Thursday, February 24, 2011

My rants on the Oscars 2011

Please be warned:  this is a complete rant.  If you want to read something serious about movies, you are in the wrong place. 

What do Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids are All Right, The King's Speech, 127 hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter's Bones have in common? If you said they are all nominated to win an Academy Award this year you are correct, good job.  That was an easy one, even I could get that one.  I have another question for you, if you took that same list of movies and took away Toy Story 3, what do those movies have in common?  Any guesses, come on.....  Answer: I haven't seen any of them.  Guess what?  I'm still llooking forward to the Oscars on Sunday night.  I'll probably watch most of the show and then either fall asleep on the couch or just throw in my towel and go to bed.  Even if I fall asleep or go to bed, I'll still know who won Best Movie, Best Director and Best Actor/Actress before morning.  I'll know because I have a wonderful wife, every man's dream.  Guess what she'll do after the Oscars are over with?  She'll crawl into bed and ever so seductively whisper in my ear who won.  Then we'll both crash so get your minds out of the gutter!! 

Even though I haven't seen those movies doesn't mean I won't.  At this period in our lives Dana and I are about one year or so behind seeing movies.  We'll catch a few in the theaters, but mostly we catch them after they are released to on-demand or DVD/Blue Ray.  I'm trying to think what the last movie she and I saw in the Theater's together was.... I'm seriously thinking here, um................................................................................thinking.........................................................................................
.....thinking.......................................  I give up.  OH Wait I know this one it was called DAMN it just slipped my mind, it was the one with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem, I just opened up another tab in my browser and am going to look it up on  I can't believe I don't remember the name.  EAT PRAY LOVE!!! Yea I remember.  Sorry to let you down guys (people of the male persuasion that are reading this) , I know it was a chick flick, but you know what it was a nice date movie to watch with my wonderful wife.  Besides that, she now thinks she owes me one.  Of course she doesn't but I'm not going to throw away a free opportunity to watch some gratuitously violent, crazy man show.  Anyway, I actually liked Eat Pray Love it was an enjoyable movie.  I certainly digress.

Even though we don't see many movies in the theater's it's still nice to take some time out from reality and enjoy a good Oscars show.  Anne Hathaway and James Franco are a couple of cool kids, they could be great hosts.  Even if they flop, they are both nicer to look at than the Golden Globe host Ricky Gervais.  Although he had the humor thing going for him at the Golden Globes (most of the time).

This is really funny, I don't actually have a point to this posting, except to generally say that even though I don't see a lot of movies until they've left the big screen, I do enjoy them.  They are a better escape than drugs and alcohol, that's for sure.  One last point before I close up, I did see Tangled on the big screen.

With all the issues in the world right now, protests and riots in Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt and all the protests (and soon to be riots)  in the US about collective bargaining for the Unions, if you are one of the people fortunate enough to have the night off from protests, rioting, worrying about gas prices, wars, finances, hunger, sickness, cancer or anything else go ahead and watch the Academy Awards.  Of course that basically excludes us all.  We all have something or someone in today's crazy world that is affected by something serious.  So if you are a movie buff, or just in the need of a couple hour escape, go ahead and do it.  Enjoy them... I will.

OK People Let's get your comments flowing.  Give me your votes on who is going to win the Big 4 - Best Movie, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress.

  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids are All Right
  • The King's Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter's Bone
Best Director
  • Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
  • David O. Russell - The Fighter
  • Tom Hooper - The King's Speech
  • David Finchner - The Social Network
  • Joel Coen and Ethan Coen - True Grit
Actor in a Leading Role
  • Javier Bardem - Biutiful
  • Jeff Bridges - True Grit
  • Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
  • Colin Firth - The King's Speech
  • James Franco - 127 Hours
Actress in a Leading Role
  • Annette Bening - The Kid's are All Right
  • Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
  • Natalie Portman - Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine

Sunday, February 20, 2011

President's Day - Let's take a moment to reflect.

Who knows what President's Day is?  In the United States most of us do.  It's to honor the nation's first President, George Washington, and one of the nation's most celebrated President's, Abraham Lincoln, right?  Both of their birthday's are in February, Abraham Lincoln's is February 12th while George Washington's birthday is either February 22nd or February 11th, depending on if you are using the "Gregorian" or "Julian" calendar (to see more on this click here).  Depending on what part of the country you are from it may be to honor all past and current Presidents.

