Friday, January 30, 2009

Gastronomy In Tunica

We had the opportunity to dine in two outstanding buffets during our recent visit to Memphis and Tunica, The Paula Deen Buffet at Harrah's and the Village Square Buffet at the Horseshoe in Tunica, Mississippi.

"I Hope Y'all Are Hungry"
My wife and I are pretty big fans of Paula Deen on The Food Network. She's fun to watch and the food she cooks looks very good. Visiting her buffet was one of the main reasons for traveling to Tunica.

It was well worth the trip. We went through and sampled a little bit of everything - and everything was excellent. Normally, I don't expect gourmet class food at a buffet, but this buffet was certainly different.

One nice touch was the recipe cards left at the buffet stations for guests to take with. I snagged one of each so J can make some of the things we tried here at home. She's good enough to pull it off. 

There is even a gift shop in the front of the food area one can buy Paula Deen goodies and souveniers.

The price was higher than many buffets I've been to, but it was worth every penny.

Unexpected Buffet Surprise
The next evening we found ourselves in the Horseshoe after some folks we ran into suggested we might enjoy it more than the Harrah's. When we arrived we found they were offering a free buffet. I don't normally turn down a free meal, but I would have gladly paid for this one.

It was Friday, so there was seafood "a-plenty" to be had. All sorts of seafood cooked all sorts of ways were on hand. Just like in Paula's, we tried a little bit of everything and were not disappointed. Again, this place is well worth checking out.

Image credit: Řehoř

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Visiting Downtown Memphis

When we told folks we were going to Memphis for our 5th Annual Honeymoon, we were told by many to visit the Peabody Hotel and see the ducks and The Rendezvous for ribs. So, we took their advice and did so, on both counts. And we weren't disappointed.

Excellent Ribs
Charles Vergos' Rendezvous is a very interesting restaurant located in Downtown Memphis at 52 S. Second St. Be warned: The actual entrance is in the alley behind Second Street between Union Ave. and Monroe Ave.

After entering, we were sent to the back of the restaurant in what could have been a museum. There were trinkets and newspapers hanging around the room and in showcases. Everything from a tobacco tin collection to airline memorabilia was in this room. It was all very interesting to a history buff like me.

I'm not a fan of ribs; I rarely eat them. But, I have to say the ribs in this place were outstanding. The dirty rice served as an appetizer was very good, the cole slaw was excellent (and spicy, too) as were the beans. All in all it was an excellent dining experience and well worth checking out.


Cute Ducks
The Peabody Hotel is just down the alley from the Rendezvous. This hotel is famous for the ducks which live in the hotel, hanging around in the lobby's fountain during the day. According to the story, the owner of the hotel and his friends were out hunting with live decoys (which was legal in those days) and thought it would be funny to put the ducks in the fountain. The gag turned out to be a very popular draw, so they left the ducks there. To this day they march down from their home on the top floor of the hotel, down the elevator and into the fountain each morning and back up to their home in the evening. It was rather nice to see them frolicking about in the water. An interesting sight, indeed.

image credit: Řehoř

Monday, January 26, 2009

What I Learned At Graceland

My wife and I just finished our 5th Annual Honeymoon. This year, we headed over to Memphis, Tennessee so we could visit Graceland. I sometimes joke that my wife needs to make a "pilgrimage" there every few years.

When we last visited Graceland a few years ago, we didn't have time to go on the mansion tour. This time, however, we made time to take the VIP tour so we could see everything. It was well worth it.

