Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fall of the Mighty

  Jim Tressel resigned as the coach of the Ohio State University football team yesterday. In January, 5 players of his team were suspended for trading their memorabilia for tattoos and Tressel said he knew nothing about it until December of 2010. In March, with Yahoo Sports ready to publish an expose, Tressel admitted he knew about in April of 2010 but decided that he was protecting his players by keeping quiet. At the time, he was suspended for 2 games and fined $250,000 of his 3 million dollar plus salary. Eventually Tressel was suspended for the same 5 games as his tattoo-receiving players. But with a new Sports Illustrated expose uncovering 10 years of players receiving free tattoos and the revelation of quarterback Terrelle Pryor being investigated by the NCAA for receiving cars and other benefits made him too much of a liability to overcome the one national championship and several big ten championships he led his team to.

  Tressel losing his job is well deserved. When faced with scrutiny, he chose to lie about his actions and turn a blind eye to the actions of the players he was in charge of. But he shouldn’t be the only one heading out the door. OSU athletic director Gene Smith gave Tressel a vote of confidence just 2 weeks ago.
Either he knew what was going on and tried to ride it out or he was unaware how corrupt the cash cow of his 110 million dollar athletic empire was. Either way, he should be joining Tressel on the unemployment line. And OSU president Gordon Ghee should also be gone. 3 months ago he was quoted as replying when asked if he considered firing Tressel, “No. Are you kidding? I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me”.

  In his resignation letter Tressel said, ''We know that God has a plan for us and we will be fine,'' referring to himself and his wife, Ellen. I hope that God’s plan for Tressel doesn’t include more lying and turning a blind eye to the rules violations of the players of the school so desperate for victories that they give Tressel another chance.

  Today is the first game of the NBA finals and it is a rematch of the 2006 finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. I’m rooting for the Heat because I like their president Pat Riley. I’ve admired Riley ever since took over the Knicks in the early 90’s. He didn’t have the talent he had with the champion ‘Showtime’ Lakers of the 80’s, but he assembled a cast of tough guys like Xavier McDaniel, Derek Harper, Doc Rivers, and John Starks to go with Charles Oakley (the toughest guy in the NBA at the time) and Patrick Ewing and came within a whisker of beating up the league and winning the championship in 1994. He turned around the Heat franchise, but never came close to a championship until he assembled a veteran-laden roster around Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neill and won the title in 2006. Riley worked the same formula this year, surrounding Wade with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and a cast of bargain basement veterans to get to the finals. I don’t care for James very much, but I like Riley and would like to se him get another ring as a chief executive.

  Lost in the rise of the Heat and the Mavericks is the sad finish to the coaching career of Phil Jackson. Jackson won a record 11 NBA championships with the Bulls and Lakers over 20 years, but couldn’t get this year’s Lakers to play at their peak for more than 2 weeks straight this year. When the team had a chance to take home court for the playoffs, they lost 5 in a row and after scraping by the pedestrian New Orleans Hornets in 6 games had to face the Mavericks. The Lakers lost a big lead in the first game and were blown out in the second game and lost the next 2 games in Dallas to force Jackson to suffer his first playoff sweep in his last playoff series.

  I don’t think Jackson will coach again at the age of 65, but I wonder if a team will take the gamble and entrust their franchise to a man who led his teams to 11 NBA championships and owns 2 more rings as a player. As a player, Jackson was a typical 70’s player who smoked pot, but as a member of the champion New York Knicks, was afforded the celebrity to make his habits known and celebrated. It kept him from getting a head coaching job in the NBA for many years despite winning championships as a coach in the minor league Continental Basketball Association. Even when he was winning NBA championships, Jackson came in for ridicule on account of his adherence to Zen philosophies. If Jackson doesn’t get a chance to run a team, I’m very interested to see how he will perform as a TV analyst. Will Jackson be as outspoken as he appeared to be as a coach or will he succumb to the temptation to sucking up to any organization that may hire him?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Tooth for a Tooth

  You may have noticed from some of my previous posts that I notice when gum is on sale. That’s because I’m an inveterate gum chewer. Whether I’m sitting at my desk breaking my head over a complex programming problem, sitting across the chess board in a battle of the minds, or in the middle of a monotonous hour commute, chomping on 3 or 4 sticks of gum help me to relax my mind and get in the proper rhythm to deal with the situation in front of me.

  2 weeks ago, while I was chewing away in the afternoon, I found myself with an unfamiliar crunching sound in my mouth. A piece of a filling had broken off and shattered into my gum. I’m in no pain so I’m not in a hurry to get the filling repaired, but I know that a trip to the dentist is in my future.

  My teeth have been less than perfect since I was 8 years old and broke my front tooth and chipped a half dozen others meeting a car face-first. My folks lost the half of my front tooth and never got any of them repaired. I never needed braces and I’ve had my share of cavities but except for my wisdom teeth being removed, I still have all my original teeth. I’ve always wondered about these older people I see who have a big mouth full of perfect looking teeth. I just figured they took care of them better than me or the people I see that don’t have a lot of teeth. I’m pretty na├»ve. I never considered that people wore hairpieces or dyed their hair or had false teeth, but now I understand that these people with the perfect teeth were probably just wearing dentures or false teeth.

