So as we pulled into Wendover, Nevada/Wendover, Utah my check engine light comes on and I start to worry. This isn’t the first time it happened on this trip. The first time was in San Francisco and the folks at MINI Roadside Assistance, cleared the code and told me it wasn’t anything, if it happened again to let them know. They did actually check back with me the entire first day to make sure everything was OK, which was really nice. I started getting a little grumpy since I had just had the car in for a once over before leaving, until I realized that service call was over 3,000 miles ago. Fortunately for me there were a number of highly experienced and technical people on the road with me and when I pulled into the hotel, Way (from Way Motor Works) was waiting with his computer to diagnose the problem (thank you MINIons for giving him the heads up)… but thought Lucas’ only infested classic Minis.
A few weeks ago, I headed out shortly after 8am to a church about 7 miles from home. No, I wasn’t heading to services; I was heading to pick up chicken.
For the past year or so I’d been hearing about a company called Zaycon – a ‘direct-to-you’ meat company – and finally decided to try it. Back in August I saw that they were having a ‘chicken event’ so decided it was time to take the plunge. I ordered a 40 lb. box of boneless, skinless breasts. The cost was under $2 per pound.
The order was placed sometime in August and I was scheduled to get my chicken on October 8. So, I waited, and waited. Then I got an e-mail letting me know that there were delays and it wouldn’t be here until October 22nd. So I waited some more. . .
Then, on October 22nd I went to the local church to get my chicken. I pulled up and found about a dozen cars and a Zaycon truck so I got into line.
Within a few minutes of the time I was told to arrive, the line began moving. When I got to the front, the person asked for my name, checked me off on their tablet, placed a sheet of plastic in the trunk of the car and then a 40-lb box of chicken and off I went. I did notice that several of the vehicles in front of me were getting two boxes! Anyway, I had my chicken was home by 9am.
Fortunately I had read about Zaycon and learned a couple of things. Most importantly is that you need to actually do something with this 40 lb. box before it goes bad! So, I was ready.
When I got home with the box, I was interested to see what I had gotten. The first thing of note is breasts were huge! I started counting but soon lost track as I began trimming.
I grabbed the poultry shears and trimmed any fat off each breast then placed 2-3 servings into freezer bags before stacking them in the freezer. Six breasts also immediately went into the stockpot to boil and shred for tacos and nachos. In all, I took off 2-3 lbs. of fat and gristle and packed up 25 packages of chicken – all in about 2 hours. When it was done, it seems to have worked out to about $3 per bag.
Thus far we’ve had baked chicken, chicken nachos, and chicken chili. I was impressed with both the size and taste of the chicken. After three experiences with the product, I know each of the 25 bags will yield at least a dinner for two and enough leftovers for one lunch – a terrific value!
Would I do this again? Probably, I need to see how quickly we get through this box!
I read a lot of times to escape. I have chosen comic books and graphic novels (you say tomato…) because I enjoy the artwork and the varied styles. Here’s what I picked up today, most of my comics picks are rated “Teen” so somewhere around a PG-13 movie (like those ratings really help). Anything I’ve marked as “All Ages” are comics I’ll bring into my classroom. I’ve removed some comics that are a bit much for most audiences could be because of themes, language, or violence. If you are looking for comics for your classroom or your child, go into a comic shop and ask and read whatever you want to buy, because only you truly know what is acceptable in your family or classroom. I’ll pick a few to elaborate on the story especially since a lot of what was in my stack are things that the average person would have no idea about. The “LEGO Variant” comics just have a different cover depicting the character as a Lego minifig I may have only picked up the comic because of that.
Tiny Titans Return to the Treehouse #6 of 6 (All Ages) – I really hope this continues, it’s a great series for kids with lots of inside DCU jokes for adults.
Over the Garden Wall Special #1 (All Ages)
Rocket Raccoon #5 “I am Groot” this was my winner for most amusing read in the stack.