I learned quite a bit about Elvis during this visit, just as I did during our visit to the Elvis-A-Rama Museum in Vegas (now closed). Here are three tid-bits which I was surprised to learn about Elvis:
  1. Elvis was a voracious reader: Seeing how busy he kept himself, it never struck me that he would have much time to read. Part of the Graceland VIP tour is a "secret" room in the back of the mansion. In that room is a display of what his office looked like when he passed. I was quite surprised to see books on philosophy and business in addition to novels of many types.
  2. Elvis Was A Monty Python Fan: Inside the "Lisa-Marie" airplane, the tour video mentioned that Elvis would often read or watch movies while flying around the country. The narrator specifically mentioned Elvis enjoyed watching Monty Python. That was quite a surprise to me.
  3. Elvis' Reputation for Generosity Is Underrated: Although Elvis has a reputation as being a very generous man, the bounds of his generosity are underrated in my opinion. One of the exhibits in the Graceland mansion details his charitable works. I was quite blown away by the number of charities he helped support as well as the very large number of people he would help just because he heard they were having a hard time. He paid medical bills for numerous people. This was all in addition to his famous giveaways of cars and other items. In the exhibit narration Lisa Marie Presley made a comment something to the effect of: "As much as he spent on his family, he spent far, far more helping others."
Details in the Details
I enjoy seeing the minutia of the lives of famous people. Business documents, for whatever reason, fascinate me. As I mentioned in my post about the Elvis-A-Rama Museum, Elvis' business records also reveal a lot about the man most folks never hear about. For instance:
  1. The pool table he bought for Graceland was a used, refurbished one.
  2. He was paid $50,000 for his first television appearances (quite a princely sum in the 50s).
  3. Elvis' father, Vernon, handled most of the business affairs. Most of the checks on display are actually signed by him and not by Elvis.
Veteran Elvis
Elvis' military service continues to impress me each time I hear a new story. Here's a man who was at the top of the entertainment world when he was drafted. He could have gotten easy duty, and no doubt was offered such. But he chose to go the way of every other young man and do his service with no special favors or favoritism. About the only special privilege he had was permission to live "off post" in a rental home. Even still, he helped his fellow soldiers clean the barracks for Saturday inspections.

I'm not sure what his MOS was, but from the descriptions given in the "GI Elvis" exhibit it sounds like he was a Cavalry Scout. He mentioned in one interview that he spent 6 months of his tour in Germany patrolling the Czech border near Grafenwoehr, Germany. 

All in all, I consider this to have been a class act on Elvis' part.

One of these days I'd like to go visit Germany and check out the Statue of Elvis standing at Ray Barracks in Friedburg, Germany. I've seen it many times, but my wife has not, yet. I think it would be a great treat for her.

Paying Respects
At the end of the mansion tour, one is led past the graves of Elvis, his mother, his father and his grandmother. Although I don't consider myself a huge fan, it was hard not to get choked up about his passing after learning so much about him. He was, truly, a living legend - and the legend doesn't nearly describe who the real "larger than life" man was.

All Elvis All The Time
After our touring, we just happened to catch the weekly Elvis Quiz Show on Sirius radio. Sirius' Elvis Radio broadcasts all "Elvis all the time" live from Graceland 24/7 and each week they have a live trivia contest. The winner this past Friday was a young man from Canada who visits Graceland every year and has won the contest each of the 6 times he's been in it. His prize was to guest DJ on the show. Next time we head out that way, we'll have to email ahead of time and see if we can get in on it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reflections on Obama's Inauguration

I was busy at work, so I missed most of the inauguration hoopla. It's not that I wasn't interested, but I was selfish and tried to finish a project before going on vacation. I did catch a bit of the happenings; glimpses here and there on HLN in the break room and from peoples' tweets. After all, the historical significance was not lost on me.

Still, I can't help but feel uneasy after all the praise and gushing. It seems to me people are setting themselves and Obama up for a big let down.

It's not that the man in incompetent. He seems a genuinely intelligent man who believes he has the right "formula" to take our great nation forward. I also don't think he'll sit around and use The Office of the President as a joy ride like Bill Clinton did.

What gave me idea of a let down was the way people talked about him: "Obama's going to save America," "Let's help Obama save us all," and comments like that. Those words prompted one British tweeter I follow to ask, "Do Americans think Obama is Jesus?"

Underneath it all, Obama is just a "regular guy" like the rest of us. Although he is in a very powerful position, The Constitution limits his power. Singlehandedly, he can't do very much. Yes, the American people can help him by getting involved in their communities and in dialog with their congresspeople and senators. The people must get behind him if he is going to much of anything. There is only so much one man can do, even if he is President of the United States.

This task may be harder than his more ardent supporters realize. Although he convincingly won the electoral vote, the popular vote showed almost a 50/50 split in most states. If he is going to be the great unifier he's being set up as, there is a lot of work ahead for him. He needs to convince the nearly 50% of Americans who didn't vote for him that he really is their president, too. But, a good leader will pull such a feat off. If Obama is a good leader he will succeed.

I wish The President well and I hope he will show me that he, indeed, does represent me in the Oval Office. Whether he does that or not, I also hope those who worked so hard to get him elected and look to him for change aren't disappointed when things don't happen right away or don't happen the way they think it should. It's going to take a lot of time and effort.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Pack of Smokes Eased The Cold War

I my last post, "Healthy Train Stations" I told the story of my trip to Liberec in the Czech Republic on the first small unit military to military contact visit. One of the best benefits of that trip was to learn about things from those on the other side of the Cold War.