  When I worked the midnight shift at a factory, we would gather together in a local bar for a couple of morning beers. The bartender would occasionally draft a mug of beer, take his teeth out of his mouth, stir the beer, put it on the bar, and offer it for free to anyone who wanted it. As disgusting as this may sound, the closer we got to payday, the quicker the offer was taken up.

  My grandfather Matthew had dentures. I only know this because once when we went to visit him in the hospital (he was 95 and it was a couple of weeks before he passed away), he had lost his teeth and it seemed the entire hospital was looking for them. It turns out they had come out while he was eating and were found in the trash bag used to clean all the food trays. I remember getting his teeth when I got his personal effects from the hospital and I think I have them somewhere in the house, but I couldn’t find them. Hopefully they won’t scare Matt or Ben when they start going through our effects someday.

  On Easter Sunday, Kathy’s mother (Mary) and her husband Mitch came to visit us. Both had recently gotten dentures. Mary looked completely different with a full set of teeth. She said she couldn’t have any jellybeans because they would make her dentures stick together. Our neighbor Don, also came over. Don is in his late 70s, spends a lot of time copying movies to DVDs, and occasionally comes with us to movies. I remember when he had come over for Christmas I noticed that I never realized what good teeth he had. Seeing Mary made me realize that Don didn’t have great teeth. Don had dentures.

  Feeling particularly impish, I asked Don if he could eat a jelly bean with his dentures. When he said he could, I asked him how and he told me the trick was to eat it from the back part of the dentures so you could twist your jaw to unstuck your teeth, if necessary. I think Mary was paying attention so I didn’t ask him to repeat himself. Then Don mentioned how he had his last 3 teeth taken out so he could get his dentures. I remember my Aunt having a bridge to fill in a couple of missing teeth, but it never occurred to me that in order to get false teeth you can’t have any real ones. In reality, you can, but it gets very expensive to get new teeth every time one of your real ones falls out.

  This made me ask Mary if she had any teeth taken out for her dentures and she said she had taken 5 of them out. Mitch said he waited until all his teeth fell out before getting dentures. I had to ask if this meant there was a point where he was eating his food with only one tooth and he said it did. Now this is a meat and potatoes farmer, so I had to ask how he could eat meat with one tooth. He told me you could eat most everything without any teeth, you just needed to gum it a lot. We did agree that it would be very difficult to eat an apple or corn on the cob with one tooth.

  Our Easter conversation gradually steered itself towards other topics, but I’ve been thinking about dentures a lot more since I broke a piece of my filling chewing gum. I don’t want to wait for my teeth to fall out OR have a bunch of them ripped out. It is an awful choice to have to make and even the best dental plans don’t cover all the cost of dentures. I tried to find a denture savings plan on the internet, but came up empty. This could be a new product for financial planners. I even have a slogan – “Don’t plan for a toothless retirement!”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Higher Education

My son Matt graduates from Marshalltown High School Sunday and my mother-in-law is coming from northern Iowa to see and my father-in-law is coming from South Carolina to see and my sister-in-law is coming from Missouri to see. For the most part, I enjoy my in-laws, but the prospect of having everyone come over has put Kathy into high gear doing yard work and housework and everything else that goes into having a lot of visitors. I’m doing my part by staying out of the way. My father-in-law, sister-in-law, and their families have not met Daisy and Baxter and I’m looking forward to showing them off. The in-laws always got along great with Queenie and Tuffy and should enjoy having some young, energetic pups around.

My brother Eddie (the only living relative from my side of the family – except for me, that is) is not coming from New Jersey to see the graduation. I don’t think he saw mine and I don’t think I saw his or my sister’s. My parents came to my high school graduation, but they were already gone by the time the ceremony was over and I never saw them there. I didn’t give it a second thought and visited a friend who didn’t graduate and instead of crying in our beer, we got wasted drinking it. I expected to graduate high school, although I made it a lot more interesting than it needed to be. In my senior year, I went to school the first day, got in a fight and got suspended for 3 days. I came back a month later, took all my tests, got in another fight and got suspended again. I showed up a month later on the last day of the marking period, took all my tests and passed everything, including a couple of honors classes. The problem was I had to make up all the gym classes I missed and had to show up at 7 in the morning 3 times a week for the rest of the school year to make them up. New Jersey education at its finest. The classes were so challenging that a hung over kid can show up twice in first 3 months, sleep through the classes the rest of the year, and not only pass all the classes but make the National Honor Society, but DON’T miss the obligatory 45 minutes of running once around a track or basketball court and spending the rest of the period pretending to lift weights or pretending to do anything or you can’t graduate. I made up the gym classes, got through the graduation, and spent a year flipping burgers, washing dishes, and doing factory and guard work until I felt like going to school again. I never got a yearbook, went to a reunion, or even thought fondly for a second about high school. I don’t even think that I wasted my time going there and not trying my hardest. I was just part of the crowd. I think everything happens for a reason and since I have a great wife and kids (and beagles) and enjoy life, who’s to say that I’d be any happier if I’d went all out in the name of academic achievement.

