Jackson. (July 4th, 2009 - May 28th, 2011).

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Nearly two years ago, Teddy and I adopted two kittens from a liter that was rescued not far from our house. Teddy named them Ashley (for the color of Ash) and Jackson (after the King of Pop). Ashley was always the friendlier of the two. Not especially cuddly at first, but eventually she warmed up to us. Jackson was afraid of me. He was also afraid of everyone else, but mostly me. 

Over the first year, I tried to make friends with him, but he would usually run away when he saw me coming. But in our second year together, we found some common ground. First he started visiting me at bedtime. Once I got under the covers, he would jump on the bed and allow me to pet him for 5-20 minutes before remembering that I was terrifying and running away. Then he discovered that he liked to be wet. So in the morning, after I brushed my teeth, he'd jump on the sink and wait for me to wet him. Not just a little bit. He liked me to run the water, fill my hand, and dump it on him, petting him all over until he was soaked. If I turned off the water, he was gone.

A month or two ago, I got a new cat brush, and he loved it. Whenever Katie was sitting next to me on the couch, Jackson would feel safe enough to lay in my lap and be brushed all over. He would collapse, legs in the air, purring with his eyes closed, in complete ecstasy. I was delighted to be able to make this little guy happy, even if for only a few minutes at a time.

Yesterday, while brushing my teeth, he cried a little, then fell of the window sill where he usually hung out. He landed flat on his back and his legs got stiff and were shaking. His eyes were opened wider than I had ever seen. I thought he had either broken his leg or his back. He was clearly in some serious pain. I ran downstairs to get a carrier to take him to the vet, but 30 seconds later when I returned, he wasn't moving - just staring. I put him in the carrier and raced to the vet a half-mile away, calling from a red light to tell her I was coming. 

When I got there two minutes later, his eyes were closed and he wasn't breathing. The doctor confirmed that he was gone. After letting my cry for a few minutes, the doctor explained to me that it wasn't the fall that killed him. It was probably a heart attack or maybe an aneurysm that killed him and caused the fall. His sister, Ashley, and I watched it happen. Fortunately, Teddy was downstairs and didn't see Jackson die, but of course, he is very sad. Jackson was his favorite right from the start.

There's one more angel in heaven and one more star in the sky. But I miss my little kitten.

Jackson on the window sill
Jackson, on his favorite window sill

U2 (x2)

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This isn't about how I came to be in London to see U2 at Wembley Stadium. Nor is it about why I saw a band twice in two months when I wasn't really even a big fan. Finally, this is not about Bono, RED, politics, religion, or the economy of the music industry.

It is simply my reaction to the concerts individually and my comparison of the two.

First, U2 at Wembley Stadium, August 17th, 2009.

I was tired today. My plan was to take it easy since I walked so much the day before but as it turned out I spent a lot of time walking and exploring, taking two breaks for an hour or so each. Since Katie worked during the day, we met at a train station on the way to Wembley. When we got to our destination we had a long walk and were missing the opening band so I was stressed. Our tickets were at Will Call which I generally prefer because it makes it impossible to lose or forget them. But with a large, unfamiliar venue it turned out to be a mistake. There were two ticket offices on opposite ends of the stadium and we had to find the right one (which took two tries). Fortunately, once we got there, the ticketmaster pickup window had a short line and was quick. Our tickets indicated that we should enter via the Bobby Moore gate. We consulted a map and didn't find any sign of the Bobby Moore gate, so we asked a security guard where it was. We were directed to the gate behind the giant statue of Bobby Moore. I guess if we had known who Bobby Moore was, it would have made a good landmark. Those silly Brits.

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Once we found our way to our section, we split up. I got on the beer/food line and Katie went to find the t-shirts. I did my best, buying meat pies and cups of beer. Katie did much better, buying an awesome red 360 tour shirt. We walked to the seats and marveled at the massiveness of Wembley Stadium. I looked over The Claw, wondering if it was there to entertain me or subjugate me.