Historical Curiosity
One of our group was a bit of a history buff. He asked a lot of questions about what life was like during the Cold War in (then) Czechoslovakia. He asked one of the Czech officers rather pointedly, "Did you hate Americans during that time?" 

The Rest of the Story
The Czech officer told this short story. I'll tell it in first person as he did as best as I can remember it:

When I was a young soldier, I was assigned to a unit that was charged with watching the German border and to report any suspicious activity. One day I was hidden in a fox hole, under a bush, about 100 meters away from the border.
As I was watching the border, I saw two American jeeps on the German side of the line. They stopped opposite from me and were setting up some kind of equipment. I watched intently through binoculars so I could give a good report. 
I thought they did not know I was there. But, suddenly, two of the soldiers got into a jeep and started driving directly towards me. I was very nervous as they came closer and closer. Just as I was about to pick up the phone to report them, they stopped about 20 meters away. The soldier who was not driving stood up in the jeep, waved at me, and threw a pack of cigarettes towards me, which landed about a meter in front of me. He waved again, and they drove back to where their group was.
I knew they had seen me, there was no denying it. I climbed out of my fox hole, picked up the pack of cigarettes, lit one, and waved back at the Americans. Soon they all packed up their equipment and drove off.
That day I learned that soldiers are soldiers. There could be no animosity towards one soldier who was kind enough to give another soldier a pack of cigarettes. After that day, I had no ill feelings towards Americans.
Cigarettes For Peace
I was quite impressed by his story. It goes a long way towards showing how one, seemingly small, random act of kindness can go a long way.

That brings to my mind a question: How much faster the Cold War might have ended if we sent waves of B-52 bombers over the Warsaw Pact countries and carpet-bombed them with packs of smokes? That might be politically incorrect today given how much we know about the ills of smoking, but back then it might have been the bold move of a genius to ease international tensions.

Image credit: http://www.grenzer.com

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Healthy Train Stations?

I recently blogged about Google's Language Tools and how they approach the issues of translation. At the end of that piece, I mentioned I might post something about my translation gaffes. Here's a particularly memorable one:

In one of my previous lives I was a Czech linguist in the Army. In December of 1993 I was stationed in Darmstadt, Germany working for as an "Orderly Room NCO." It was rather like being an administrative assistant for the commander. One of my duties was to answer the phone. Answering one fateful call allowed me to go on a great trip.

The Call
This particular call was from a captain who was the commander of a chemical unit located in Vilseck, Germany. He told me he and four of his fellow soldiers had been chosen to make the first unit to unit contact visit with the 1st Chemical Defense Brigade of the Czech Army. They were getting ready to travel to Liberec in the Czech Republic to meet with officers there and discuss joint training exercises in Germany and the Czech Republic. Seeing that the Iron Curtain had fallen just a few years before, this was quite an historic event and the first of its kind between the U.S. and Czech Armies.

Not knowing anything about anything Czech, he asked if there might be someone in our unit who 
could go to Vilseck before their trip and talk to them about the people, culture and military courtesies "over there." He also mentioned they might like someone to travel with them on their visit in order to assist them during times when the official interpreter was busy and to help them make sure things went smoothly.

Might be someone? Of course there was - me! I tried not to show too much excitement, but this was a great opportunity to visit the country I had studied about and whose language I practiced for years. It was also a chance to be a small part of history, this being the first such military contact between the two Armies which until recently had been on opposite sides of the Cold War.

In the end, they invited me to come with them to the Czech Republic, and I very happily went along.

Getting Ready
Up to this point, I had studied and practiced the Czech language for nearly ten years. But, I had never traveled to the Czech Republic and I had never worked as a "live" interpreter. I knew I needed some advice on how to handle the situation. Fortunately, I had a good friend who worked as an interpreter and happened to live nearby. He had 3 pieces of advice for me:
  1. Carry a reporter's notebook and write down new words and phrases. This was the most useful thing he told me. I ended up using quite a few pages in the notebook he gave me.
  2. Tell the people to look at the person with whom they're speaking instead of at me. This made a lot of sense. Much face-to-face communication is non-verbal, so it pays to watch the person with whom one is speaking.
  3. If someone tells a joke, lean over and say to the other person in his/her language something to the effect of: "This person just told a joke which is very funny in his/her language, but makes no sense in yours. Please smile and pretend to laugh."

    It is interesting, though, many military-themed jokes which are funny to soldiers in one language are also funny in other languages. Army life is very similar no matter to which army one belongs, so many of the jokes are very similar. I didn't have to use this advice as often as I might have in another situation.
What he did not tell me was how to handle things when you completely botch a translation. That I had to learn on my own.