Graduation or not, I’m proud of Matt and always have been. He is as smart as anyone who ever went through the Marshalltown school system, but unlike the fellow in the prior paragraph, he has pushed himself to excel instead of taking shortcuts. He wrote a game that was voted the best in the state at the IT Olympics, led the school math club to a top 5 state finish to compete in the regionals in Missouri, won 4 high school state chess championships and came within a whisker of winning the chess championship of the entire state this year. And aside from all that, he has his own mind and makes good decisions. He’s avoided all the mistakes I made and if his brother doesn’t beat him to it will be the first Anzis to graduate from a 4-year school.

As one of 8,000 National Merit Scholarship Finalists, Matt was pursued by a lot of colleges. He is going to Iowa State on what is going to work out to be no tuition but having to pay for room and board. A lot of other schools offered staggering sums of money in scholarships, but since these schools have staggering squared tuition rates, he would have to pay much more to attend these schools than Iowa State. No one ever tells you how much everything costs; they just talk about how much they can save you if you choose their school. I think a lot of these college recruiters just got off the used car lot, but in my opinion Matt used good judgment by going to a top shelf school where he should be able to get a 4-year degree debt-free. Daisy and Baxter will be delighted when he comes to visit and we will all feel better knowing he is just a car ride away in case of a problem.

When I was in junior college, I ran for student government president as a project for my government class and somehow won. Shortly afterwards, I received a letter in the mail that informed me I had been selected to be in the prestigious book “Who’s Who in American Junior Colleges”. I was told the book would be in all the Junior College libraries and I could have my own copy for $99.95. This is 1982 dollars I’m talking about. I didn’t buy the book and never even looked in the library to see my name in print. Matt also received a similar letter for ‘Who’s Who in High School” or a similar title. I forget how much money they wanted for the book, but was glad to see no one wanted it.

Matt received an invitation to a dinner held by the Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce a couple of months ago. The dinner was to honor the top 5% of the students in each of the area high schools. It sounds great and the student’s dinner is free, but if a parent wants to attend, the price was $25. Kathy went and I passed to stay home with the beagles. They told me the principal of the high school came up and mumbled something about each student’s college plans instead of talking about their high school accomplishments. Matt told me later a friend asked him where I was and he said I was saving 25 dollars.

If experience is the best teacher, I’m a poor student since I’ve sent in yet another nomination to the Chess Journalists of America awards. I wrote last year how I finished with the lowest score of all nominees for my blog post on the 2010 Okoboji Open. This year I submitted my blog posts on my visit to Zanzibar Coffee Adventures and the 2011 Okoboji Open for the best feature award used those 2 for a nomination for the best chess blog along with my posts on my free chess tournament on National Chess Day, the Iowa State Fair speed chess tournament, and my first West Des Moines youth chess tournament of 2011. The entries cost me $31 for which I’ll receive in return a magazine next year letting me know that nominations for the 2012 awards are now open. So I saved $25, but spent $31 and didn’t even get a meal out of it. I can’t explain why I paid to submit these entries. Even though I feel I’m a much better writer this year than last, there is virtually no chance someone not in the ‘Chess Life’ elite can win an award. Maybe I’ll get some publicity for my blog, but I’m thinking I’ve shortchanged the colleges, Who’s Who book publishers, and Chamber of Commerce dinner organizers. These are people who know there’s a lot of ‘stupid’ money out there and they are just trying to get in ahead of the Chess Journalists of America!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Ends of the World

I got to see this billboard on my way to work for the last 2 months.

  Every day I’ve gone to work the last few months, I’ve driven past a billboard proclaiming May 21st as Judgement Day on a background of flames. It’s only natural to block out something you see every day so I hadn’t been paying much attention to the sign until Friday morning when I got to work and Raj, my co-worker in the next cubicle said “So...I hear the world is coming to an end tomorrow.”

  I had forgotten all about the end of the world and I told Raj I was pretty upset about it because when I went to the gas station that morning, I filled up my tank instead of just getting enough gas to get me home. Raj calmed me down by noting that since the world was coming to an end, it really wasn’t going to matter how much gas I had left in my tank. He had a good point. We also discussed that since we get paid every other week and that we got paid last week, we had worked a whole week for free.

  I didn’t really think the world was going to end on Saturday. After all, this has to be the fourth or fifth time the world was coming to an end that I can remember in just the last 10 years.

  Y2K was the first time I had heard of the world coming to an end. As I recall, computers that control nuclear reactors were going to fail, leading to meltdowns and worldwide chaos. Radio shows touted the need to be prepared with generators, rations, and firearms. But Y2K came and went and there was no disaster, unless you were a Y2K conversion programmer who got laid off. In 1999, I couldn’t hire a programmer for less than one and a half times what I was making, but in 2000 the same programmers were calling me willing to work for a few dollars above minimum wage.

  In 2005, all the planets in our solar system were going to align and many people were predicting all sorts of earthquakes, tidal waves, and other natural disasters that would cause the end of the world. While there have been Katrina and 2 huge tsunami’s since then, the world has for the most part stayed intact.

  As a Yankee fan, I thought the world was coming to an end twice. In 2001, when they were trying to win their 4th World Series in a row, they were leading the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-1 in the 9th inning on the 7th game, but the unbeatable Mariano Rivera blew the save, the game, and the series. Then in 2004, the Yankees lost the American Championship series to the hated Red sox after leading the series 3 games to none with a lead in the 9th inning of the fourth game.

