 W&M 65. (and the world is right once again).

ODU vs. William and Mary
7PM Richmond Coliseum
TV: ESPN

Categories: Sports

Waterparks…wheeee!

March 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Today, Zachary is going to a birthday party at one of the indoor waterparks. It’s one of those things that kids loooove to do but cause people in the medical field to cringe. What better place to hold a party than a warm, wet, humid environment that encourages bacterial growth? I’ll give it a 50-50 shot that Zachary comes down with some kind of gastro-intestinal bug or rash. Or both.

Categories: Family

Currently Reading…

March 5, 2010 1 comment

As the New Year’s rolled around, I was desperately trying to figure an achievable resolution (and not one of those dorky, “I resolve to sleep more” resolutions) and hit upon the idea of resolving to read one book a month. So far so good. Since January 1, 2010, I’ve read the following:

  • The Shack by Wm Paul Young
  • The Art of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Time Machine by HG (Herbert George) Wells

I am currently reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Enjoying it immensely.

After that, I have Atul Gawande’s newest book, Checklist Manifesto, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes both already downloaded in the Kindle, ready to go.

Categories: Uncategorized