I like President's Day.  It is supposed to be a time to reflect on why we, as a nation, are where we are at this point in time.  I've gotten more interested as time goes on in these two great historical figures.  No matter what the present and future hold for our great country, our past is set and these two men have shaped the nation in ways that I'm not sure they even would realize.  Do you think they ever thought that this country would have over three hundred million people in it?  I wonder if they ever thought about it.

George Washington, after his death was know as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."  You can't summarize someones life in one sentence, but that one sentence is pretty powerful when  put in the context of George Washington.  I'm not going to regurgitate what history books and scholars can convey  much better than I can about George Washington.  What I can add is when I think about what this man accomplished and all he overcame I can see a glimpse of what he must have been.  He must have been an incredibly intelligent, hard working, driven and gutsy person.  Do people in today's world stand up for what they believe in like he did?

Abraham Lincoln is known for many accomplishments as well.  His greatest feat was abolishing slavery in the United States of America while keeping his country from staying split in two.  While it was George Washington's fate to guide people in creating this nation, it was Abraham Lincoln's duty to keep it from going too far in the wrong  direction.  At the time of Abraham Lincoln's Presidency, a lot of politicians were hot on the Constitution and using that as the sole guideline for running the country.  Abraham Lincoln, focused more on the morality of the Declaration of Independence and it's emphasis on freedom and equality.  

So while most of the kids in our nation will be off school and some of the adults that work will not have to go into work for the day.  Take a moment and reflect why we are not working or at school.  Do a little research and   find out about these two men who helped put our nation where it is today.  Why not make it a goal to take a few minutes and look into some other presidents that you don't know much about.  

Lastly, I want you to comment on some facts you know about these two men.  Better yet, if you know any facts about any presidents that you would like to share.... do it now.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My dear Watson, are you for real?

I had some help with today's posting.  My son Avery is a huge 'Watson' fan.  He helped me with picking pictures and posting this entry.  Thanks Avery!!

This is Watson.  The winner of Jeopardy
Did anyone watch the three days of Jeopardy earlier this week?  It took two of the biggest winners in Jeopardy history and pitted them against a computer named ‘Watson’ created by IBM.  The two humans involved were Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.  Ken Jennings holds the title of most consecutive wins on Jeopardy.  In 2004 he won seventy four uninterrupted games of Jeopardy.  He won over 3.1 million dollars on Jeopardy not to mention another 300,000 dollars this week for coming in second place.  Brad Rutter holds the title for winning the most money on Jeopardy with over 3.2 million dollars (not to mention cars and other items) as well as winning 200,000 dollars this week for coming in third place.  These two champions have what it takes to win.  They have the intelligence to answer the questions correctly and the ability to play the game, not to mention nerves of steel.  So what about our third contestant and three day winner?  Watson is a computer that has the ability to understand the human language and answer questions asked of it.  It’s an artificial intelligence program that has very sophisticated algorithms to help it get to the correct answer.  An algorithm is like the computer’s thought process.  It is developed by the people who created Watson over at IBM.

Watson's body
It seems like the computer was just too much for our two human champions.  Although there were times that it came out with the wrong answer or would wager odd amounts in the daily double and final Jeopardy, overall it seemed to perform better than its human counterparts, at least on answering these sets of questions.  The three days were enjoyable to watch though.   Although the score seemed like a blowout, there were times when the humans were giving the computer a run for its money.  For instance at the end of day one, Brad was tied with Watson.  Then, during day three Ken was beating Watson for a while.   However, here is one huge advantage that Watson had, he didn’t get frustrated.  If it got beat to the buzzer five times in a row it would still have the same chance at getting question number six correct as it did before.  Brad and Ken were sometimes visibly frustrated when Watson would go on a question winning streak.  They would have to regain their composure, which they always did, to move on.  Watson never had composure to lose or regain.

