Monday, December 21, 2009

Recalling the memories

On Saturday, we bid a fond farewell to our fifteen-year old station wagon.

We bought it in March 2007 from my wife's grandmother, who no longer needed it after turning 90. It only had 22,000 miles on it, and I needed a vehicle to commute to and from work and graduate school, so we went ahead and got it.

It had several problems at the time - a gas tank fissure, a coolant leak, and brakes that needed repair - but we hoped that it would suffice going to and from the office and school for a year or so.

While going through the accumulated items in the car Saturday, it was interesting to remember times throughout the years.

  • Papers and souvenirs from me desk after getting laid off from my job in the summer of 2007.
  • Potential employment with the Atlanta and Marietta Police Departments.
  • Quizzes and study guides for many different business school classes.
  • Paperwork for interviewing with Emerson, and my acceptance there (My Emerson interview was actually the first of three that day - I was hopping!)
  • My poker chip set, brought to many a poker game :)
  • Paperwork for the unemployment office for myself (in 2007-2008) and Kim (in 2008-2009)
  • Paperwork detailing my preparation for graduation in 2009.
  • Paperwork detailing the massive debt I would be taking on as a result of graduating in 2009.
  • A dog leash, from when our dog Maggie passed away.
  • Souvenirs from family trips - Amicalola Falls, Georgia Aquarium, Fernbank Museum, and the Atlanta History Center

We expected it to last slightly more than a year, and it ended up lasting almost three years. It actually did not die a natural death - even though it seemed to be constantly on the precipice. A couple of weeks ago, while in a parking lot, a SUV backed into our car's bumper, and damaged it and the rear quarter panel. Unfortunately, the value of the car was so low that it was totaled, and a check written (which showed up today).

Fortunately, it saved us from doing brake repairs, tire replacement, fixing a cracked radiator block, replacing a head gasket, an oil change, winterizing, body work to fixed a rusted hood, and annual emissions. We even got by on gas, as we brought it in on an almost-empty tank :)

So, now it is time to car shop again. We won't be getting another teenaged station wagon, but at least it did the job when we needed it.

Rest in peace.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Setting the 2010 Tourney Calendar

Since I've gotten a whole host of announcements and press releases over the last few days about 2010 events, I've decided to compile them as best as I can for easy viewing.

Of course, it is too bad I don't have the vacation time needed to enjoy all of these fine events. However, I'm sure I can find a nice sample.

January 6-27, Southern Poker Championship, Beau Rivage, Biloxi, MS. This is a WPT-affiliated series, and with room rates of $69/$99, it might be a good quick trip from Georgia. I am actually thinking that the $340 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo event on Sunday, January 17 or the $220 Bounty NLHE event on January 23 might be what I target if we are able to head down there. Besides, it would probably be much easier to drive a couple hours, than hop on a plane to the Aussie Millions or to Atlantis.

January 20-February 11, WSOP Circuit, Harrah's, Tunica, MS. I thought this was cancelled, which is probably not a very good sign.

January 29 - February 25, Deep Stack Extravaganza, Venetian, Las Vegas, NV. Offered every three-months, this is a fun tournament series when someone isn't flipping over chips and tables.

January 21 - March 4, L.A. Poker Classic, Commerce Casino, Commerce, CA. This is one card room that I've always wanted to go see, as I've heard the place is absolutely gargantuan. Many options available, with 50 events to choose from, and I could always try to visit family while there too. Too bad it doesn't overlap with the Texas-Alabama game for the BCS.

March 13-14: WSOP Academy, Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, NV. I normally would not include this, but since there is a slight chance I may actually be in Las Vegas for this weekend (hooray for fellow fantasy football fanatics), I'm linking to it. This weekend may be much, much more about basketball, what with those conference championships and setting the brackets for March Madness the following weekend.

March 30 - April 24, WPT Five-Star World Classic, Bellagio, Las Vegas, NV. Only listing because it is one of my top-two poker rooms (the Venetian being the other) but the entry fees for this are a bit out of my range.