Once it got dark, the Claw started smoking. The crowd recognized this as evidence that the show was about to start. Sure enough, the Bowie music immediately followed. Next came an intense 24-song set that was a a very good mix of old and new. My favorite was skipped, but having checked out the playlist from recent stops on the tour, I wasn't expecting it. The music was great. That really wasn't surprising - a band that can sellout a 90,000 seat venue two nights in a row is going to be great. The concert as a whole, however, was weird. When I saw signs warning people not to engage in anti-social behavior such a standing up, I thought it was amusing. But being at a stadium rock show and having everyone spend almost the entire time in their seats was not at all amusing. Personally, I prefer sitting down and enjoying the show. I never realized, however, how important it was to have people standing, dancing, singing, and cheering. Without that, it's kind of depressing. A handful of dedicated fans, including the beautiful one in the seat next to me, stood up, but the general mood was dull. Even the crowd walking back to the train station was quiet. No singing.




Flash forward to Giants Stadium, September 24th.

I left work an hour early and drove to NYC to meet Katie, then we took the subway to the train. The wait for NJ Transit tickets was about 45 minutes, but the trip was otherwise easy. We got to the stadium (tickets in hand this time), got a few beers and cheesesteak sandwiches, and found our seats. Once again, nighttime fell, the smoke started, and the speakers piped in some Bowie. Therein ends the similarities. Well, obviously it was the same band playing many of the same songs but it was a totally and completely different concert. The energy of the NY crowd was so exciting. That's what a live show is supposed to be like.


UK US Winner
Initial
Excitement
Holy Shit - I'm seeing U2 in London! I hope this isn't as lame as London UK
Transit Easy, cheap, clean Understaffed, but acceptable -
Beer Warm 12oz cups,
one brand only
Cold 16oz bottles,
many choices
US
Food Terrible meat pies Pretty good sandwiches US
Fans Quiet and calm Excited, but not rowdy US
Band Perfect Perfect -
Shirts Katie got a tour shirt Katie got me an Edge shirt -
Next Day Tour of Buckingham Palace
Tom Stoppard Play
Work UK

Ashley and Jackson

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On Thursday evening, Teddy and I adopted two adorable kittens that were rescued by David and Abby. Teddy named them Ashley and Jackson. They are both black. Ashley is named for the color of her fur and Jackson is named after Teddy's favorite singer. He nicknamed another male in the litter Mikey, but that name was changed to Olive by the family who adopted him.

I decided to block off the dining room as their initial living space to help them get acclimated to us and our home. I used wooden toy chests that are only about 18 inches tall, so when they were really ready to go exploring they could. I figured it would take them a week or two but Katie said 48 hours was more likely. 

Sunday morning, the two of them breached their containment zone. I found them cowering under the couch so I opened the blockade and used a feather wand to lure them back to the dining room (but I left the gap open so they could explore again if they wanted to. The dining room is a lot more fun so they still spend most of their time in there. 

Teddy spent the weekend at his mom's place, so when he came home today he was anxious to play with Ashley and Jackson. The kitties were hiding under the couch for the first hour or so that he was home so I decided to pull them out to play. It wasn't too hard and once they started chasing that purple feather, they were unstoppable. I got tired just watching. After the feather, Teddy switched to the laser for a few minutes. As expected, it makes them nuts, so we use it in short doses. Then he gave them a little soccer ball that Ashley has taken a real liking to. The room isn't perfectly flat so when she lets the ball go, it rolls a little and she pounces on it. She loves to grab it with both hands and stand up on her hind legs. 

They haven't chosen a consistent sleeping place yet - they are still testing out all the dark and soft areas. They did both have a nap together on the round platform of the carpet scratcher Teddy picked out for them. They also use this to play (see video below). They are both eating and drinking regularly, Ashley more than Jackson. She is still more outgoing and comes out to play first, but he isn't far behind. 

They both still try to hiss when I approach them, but less so at Teddy.  He's small and probably not as intimidating as me. Once I pick them up they calm down immediately and love to be held and pet. Ashley even purred last night while laying on my chest. The simple toys are totally fascinating them,  especially the noisier ones that I dangled from strings on the furniture.