Gotham Academy #2
Green Lantern #36 (LEGO Variant Cover)
Grayson #4 (LEGO Variant Cover)
Detective Comics #36 (LEGO Variant Cover)
Action Comics #36 (LEGO Variant Cover)
Fiction Squad #2 of 6 Detective story in fairytale land I’d almost say all ages, but the way they draw some of the female characters… not so much
Atomic Robo Knights of the Golden Circle #5 of 5 Kinda all ages – the older kids at my school enjoyed borrowing the trades and reading about Nazi zombie robots fighting a robot built by Nikola Tesla
Little Nemo Return to Slumberland #2 (All Ages) The return to the world created by Winsor McCay- a beautiful book
Penny Dora and the Wishing Box #1 (All Ages)
The Fuse #7 Detectives on a ginormous space station
Birthright #2 A young boy disappears & returns as barbarian warrior – lots of flashbacks to his time in a fantasy realm.
The Mercenary Sea # 7 1930’s adventure in a submarine – interesting artwork.
Tüki # 2 Jeff Smith’s life of a cave man
Imperial #4 of 4
Tech Jacket #5
Tooth & Claw #1 Start of a massive fantasy story with animal people (which seems to be a trend in some comics) great artwork, and intriguing premise.
Velvet #8 Love this book! Moneypenny was a better spy than Bond.
Quick Update November 9
OK just went through some of the basic pieces with the next round of “Secret, Ultimate, Final, Crisis War” being put out by Marvel and DC in the coming months… this is why I have stopped buying most “mainstream comics” I’m tired of investing time into a character just to have it squished in some marketing scheme to gain more readers. I really appreciate the folks at Comic Carnival for guiding me to new and cool titles- so I missed out on a bunch of epic universe altering crossovers. I’ve found some great titles where the creators are telling good stories. Someone asked the question “Which is important Continuity or Story?” If you are telling a good story, continuity should be a part of it. If the writers are thinking about the future they might not try some of the silly over-hyped stories that paint them into a corner so they have to reboot to fix it.
A while ago I had the chance to attend Miles Ahead Performance Driving School at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was an interesting experience I shared with Sue. We don’t share well. Yesterday Cecil & I had the chance to repeat the experience with the new, new, new MINI Cooper S (MINI Cooper folks know it as the “F56″).
It was cold yesterday and for those in midwest know it had rained the night before ruining trick or treating for bazillions of kids. I arrived at the Motor Speedway and noticed that Miles Ahead had moved their location into a suit overlooking the main straightaway. As before there were MINIs parked in lines with drivers names on the roof. I ran into Dallas (everyone in the MINI community knows Dallas- he owns a tie dyed Clubman and spend his time going from MINI even to MINI event.) and we started catching up on his latest adventures. The class started with the basic introductions who our instructors were going to be, how the car works, and the shape of the day. The majority of people attending were MINI owners, but not everyone. Since the program has been around a bit, the group seemed to be filled with more normal people, not the hardcore enthusiasts I remember from my first go around.
The morning was split into three parts: the skidpad focusing on oversteer and understeer, a portion of the road course with turning, downshifting and braking, and another section focusing on the racing line. We were split into three groups some cars had two passengers so they would trade off.
Miles ahead has outfitted one MINI with a lift that picks up the back end causing you to drift. Stephan Gregoire has you learn to control your sliding around until hopfully you can drift in a circle. One of the key parts is to fight instinct and not reduce power. If you do you’ll start to spin. Ted Woemer then would take you out and show you what happens when the front tire lose grip and how to correct it, which is almost the exact opposite. In that case you slow down (not braking just coasting) until the car regain control.
Braking, Downshifting, and Apex Turning
After a quick break we headed out to the road course with Dan Clark and learned when to brake and some basic apex turning then ending by stopping in a box defined by cones on the track. This was when we first used the paddle shifters. The MINI I was driving was a new F56, yes, it was an automatic which actually made it easier to focus on the driving, but it also had paddle shifters. Basically, buttons on the steering wheel to change gears. In the pas the MINIs paddle shifters have been a push pull kind of thing the new ones work just like a race car- right is upshift, left is downshift. The only thing that was weird (I was probably doing it wrong) was the box you were supposed to stop in, was close enough to the turn that I wasn’t going that fast to really test out the brakes. The last time I did Miles Ahead one of the exercises was to go as fast as you could, and then slam on the brakes. Both exercises have there place, but I’m guessing I was doing doing something wrong since I think I didn’t coast into the box once out of numerous tries.