Another picture of Watson's body
The creators of Watson did give him some personality.   The physical ‘Watson’ was made up of two basic parts, the computer and the representation of that computer.  The computer itself was huge and stored back stage, but his representation was an Avatar, as represented in the image above.  It looked like it had a head, and you could see when he was thinking and when he was frustrated or upset that he got a question wrong by watching the colors of the avatar change.  Of course he was never truly upset or frustrated or happy for that matter.   The creators just programmed that humanity in him so we would enjoy the show more.  So it boils down like this, we the audience saw a ‘human’ side of Watson with his changing colors, voice and perceived emotion.  Ken and Brad saw the ‘inhuman’ side of Watson with his ruthless ability and speed to answer questions over and over again, like the machine was designed to do.

Thinking Watson
Happy Watson
Overall it was a very enjoyable three days of Jeopardy.  I’m not a regular watcher because it seems like there is always something else going on, but we did make time for these days and we are glad we did.  It got me thinking though.   How far off is artificial intelligence from having a major role in human affairs?  Will the computers be tricky like ‘Hal’ from 2001 a space odyssey or ruthless like the robots from the Terminator movies?  Is this sci-fi coming to life or life becoming sci-fi?  Only time will tell.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Running, why do people like it?

We’ve all seen those insane people running in the middle of winter.  How about when you are going into work at 7:00am and you see that same person, running the same path with a big smile on their face.  There is this guy I see running every morning in the summer time.  He waves to every car as they drive by.  Are those smiles on runner’s faces or grimaces of pain?  Runners can easily disguise pain as pleasure because in the extreme forms of pain and pleasure your teeth show and no one knows if you are smiling or cursing.  Why do people run?

WAIT, all you runners don’t stop reading here.  I’m actually a proponent of running although it may not sound like it from above.  Let’s be strait here, there are different levels of running.  Some people look like they are born to run (my son Avery for one), others look like every step they take is a struggle (me for instance).  Then there are those who are somewhere in between.  The one thing to keep in mind is exercise is so good for you, if you aren’t into running that’s OK.  What I’m saying here can be applied to any exercise.  The key to exercise is to find something you will have fun doing.  If you aren’t training for some kind of competition, don’t worry about keeping stats and watching improvements.  If you keep consistently exercising you will improve.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with running and until recently I didn’t know why. I’m not talking about running with a ball in front of you like soccer or basketball, or running after you hit a ball like baseball.  I’m talking about running in its purest form.  For all you literary students think of the ‘Man vs. Himself’ conflict in literature.  I’ve found this to be my biggest challenge in running, myself.  At least it has been until now.  I only started to enjoy running when I did it for leisure a few years ago.  I’ll back up for a moment though.

My first memories of running were when I played soccer.  It was fun, but of course there was a ball in front of me.  Then I kept playing soccer.  All of the sudden when I got to high school the coaches wanted us to be in great shape.  “On your off days you should run ten miles to keep in shape.” They would say.  Wanting to be in great shape, so I could play soccer more, I ran.  It wasn’t very fun though.  Fast forward a few years.  I’m looking for an exercise I can do during lunchtime at work.  I worked downtown Cleveland at the time.  A friend and work colleague of mine said, let’s run together.  “Sure, let’s do that” I said.  Well, he was way above me in stamina and running skill so he would always get ahead of me and I would try to keep up, killing myself in the process.  Who likes this running thing?  I quickly bagged it for some other form of exercise that worked for me.  I thought my strait running days were over with.

Then a few years ago my son Avery heard about this cross country team from a local school.  He thought he would give it a try.  He is a natural runner and took to it quickly.  I would go to his practices and watch him.  It looked like he was having fun.  He actually told us that he finds peace while running.  It’s very calming for him.  What better endorsement than from a family member.  I decided to try it again, just for fun this time.  My first few times were a struggle.  Then it started to get easier.  Then I started to look around the trails and noticed the nature we were running through.  I was really breathing in the fresh air.  To top it off I was spending time with my son and some of his friends.  We carry on conversations while running.  I’ve met some great people.   I got to know other kids and parents from this group.  The running team is coached by the most positive coaches I’ve seen, ever.  What an incredible environment for the kids.  OK I’m hooked.  I actually like running.   Now I’m in mid-winter and have other forms of exercise to keep me busy but I’m getting the itch to start up running again.  I can’t wait until spring.  Nature, fresh air, camaraderie, I get it now.  As long as I keep the perspective of doing it for fun and not setting goals that I can’t keep, I’ll be running for a while.  I understand that most runners are smiling and not grimacing.  Do what works for you.