  When I was growing up, the end of the world king was Nostradamus. Every year there would be books and TV specials showing how all his predictions had come true for every world event for the last 400 years. I think he predicted the end of the world to coincide with the death of Elvis.
“the king will gorge on
peanut butter on bread
topped with slabs of bacon
but the end will come when
the King does not awaken”
  If you don’t recognize that passage, you may not have the same translation as my book, “Nostradamus for the Dummies that can’t even understand the Regular Dummy books”.

Can it be a sign of the end of the world when gum is a dollar for 5-15 stick packs and grape juice is 1.29 for a half gallon?
Not so fast, it isn't grape juice, but grape juice cocktail. Another end of the world scam...

  I went for a walk at lunchtime Friday and stumbled upon a bookstore. Stores in downtown Des Moines generally cater to the people that work there. This bookstore had a small selection of mostly novels. I’m surprised this store could still be in business. They probably specialize in special orders for upscale people who probably don’t have the time to go to a Barnes and Noble on the weekend or even order from Amazon.com. At least that’s what I gathered from seeing the shelf of golf books and the other customer, who was helping the owner look up books on popular museums on the Internet to order. I looked at their shelf of games books and there was one lonely chess book amidst a collection of New York Time crossword puzzle books.. It was a 1997 book on endgames by Vasily Smyslov, the former World Champion. I decided to buy the book and brought it to the counter. The owner seemed really surprised that I bought the book. His receipt printer didn’t even have any paper in it. He may have thought he wouldn't sell that book until the end of the world.

I'm sure there are some cicles where the proof of Arnold's infidelity is the end of the world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

15 Minutes of Fun

At the end of March, I wrote about how much I disagreed with Bob Moeller’s article in the Oklahoma Chess Quarterly entitled “Stop Playing Trash Chess” in which he calls any chess game with a time limit of less than 15 minutes for the game ‘Trash Chess’. I mentioned that I was going to write a letter to the OCQ about this article. I had been hoping to at the least find out what other people thought of ‘Trash Chess’ and maybe get a few blogs out of the ensuing debate, but then I noticed a spike of blog hits with the search term ‘Robert Moeller obituary’. That got me doing my own Google search and Mr. Moeller passed away last week at the age of 79.

  Mr. Moeller’s comments make a lot more sense to me now that I know how old he was. A common complaint of older players is that they don’t have the manual dexterity to play speed games. I do remember playing a national master ‘jgs’ on Chess Live. He was 84 years old, but played 2 minute chess with a second added back each move. He told me that he had to add the second to make up for his lack of mouse skills. ‘jgs’ has since passed away, but he never minded playing quick chess. When I was in my 20’s, the grand old man of New Jersey Chess was Edgar McCormick. Edgar was in his 70’s, was a former New Jersey champion and won the U.S. Amateur championship a number of times. He would frequent chess clubs and loved to play speed chess. This was in the days before electronic clocks. The mechanical clocks were fitted with a red flag that would rise as the minute hand got closer and closer to the top of the hour and then fall on the hour. When your flag fell, you lost the game. Speed chess with the mechanical clock requires nerves of steel since you never know exactly how much time you have left, and only have the inexorable climb of the little red flag as your guide.

  I don’t want to seem to be picking on the deceased, so I ‘m going to pass on writing to the OCQ, but I will still be playing plenty of 1-minute chess. Last Tuesday, I had the chance to play a few one-minute games on the Internet Chess Club. My friend Dan Troxell has told me he really enjoyed going over the one-minute games. Despite the fact that Dan is a fan of the Boston Red Sox (who swept the Yankees this past weekend, by the way), I have a lot of respect for his opinions and am considering making a monthly feature of my more interesting 1-minute games. For now here are 4 games I played last Wednesday night. I don’t think they are any more or less trashy than some of my over-the-board efforts.

  After waiting around for a few minutes without being matched up by the ICC computer, I decided to go for some ‘slow play’ and accepted a challenge for a 3-minute game. Switching from 1-minute to 3-minute play is challenging for me. I have to make myself stop playing frantic 1-minute chess and remember that I can take the occasional leisurely 20 or 30 second think, but also remember not to get to carried away in leisure or else I’ll run short of time or be 2 minutes behind my opponent.

  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m not sure I can have more fun in 15 minutes. I hope Mr. Moeller rests in peace and can take as long as he wants for his chess games in eternity. As for me, if I’m told I only have 5 minutes to live, I think I have a good idea how I’m going to spend at least 2 of them!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bad Bad Friday, Good Good Saturday

  I woke up Friday like any other day and washed up like any other day and walked the beagles like any other day and hung out with them for an hour while playing on my computer before I went to work like any other day, And that’s when it stopped being like any other day.

  I couldn’t find my MP3 player so I emptied my pockets and searched through the contents, but I still couldn’t find it so I stopped thinking about it and went off to work. When I got to the parking garage at work in downtown Des Moines, I reached into my pocket for my parking pass like I always do and only had my company ID badge. I didn’t have it and was looking in my car to see if it fell out while I called Kathy to see if I left it at home. Kathy told me I left it on the dresser. I must have forgotten to put it back in my pocket while I was emptying them looking for my MP3 player. Kathy also mentioned to me she found my MP3 player...in the dryer clunking around in my pants pocket after it was washed.