The Racing Line
After another quick break we headed to the road course again, this time with Pippa Mann to learn the racing line. This was a basic follow the leader exercise with the lead car being the instructor and the car behind her switch out after each lap. This is where it gets scary, and fun. While you aren’t going as fast as you could (or should) you are still turning a lot faster than you ever would on your normal daily drive. We practiced apex turning and braking as we drove a section of the road course.
Lunch was nice and a great time to talk to the other students. Dallas and I talked up MINI events especially MTTS 2016, MINIs on the Dragon, and next year’s MINIs on the Mack. We all chatted about how we ended up with a MINI and how much we really can’t see why we would drive anything else. Then a quick overview of the afternoon- autocross and road course driving time. We’d been divided into two groups and while one was on the autocross the other would be on the road course which had been changed from the morning configuration. While we were at lunch Go Pro cameras were added to our car for some in car video. I really need to get one of my own or at least take some time to get the general idea on how to use one. The cameras were turned on and ran for about 2 hours before the battery went dead and it looks like the exposure setting was great for filming the inside of the car, but not much of the outside. Still I have some video of me driving around which is a bonus.
We started off with some practice time on the autocross to see how the course was laid out. For those who don’t know and autocross is basically drawing on a parking lot and then defined by cones. My first experience was in 2006 and I DNF’d (Did Not Finish) any of my runs the first day, because I had read the cones wrong and turned left instead of right on every run. When Sue and I did Miles Ahead, I let Sue take the autocross, this time I had to face down those demons and actually try. We spent one part practicing with a follow the leader just to get the feel of the course. We would come back later to actually race, the best time out of two runs.
The Road Course
Compared to the autocross the road course seemed like it was an open field. We followed the leader for lap upon lap. There were two groups one with Pippa and the other with Dan we gave each other enough time between runs and after Sue’s experience I felt really bad each time I got close to the car in front of me. The first time we took the course one way, the second time (after the timed autocross) we did it going the other way.
Breaking Bad Habits
As Dallas commented I probably ran through an set of tires, which is not a good thing. It means I was being too aggressive, coming into corners too fast. It’s something I know I need to work on and I think I’m getting better at, but probably not. When Stephan Gregoire drove the autocross they pointed out it was full throttle, full braking, and no coasting. I was close, but it just felt wrong to lose all that speed, unfortunately you lose more speed by screeching your tires.
The New New New MINI
I’ve had a chance to drive the F56 a couple times as a loaner and have really liked the experience, but spending a full day in one on a race course takes it to a new level. First things first, the seats… Wow! Having owned five MINIs from a classic to the Roadster- I love the seats in the F56. The grab ahold of you and don’t let go. They’re like a Baymax hug. I still love my roadster, but the F56 seats are fantastic.
When I first learned that Miles Ahead would be using automatic transmission MINIs I was disappointed. And the first time I went and drove their JCW R56 there was a definite lag in the transmission when we tried to accelerate to quickly. Not the case in the F56. Having driven both the Cooper and Cooper S both were quick off the blocks (remarkably so in the case of the “Justa” Cooper). The paddle shifters in the past have also been a disappointment, this new generation are great and I can see why people would want them. While I spent most of the afternoon in “Sport Mode” some of the morning was spent in “Normal” and while there was a difference (burble, burble) both were fun.
As with any new design there are a few things that make you scratch your head- some interior changes made sense and others I’m just trying to figure out the logic behind them. Moving the window controls, kinda makes sense, so that they can appeal to a larger market, they needed to be in the “normal” location, the same with the door locks (interesting for a company that talks about being “not normal”). Putting the speedometer above the steering wheel again- in a “normal” location. The tachometer off to the side is a little weird, but most “normal drivers” don’t use the tachometer. The buttons on the steering wheel- Why did they flip them? On my R59 the right side is cruise control and left is radio, on the F56 these are reversed and I don’t see why. That and the location of the gas cap, why move it from the driver’s side to the passenger side, does that really matter?
