Lunar Adventures: exploring a little bit of everything

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Reel-to-reel lawnmowers are awesome, in theory

In an unexpected fit of environmentalism, a little while back I bought a reel-to-reel lawn mower. A $40 purchase from Craigslist.

For those of you unfamiliar with the odd bit of history that is the reel-to-reel mower, it’s just like a normal, gas-powered mower, except that it doesn’t use gas and it doesn’t cut grass.

Sure, it is more environmental.  And I feel good about that.  Like it offsets the fact that I drive an SUV.

The problem, again, is that it doesn’t cut grass.

First, how they work.  It has these blades, and when you walk, the blades turn pretty quickly.  I think there’s an axle that moves or something.  I haven’t studied it very closely.

The key is that the blades move without consuming gasoline.  Sounds like the perfect, modern solution.

We had some rain, and since it was a slow Saturday night (don’t judge me), I decided to mow the lawn.

The blades move quickly enough, you would think, to cut grass.  And, it does look like grass is getting cut – you see grass kind of flying around as you walk.  The problem is that after you do a swath of grass, you look back, and the grass doesn’t look any shorter.  So you run over it again.  And again.  About seven times, by my count.

So, to cut my tiny little front lawn took a good hour.  But, it was an environmentally friendly hour!  Not only did I produce less emissions than a lawnmower, I also fed a family of about 900 mosquitos.

Just being as environmental as I can.

Sat May 15th, 2010 9:10 pm

Southwest Airlines “bags fly free” commercials hit home

Southwest Airlines has long had smart marketing.  Their latest set of commercials on bags flying free, “We Love Your Bags”, is another great example of a smart company employing a smart strategy.

Focusing on strengths and differentiation is nothing new to marketing, but those basic tenets seem to get lost in favor of cleverness and “wow” factors.

Southwest’s latest campaign really resonates, though.

Bags are important to flyers.  How often do you hear horror stories about airlines losing bags?  I know my Facebook news stream is littered with stories this holiday season of airlines losing their bags.

Southwest recognizes bags’ importance to customers, and plays off of that.

“Bags fly free” isn’t just about saving the customer money. Where other airlines are saying, “your bags are 1) an inconvenience and 2) an opportunity for us to make a few more dollars”, Southwest uses bags as an opportunity.

Their latest commercial paints a picture of burly men handling bags personally, and getting teary-eyed when they get on the plane and fly away.

“Bags are my life,” one handler says.

“I love bags,” another says, waving goodbye to his traveling friends.

That message, combined with the lack of fees, is Southwest saying to its customer that bags are important to you, so they’re important to the airline.   The implication is they won’t lose your bags, because they care — and the humans behind the actual baggage handling care.

It’s a starkly different picture than that of the “stereotypical baggage handler” — an angry man that’s doing his best to test the structural integrity of your baggage.

And it’s a refreshing change.  Travelers are tired of the “same old” from airlines, which includes late flights, nickel and dime charges at every opportunity, and lost luggage.

Southwest’s message, which revolves around something as simple as the lack of a fee around the first piece of luggage, effectively points out that they are an airline intent on bucking the trends set by their industry. And of winning the customer satisfaction battle.

Tue January 5th, 2010 9:46 pm

Things I’d Buy If I Had Unlimited Amounts Money: 12 Segways

Segways are one of those things that are kind of cool in concept, but when forced between choosing to spend a few thousand dollars on a scooter that rolls at 8mph or, well, anything else that costs a few thousand dollars, the choice is pretty easy.

Practicality put aside by the magical mystical “unlimited money” clause, I’d buy a fleet of 12 of those suckers, and create some sort of sport based on them.

I haven’t worked out the details yet, but it would definitely be hockey-style, with rough play encouraged.  A few key points:

  • 5 on 5 play, with 1 spare Segway per team in case of a disabled vehicle.
  • Only stock Segways used; no performing-enhancing modifications.
  • Players must stay on their Segway; if they get knocked off, they remain out of the play for a set period of time.  Stepping off intentionally is strictly not allowed.
  • There will probably be a ball or puck of some sort, with sticks and a goal.  Maybe lacrosse baskets.

I see it like Whirlyball for the 2010 decade.  Someone needs to make it happen.

Sat January 2nd, 2010 4:24 pm

Rock Band lets me fulfill my rock star dreams

This isn’t a review of Rock Band, or The Beatles Rock Band.  I don’t have the patience to do a proper video game review — but I did want to write a few words about why I think these games are so much fun.

I’m not going to lie — I still harbor fantasies of being a rock star one day.  Sure, my odds are going down the older I get, but those fantasies are more alive than those of being a professional athlete.

Rock Band (and, right now of focus Beatles Rock Band) lets me, at least for a little while, pretend those fantasies have come true.  Sure, the instruments are plastic, and my TV doesn’t get nearly as loud as the ole Orange amplifier and a drum kit.

But, the tunes are fun to play.  And you really are singing, and you really are beating drums and strumming a guitar.