  I was pretty upset at having my MP3 player destroyed and having to fill out paperwork to leave the parking garage to go home, but then I remembered I had to leave the parking garage at lunch to drive 15 miles to pick up the trophies for the tournament I was having on Saturday. After an unusually frustrating morning at work (it may have been my attitude, I’m thinking), I walked to the parking garage, drove my car to the exit, filled out the paperwork from the clerk to leave the garage and headed off to Grimes to get my trophies. When I got there, the owner of the trophy store was working with a soccer coach who was getting 12 medals. They were looking at the catalogue and going over all the different medal styles, ribbon choices, and engraving options. Then the coach said they wanted the medals today and the owner said that she would call them when they were ready.

  I was waiting through all this and I had sent in the order for my trophies and medals over a month before. I wanted to pick up the trophies on Wednesday but was told they weren’t ready. Even when I got the trophies on Friday, they weren’t what I ordered. The owner explained that she couldn’t get the inserts or bases, I asked for a design that she didn’t normally carry, her supplier messed up the order, and that’s why everything was so late. I mentioned that I sent in my order over a month ago and she told me she didn’t look at it until this week. For my January tournament, I was told I didn’t get the trophy tops I wanted because I had only given the order 2 weeks ahead of time, so I started sending the order for the next tournament as soon as the last one ended. Then the owner asked if I was going to have an order for my June tournament? A lot of thoughts went through my mind, but I just said that I’d have to see. I have to be the easiest sales ever for this trophy store, but my business is getting taken for granted. I think I have to take my business elsewhere for awhile to get the point across about what kind of customer service I expect. I got my trophies, drove back across town to the parking garage, and made my way back to work for an uneventful afternoon. I got out of the parking garage by filling out another set of paperwork, got home, walked the dogs, and called LegalZoom.com. I had used them for some chess stuff and they had left a message saying they wanted me to call them. I had filled out some paperwork wrong and it needed it to be redone. I filled out everything according to the instructions on their web site, but they insisted that I had done it wrong because I did it according to the instructions on the web site, but there was nothing wrong with the web site. After all that, I listened to the Yankees lose to the filthy Red sox for their 3rd loss in a row. During the broadcast the announcer mentioned that it was Friday the 13th. It was the first time I’d heard that and while I’m not normally superstitious, I can’t deny that I had a nightmare of a day.

  On Saturday, I left the house at 6:45 for the 5th of my monthly chess tournaments. I picked up Chandler, a high school kid who goes to my chess club at the Salvation Army. In return for playing for free, he was going to help set up the tournament room. I knew that attendance was going to be light, but I was keeping an eye on the weather report because I had a number of emails from parents saying if their child’s baseball or soccer got cancelled, they would be playing chess. It rained all the way to Des Moines, but as we entered the city limits, the skies parted to reveal a bright, sunny, day.

While the numbers weren't up to the previous tournaments,
the chess was just as competitive.

  I had 30 players and parents playing and the tournament ran so smoothly, I was able to get into the parents section for a couple of games when a parent and her son dropped out to attend his soccer match. My friend Dan Troxell was there and I got him to talk about his Des Moines chess clubs. A lot of the school clubs have ended and the parents are looking for a way to keep their kids involved in chess for the summer beyond the tournaments and chess camps I’ll be holding. Tim McEntee also stopped by. He played a game in the parents section and went over the game to an audience of parents and players. He answered everyone’s questions, gave a great insight into a master chess players thought process, and made chess a lot less mysterious for anyone watching.

While Tim McEntee was explaining a higher level of chess understanding to some parents, Kyle Kopf was practicing his endgame knowledge against his dad.

  Yesterday was as good a day as Friday was crummy. The players and parents were great sports all through the year and I never had any incidents. I closed out the series with 256 players (159 unique) in the 5 tournaments and so far, I’ve lost less than a hundred dollars, which I may be able to recoup by reusing the extra medals I was not able to give out at some of the tournaments. The kids seemed to have a little cabin fever by the time the fifth game rolled around, so I’m liking my decision to make the June tournament only a couple of hours a lot more. I unveiled my July chess camp and got a sign up and quite a bit of interest.

  I consider the 5 chess tournaments a great success. I knew that the May tournament was problematic and June will probably be the same, but I feel I need a monthly activity to keep the base of chess players engaged while I prepare to take my family chess program to the next level.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Traditions - Old and New

Daisy and Baxter didn't know what to think when I left them outside to get their treats, but Daisy quickly figured out where the beef sticks came from.

  Daisy and Baxter turned 6 months old Sunday. I celebrated by taking them on their first morning walk to the Jiffy for a beef treat. Kathy and I have been taking them there on the weekends, but she waits outside while I go in and get the treats. Just the three of us going means I hitch them by their leashes to the gas pump while I go inside. I worried that they might pull out of their collars and run off, but decided to risk it. I let them see me at the door every few seconds while I got my coffee and their treats and they didn’t even seem too upset that I had left them. At least, I heard no complaints when they were catching the pieces of beef sticks I was throwing their way.

