Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another Moderate Time Saver

This space here is intended for rudimentary, barely perfunctory analysis of the state of the state of Michigan as well as how I feel about things ranging from appetizers to desserts. Pretty much covering the gamut of the human condition.

In the spirit of rudimentary, it is time for another one of my computer time savers. "My" is used very liberally here because this information is documented all over the place (like cnet.com), but there is little doubt that I have far more computer-savvy readers than one of the most widely read tech and gadget websites in the world. The actual truth is that I typically find when I am given a large list of computer shortcuts, I am lucky to remember maybe one of the shortcuts, but when someone points out one shortcut of high utility, I am far more likely to remember that specific shortcut.

This one is as basic as they come, but it is a useful incremental time saver. When you're browsing (be it on Firefox, Explorer, Chrome, or Opera), hit the F6 button and look up at your address bar. It's highlighted, isn't it? If that's not way better than mousing up to the address bar and manually highlighting the address so you can type over with a new address, I don't know what is. This is one of those tiny tips that I've heard about many times in longer lists, but it never really stuck in my head until earlier this week, and since that time I have been F6 crazy. At one second per day, you'll saved yourself 6 minutes over the next year. Know what you can do with that 6 minutes? read my blog.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Happy Holidays! and sorry I haven't written in awhile. Of all the funny things I attempt to say, I think the funniest may be when I apologize for not writing, as if anyone actually noted and cared that I have been slacking.

Last year, the Westin Book Cadillac opened with much fanfare as a symbol of possible rebirth (not literal - literal rebirth would be gross and difficult to replicate though my brother has kind of tried to replicate the experience) for the city of Detroit. The Book Cadillac had been abandoned for many years and some kindly developers from Ohio were nice enough to renovate the building inside and out, bring the Westin hotel chain to the party, and also include a few new restaurants to boot. The most prominent restaurant to be launched was Michael Symon's Roast to strong reviews and positive word of mouth. Michael Symon is a meat kind of guy and the restaurant is heavily slanted toward the consumption of meat stuffs. After hearing good things from friends, Maureen took me there for birthday dinner last summer and we enjoyed the experience and the food quite thoroughly.

It was with some trepidation that I returned to Roast last night with Maureen and our buddies Stephanie and Reid because since the last time I had eaten there, Michigan has faced ongoing tough news (GM declared bankruptcy shortly after my inaugural Roast dining experience) and the global economy hasn't taken a strong turn for the better (despite what the stock market shows) with Michigan and Detroit bringing up the rear. I was nervous last night that we would show up at a restaurant slowly slogging toward death, half-empty, with the wait staff clearly attempting to steal silverware and plates before the lenders show up to repo whatever copper wiring was left in the walls.

Somewhat to my surprise on a Sunday night, Roast was packed and apparently still going strong. This brought a degree of optimism to my hardened heart that splashy openings and stories of renovation aren't necessarily destined to insta-failure in the Motor City. Granted, the story of the new Book Cadillac still has a ways to go before it plays itself out, but my dining experience last night actually moved my mind away from assumed catastrophe, and I like that quite a bit. The only thing I didn't like was when Maureen and Reid attempted to spike my water with salt, the only reason being I had to pee three times during the dinner because I had too much water to drink. My astute observational skills prevented me from ingesting salt water, and I will begin planning my revenge immediately.

This isn't meant as a review of Roast, but I, and my fellow diners, have loved everything I have eaten there in my two visits. I say everything because the sides at the restaurant are crazy delicious. We decided last night that we'd like to go back soon and have a meal entirely of side dishes. I'm still not sure how is it possible that with the millions of variations of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese I have eaten in my life, I can eat the Roast variations and have such a strong positive reaction. If you have never eaten brussel sprouts (they're Maureen's favorite vegetable, which is evidence to me that she is crazy) and would like to put a toe in the brussel sprout pool to swim with Maureen, there is surely nowhere better in the world to eat brussel sprouts than Roast. You'll just have to take my dining party's word on this one.