May 7-19, WSOP Circuit, Harrah's, New Orleans, LA. I missed the 2008 edition after going in 2006 and 2007. A 2010 trip is possible, but with it being a bit earlier this year it might be difficult as it had been closer to Memorial Day, making it easier to leave work. The detailed schedule hasn't been defined yet, but it's earlier than previous years because of...

May 27 - July 17, World Series of Poker, Rio Las Vegas, NV. The schedule has just been released, with FIFTY-SEVEN events over seven weeks, now starting BEFORE Memorial Day. Yowzah. No idea what I might possibly be interested in yet, or if I would even be out there this year. Besides, even when I did go, I was shut out of the final $1500 donkament, which led me over to the Venetian for their Summer edition of the Deep-Stack Extravaganza. Though there are initial claims more space will be available, I think most players would believe it when they see it.

That ought to be enough live poker to manage over a few months for most folks - and if not, then you're either doing this full time or need to call a certain 800 number for addictive tendencies :)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fandom by the numbers

A little while back, GeekSoapBox decided to look at the teams rooted fr over the years and how they've done, with some help from being a long-suffering Mets/Islanders/Jets fan. It was interesting to figure the overall winning rates and how credible the "long-suffering" description can be.

It seemed like an interesting idea, so I figured I'd write it up. Eventually. Like, now, perhaps.

My situation is a bit different, as I converted on all teams from my old home to my new home at almost the same time, but still good to review. I moved to Atlanta for school in 1995, but it wasn't until the early 2000's once I got married that I made the "official" conversions - and the fact that the NY team did something in each case to tick me off probably lent an assist as well.

So, let's see how we stack up in the four major sports:

1. Baseball

NY Yankees, 1985-2003: 1672-1332, .557; World Series Champs 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000; World Series 2001, 2003; Playoffs 1995, 1997, 2002
Atlanta Braves, 2004-2009, 507-464, .522; Playoffs 2004, 2005
Total: 2179-1796, .548; 4 World Series Titles, 6 World Series Berths, 11 Playoff Berths

Easily far and away the best record, but those Yankee records include a few down years in the early 90's when I went to the majority of my games. I still miss the bleacher creature days.

The big catalyst here for finally switching was a problem most people have with the Yankees: free-agent signings. Until this point I'd been comfortable with the players they signed, as they weren't necessarily bad guys to the general public. However, after the 2003 season, they signed A-Rod (ROID ALERT!), Gary Sheffield (mopey and a tendency to quit on games) and Kevin Brown (whiny, self-absorbed prima donna). I hated these signings a much of the popular 90's crew was fading out of the clubhouse, and finally switched to the Braves. While the Braves haven't been as prolific in the playoffs as the Yankees, it has been fun to root for the Braves and against the Yankees whenever they were on - which worked GREAT until this past October.

2. Hockey
NY Islanders, 1991-2000; 264-365-87, .421; Playoff berths in 1992, 1993, 1994
Atlanta Thrashers, 2000-2009; 288-378-101, .441; Playoff berth in 2007
Total: 527-732-185, .429; 4 Playoff berths

This one was hard to define. Atlanta did not have a team when I moved here. Switching to the new expansion team was quite simple and justifiable, considering the Islanders had been so inept in management (see Spano, John, Maloney, Don, and Milbury, Mike) and it was an expansion team that I switched to.

Between the woeful Islanders and the Thrashers' expansion pains, this is easily my worst winning percentage among the four sports. Surprisingly, neither of these teams has the worst record of teams I have rooted on. The Thrashers are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference, so they could get their second playoff berth this year as things may be on an upward slope.

3. Basketball
NY Knicks, 1985-2004, 822-704, .539; 2 Finals appearances (1994, 1999); 9 other playoff berths (1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2001)
Atlanta Hawks, 2004-2009, 168-263; 2 playoff berths (2008, 2009)
Total: 990-967, .506, 9 playoff berths

I started following the Knicks after the Patrick Ewing draft, back when Knicks games were still available on local channels, before the MSG network even existed. Some dry years in the mid and late 80's became a strong run in the 90's which unfortunately happened at the same time as Jordan's ascendancy. Their best chance disappeared in 1994, with a Game 5 preempted by the O.J. chase and a Game 7 highlighted by John Starks' 2-for-18 shooting. The Riley years were fun; the Van Gundy years were somewhat entertaining but I tired of them during the tenure of Scott Layden and swore them off entire when Isiah Thomas came in to run the show during the 2003 season. I'm counting the entire 2003-2004 season for New York, though, and starting the Hawks' tally with a lovely 13-69 season in 2004-2005.