  On our way back, I met an older fellow who was going through the trash cans on Main Street collecting cans for cigarette money. I used to see him a lot of mornings when I was walking Queenie and Tuffy. He asked what happened to them and then told me a story about how bad he felt when a dog he was close to passed. Soon our conversation turned to Daisy and Baxter. He petted Daisy, but Baxter gets very scared of strangers and barked. After a few minutes, Baxter warmed up and the older fellow got to pet him as well. I used to meet a number of people like this on my morning walks. They look down and out and lonely, but they brighten up when somebody takes the time to talk to them and who wouldn’t feel better after getting to pet a beagle or 2? I’ve run into the occasional ‘bad actor’ on a morning walk, but I was never concerned with Tuffy at my side and I’m sure Baxter will grow into that role eventually.

  On the way back from our walk, I heard a voice shouting “Frank. Frank”. I turned around and there was Shirley, another acquaintance from my morning walks with Queenie and Tuffy. I wrote about Shirley last year, but today I had my amazing IPod in my pocket so I could take pictures. Shirley had come back from the Jiffy carrying a newspaper and 2 bottles. She collects bottles and cans to buy the Sunday paper at the Jiffy. She used to load up her paper with all the coupon sections from the other papers, but they called the police on her one time and she stopped that practice. I assume she cashed in the coupons for 1/60th of a cent each, but for now that is an unsolved mystery.

Shirley is all business when it comes to cans, bottles, and spare change. But even she will take a break for some quality time with Daisy and Baxter.

  Shirley asked me if I found any change, so I pulled out the 48 cents in change that was in my pockets and told her I found most of it in the Jiffy parking lot (I only found a penny there). I thought she might go back to see if I missed any, but instead Shirley kept walking about 2 feet in front of us looking to find any loose change on the ground before I did. There was no change, but Shirley found a bottle to go along with the 2 she already picked up on the way back. Her good fortune must have relaxed her, because she started walking next to me and asking about Daisy and Baxter. She started to call Daisy by the name “Crazy”. She calls me Frank because I’ve never bothered to correct her after she didn’t hear it right the first time, but this time I did correct her. I don’t mind being called Frank, but I don’t want Daisy being called Crazy every week. I snapped some pictures of Shirley with Baxter and Daisy and she asked me if I would give her a ride to Adventureland sometime. She bought a season pass and said last week she rode the Space Shot 36 times in 2 hours. I told Shirley the same thing I told her last year. I’d be happy to drop her off on Monday morning at 7, but she’d have to find her own way back.

  It was great fun taking my new dogs out on a Sunday morning and seeing some old familiar faces. Daisy and Baxter are great friends and a lot of fun to hang around with. They each have their quirks but both have learned to come running whenever the refrigerator door opens or the crinkle of a wrapper is heard. When Kathy and I walk them in the afternoon, Daisy barks at anything that moves, but when I walk them in the mornings, she barely ever barks. Maybe she’s less brave in the dark. Both dogs have realized that it’s OK to go potty on their walks and at some point we’ll retire the potty pads and let them go in the backyard unsupervised to take care of their business. Later this month, both puppies will get fixed. I’d love to have some beagle puppies, but Kathy doesn’t want to think about selling or giving away puppies and I’m concerned that Baxter would get jealous of new arrivals. Tuffy seemed like an accident, but he really was a gift from God and Baxter has come to us in much the same way. We got Daisy and Baxter as a team and they’ll stay that way.

Great dogs like Daisy and Baxter are a gift from God.
As a friend said, 'You can't have a bad day after seeing these two.'

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Reviews - Thor and Law & Order Criminal Intent

  Yesterday, I went with my son Ben and our neighbor Don to see ‘Thor’ at the mall in Marshalltown. I grew up reading the Thor comic books and it is a treat to see a childhood icon on the big-screen with the advantage of 21st century special effects.

  The only issue I have with most of the superhero movies I go to is that the first movie uses half of the screen time going over the origin and then the rest of the movie has a rushed feel to it to get the super-villain introduced, the plot line established, and the final battle set up. Batman and Spiderman avoided this by having the villains established as part of the origin story, but I thought the initial Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Hulk movies would have been better by just spending a couple of minutes on the origin and then getting on with the action. The latest Hulk movie was a great example of just spending a couple of minutes recapping the origin and then on to the movie.

  The Thor movie gives up a few minutes setting up the background of Thor, his brother Loki, their all powerful father Odin, and the realm of Asgard, but even this introduction contains a lot of action between the Asgard warriors and the evil Frost Giants. The movie quickly evolves into an adventure of Thor’s, who gets banished by his father to Earth to be taught a lesson in humility. While Thor is trapped on earth, his evil brother Loki manages to take over Asgard and sends the dreaded Destroyer to kill Thor and his friends and the action continues on Earth and Asgard.

  Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston look and act just like the Thor the Viking hero and Loki the ultimate deceiver from the comic books and it was a nice touch to see the Warriors 3 from the comics including the oafish Volstagg who eats more than he fights. The special effects are nothing groundbreaking, although I thought Thor’s hammer was used especially well. If you like superhero movies, Thor won’t disappoint you. It captures the power of Thor, the evilness of Loki, and the coolness of Asgard in a story that sets the stage to reintroduce Thor in next year’s Avengers movie. If you're not a comics fan, you're probably better off waiting a few months and renting it at a Redbox for a buck.