All the bells, whistles, flashing lights would seem to get annoying after awhile, but actually I think they are there to entertain the passengers so the driver can focus on driving. When I got into the F56 the first thing I did was turn off the screen. I know there is a purpose for it, but I was there to drive and I felt it would be distracting. I see myself doing something similar when I end up buying an F56 and slowly adding back the tech one step at a time. Watching my video from the autocross I saw how the circle of lights actually were my tachometer, but while driving, I didn’t notice a thing. As a techie kind of guy I look forward to discovering all the technology in the F56, all cars are turning driving into a video game… hopefully I’ll make it onto the leaderboard.
With the nitpicking done, as with any changes to the MINI (remember the original R56 weird & confusing center column?) these are things you get used to as you drive the car and soon you’ll be complaining that they are “ruining the brand” for some other reason. It’s still a MINI, it’s still fun to drive (if not more fun to drive).
So What Do You Really Think?
I’ve been to a couple “performance driving schools” and taken away good practices from each. I really do think that if you own a MINI you should consider Miles Ahead as a way to learn from experts in a safe environment what your car is capable of doing. They also have classes for new drivers on safe driving- If you have a kid who just got their driver’s license, no matter what car they drive consider sending them. I know I would (but Hemi isn’t going to be driving anytime soon).
The F56 has once again raised the bar, while it has some quirky things (what MINI doesn’t?) I’m not going to complain when I get one as a loaner. Hopefully the F59 will be announced around the time I make the last payment on my R59.
A little over two years ago As I took on the role of “Magnet Integration Specialist” I decided that since the school had spent a bazillion dollars on LEGO bricks, I should learn more about how they could work in the classroom. So one weekend I headed to Fort Wayne, Indiana to go to “Brickworld Fort Wayne” There I ran into a friend who invited me to the next LUG (LEGO Users Group) Meeting. After doing My Geek Odyssey for a few years I had learned that I had only scratched the surface of geek culture. One of the major things I had learned is that everyone is a geek about something… be it football, basketball, curling (GOOOOO Sportsteam!), dogs, model airplanes, books, cooking… you name it and there are people who are really passionate about something that other people don’t care a hoot about. SO two years ago I started to see what the AFOL (Adult Fan Of LEGO) world was all about.
This whole post comes about because while attending Brickworld Chicago (a LEGO Convention) I kept getting questions from friends about LEGO and specifically Lego Conventions. I was going to post this after that (life got in the way) so after attending my third Brickworld Fort Wayne (link to my Flickr Set) over the weekend I decided it was long overdue. I know I’ve covered some of that in other posts, but thought I would consolidate everything here.
What is it all about? Lego is just a toy isn’t it?
From “The LEGO Movie”
The Man Upstairs: You know the rules, this isn’t a toy!
Finn: Um… it kind of is.
The Man Upstairs: No, actually it’s a highly sophisticated inter-locking brick system.
Finn: But we bought it at the toy store.
The Man Upstairs: We did, but the way I’m using it makes it an adult thing.
Finn: The box for this one said “Ages 8 to 14″!
The Man Upstairs: That’s a suggestion. They have to put that on there.
Yes, “The Man Upstairs” is an AFOL… which actually upsets some AFOLs since they “aren’t like that at all” – and comic books are “graphic novels.”
My experience with Lego Conventions (i.e. Brickworld) is this is a place for Fans of Lego to show off and be honored. This is where they can sit back and have crowds of people look at them in awe. While LEGO is a “toy” there is so much more that can be done with it and going to a LEGO Convention is a way to see just the tip of the iceberg of what can be done with a simple plastic brick and some imagination.
At a comic book conventions you have the Exhibit Hall that really isn’t an Exhibit Hall since the majority of the floor space is taken up by people selling things. They call it an Exhibit Hall, but in the old days they called it the Vendor Hall and it still is that. At a Lego Convention it is mostly an Exhibit Hall, a place to see what others have done. Table upon table of things real people have built using the same materials, little plastic bricks. There are vendors, selling a variety of LEGO related items, from old sets to custom pieces, but they tend to be on the periphery, the reason to go is to be inspired by what these artists & engineers have created. So adults and kids wander around screaming with joy over a discovery or just in utter amazement over what is in front of them.