Do you like to run?  If so, do you run by yourself or with others?  Competition, social or fun running?  If you don’t run what is your reasoning?  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What do you know about acupuncture?

I don’t know all the inner workings of acupuncture.   However I do understand the basic principles that it works on.  As most of us know acupuncture was first practiced in China and has been practiced there for thousands of years.  Acupuncturists believe there are meridians or channels that run up and down the body in which our vital energy flows.  This is not unlike how blood flows through series of blood vessels.  The vital energy is not blood and the meridians are not blood vessels but the concepts are similar.  Stuff, be it blood or energy, flows throughout the body.  When the energy flow is disrupted an imbalance is created and sickness occurs.  The purpose of acupuncture is to repair the disrupted flow and bring balance (and therefore health) back to the body.  To accomplish this, the acupuncturist uses a series of needles that are placed into the body, specifically the meridians, to restore the proper flow of energy.  When going through my cancer treatments I had acupuncture done to me to help relieve some of the side effects.  Do you think it was able to help me?  Can acupuncture help others that have to go through these treatments for cancer?

Cancer treatments like Chemotherapy and Radiation are designed to get rid of cancer cells, or at least keep them in check.  The problem is they don’t distinguish the healthy cells from the cancer cells.  So you lose plenty of the healthy cells too.  Once you start losing a significant amount of healthy cells you can start to see and feel the side effects of the treatments.  You can experience a wide range of side effects, anything from hair and appetite loss to weakness and fatigue.  The list goes on and on because your body is made of healthy cells.  Think of damaging or taking blocks of them away.  Let’s compare it to a decaying house.  Parts of the house start getting worse while others are standing strong, but eventually, if not attended to, the decay will take over and the house will fall down.  Once these cells start getting damaged the vital energy flow in your body is getting disrupted too.  There are many ways to minimize and relieve these side effects, with varying degrees of success.   Dana suggested I try acupuncture.  She used it in the past and had a positive experience.

I was lucky to find an acupuncturist that worked close by.  He has a place in the next city over from where I live.  It was only about a five minute drive.  Although he was not the acupuncturist that Dana used, he did have a great recommendation from a friend.  He is so busy that at the time he didn’t even take new patients without a recommendation.  Later he told us he can work twelve hours a day and still have people waiting.  He has three single patient rooms that he rotates between.  He pops in and out of the rooms constantly working on people.  He was born in China, so acupuncture has always been part of his culture and life.  He has been working for many years (twenty or more) as an acupuncturist.  However, he still goes to China every few years to continue his study.  He is as reputable as they come.

Every appointment I had with our acupuncturist was similar.  He always wanted me to bring my blood test results and would look them over before he treated me.  He also asked a series of questions which related to my general mental and physical health, energy and attitude.  Then he would pull the lower eyelid down and look at the blood vessels in my eye.  After that he knew how he would treat me for that day.  I can’t pretend to know how he made his decisions about treatment but I do know he had a very specific method.  He would assure us that the acupuncture would help.  He once told us that in China if someone has cancer and has to go through chemotherapy and radiation that it would be standard for them to also use acupuncture to help relieve the side effects.

I had seven weeks of radiation therapy with three chemotherapy sessions scattered throughout.  The main treatment for getting rid of the tumors was the radiation.  The chemo was supposed to enhance the effectiveness of the radiation and pickup any spare cancer cells that may have started spreading in regions beyond my neck.  I started the acupuncture close to the second of my three chemotherapy sessions.  The chemotherapy sessions were very intense so I would have one then I would wait for three to four weeks to have another one.  After my first session my white blood cells dropped so low that I couldn’t have my second one three or even four weeks later.  At this point I was in danger of not having enough time to fit my third treatment in.  Then came the acupuncture, not only did I fit my third chemotherapy session in, but I actually did it a week earlier than planned.  Usually toward the end of treatment your body would have more trouble generating enough white blood cells to have another chemotherapy session.  I also have to add that the doctor who was in charge of my radiation therapy said that he had never seen anyone handle it as well as I did.  He even called me superman.  Of course it’s not like I had an easy time with these treatments, I just find it curious that toward the end of my treatments I seemed to be doing better than most people expected me to be.  I can attribute that to my acupuncture.