The meal can get a little bit on the expensive side, but you need to treat yourself every now and again if possible. This made it a little more surprising to me how busy the restaurant was despite "the dark times." I hope that I am not forced to eat my brussel sprouty words if the restaurant goes under in less than 12 months' time. I think we're all pulling for the success of the Book Cadillac and further hard evidence that trying to make things beautiful within the dilapidated is not a waste of time and money.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Joe Cool

With Christmas comes people returning home if they live far away from home and fleeing from home if they live there. This is good and bad in that it provides a great opportunity to see people who are more than a car ride away, but it also highlights how nice it would be if some of these individuals were around more often (related to my last post). Over the past year or so, I have had the opportunity to reconnect with someone who I went to school with up to sixth grade named Joe, and when he is in town, we try to make time to go grab coffee or lunch at Panera or something like that. Joe and I were friends all through grade school and parted ways for about 15 years through divergent school choices. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, we picked up more or less right where we left off. It's weird to go 15 years with only passing knowledge of someone, and then to return to a place in your mind playing roller hockey in his driveway for hours on hours without a hiccup.

Joe and I grabbed coffee this morning, and you know what? I'm more convinced than ever that Joe is a cool guy. This is true for many reasons, but the reason that sticks out to me is the unabashed and proud way he speaks of Royal Oak and Michigan. Joe currently lives and works in Virginia, a stone's throw from Washington D.C. (the place where jobs are plentiful and numbers are growing from an ever-expanding federal government), a place where many people desire living and the climate is more moderate than here. Despite this, Joe wants nothing more than to, sometime soon, find work and purpose back home.

To someone like me, this is incredibly touching and valuable. Over the past years, we have been taught to feel something approaching shame and embarrassment when it is time to tell others that we live in Michigan. You turn your eyes down in shame and feel like when you say "I live in Michigan" there's almost an immediate need to explain away our situation so as to avoid pity from our discussion partner. The bad news, the media, the economy, the foreclosures, the Detroit school system - they all conspire to take the pride away from our home. It really does make it harder than it should be to love Michigan.

And every once in awhile you talk to someone like Joe, someone who shares my point of view of pure love and appreciation of this state, and it reinforces to me again that I am not alone in a lake rowing in circles. I don't have to feel shame when I talk to Joe about our pros and cons, and I don't have any reason or need to explain to him why I choose to live here. He understands because there is nothing to understand. It just makes sense and my position is one of envy, not of pity.

Aside from my massive ego and need for self-indulgence, this is the real reason why I am still using valuable possible TV-watching time to maintain my weblog. My readership remains one hundred thousand miles from where I would like it to be (and even my rudimentary expectations are not that high), but it is more than worth it if it helps you to know that there are at least two other people in this world (me and Joe) who need no explanation from you. If this is your home, if this is where you would like your home to be, or if you stand up for Michigan wherever you are, we're with you, and we're glad to have you on the team.

One Year Later

368 days ago, baby Louis was born, and 357 days ago, Steve and I were on a plane to visit our new nephew in Minnesota. That's a whole bunch of days, a bushel of minutes, and just a ton of seconds. It was a quick year and it's hard to believe that Louis is already on his feet and moving around. It's exciting to see new life develop and even more exciting that pretty soon, I'll be able to teach Louis the fine art of crushing your enemies through sarcasm. We're going to have so much in common - our love of shoes and boxes, our hatred of Santa Claus, and our strong interest in putting our hands into our mouths.

It's also exciting that Gail and Jeff have now been living in Minnesota already for 2.5 years, and if things go according to plan, they'll be on their way back to Michigan in 2.5-3.5 more years. Residency takes a long time, and I guess brain studyology isn't as easy and requires a bit more training than whatever it is that I do. So on that front, the time thus far has flown by and I feel somewhat optimistic that we'll be able to spend more time with them in the not terribly distant future, and the time between now and then will go by somewhat fast. This is all good and well, but the biggest heart pain I feel now is that even though this time is moving by quickly, this time is moving by just too quickly. It's hard for me to comprehend simultaneously enjoying and fearing the passage of the time living away from loved ones - because you want the time to float right on by, but that just means that is time that you don't have with those people. Fortunately, we have Christmas and other holidays to all come together and remind us that the times between don't last forever. However, I still wish the times between didn't have to exist.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Local Celebrities

No, I'm not talking about me, but I can definitely understand how you could easily assume this is the case. My status as a local celebrity stretches from that wall I see over there to that wall behind me that I can only see if I turn around. Local is all relative.