Teddy sang the kittens a lullaby tonight while gently petting one of them after dinner. I think it was an original composition. I tried to capture it on video but he stopped singing when I took out the camera. I'm sure I'll have another opportunity.

"Vacation" - Day Five

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Today started with a 6:40am phone call from my boss telling me there was a payroll issue. After  five hours dealing with it from my hotel room, Teddy and I moved to the pool. Another three hours later and enough data was loaded that I was able to go try to enjoy the rest of the day. We grabbed a quick lunch at IHOP then went to Disneyland for three hours. We visited Alice in Wonderland and a few of the rides we had already been on. My mood made it tough to enjoy the little time we had left. 

Vacation, Day Four

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Today we took a break. Disney is exhausting! We rented a car and drove to Newport Beach to have breakfast with Rich & Stacy and their daughter Laurence (Teddy's second cousin). The restaurant (Beachcomber at Crystal Cove) was busy so we had a couple of hours to swim in the ocean and play on the sand before eating. This was perfect because Teddy and I really needed to relax after three days at Disney.
beachcomber.jpg

After the beach we went back to the hotel and spent about five hours at the pool. A little while after we got there, some other kids showed up and they all had fun playing together. 

At 9:00 I convinced Teddy that we should get dinner so we walked to the Anaheim Garden Walk (an open air mall) and went to Johnny Rockets, then back home to bed. 

Disneyland, Day Three

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Since we were up until 1:00am, we slept a little later today but got up at 8:30 for the free continental breakfast at the hotel.  Oddly, eggs and sausage were included. We returned our borrowed car to the Disneyland Hotel and took the monorail into the park. First stop: Matterhorn Bobsleds again. The line was wrapped most of the way around the mountain so we were walking to the Fastpass machines when we noticed the other side was also open and there were only a few people on line. We got on that line and were buckled in five minutes later. Apparently, the right side is a slightly different ride and isn't as popular. I thought it was more fun. We visited Pinocchio's Daring Journey on the way to Splash Mountain again, then took the train back to Toontown for another pass at Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin and Gadget's Go Coaster. We also checked out the rest of the Toontown scenery, saw Goofy and Pluto, and just took in the wonder of the town square.

 

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We had lunch at the Pizza Port in Tomorrowland then attended Jedi Training Academy while waiting for our Space Mountain Fastpass timeslot. Teddy was lucky enough to get picked for Jedi Training and he got to fight Darth Vader. He learned the ten-part light saber combo very quickly (which I attribute to his Kung Fu training). He was totally into it and so proud of himself for becoming a Padawan. Of course this meant another trip to the gift shop for a light saber and Jedi costume, but it wasn't any more than I usually spend on his Halloween costume and I expect he'll want to wear it this year. Even if he doesn't want to wear it again, I was born in 1970. It's not really within my ability to say no to a light saber and Jedi costume.

 

Like yesterday, we retreated to the hotel for a cooling swim then went back to the park for a little more fun. We got dinner in Frontierland (including a funnel cake with a crumbled brownie on top, covered in whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Some nice guys from New York invited us to their table and found us chairs, just in time for Fantasmic to start.

 

I don't know where to begin in describing the Fantasmic show. I feel sorry for the people who miss it. On the schedule that comes with the map, this show doesn't get any more attention than the other things but in reality, it is a spectacular show that really shouldn't be missed. It's a combination of projections on mist screens, flames, fireworks, sparklers, ships, songs, bands, characters, and lights. The show is done twice a night. If I were able, I would watch it twice each night. There is so much to see that I think I'd have to see it from a few different spots to catch it all. The peter pan scene on the pirate ship alone is worth getting there a half-hour early for to get good seats.