The Hawks "lead the way" with the worst winning percentage among all teams I've rooted for, sitting at .390 over 5 1/4 seasons.

Surprisingly, this may have the brightest future, as the often woeful Hawks are among the league leaders in many categories and have a 15-6 record a quarter of the way through the season.

4. Football

I save this for last, because it was the last team that I switched. And boy, what interesting timing that was.

New York Jets, 1986-2005, 141-177-1, .444; 2 division titles (1998, 2002), 4 wild card berths (1986, 1991, 2001, 2004)
Atlanta Falcons, 2006-2009; 28-32, .467; 1 wild card berth (2008)
Totals: 169-209-1, .447; 2 division titles, 5 wild card berths

Yes, I was a Jets fans when the Giants won Super Bowls XXI and XXV. Lemme tell ya, it doesn't beat the fun of the Joe Walton/Bruce Coslet/Pete Carroll/Rich Kotite coaching carousel!

Thankfully, the dark times were replaced by good times under Bill Parcells, with two division titles and two other wild-card berths thanks to the players brought in - even though he left in 2002 and Herm Edwards took over, most of the players were from that time, when the team was actually halfway decent. Plus, it was much more fun to watch Vinny Testaverde and Curtis Martin that it was to watch Ken O'Brien/Browning Nagle/Boomer Esiason/Neil O'Donnell.

I was starting to get tired of the relapse to the "same old Jets" and when the Jets screwed up their draft in 2006 after another losing season (following a couple seasons of schizophrenic results) I swore them off forever and switched to the Falcons - just in time to have one sub par Falcons season and the eruption of the Vick scandal.

So there you have it - a lot of playoff berths, in both cities, but only the four titles of the Yankees' late-90's dynasty. Thankfully, all of the teams I root for now either have good prospects for the future or are already contending for playoff spots. It really is getting to be a better time to be an Atlanta sports fan - the Braves contended for a wild-card spot until there was one week left in the season, the Falcons sit one game out of a wild-card spot, and the Hawks and Thrashers would make the playoffs is their seasons ended today.

Meanwhile, the teams I left have not won any titles either, up until about 2 months ago. I don't think I have ever rooted so hard for the Phillies in my life. Hopefully the Yankees' 2009 title won't be the start of another dynasty of titles but will just be a blip on the screen.

If nothing else, this was a fun little trip down memory lane. For the most part, it hasn't been very much long-suffering as much as a long parade of mediocrity with wild swings between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Finally, a Vegas recap

Well, it's been about ten days since we all got back from Las Vegas, but work has just now let me actually have a couple of minutes to write up how everything went.

We flew out to Phoenix the day before Thanksgiving, after we finished work for the day, with the expectation that getting through the airport would be absolute hell, being the world's busiest airport on the busiest travel day of the year. Shockingly, we parked with no trouble, took the shuttle to the airport, and made it through security in less than ten minutes.

The kids' first cross-country flight went pretty well, as they both fell asleep about halfway through the flight and slept for about an hour and a half. We touched down early, got the rental car with no problem, and checked into a hotel near where my folks lived with no problem. Shockingly easy trip - perhaps a good sign.

We woke Thursday morning and went to my father's place to pick him up. The kids had met him once before, last summer before chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Despite being declared free of lung cancer in December, he still looked extremely haggard and droopy compared to the last time we had seen him.

We stayed there for a little while, talking with his neighbors, before heading to my uncle's house for Thanksgiving dinner. While it seemed that my father was not appearing in great shape, my uncle (who is his identical twin) appeared to be in pretty good shape for a 72-year old. He was the first to move out west, about fifteen years ago, and bought a house which was, at the time, in a fairly undeveloped area nestled within the mountains. However, since moving out the city has sprawled, much like Atlanta, and it is now much more populated than before.