The effectiveness of the acupuncture is a hard thing to measure.  I’ve never gone through cancer treatments without it to compare.  However, I believe that the acupuncture did help my body heal quicker and help me recuperate in enough time to fit in all of my cancer treatments.  I continued to use acupuncture for several months after my cancer treatments ended.  It helped my body restore it’s vitality in a quicker fashion that it would have without the acupuncture.

Who else out there has used acupuncture?  What did you use it for?  Do you think it had any effects on you?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why are some days better than others?

Why does it seem that some days are better than others?  Is it fate, karma, luck, astrology or just plain randomness?  I got to thinking about this the other day when I had a “bad” day.  It was actually a bad few hours, but those few hours seemed like a day in length.  I remember thinking “when will this stop? “   The bad events did stop, as they always do.  Not only did they stop but something good came out of it.  I got another idea for a post on my blog.  I figured out why bad things aren’t always bad and I can tell you why.

Within a twelve hour period, all these things happened to me.
  • I was at a stop light and was hit from behind.
  • Found out both cars need tires and one needs breaks too.
  • The morning was extra hectic because my wife had somewhere to be and was in the shower.  Leaving me to battle the feisty kids and get them ready for school on my own.
  • My dog threw up all over her bed and herself.  Not just a little, I’m talking more vomit than I’ve ever seen come from a dog. 
  • My garage door broke.  So I couldn’t drive my ‘hit from behind’ car into work.
  • The toilet started leaking.
  • We noticed ants in our kitchen.  You have to remember it is January in Cleveland Ohio, I didn’t even know ants were around.
  • Five light bulbs blew within a two hour period.
Any of these things alone would be simple to handle.  Even looking back at that list now, it just doesn’t seem like a big deal for a twelve hour period of time.  Actually though it was more like three hours, because out of that twelve I was sleeping for seven, getting ready for sleep (and then work)  and showing for one, working out for one and helping the kids with a puzzle for one.  Those were the calm times in the twelve hour span.  But when they all happened together, in the order they did as fast as they did, my mind wanted to explode.  I eventually fixed my garage door enough so it would open and close.  I was just going to get a late start to the day.

This all happened on the Catholic feast day of St. Blaise.  He is the Patron Saint of throat illness.  It is said that St. Blaise, as a young man, healed a boy that came to him with a fish-bone stuck in his throat.  That is how he became the Patron Saint of throat illness.  Naturally, having gone through throat cancer, I wanted to go to mass that day and give thanks for having all that behind me, also to get my throat blessed again.  So on my way to mass, which I was late for because of my trying morning, I felt a sense of calm come over me that continued to intensify during the mass.

After mass I was lucky enough that it continued throughout the rest of the day.  But that morning and the evening before were something to behold.  In the drive to work I started thinking about how I was reacting to all of this.  I actually became thankful that these things happened.  I remembered that one year ago I was a zombie on the couch hoping that my body could recover from the trauma of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.  Everyone told me it would, but it sure didn’t feel like it.  At that time, if these ‘inconvenient events’ happened, I wouldn’t have been able to react at all.  

Point #1: I was alive and happy enough to react to these things happening to me.  Hey!! That’s great.  I survived cancer.  What about all the people currently going through life altering events like we were last year.  It made me think of the news story I saw about the streets of Mentor lined on both sides as a memorial to a fallen soldier.   Not only was this hero a soldier, but a father, husband, family member and many other titles, I’m sure of it.  OK, so a hit car and broken garage door isn’t that bad after all.

Point #2: Some of these “bad” events made me take a closer look at some things that needed attention anyway.  Sure the cars need tires and breaks, but that will help keep us safe.  The garage door may seem like an inconvenience to fix, but in these frigid temperatures, it’s better than having to get out of the car to open/close the garage door.

Point #3: Timing seems to be everything with these bad events.   Good events too, there will be a time when the pendulum swings the other way and we will get a ton of good news from different sources.  Most things are only as bad as you perceive them to be at the time.  I stress “most”.  

Tell me about something that happened to you recently that you considered “bad” or a major inconvenience and then after a few hours realized, it wasn’t as bad as first perceived.