Disneyland, Day Two

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toontown.jpg

Teddy and I started our day with a walk back to Disneyland. We stopped at a breakfast buffet across the street for some food, and then headed into the park. Our first ride was the Disneyland Train. Partly because of Walt Disney's love for trains, but also because it is the quickest way from Main St. USA to Toontown. The train ride is nice and slow with a lot to look at, not just for good views of rides, but also to see dioramas created specifically for passengers of the train. We will try to see the other half of the scenery on our next visit. Once in Toontown, we started at Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. The queue leading in to this ride is like an attraction on it's own. One of the things I noticed over and over at Disney is they really spare no expense. Fans of Who Framed Roger Rabbit will enjoy the walk into this ride and will totally love the ride. We rode it twice in a row since there was no line early in the morning.


 

mickey.jpg

We visited a few of the smaller stores and attractions, then found our way to Mickey Mouse's house. This is a fun house to walk around but it is really just an elaborate queue to get you to the place where you can pose for a photo with Mickey. Like most theme parks, they have professional photographers to take your photo and sell it to you, but they also offer to take a shot with your own camera (for free). This is one of the other things I noticed over and over: there is no pressure to spend more money once you are in the park. There are souvenir shops all over, some video arcades, food vendors, etc..., but no hawks or pressure to spend. Nothing in the park is overly commercial. On a side note, I noticed something odd (or not) in Mickey Mouse's house. While walking through one of the rooms, we saw a washing machine with Mickey's laundry in it. One of the items in the machine was red with white polka dots. Now I'm not saying just because Minnie's laundry is in Mickey's house, there's something going on, but it caught my eye. Maybe her machine is broken and Mickey is just helping out a neighbor.

 

As we were leaving Toontown, I spotted It's A Small World. Teddy wasn't interested, but there's no way were leaving without going on this classic. The wait was only ten minutes and the ride is about ten minutes as well. Katie had warned me that the foreign language singing was replaced with foreign accent singing. I was not looking forward to that, but fortunately, they've since corrected that atrocity, at least partly. Including English, I counted five languages, plus a second accented English, which I took to be Cockney. There were also several culturally-relevant instrumental versions which is better than foreign accents, but not as good as languages. I don't know how many languages there used to be on the ride.

 

We learned today that the Fastpass ticketing system is free. At Six Flags it costs a lot of money but at Disneyland, your regular park ticket is also a Fastpass activator. Knowing that, we used it a few times today. We used it first for Splash Mountain (a log flume). We got our Fastpass tickets, and then got on line for the 30-minute wait. We knew we'd want to ride this one more than once.

 

We didn't know what to do next so we just started visiting attractions in order. Based on proximity, the next was the Haunted Mansion. I was surprised that Teddy wanted to go in because ghosts are still scary to him, but he insisted. This was a very fun ride and attraction and showed off some great effects. It's not bloody-corpse scary and doesn't have people reaching out at you to give you nightmares. It's just spooky and fascinating. The holographic dancing spirits and the shadow playing the piano are two more examples of Imagineering at it's best. Robyn told me later that this attraction gets a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover for Halloween. Very cool.

 

Our next big ride was the Indiana Jones Adventure. This ride was very exciting and very well worth the wait. Again, unlike other theme parks, the queue is all part of the story. Many elements of the first 15 Minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark were used in the design of the long walk into this ride, and other were used for the ride itself. After finishing this ride, Robyn arrived at the park with her son's Jared and Josh. She worked here for years so she knew exactly where we were and were to meet us based on what we wanted to do next.

 

Next stop: Pirates of the Caribbean. Another classic that Walt Disney himself designed parts of. They updated it a few years ago to add some characters and scenery from the Disney movie but it blends well with the older stuff. As we passed a room full of treasure I said to Teddy that I wished I could steal some of the shiny pirate treasure. Teddy warned me, "Daddy don't, it looks like a trap!"

 

After Pirates it was time for our Fastpass return to Splash Mountain. We finagled an extra Fastpass ticket for Josh so he could come with Teddy and I while Robyn too Jared to a Winnie the Pooh ride a few times. Teddy and Josh sat in the back seat together and cheered the whole way.

 

After the splash down we all headed for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a family roller coaster set in a seemingly haunted abandoned gold mine. It was faster, longer, and more fun than Teddy's favorite Six Flags coaster but the line was long so we only rode it once. When we go back, we'll probably Fastpass it and ride it again. This is a historical attraction because it was the first Disney ride where CAD was used.