Of course, you’re not REALLY playing them — Rock Band guitar is easier than the real thing, and more forgiving of mistakes.  The vocals are real, but you can mix the game’s vocals higher so as to drown out the atonal mess coming from the room.  The drums are the closest to the real thing, minus dynamic control and lack of left foot action.

But, Rock Band comes close enough to providing the illusion that you are playing.  It comes closer than any other simulation I know: playing Rock Band puts you closer to making music than Madden Football does to putting you in the NFL; closer than Gran Turismo puts you to auto racing, and, luckily, closer than Grand Theft Auto puts you to being an actual deliquent.

For a few minutes, it’s easy to pretend you really are a rock star, singing, pounding, strumming, away.  Smartly, you can even practice your rock star moves — the guitar is wireless, making it easy to introduce the smooth moves.

Rock Band makes it easy to pretend.  And for that, is a successful game.

Sun December 6th, 2009 6:22 pm

NBA referees drive me batty. Mavs fans feel the referee pain again.

I want to preface this by saying that, yes, Antoine Wright should have played until he heard the whistle. Yes, the Mavericks should have hit their free throws down the stretch. Yes, it would have been nice if Dirk hit his turnaround jumper (I do believe it was taken at the right time, though — you don’t want to rush into a shot at the end of the shot clock).

But, that having been said, the referees screwed the Mavericks in a critical playoff game. Again.

And no one should be surprised it was Bennett Salvatore and his crew. Again.

I even put up a concerned status on Facebook (or I commented on someone’s status, I don’t remember) worried about Salvatore. But, honestly, his crew was fine for 59 minutes, 58 seconds. It was just those final two seconds.

Before we look at tonight, though, let’s flash back in time to the 2006 NBA Finals, game 5. In that game, the criticism of Salvatore was that he decided to take the game into his own hands and call a touch foul (if you can even call it that) when Dirk Nowitizki happened to stand too near to Dwyane Wade with 2 seconds left in the game. The general rule of thumb in refereeing is that in the last minute of the game, you call hard fouls, obvious fouls — you don’t want to take the game into your own hands and bail a player out. You let them sort it out

One could argue that a foul is a foul is a foul, no matter what time of game — a valid argument. But given that line of thinking, if every time a player touched another player (which is all that Dirk did, if that), no basketball would get played between whistles. So, given any perspective, that foul was a bad call; I’ve never read any writer, national or local, that disputes that.

And now, today. The exact opposite of 2006’s call happened. Salvatore and his crew had an EXTREMELY active set of whistles. They called 61 total fouls. They sent players to the line for 89 free throws. For the entire game, they were in complete control — even fouling out Chris Andersen in barely over 10 minutes of playing time. I remember being pleasantly surprised during the fourth quarter, saying to myself, “they’ve blown a lot of whistles… but they’ve been good calls. The calls are even against both teams, and they’re getting the calls right.”

I spoke too soon.

With 6 seconds left in the game, Denver called a timeout. The Mavericks had a foul to give, so Dallas coach Rick Carlisle told his players to intentionally foul the Denver player with the ball before he goes into his shooting motion, to take some time off the clock. It’s a common strategy at the end of NBA games — so much so that referees are made aware of it, and look for the intentional foul and call it quickly, so that no players get hurt. The player has to go for the ball and not use excessive force, or else they’ll get tagged with a flagrant foul, which means 2 shots and the ball.

Time and time again, this happens at the end of games. But not tonight. As the Associated Press described it:

Antoine Wright had a simple objective. In a game with 61 fouls already called, he was trying to commit another. Wright bumped Carmelo Anthony once, hard enough to knock him off stride. But not enough for a foul call. So he jostled Anthony again. Still no call — and now Wright was out of position, leaving Anthony a clear look at the basket. His 3-pointer went right through with a second left, giving the Denver Nuggets a 106-105 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, and a 3-0 series lead that has been insurmountable in NBA history.

And so, again, the Mavericks lost. After the game, the NBA admitted the officials blew the call. Empty consolation for the players and fans once again on the losing end of referee mistakes. Two years ago, it was a foul that never happened getting called. Tonight, it’s a foul that clearly happened not getting called.

Again, the Mavericks should have won that game regardless of bad officiating. They had their chances, and blew it. That shouldn’t mask the problem the NBA has with their officials. It’s plain and simple: players and fans never know what constitutes a foul and what doesn’t. One trip down the court, a player gets mugged driving the lane, and the referees say nothing. The next trip down, a player grazes some forearm swiping for the ball, and it’s a foul. There’s no consistency between plays in a game, let alone from game to game, crew to crew.

The NBA is hurting their game by not fixing this problem. I absolutely refuse to believe that on a planet of 6 billion people, the NBA referees are the finest referees available. Not with the number of mistakes and bad calls they make. Not with the showboating they exhibit, thinking they’re part of the entertainment show.

Thanks for the apology, NBA. Now go do something about it: fix the system.

.

Sat May 9th, 2009 10:55 pm

Mavs vs. Nuggets, game 3: Keys to the game

The Mavericks were in Game 2 until they started turning the ball over again and the game got sloppy.  The Mavericks started to have bad possessions every time down the floor; which lead to breakaway baskets for Denver.