MOC stands for My Own Creation and this is what happens when someone builds something that they want from whatever reference they have and it isn’t a LEGO kit. It might have started out that way, but now it is something no one else has ever seen before. Yes, it might have some elements from a store kit, but the colors might be different, or there’s a tweak here or there. I keep looking at the Arkham Asylum set and shutter at how it is a toy (a toy for kids who want to play in an Insane Asylum) but it isn’t enclosed its a playset. The Haunted House is a play set also but was designed to be a show piece also since it closes up like a freaky dollhouse. So what did a Batman fanboy and AFOL do? they built Arkham Asylum they is should have been done and it is a thing of beauty.
MOCS are inspired by the other things that AFOLs are passionate about maybe it’s a book, or movie… could be a genre like steampunk. My only MOC to date has been a portion of the Death Star trench from Star Wars. LEGO had created X-Wing and TIE fighters at a certain scale so I decided to build a scale model of the trench and include something LEGO hadn’t done Y-Wing Fighter/Bombers. Yes, LEGO had at one time created a kit, but as a old school Star Wars fan they didn’t look right, mine may not be perfect but were a lot closer to what was in the film.
Massive Displays & Collaborative Projects
Tables with massive cityscapes, interplanetary mining operations, feudal keeps, pirate ships and treasure filled islands fill the hall, some done by single people, but a number of them are collaborations put together the day before the show opens. People bring what they have and set them all together. With the popularity of “The LEGO Movie” Bricksburg has become a staple. And besides marveling at the detail people also search for Minifigs since they help tell the story. Most AFOLs will put in little jokes “easter eggs” for the worthy person. In many cases it’s a way to keep kids
mesmerized as they search for the familiar figure.
The Great Ball Contraption
Something I marvel at, but just haven’t had the energy, motivation, or bravery to try is the Great Ball Contraption or GBC. This collaborative build has nothing to do with a theme like “pirates” or “super-heroes” this is heavy duty engineering- the purpose is to move a ball around the table. There are guidelines since everyone who participates has only one segment of the machine so everything must line up. Tab A needs to line up with Slot A or all is lost (or at least a whole lot of LEGO balls are going to be lost. As I said, I haven’t even attempted at building a component for this, so all I can say is they are just awesome (as is everything).
Other things happening at the Con
While every Con is different there are usually other things to do besides wandering around looking at LEGO creations. A lot of this is on the Techic side of things- the more engineering and mechanical view, to help kids and parents see that while these are a “toy” you can learn a lot from LEGO. Like remote control LEGO cars that they can drive over a LEGO terrain. Sumo Bots (again remote control) – were you attempt to flip your opponent. The don’t look like Sumo wrestlers the are more like wedges with wheels. Mindstorms robots playing games like Connect Four, or solving a Rubik’s Cube. One of my favorites is RoboRally and Monster Chess that end up at GenCon. Programmable Robots that play chess or RoboRally. Besides this families can build mosaics using LEGO bricks or just build with a table covered with “elements.”
What I’ve tried to describe to you is just a part of the Brickworlds I have attended, they are basically for the public to see what people can do with LEGO elements. Brickworld Chicago takes it to the next level. It isn’t just for the public, but actually has two days of workshops and presentations before the public arrives. Where LEGO Fans get together, talk and learn from other LEGO Fans. There are a bunch of different competitions for people to enter. The old pinewood derby race, a regatta in the hotel pool, auction and raffles. Think of a typical convention for a professional organization and that’s the “Non-Public” Days for Brickworld.
I haven’t attended any of the other conventions across the country (Brickworld is expanding to Tampa this year) because of other commitments, so I’m no expert, but I’m pretty happy with the experience I have had and really would suggest it to be added to anyone who is creative’s bucket list. Even if you don’t care for LEGO, or haven’t built anything since you were a kid, like going to a Comic-Con or a MINI Cooper rally, it’s just wonderful to see people happy and passionate about something. Oh and I apologize to any diehard AFOLs who feel that I used “LEGO” incorrectly in this entry… It’s not the end of the world (like when the person auctioning off LEGO variant covers of Marvel Comics had no clue what they were- now that was a tragedy).