 

We stopped to watch Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. I could have done without the giant 3D snake. Then we bought some souvenirs and watched the parade/show on Main Street on our way out of the park. The temperature approached 100 degrees so we decided to retreat to the hotel pool.

 

After cooling off, we went to Disney's California Adventure. We rode the Monster's Inc. ride, ate dinner, and then rode Soarin' over California which is very cool. We only got to spend 15 minutes in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail because this park closes at 10:00pm. Teddy could easily spend a few hours in that kind of playground. At 10:00, he was still raring to go so we walked back over to Disneyland and went on the Matterhorn Bobsleds again. This time Teddy rode with Josh and Jared (who is four and was a little scared to go on this coaster) asked to ride with me. We tried to ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad again, but after the fireworks everyone else had the same idea so after waiting on line a bit, we bailed and headed home. Teddy went to sleep at 1:00am and I'm not sure if he was more tired or more excited.

 

Disneyland, Day One

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Teddy and I woke up early, packed our bags, packed the car, and were ready to go by 9:00am when Leslie arrived. She was flying from Newark to San Diego on Continental a half-hour before our Continental flight from Newark to Orange County, so we drove to the airport together. I parked in the economy lot ($18/day) and hopped on the next bus to the terminal.

 

The five and a half hour flight was very good. Teddy brought his Nintendo DS and played a Pokemon game for about three hours. Since he was happily occupied, I watched a movie. The in-flight feature was Duplicity, which I had watched on the way to London so I watched Slumdog Millionaire on my Mac instead. The second feature was Confessions of a Shopaholic. Even considering that I was confined to an airplane seat while watching it, I'm sure I could have found a better use of my time. We took a Disney bus from the airport to the hotel ($30), checked-in, dropped off our clothes, then started the 2-mile walk over to Disneyland.

 

We didn't have a plan for today because we weren't planning to go to Disney until Friday. When I noticed that they stay open until midnight, we reconsidered. Our first stop was the Mad Hatter on Main St. I thought Teddy would like a design-your-own ear hat, but he opted instead for a Mickey baseball cap. Then we walked the closest land, Tomorrowland and went to Star Tours, a virtual visit to the moon of Endor. This is a fun ride, with cameos from some familiar Star Wars characters. Teddy and I are both fans and enjoyed this. At the end, Teddy was unsure if "that was supposed to happen" which is exactly the effect the Disney Imagineers were going for. Next stop was Innoventions, a look at the technology of tomorrow (in the literal sense...most of the stuff shown is technology that is available and I could purchase it tomorrow if I wanted to). The structural design of this exhibit is really cool, built in a rotating circular building that guides people though, but doesn't restrict free movement. Microsoft's Dream Home technology is featured and allows for a good amount of hands-on play. It always fascinates me how a digital native like Teddy can use new technology he's never seen without any instruction. We walked into the den of the Dream Home and Teddy approached a control panel, changed the music, and lowered the blinds. Obviously that's a compliment to the designers (probably students of Donald Normal), but also just a generational difference.

 

On our way to Honey, I Shrunk The Audience (which had just crashed and was being rebooted), a young girl gave us two Fastpass cards for Space Mountain with only a half-hour to wait. While waiting we went to explore more of Tomorrowland and found Autopia. As we were getting on line, another kid gave us Fastpass cards for that ride that were already in the valid time slot so we were able to get on within 15 minutes. Contrary to the Walkee description, Teddy was allowed to drive the car. He couldn't reach the accelerator pedal enough to push it down so I kept my foot on the pedal and he steered the car. By the time we were done with this ride, it was time for or Fastpass entry to Space Mountain. The wait was only 10 minutes or so and the ride was amazing.