  Of all the Law & Order shows, the Criminal Intent version was my favorite. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Detective Charles Goren was the closest thing to my all time favorite TV detective, Columbo. Goren would appear to not be as smart as the suspect, but subtly get them to incriminate themselves. Some of my favorite episodes have Goren matching wits with accomplices and getting them to turn on each other like rabid dogs.

  I don’t know whether it was new writers or the need to change the show for ratings, but CI started going away from the tried and true formula and started doing more episodes exploring Goren and his partner Eames private lives and personalities. Chris Noth was transferred from the flagship L&O to play his Mike Logan role in alternating episodes. D’Onofrio started putting on a lot of weight and the Goren episodes started getting pretty bad. In some scenes, Goren would have a scruffy beard and in the next scene, he’d be clean shaven.

  Last year, D’Onofrio left CI and Jeff Goldbum took over the lead role as a detective Zach Nichols. Nichols was played by Goldblum as a quirky master of psychology who muttered to himself a lot. The shows were interesting but Nichols seems inhuman to me and I was never that interested in watching him solve the case with his deductive and psychological prowess. Goldblum left the show last year and it was not scheduled to be on the USA network this year.

  A few months ago, it was announced that CI was coming back to the USA network and that D’Onofrio was going to reprise his role as Detective Charles Goren. I watched the premiere show last week. D’Onofrio has lost weight, looks like his old self, and the show was written back to its old formula of Goren getting on the nerves of his suspects in order to get them to confess. It was like meeting an old friend and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. It is being billed as the final season of CI, but if the ratings are good enough, it will surely be renewed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Taking a Gamble

  I’ve been at my new job for 8 weeks now and am starting to settle in and find my niche. Working on new technologies is pretty challenging and there are days where I don’t know what I’m doing and I wonder why I left a job where I had things under control and wasn’t challenged at all. But then I start to figure things out and I feel great because I know how to do something I didn’t before and I’ve learned from experience that you can never tell which skill will lead to a bigger payoff down the road. I found out today that the company I was working for has merged with another bigger company, so my decision to switch jobs is looking better to me right now since the last time my place of employment changed ownership, I was being pointed toward the exit before the ink dried.

If there is a afterlife suitable for Osama Bin Laden,
forever being a cover boy on the Weekly World News would be close.

  President Obama made a big gamble when he sent in the squad to take on Osama Bin Laden earlier this week. I don’t know whether the mission was to capture or kill, but I remember how bad President Carter looked in 1980 when an attempted rescue of the Iranian hostages didn’t work. I’m not jumping up and down over Bin Laden’s death as he has been mostly an afterthought for many years, but it is great that no Americans were killed or captured in the process. Even acknowledging that the mission took place at all is a big gamble, despite its apparent success. Who knows what the most extreme of his followers will do in retaliation for their leader’s death? After 9-11, I was amazed at how many people in other countries were wearing Osama Bin Laden T-shirts. Whether this guy is dead or alive won’t change the fact that there are plenty of people in the world who hate America and want to damage our country. I like the idea of the burial at sea and I hope no pictures are ever released of the corpse (although some will certainly be leaked at some point). It would be a fitting end to Osama Bin Laden to be featured in the Weekly World News as being spotted alive right next to the article of Bat Boy’s latest exploits.

  I’d been looking for a free site to hold my youth chess tournament in the summer and run into a lot of dead ends. Jill Stiles, the parent of one of the chess players whose been attending the tournaments suggested I rent a shelter at a city park. The suburb towns of West Des Moines, Clive, and Urbandale wanted a lot of money to use their shelters, but I was able to rent a covered shelter on Des Moines south side. The south side of Des Moines has a reputation as the home of trailer park trash, so I held off on advertising the tournament until I could check the site out.

Can there be a better place for a summer chess tournament?
Only if my gamble on no rain and boom boxes pays off.

  I went to the park on Monday. It is a 10-minute drive from my workplace in downtown Des Moines. I was very pleasantly surprised. The park is in the middle of a secluded upscale neighborhood and the covered shelter has room for 80 players. If it rains, I can still have 60 dry players.

  Since a tournament outdoors is bound to have a lot of distractions, I decided to set up the tournament to be 3 hours long (instead of 5), have a minimal entry fee, forego the trophies and give medals out to everyone. I’m hoping that the parents who bring their players will take advantage of the surroundings to have a picnic and make the tournament a family outing.

  Having a chess picnic seems like a way-out idea, but even having a youth chess tournament in the teeth of the spring sports season like I’m having on May 14th is a gamble since I’ve never had more than 25 players in my previous May tournaments. After 5 monthly youth tournaments I should have enough of a base where I can get 30 players each month for a chess tournament and can budget around that.