I also got to see my cousin Donald for the first time since I graduated from high school. Back then, he was dropping in and out of school while trying to be a full-time musician in a band. Now, he's got the wife, three kids, and house in the suburbs while teaching at a community college. His kids were there as well, so Alex and Sammie had some playmates for the day to get worn out. Everyone got to meet family that hadn't been seen in a very long time, or got to meet new family for the first time. No fights, no disasters, and twelve well-fed Franci made for a very good Thanksgiving.

On Friday morning, we checked out of our Phoenix hotel and went over to pick up my father before hitting the road for Vegas. Amazingly, we got on the road by 9:00 AM, which is almost unprecedented for us for any road trip, and got out of town to US 93 easy enough. US 93 runs from Phoenix, through the Joshua Tree National Forest, meets with Route 66, then keeps going to and over Hoover Dam before turning into I-215 just south of Las Vegas.

The drive was uneventful enough, and extraordinarily beautiful - we took many pictures, and uploaded almost 200 of them to Facebook. We stopped at In-N-Out burger to satisfy a long-overdue craving, and to introduce the kids to what they called the best burger they'd ever had. It did take us an hour and a half to get over the Hoover Dam, as apparently the rest of Arizona had also decided to cross that day. We rolled into Vegas around 3:30, coming north on the Strip so that I got to see the famous welcome sign in person for the first time, despite many previous trips.

To say that it was nigh impossible to lift the kids' jaws off the floor would be an understatement. As we drove into Las Vegas they kept pointing everything out - a pyramid, a sphinx, a rollercoaster, the statue of Liberty, and so on. I don't think the enormity of it all hit until we had walked through the Flamingo and out onto the Strip itself. With the Bellagio, Caesars, and the Mirage all across the street, and people everywhere, it was a lot to take in for such little guys - distractions everywhere, and a scene on every corner of some sort. Thankfully, at four in the afternoon, there wasn't many things that would have been unseemly for little eyes.

We walked up to the Mirage and went into the Secret Garden area, as we had talked about doing with Sammie on her birthday. The Secret Garden is where the Siegfried and Roy's white tigers live, along with lions, dolphins, and many other animals.

As you can see, the dolphins wanted to say hi to the new visitors.

After the Secret Garden, we stayed at the Mirage to go to BB King's Blues Grill for dinner. The kids love blues music, they love ribs and barbecue, so it was an easy call for dinner. Another fun time, and a good meal.

We left the Mirage, and walked outdoors just in time to catch the volcano show outside.

Alex's reaction was priceless.

We walked down the Strip a bit, to the Bellagio to show off the Chihuly glass ceiling and the Botanical Gardens, We also did a stroll through the shops, where Sammie almost drooled in front of the Tiffany's store when she saw the Cinderella design they had in the window. After watching the fountain show, we went back to the room where Kim and the kids fell asleep around midnight.

My father and I headed downstairs for a little while, as he'd been itching to go to the blackjack tables since getting there eight hours before. I actually had not been planning on doing ANY gambling this trip (please stop guffawing) but was not going to let him go downstairs on his own, either.

I took him over to one of the blackjack tables by the poker area, which also happened to be one of the pink tables near the front with girls dancing on a stage behind it. He didn't seem to mind it. Neither did I, as it meant I could keep an eye on him from the poker area.

I sat down at a $2/$4 limit table to donk around for a little while. It was typical no-fol-em-hold-em, with your typical LAG-gy tourists. Bottom pairs often were good. I sat for about 90 minutes and left up about $80. I went over to get my father to take him upstairs, because otherwise he'd sit there the whole damn night. Turned out to be good timing, as he was up about $60 himself, and I crawled into bed at a very-early-for-Vegas 3 AM.