It's hard not to compare it to Skull Mountain at Six Flags since they are both indoor, dark, family coasters and we did both this week. But really, it's an unfair comparison. Space Mountain is so incredibly cool. I rode the one in at World Disney World in Florida when I was seven and after riding the one at Disneyland, I have the same question: How the hell do they fit all of those lifts, dips, banks, and twists in that tiny building? I know there is a certain amount of magic that goes into the design and construction of Disney rides, but this is more than that. This is Tardis-style engineering. I would love to see the ride with the lights on just to see how they did it. When you hear 8-10 year old kids asking "were we really in outer space?" then you feel the power of Disney.

 

Teddy spent a little while playing with a massive marble sphere, spinning on a water fountain. He is usually drawn in by non-attraction attractions. I enjoy the breaks.

 

Next up was the Matterhorn Bobsleds but I didn't realize at the time that Teddy chose it because he mistook it for Splash Mountain. Good thing he did because I enjoyed it a lot. Again, so much ride in so small a space. Teddy loved it, except for the appearance of a red-eyed, growling Yeti. Teddy is not a fan of a growling furry things even when they aren't showing teeth. We knew we'd have to wait on long lines for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and we were right. It was about a 40-minute wait (short by Six Flags standards) but the ride lasted over 15 minutes so the ride to wait ratio was very high. This is a relaxing but exciting ride though coral reefs, enhanced by underwater animation staring characters from Finding Nemo. The diving and surfacing of the sub was very convincing.


We decided to look for one more attraction since we were both getting tired. We found a few hundred people sitting on the ground facing the castle, so we decided to join them. We waited there almost 30 minutes but then the fireworks show started. The show was fantastic, completely choreographed to Disney music. Tinkerbell flew in to light up the sky and even Dumbo made an appearance. Honda sponsors the show, but you have to really pay attention to catch that. The show must cost at least $30,000 a night so having a sponsor is important. Disney does it tastefully.


We stopped for an egg roll and some drinks on the way back to the hotel, then went to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

I went to see Depeche Mode last night at Madison Square Garden. I was a big fan in the 80's but missed the tour I had tickets for because I broke my arm a few days before it. After waiting 23 years later I got to see them. I was impressed that they sold out MSG for two nights. It appears they are more popular now than they were when they were popular!

Before the concert, we met Elizabeth and Peter for drinks at Stout on 33rd St. The bar was packed and had a dozen TV screens playing Depeche Mode concerts. That was a great warmup before the show, while we enjoyed a few pints of Stella from one of the 20+ taps at the bar.

The band skipped some of my favorites (Blasphemous Rumors, Question of Lust, Black Celebration, Dressed in Black), but they did do some great old ones (Strangelove, It's No Good, Stripped, Walking in My Shoes, Master and Servant, Personal Jesus).  I was amazed that they sounded every bit as good as they did when they recorded these songs - some two decades ago. It's such a great experience going to concerts with people who really enjoy the music. The loud trance-inducing synth-pop melodies in a hot, dark arena, surrounded by thousands of other fans made for an excellent evening. 

B.Y.O.B. at The Barn

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Most companies I've worked for have had some customary way of celebrating birthdays. Typically people kick in a buck or two and someone buys a cake or balloons. If it's a big company or department, maybe there's enough money for donuts or bagels. About four years ago, the IT department where I work instituted new policy: B. Y. O. B. (Bring Your Own Bagels)

It doesn't have to be bagels, of course. It could be bagels or donuts or cake or coffee or fruit salad or whatever you want to bring. It could be nothing at all, but if that's your style, you probably shouldn't eat a bagel on everyone else's birthday. Some people make cookies or cake, but most people buy stuff to bring. Parties have been as small as a box of munchkins and as big as dozens of bagels with lox, cream cheese, butter, coffee, donuts, fruit, and various juices. 

The "bring-your-own" idea serves two good purposes. First, it allows each person to decide how big of a deal they want their birthday to be. Some people don't like to be the center of attention or don't like to recognize the passage of time. Others love it. Second, it makes sure nobody gets forgotten or ignored. Everyone remembers their own birthday.

It started small, at the helpdesk, but now it has nearly reached full departmental adoption. Try it at your job. It's easy to start - just bring breakfast on your next birthday. I'm thinking of hiring an omelette chef next year.

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