Yesterday I took the day to go back in time (it’s just a jump to the left) and try something I hadn’t done since I was about 10- play music. Music?!? yes, unlike almost every kid I know I really have no musical background. I took piano lessons as a kid, but didn’t practice and my parents gave up on them after a short time. In school we really didn’t have music class, so it was the typical sing songs- I don’t recall having a formal music class ever. Then came fourth grade and Mr. Welch.
Mr. Welch was one of those “cool teachers” he did fun things with his class. One of those was teach those kids interested to play the ukulele. Being the new kid in the school I (or my parents) tried to get me involved in everything. So before school started I would walk to school and learn how to play the uke. Mr. Welch had his reasons- see he closed out the year with his class musical “The Woolybooger” play and he needed a ukulele choir. I had a soprano uke and then for Christmas I got a banjo uke… and had earned my place in the the uke choir playing “Proud Mary” to the tearful audience on parents. Then I went to fifth grade and my uke gathered dust. I don’t know what happened to either one, but in a fit of nostalgia when we were on a family vacation (Sue and my only family vacation with my parents) in Maui I decided to buy a nice ukulele as a souvenir. So for the past 5 years it has sat in my office until yesterday.
Yesterday I headed down to Metamora, Indiana where my friends Rick and Holly were putting on a Uke Day at their shop. Metamora is one of those old towns that opens for tourists on the weekend and during the many festivals the hold (Canal Days being the biggie). They have a train that stops there and a canal boat (hence Canal Days). When I taught 4th grade we used to travel here to learn about olde tyme Indiana. I was not here to learn about Indiana History, but the ukulele, by the end of the day I had learned quite a bit about myself.
The day was divided up into various workshops for different abilities. I signed up for all of them in hopes that something would stick. I won’t go into detail about each presentation, but learned once again that everyone is a geek about something, and I was in the land of uke-geek.
Most people only have experience with the uke as a Hawaiian instrument through things like “Over the Rainbow” performed by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole or Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” which is frankly just a little frightening. The internet has changed the view of the ukulele but you have to kind of search it out… Artists like Jake Shimabukuro perform everything on four strings (his documentary is “Life on Four Strings”). My hope for yesterday was pretty simple- figure out what I’m doing with this thing and start to decide if I should make time to really learn how to play it.
I tend to try to stay in my comfort zone with most things. This was way out there (like that time I tried to learn to knit). I was a little afraid- I never have been a musician. I like listening to music, I appreciate the work and effort that goes into it, but like when someone asks me how I can draw… to me there is magic to music and I don’t know even the basic spells.
The actual day ended up being a whirlwind from some basics to “chunking” and playing pop songs to the care and feeding of a uke to more basics to some music theory which, by that time, I was spent. Each presentation was well done, but for a beginner, I think I wouldn’t have minded having (and I could have taken it, but I didn’t want to miss anything) some time set aside to practice what we had just learned with the presenter or one of the many uke experts mentoring us. I headed home with sore fingers and still feeling a little lost- but willing to give it a try. I ended the day having tried to play a few songs, knowing how to take care of my uke (I was told I will start collecting them) and having some basics and a lot of encouragement to keep at it, even though I discovered I have no rhythm, at all. I missed the concert that night, which would have been cool, but needed to get home and just figure it all out. I am planning on spending a day at the Uke World Congress just to hang out and learn more, but that isn’t until June. My thanks to everyone who presented and are inspiring me to keep at it and the new friends I met along the away.
So what is my fate? With everything going on in my life ,will I decide to chunk in all and become a ukulele virtuso?
I have decided I want to give it a try, but some other things will end up being neglected (no, not the comic strip- I’ve got some ideas about this adventure, but there are only so many hours in a day to grade papers). Some say it will only take 15 minutes a day of practice…and a good ukulele tuner. Cecil is asking that I learn “I Like Bananas” as quickly as possible. All I can say is when I’m ready to storm the internet with my videos you’ll see them here first!
Here some pictures from Mosiac’s Ukulele Day (hopefully the first of many):