The next morning, everyone woke refreshed, as it seemed much easier to breathe and more humid in Vegas than in Phoenix. We went to the buffet downstairs for a relaxing and stuffing breakfast while watching the flamingoes outside and opening the rest of Sammie's birthday presents. Afterwards, Kim got a massage and went to one blackjack table, and my father went to an adjoining blackjack table while I ran around with the kids and took care of checking out. Both of them finished ahead a little bit, and the kids enjoyed watching the flamingoes, swans, ducks, and koi while climbing up and around the entire Flamingo pool area and wildlife habitat.

We packed up and left Saturday to return to Phoenix - we were going to drop my father off, then head to the airport for a red-eye flight out before using Sunday to recover. We figured leaving around 1 would allow enough time to drive back with a couple hours to spare.

What we DIDN'T take into account was that Thanksgiving drivers are complete morons. A wreck a half-mile before the Dam backed up traffic about 15 miles, all the way into Boulder City. We received quick word that it would take a few hours to cross the dam - which would eat up of our reserve time and make it impossible to make our flight back home.

Thankfully, we were still in the vicinity of Boulder City and I still had a strong signal, and started trying to get through to fins an alternate way back to Phoenix. CrankyCon came through big time in being able to pull up an alternate route touching into California - yay for being home with kids. :)

We started heading down NV 95 into the Mojave desert, and headed right into a duststorm followed quickly by a RAINSTORM. IN THE DESERT. Apparently, it was the one day a year it rains in the desert.

We made up a lot of time heading down to several nameless desert towns and towards Needles, California. At the border, we cut east to Laughlin, NV and then Kingman, AZ in terrain that would have reminded you of the Road Warrior.

We made it back to my father's house, amazingly enough, shortly before 10 PM. We'd lost about two hours on the way back by going a different way, but that was a lot better than the four hours we had been looking at for crossing at the dam. We got to the airport about an hour and fifteen minutes before the flight was due to depart, but with the place almost empty we sailed through.

Our flight, after some mechanical trouble, left at 1 AM. The kids had slept for the second half of the drive back, to rest up for going through the airport. Once on the plane, Sammie passed out, while Alex fought it for a while but finally fell asleep once he saw I was going to sleep as well.

We touched down around 6:30, and made it to the car, which promptly DIED. The battery went dead while we were away - something we knew was coming but were hoping to stretch as long as possible. Apparently the 20-degree temperatures while we were away were enough to do the trick.

After a jump and fuel, we rolled home, and fell into bed at about 8:30 in the morning.

We slept until 4 PM.

Great times were had by all, and the rest of the household cannot wait to go back...

on the condition we fly straight into McCarran next time.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Football Recap

The Falcons looked horrible, and at 6-6 may not even break the curse of consecutive winning seasons. With the Saints coming in next week, I'm a wee bit scared.

Tech: nice job going to the Orange Bowl, even if you got your butts handed to you by a down SEC team in the Dawgs.

Texas: buy a watch.

Fantasy: Our regular season ended last night. I wasn't too high on my team at the start of the year, and I had good reason to be worried about age and injuries. Let's see what happened (original comments from August in parentheses, additional comments in italics)

QB: Donovan McNabb (Rd. 6, which I chose over Matt Ryan, and might haunt me all year) Damn straight it haunted me - he missed weeks 2-5 with a broken rib and then alternated between 30 and 5 points all year. Finally benched.
Backup: Carson Palmer (Rd. 8) Saved my team this year from the likes of Matt Stafford.
Backup: Chad Pennington (Round 16) Replaced by Matt Stafford after getting knocked out for the year.

RB: Tomlinson (Keeper, Round 3) The wheels on the bus start falling off...missed a couple weeks early on and is probably never returning to form, has had one 100-yard game all year.
RB: Michael Turner (Keeper, Round 1) Hurt with a high ankle sprain and could miss the rest of the year.
Backup: Jamal Lewis (Round 9) Concussed again, and retired.
Backup: Leon Washington (Round 12) Broken arm, out for the year.
Backup: Ricky Williams (Round 13) THIS is the guy who stayed healthy all year? Wow. Also saved team from total despair.