The local celebrities that I have in mind today are the popular and omnipresent bar cover band The Killer Flamingos. If you live in southeast Michigan and you've ever been to a bar, there is an amazingly good chance you've heard of the band. I believe they have written some original music, but the odds of hearing that while out on the town are in the 0% range. I am fascinated by this group of individuals who seem to really, really love playing music at bars.

What interests me the most about them is when do you decide/accept that you've reached the apex of your fame? I think that they're actually quite a talented group of individuals and they do an admirable job of getting the crowd up and moving, with each member of the band representing a different stylistic stereotype from the 1990s. They've been playing music at bars as long as my legal memory goes back, and they're still playing those same bars today. Do the Killer Flamingos anticipate one day breaking into the more national scene, or are they fully content with adding a $5 cover to the local bar and continuing to play out their cover rock and roll hearts until they come to find that playing at the bar 6 nights a week is quite the commitment?

I don't want to come across as insulting because I admire people who put themselves out there for my entertainment, but this question (which is on my mind because of a night at the bar last night starring a particular band named after homicidal birds) is something with which I regularly struggle - specifically, when should you be satisfied with the success that you do have, and when is trying for more success counterproductive? It's not easy to pick the right level, and once you try, you constantly second guess whether or not you made the right decision. Which is why tonight I announce a casting call for my brand new bar cover band, the Flamingos of Killerville, featuring Ken.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wheel of Fortune Makes Me Feel Dumb

The same thing with crossword puzzles. More than most of the time, I think of myself as someone who is probably way smarter than you. Way, way, way smarter. This feeling of general superiority lasts through most of my day, up until the moment I try to do a crossword puzzle or if I happen to catch a show that combines the concepts of fate, words, and boring personal stories.

The thing that really gets me about crossword puzzles and Wheel of Fortune is that people who I can pretty objectively prove are my intellectual minors are hundreds of thousands of times better than me at these word games. I'll look at a puzzle like "_ombination Mi_rowa_e and O_en" and if you granted me all the time in the world, I would not be able to figure it out. Maureen suggested that maybe this means I'm not as smart as I would like to think I am, but that sounds like an absurd notion to me. My brain has no flaws except for my inability to make words with letters, and lots and lots of other things.

While I am taking an in depth look at Wheel of Fortune, do you hate prize puzzles as much as I do? These make me furious. There is no way that the contestants should get the value of the prize puzzle toward their aggregate "winnings" over the course of the show. Give them the prize, give them the money they won fair and square during the puzzle, but absolutely do not count the cost of the trip toward their total winnings. The prize is often on the order of $7-8K, and this is way more than any individual typically wins in any given puzzle. I wish someone would do a study to figure out what percentage of people who win the prize puzzle go on to the bonus round. My guess is that it is somewhere on the order of 70-75%, and that does not leave enough fortune up to the wheel.

Now that I'm thinking about the bonus round, how much does this suck these days anyway? Man it sucks. They claim that somewhere on the mini-wheel there is a prize for $100K, but I can't remotely think of the last time someone opened up the $100K envelope either in victory or in crushing failure. It's always the stupid $25K, $30K, or car that there is no way they can possibly prefer over the money envelopes. Stop playing cheap Wheel of Fortune. Unlike most people, though, I can not fault Pat Sajak or Vanna White for their completely undeserved level of fame and (assumed) fortune. If I could make bank by pressing a square of light, I would ride that horse until it bucks me.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Crazy Ideas #10 - Trick 'Em

It was been almost an entire year since the last time that I had an idea. I think there is a strong positive correlation between how many ideas I have and how cold it is outside while I am running. The colder it is, the more I need to try to distract myself from my face slowly turning to ice, so there is a tendency that more really stupid things pop into my mind in the winter. When it is warmer outside, all of my focus is on trying to get my body into bikini-ready shape, so unfortunately there is almost no time to worry about single-handedly saving Michigan. This week was particularly chilly for December, even though I wasn't around for a fair amount of the cold.