Jason Kidd needs to step it back up — he needs to be the floor general he’s capable of being.

The Mavericks also desperately need Josh Howard to pick up the pace, injured ankle or not.  He keeps Dirk from having to score 45 to win.  This series proves Dirk doesn’t back down to playoff pressure — he’s averaging 31/game in this series — but also proves the Maverick bench is as important as the superstar.

I don’t think Dirk will be distracted in the game, despite all the news surrounding his personal life.  The game will take over, and as long as he got some rest last night (and he’s been staying with a Mavs executive, so let’s assume he did), he’ll be fine.

Sat May 9th, 2009 3:08 pm

Keys to the game, Mavs vs. Denver Game 2

Actually, let’s call it the key to the game.

Fewer turnovers.

If Mavs turn it over a reasonable number in Game 1 (instead of 8 from their point guard, who’s here for his brain more than his body), I have little doubt they win the game.

Play game 2 like game 1 — solid defense, decent shot selection — and cut out the ridiculous turnovers, and I feel good about this one.

P.S. To the TNT guys.  Dirk is confident.  He’s just giving the guys that defend him some credit.  Relax.

Tue May 5th, 2009 8:48 pm

Mavericks provide kick in the crotch to Maverick fans

Rick Carlisle has his work cut out for him: he has to figure out a way for the Mavericks to learn to guard the pick and roll and slow down Tony Parker.

The Mavericks got off to a slow start in game 2, much like game 1… but this time, no one was able to slow up Parker or cool down the Spurs shooting.

The Mavericks couldn’t figure out how to guard Parker, who worked off the pick and roll all night and was slashing, driving, and shooting at will.  He finished with 38 points — 10 more than Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitzki combined.  And when the Mavericks did collapse on him, he found the open shooter. The Mavs were consistently slow to rotate to Finley, Bonner, and Bowen.

It was the worst of both worlds: the Mavs would either step up and help on Parker too late, or they would be late to rotate to the open shooters.  The result?  The Spurs shot 53% for the night — and that includes a brief cold streak that allowed the Mavericks to crawl back into the game before slamming the door with an 11-0 run.

Defensively, the Spurs went back to their old their game of getting physical and pushing Dirk outside of his comfort zone.  The Spurs fronted him and brought help from over the top to keep the lob pass out.  It worked well — Dirk was clearly frustrated.

Also of disturbing note was the Spurs consistently outhustling the Mavs.  The Spurs seemed to get to every loose ball, and outrebounded the Mavs 44-28.  -16 on the boards isn’t going to get it done against anyone, especially a Spurs team that couldn’t miss in the first half.

JJ Barea also returned to earth, scoring only 5 points in 23 minutes — and he didn’t bother Parker one bit.  But then again, neither did Jason Kidd, Antoine Wright, or Jason Terry, who all took turns getting abused.

The Mavs luckily have two days off before their next game.  San Antonio made their adjustments and bounced back; the Mavs need to match.  All the optimism that filled the air after game 1 has been sapped.

It’s one thing to lose; it’s another to be blown out in every single facet of the game.

Mon April 20th, 2009 11:20 pm

Key to the game: JJ Barea

Who’d have thought that one year ago, we’d be saying the key to a Mavericks playoff series would be JJ Barea?

(Sidenote: I suddenly couldn’t remember if Barea had one “r” or two.  So I Googled “Barea.”  And JJ is the first entry.  Google juice for the little guy.)

His quickness needs to bother Parker — make him work for his points (which he’ll get).  And make Parker run around expending energy on defense.

And, most of all, he’s a spark.  He brings energy, takes charges, and makes good decisions for a young player.

If he can do the same things he did in game 1, the Mavericks will be in solid shape.

Mon April 20th, 2009 7:57 pm

Note to NBC: The Olympics consist of more than three sports

If all I knew about the 2008 Beijing Olympics came from NBC’s television coverage, I would conclude that:

  • Swimming was the most popular sport in the world, and Michael Phelps was running for supreme dictator of the planet — he gets interviewed more than the U.S. presidential candidates;
  • Gymnastics was the second most popular sport in the world, even though it appears to be dominated by female children (arguably true in China’s case, apparently) and bulky, stocky men;
  • Beach volleyball was the third most popular sport in the world.  By the way, can anyone explain to me that women wear next to nothing to play the sport, but men wear loose shorts and shirts?  Is it mandated by some volleyball governing body that the women competitors have to show off their caboose on national TV, while the guys can cover it all up?
  • Bela Karolyi is some sort of international superspy, lagging behind only Michael Phelps (and his “flat behind” as described by NBC as giving him a swimming advantage) in camera time.  I think Bob Costas is getting jealous.
I know, I know, NBC just televises what gives ratings.  And people want to see volleyball, gymnastics, and volleyball.  But, what if — and I’m just thinking out loud here — NBC squeezed in a few other events during prime time, between Michael Phelps and Bela Karolyi interviews?  Just throwing it out there.

Thu August 14th, 2008 9:18 pm