WR: Anquan Bolden (Keeper, Round 2) Missed two weeks, and whined several others, in a down year. Not helping the case to change scenery for more moolah next year until Sunday night.
WR: Roy Williams (Round 7). Decent week 1, missed a couple weeks, and traded while out of lineup.
WR: Wes Welker (Round 4). Missed weeks 2 and 3, but has been taking in 12 catches a week since.
Backup: Laverneaus Coles (Round 10) Cut before the season started.
Backup: Nate Washington (Round 17) Hurt, and cut.

TE: Tony Gonzalez (Round 5, yay, another Falcon) Stayed healthy all year and has set records for Falcon TE's - which weren't too hard to break.
Backup: Tony Scheffler (Round 18, meh, it was the last pick of the draft) Useful for the one Falcons' bye week.

Defense: New England (Round 11) Good when it needed to be.
Backup: Dallas (Round 15) Cut after week 3.

Kicker: Adam Vinatieri (Round 14) Injured, missed several weeks, and cut.

After all of this, one would think a 2-11, or even winless season, right?

Well, after the bad news, some good news from the season:

Week 2: With McNabb out (big shocker) Carson Palmer stepped in as starting QB and began lighting it up. The Bengals, at 9-3, are still doing so.
Week 3: Snagged the Saints' defense off waivers. At 12-0, that's looking pretty good.
Week 5: Snagged Rashard Mendenhall off waivers to replace the downed Tomlinson.
Week 6: Traded the disgruntled and overrated Roy Williams, and replaced him with Miles Austin off the waiver wire.
Week 7: Picked up Sidney Rice.

The year was also filled with stupid moves (such as a one-week play of the Arizona defense when I refused to play the Saints against the Falcons) which cost me games as well.

I even looked at a fire sale when I was 4-6 and had almost impossible odds to make the playoffs - winning out and several other teams spitting the bit - but ended up not making any moves.

Somehow, though, I somehow squeaked into the playoffs as a wild card with a 7-6 record. after winning the last three games by an average of 44 points and other teams did not fare so well. As it ended up, in a strange development of parity, all team ended up with records between 8-5 and 5-8, and 7-6 was indeed good enough to make it.

It's gonna take more than the mess above to knock out the reigning champ :)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Chip-slinging for a good cause - Shronk Memorial

Where: Full Tilt Poker
Tournament ID: 121607994
Title: Justin Shronk Memorial Tourney
Game: NLHE
Buy-In: $5+$5
Starts: Sunday, December 6 at 18:00 server time (6 p.m. EST, 3 p.m PST)
Password: Justin Shronk (title case, with the space)
H/t Irongirl.

Founded in 1884, Temple University has grown with the city in which it thrives, Philadelphia, PA. Today, Temple is a comprehensive public research university with more than 37,000 students. With schools of law, medicine, pharmacy, podiatry and dentistry, Temple is the nation’s fifth largest provider of professional education. At home and abroad, Temple remains committed to providing access to educational opportunities and improving local communities. Temple was the first college in the United States to offer a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting in 1948. The School of Communications and Theater, with nearly 4,000 students and six departments, is the third-largest academic unit at Temple. Through creative instruction, a curriculum that reflects today’s changing media and professional facilities, the school provides students with an unparalleled educational experience. The result is high national rankings and demonstrated success in readying students for first jobs and careers.

The Justin Shronk Scholarship will provide scholarship support for students majoring in Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Mass Media within the School of Communications and Theater. Students must have financial need, and there is a preference for a student who has a deceased parent. While a student at Temple, Justin’s father passed away and he considered dropping out to help his mother. With her encouragement, he remained at Temple, graduated and went on to start his career. The recipient of the scholarship should also exemplify some of the same characteristics that Justin exhibited during his life—an absolute passion for everything media, a great wit and sense of humor, loyalty in his friendships, and someone who would take a job for less money to be able to do the work that he loved. With a generous gift earlier this year from Brian Lemke, Justin's cousin, the scholarship was permanently endowed and will honor Justin's memory in perpetuity. We are hoping to raise additional funds toward the endowment through this tournament to increase the amount available to award to deserving students in Justin's name year after year.