My most recent crazy idea is an enhancement and update of the tax credit for first-time home buyers. If you don't know, if you have your contract in place by the of April, close on a home before June 30th, and are a first-time home buyer, the federal government will give you $8,000 for free. If it's not your first home, you can still get $6,500 if you meet a couple of additional conditions. This is a national program and is good in every state. In many regards, this plan has been a pretty solid success (at the very least, there is some pretty hard evidence that this tax credit has driven quite a bit of movement in home purchasing). Realtors love it because homes are actually selling, home buyers love it because it is some free money without which they may have not been able to buy a home, and it does some to be assisting with shrinking the glut of houses available on the market.

With all this in mind, I propose that the state of Michigan add a little boost to this national program if you a buy a house in Michigan - maybe something on the order of 1 or 2 large. This plan will help to solve two major problems:

1) Reducing the significant quantities of abandoned and otherwise foreclosed homes in the state
2) Trapping people who might one day want to leave the state by making it way harder for them to do so (insert evil laugh here)

Everyone agrees that one of Michigan's biggest problems is ongoing population decrease and brain drain for all sorts of reasons. If you can successfully trick people into buying a home here, they will be way more inclined to try to figure out how to make things work here rather than there (wherever there may be). Brilliant, yes. Also, vacant homes are problems for many reasons, including depressing property values, increased crime, and being generally depressing.

The next natural question is how to pay for all this. My initial response would be prostitution, but I don't know how you would go about accounting for income from prostitution for tax considerations. Borrowing can only take you so far and some would likely say that borrowing for a reason like this would mortgaging our children's future or "robbing Peter to pay Paul" (I've always wondered about this metaphor. I'm pretty sure it refers to the apostles Peter and Paul, but why would I rob from Peter or Paul to pay any of the apostles. I'm pretty sure the apostles were in a volunteer-type sort of business and their CEO, Jesus, would not be a fan of his lieutenants taking any sort of kick backs or payment. They're apostles, for God's sake. I think this metaphor works way better as a reference to Peter, Paul, and Mary, because even though they were hippies singing about civil liberties, they still wanted to get paid), but I'd be willing to mortgage my children's future. Then, they can mortgage their children's future and so on until Haley's comet collides with plant Earth.

I think what could have been a legitimately decent idea if it had been implemented earlier would be to use some of that sweet, sweet free TARP money we got to act as a Michigan-specific addendum to the federal housing credit. I'd rather lock up some population in the state than to have better painted lines on the road.

Home ownership, despite the major national real estate problems, remains a big part of the American dream, so we could help to make that dream a reality here in Michigan.

And no, this has nothing to do with the fact that we're looking to buy a home.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Travel Dining

99.9% of the time when we read about something interesting to see or buy on the web, the only option available to us is to catalog that thing away in our minds with the ultra slim possibility that we remember that we read about that thing some time long ago. I find this particularly true for me when I read about a restaurant or watch various chefs do their thing on Top Chef. I think it would be very nice to eat most of the food that they are creating, but I will likely never be wherever they are, and in the instance I am where they are, I will not remember that I ever cared in the first place.