  Since I have the shelter rented until 9 at night, I’m thinking about having an adult quick chess tournament after the youth tournament is over. It would be another gamble, but every decision is some sort of a gamble. Deciding to do nothing is still making a decision. Staying at my old job wouldn’t have looked like a gamble, but since companies don’t merge so they can hire more people, staying may have been a much bigger gamble than moving on. It’s easy to stick to the routine and delude yourself into thinking you’ve taken the prudent course, but there are going to be times when heading into uncharted waters is the safe play and playing it safe is the biggest gamble of all.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

An apple a day

The Hy-Vee Drug Store in Marshalltown, Iowa,
home of $1.16 half gallons of apple juice.

  I’ve had no chess activities for the last 2 weekends and yesterday the kids were in Ames for the IT Olympics, so I had a nice relaxing day to hang out with Kathy and the beagle puppies. Around 1, I took her out for lunch and we went to visit the Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores, where Kathy found a Christmas candle to add to her collection and I got a Tom Landry biography, ‘God’s Coach’ by Skip Bayless. We also stopped at the Hy-Vee Drug Store.

  Hy-Vee is a popular supermarket in the Midwest and the Hy-Vee Drug Store is a sort of a branch of the supermarket, specializing in pharmacy items, but also having some groceries and houseware items. They also have a lot of sale merchandise. The store used to be called ‘Drug Town’, but some marketing expert realized it didn’t sound very good to be telling the kids you were going to ‘Drug Town’ or sending your kids to pick something up at ‘Drug Town’, so they changed the name.

  As we walked through the aisles, we found a lot of bargains. I got 10 of those 15 stick Wrigley gum packs for 44 cents each. Normally they cost at least a dollar. I chew a lot of gum at work and welcomed the discount. I also got a half gallon of Welch’s Grape Juice for $1.69 and the best deal of the day, a half-gallon of Country Fare Apple Juice for $1.16. I haven’t seen apple juice that low in years and it felt good to get some bargains after I filled my gas tank up with $3.79 a gallon gas this morning. I’ve noticed that when the prices of a supermarket item goes down, the amount you get for your money goes down further. Have you noticed that what used to be a half gallon of ice cream has become 1 and a half quarts? And many of the fruit juice bottles shrunk from a half gallon to 48 ounces, also. Even the Big Mac I ate on my way to Okoboji 2 weeks ago seemed more like a Small Mac to me.

If Michelle Obama really wants to stop childhood obesity,
she could start by making sales on Easter candy illegal.

  As Kathy and I continued walking up and down the aisle, we passed the produce and cold food section. There was a pound of Oscar Mayer Bologna for $1.49. I passed on that, but there were 3 small looking apples on a produce shelf with a sign reading “Fuji Apples - $1.00 each”. I was astounded. How could a half gallon of apple juice cost only 16 cents more than an apple?

  I was bothered by this question even after we finished shopping and got home. I didn’t have my camera with me on our afternoon trip, so around 8 last night, we went back to the Hy-Vee Drug Store, but all the apples were gone. I think someone bought them and Kathy thinks they were thrown out. I was going to ask a clerk, but they were already looking at me like I was some weirdo who was taking pictures of apple juice, gum, and bologna, so I decided not to press my luck. I may well be Marshalltown’s most prolific blogger, but I haven’t been stopped on the street for my autograph yet.

  Not being able to get any apples at the Hy-Vee Drug Store, I decided to stop at the mothership Hy-Vee supermarket on the way back to see if their apples were also a dollar. Kathy said if we were going in the store, I had to buy something because it looked too weird for us to just go into a store and take some pictures, so I decided I would buy an apple at the Hy-Vee.

Just some of the many apples for sale at the Hy-Vee supermarket.

  The Hy-Vee had at least 20 different kinds of apples and all were sold by the pound. Only the ‘Jazz’ apples at 99 cents a pound cost less than a dollar a pound. Some of the apples cost over $2 a pound. I picked the smallest Jazz apple I could find and made my way around to the register. On the way, I passed the same Wrigley gum packs that I saw at the Hy-Vee Drug store, but they were 99 cents and not 44 cents. I think it’s pretty rude that the gum at a Hy-Vee owned store would cost twice as much the same gum in a store owned by the same company not less than a mile away. Maybe people on the north side of town chew less gum.

What a difference a half a mile makes. The gum in the Hy-vee Drug Store costs 44 cents, while the same gum in the hy-Vee supermarket costs more than twice as much.

  When I got to the register, the clerk named Kelly weighed my apple and told me I owed her 95 cents. This looked like the old trick when the butcher would slap his thumb on the scale when weighing the meat. I said I didn’t think that the apple weighed a pound and asked her to weigh it again. She did and this time I gave her 36 cents for the apple and she will be forever in my thoughts as ‘Big-Thumb Kelly’. I took a picture of the checkout screen and I don’t think Kathy will be going with me on any more journalistic adventures for awhile. At least it wasn’t her birthday or Mother’s Day.

  I could have bought 3 of the cheapest apples or a half gallon of apple juice at a Hy-Vee owned store. The only ingredients in the apple juice were water and apple juice concentrate so it’s not like the juice was just a bunch of sugar water. Either there aren’t many apples that really go into the apple juice or they must be the nastiest apples ever. Maybe on my next shopping trip I’ll stick with the Bologna. At least I know what goes into that!

After dealing with 'Big-Thumb Kelly', here is the $1.16 apple juice and the 36 cent apple. Being able to charge $1.16 for the apple juice is the 8th wonder of the world.