That is why I found it pretty neat when I read this post in Slashfood about the former Google executive chef and chef to the Grateful Dead, Charlie Ayers. He left Google several years ago with probably billions of dollars in stock options and just recently reemerged with a restaurant called Calafia right across the street from Stanford University. Hey, that's only about 5 miles from where I'm staying right now, so I hopped in the mustard yellow Ford Focus (peculiarly, parked next to the exact same mustard yellow Ford Focus), drove 5 miles down Camino Real, and found myself dining moments later at Calafia. The best part of this is that I typically agonize for 45 minutes or so when traveling for work about where I should eat on any given evening, and by the time I decide, it's well past dinner time, and I feel guilty that I could have just had an apple and made it to bed but instead I eat a large pizza. On the way home some guy who looked like Tiger Woods was following me, but I don't think it was Tiger Woods because he was driving an old Toyota Corolla, and he wasn't in the process of sleeping with one of ten women who isn't his wife.

Despite my normal focus on Michigan, I would like to strongly recommend the restaurant Califia in the event you accidentally find yourself in the downtown Palo Alto area. I had a turkey meatloaf with swiss chard and ginger yams, and man that was a delicious plate of food. There's not much in life better than a plate of meatloaf and potatoes, and this one certainly ranks up there. I returned home, quite full, and parked my rental car back next to the identical mustard Ford Focus.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I'm Going, Going, Back, Back

California here I come - I'll be spending Wednesday through Friday this week in the Golden State for some work-related things. I don't love California half as much as many people do, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the two best things many people say California has going for it:

1) The weather
2) In-N-Out Burger

Regarding the weather, I was a little disappointed to find that it is going to be 50 and rainy in the Palo Alto vicinity. I can get that kind of weather just about anywhere in the world, so that benefit of the trip seemed to fall away quickly. However, when I checked the Michigan weather, I was fairly surprised to see temperatures plummet into the 20s with some high probability of snow. Then the question that arises is 50 and rainy in California or 20 and snowy in Michigan? I think California gets the win on this one at this time of the year - it's not that I don't like the cold and snow, it's just that this seems a little extreme for this time of the year.

On the next point, I am regularly conflicted by In-N-Out Burger. Every time with only minimal fail that I go to California, I make a trip to this fast food establishment for a double double meal with grilled onions. I like the burger and my time at In-N-Out, I really do, but I can't help but feel that this place suffers from its lofty (exaggerated?) hype. People who hear you are going out west always emphasize "you have to stop here" and people near In-N-Outs seem to enjoy them as well because they always seem quite busy. I more go now out of habit and obligation to eating meat than anything else, but I'm just not convinced that it is the greatest fast food burger place out there. Some might say its minimalist menu is a highlight (the secret menu does not count - I don't think getting another meat patty or additional sauce , but sometimes I'm in the mood for a good chicken sandwich or even a cup of chili. There is also the unique quality of being able to do something there that I can't do here, but I didn't get gay-married when I went to California and it was legal just because I couldn't get gay-married here in Michigan.

If anyone cares to comment (probably not), what are your views on In-N-Out? Better than the rest or just a pretty good place to stop on the way to the airport home? Keep in mind that if you do comment, you owe me the standard 50 cent comment fee.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reflections on Meijer

It has been a few days since I last sat down to write as it has been a pretty busy couple of days, so I bet you are excited to hear what I've come up with after all this time! Are you in for a treat today....

First off, how is it possible that the Meijer at I-96 and Middlebelt has Edy's Ice Cream not on sale for $3.86 and the Meijer at Haggerty and 8 Mile has the exact same product for just a shade under $6.00 also not on sale. Is it a demographics thing? A few years ago Edy's downsized their ice cream containers by several ounces but kept the prices on the items the exact same. This terribly angered both my sister and me and we contacted Edy's directly to demand an explanation about these shenanigans. We both received the same form letter saying that commodity prices had increased so significantly that it was critical for Edy's to either increase the price of the current product or downsize the product and keep the current price. After much testing, they decided on their current route and that we should go sit on it. They also included a couple of coupons for .50c off our next Edy's purchase, but my rage about this issue has not subsided through the years.

Last year with the crash of the stock market and real estate values, commodity prices also fell significantly. In my heart I knew there was no chance, but I considered the possibility that Edy's would decrease the price of their new smaller containers or increase the size. Of course this did not come to pass, but I wanted to hop back on the ringer with the good folks at Edy's and try to figure out why their explanation about their ice cream pricing did not work both ways. This is not the way business works and again they would have told me to go sit on it, but I always had a dream that I would get on the phone with some customer service representative and really let him/her have it. Now it appears as though Edy's has actually done something to align the price of their product with the price of their raw materials, but only if you shop at this one Meijer. For this $2/container savings, the Meijer on Middlebelt is now the only choice for me.

While on the subject of Meijer and other grocery stores, how is it possible that U-Scan technology does not work with the speed and efficiency of They-Scan technology? It's not that we're idiots, it's just that the scanning machines suck hard at the U-Scans. I dream of the day when I can pass my groceries over the glass pane with the speed and devil-may-care attitude of the regular cashiers.

And finally, how is it possible that the signature machines at the U-Scans possibly count as any sort of legal tender. Sometimes I write K-+-asdfAfasldfjasdflkj as my name (or so the screen approximately reads) and this is enough for American Express to grant me credit? Every time I sign one of those things I'm struck by the sheer terribleness of the technology.

I lied before when I said "and finally" as I'm clearly not done yet. How is it possible that two breads next to each other have a sell by date that differs by more than a week? Whenever I purchase bread, even after a thorough search, I fear that I have bought the bread with the closer sell by date, and that fear lives with me until mold starts to inevitably form on my bread. In addition to this, it adds minutes to my day to search through the various loaves in a vein attempt to find the one with the best expiration date. Same thing with milk.

Why does Cape Cod popcorn not come in even slightly bigger packaging options? Is everyone who eats Cape Cod popcorn a little person? Popcorn by itself is not a filling snack (though quite yummy), and I don't want to buy multiples of any snack just so that I can feel I have been snack-satisfied. At the very least, Cape Cod making corporation, give me a couple of size options.

Is there any way to keep the bottom of every single milk jug from having milk coating the bottom? Maybe they could just swap out the solid metal shelves for some wire shelves to allow for drainage of gross exploded milk.

I spend significant quantities of time thinking about Meijer. I still believe it is without a doubt the greatest store in the world, but I would be willing to consult for this Michigan-based grocery wonderland just to help to clean up a few of the loose ends.

And you waited four days for that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Seeking Some Stability

Times feel most confusing when you can't even get a grasp on how confusing things are. Two very confusing things happened yesterday just to remind us that occasional signs of stability we seek and find were probably never there in the first place. First, CNBC came out of nowhere at around 4:15 to report that the former largest corporation in the world had just parted ways with its CEO (to make way for the third new CEO in one year - 5 years ago this would be the most shocking thing that could possibly happen in the business world) and even earlier in the day, TNT announced that they were canceling their legal drama Raising the Bar starring Mark-Paul Gosselar. If Mark-Paul can't carry a dramatic series, I don't know who can.

Saved by the Bell references aside, I'm so very weary of change. The departure of Fritz Henderson has approximately zero immediate impact on my life, but it's just another variation of the expected that I could have done without. So obviously Michigan reached a point in time where the current status was years past unsustainable, warranting extreme change, but I don't think it is unreasonable to want nothing to change ever again for all time. Maybe I need to take this a step or two farther and say I wish we could go back in time like 4 years and then have nothing ever change again. Perhaps best of all, I could be ruler of the universe and determine what is allowed to change and what isn't allowed to change. My aging? No dice. I'll stay 23 years old me but I will allow personal career progression so that I can be 23 and have a halfway decent income. Do you want to have a baby? Clear it with me first. I'll probably say yes, but you'll first need to provide me with a business plan laying out the NPV of your baby.

This me as emperor of all things vision is about as unrealistic as TNT un-canceling Raising the Bar and change is also what makes life fun and exciting, but for now it just feels like too much in far too short a period of time. Change is fun because it is different from stability, but what happens when you forget what stability means? Anything loses its luster with time and repetition, and it's no fun when the thing that is repetitive is that nothing is repetitive.