The Trip
We took the train to Prague and were picked up by our hosts. They whisked us into an awaiting van and told us we were to stop on the way out of the city at the Czech Ministry of Defense offices to meet with the general in charge of all chemical defense troops.

We arrived at the Ministry of Defense building and were escorted to a meeting room which was set up for lunch. At first, we sat and ate and chatted about this and that. Towards the end of the meal, the general stood up and made a toast, wishing for a great era of cooperation.

There was a Czech lady assigned to the group who acted as the official translator. She was employed by the Ministry of Defense to translate manuals for Czech-made military equipment into English. Her English was impeccable and her interpretation abilities were excellent (despite the fact that she didn't think so). As we ate, she did most of the translating, while I jumped in from time to time as conversations moved around the table and to give her a chance to eat. She translated the General's speech quite nicely.

The Trip-Up
Then it was time for our group's leader to make a toast. I don't remember his exact words, though at the time I concentrated on them quite closely. He said something like: "I'm from a small town in the United States and I never thought I'd get to visit other countries to make new friends. I'm usually a man of few words, so please allow me to simply thank the soldiers of the Army of the Czech Republic for inviting us here to meet and to start an era of mutual cooperation and education. We are all very happy to be here and know our countries will enjoy mutual friendship for many, many years. Cheers."

It was that last word which tripped me up. You see, the phrase I intended to translate as "cheers" in Czech is "Na Zdravi" (NAH ZDRA-vi) or "to your health." This short phrase is very similar to the word "nádraží" (NAH-dra-zhee) which means "train station." You can guess which one I said.

One of the Czech officers sitting across from me when I said this caught on very quickly. He almost blew beer through his nose as he choked and pretended to cough an a vain attempt not to laugh. His eyes tripled in size, and as I looked over at him I knew what I had done. I looked across the table and asked him in Czech, "I said, 'train station' didn't I?" He nodded and pretended to cough again to hide his chortling.

At that moment I was mortified. Here we were, visiting ambassadors of the United States Army meeting with Generals and Colonels of the Czech Army hoping to successfully kick off an era of friendship and cooperation and I blew it right at the outset. I didn't even notice if anyone else caught my mistake.

Of course, it was really quite funny. For the rest of  our visit, any time there was a toast to be made, that officer and I would raise our glasses and quietly say "train station."

Monday, January 12, 2009

What's In My CERT Bag?

On Saturday I tweeted that I was repacking my CERT kit into an old XL Army rucksack. A couple of folks tweeted back to ask what I had in my bag. It's a little too long to tweet, so I'll make the list here.

The stuff in the bag is mostly stuff provided by the CERT group I belong to. They provided a nice back pack, but it was too small for my taste as I have a tendency to over-pack. I plan to add some stuff of my own as time goes on. 

For now, here's what I have in the bag:
  • 2 Reflective Vests (1 green and 1 yellow)
  • 1 Roll Yellow Caution Tape
  • 1 Hard Hat
  • 1 Roll Duct Tape (the handyman's secret weapon)
  • 1 Pair Gloves
  • 1 Pair Safety Goggles
  • 1 Gas Main Shutoff Tool
  • 1 Pry Bar
  • 1 Pair Knee Pads
  • 50 feet 1/4-inch Nylon Rope
  • 1 Green Glow Stick
  • 1 Particulate Mask
  • 3 125ml Pouches of Survival Water
  • 1 37X37X37 Bandage (good for slings)
  • 3 "Ace" style bandages
  • 84X52 inch metallic survival blanket
  • 1 4 oz. Bottle Hydrogen Peroxide
  • 1 "Blood Stop" Trauma Dressing
  • 4 4X4's
  • 1/4 oz. Pouch of SPF 30 Sun Block
  • 1 Pr. "EMS" Scissors
  • 1 Roll 1/2" Medical Tape
  • 11.75 inch Trauma Dressing
  • 1 Flashlight
  • 1 Multi-tool
  • 1 non Load-Bearing Carabiner
  • 1 Backpack
  • 1 CERT Operating Guide by J.L. Darling Corporation
    www.riteintherain.com
  • 2004 DOT HAZMAT Emergency Response Guide
  • 1 Whistle
  • 1 Yellow Lumber Crayon
This is certainly not the end-all be-all list of what one could carry. It's just what I've gathered or have been given so far. I'm still considering what else I might need. Our CERT trailer is very well stocked with supplies which frees me to need much less in my personal bag.

With the larger rucksack I have room for extra clothes, food, water, etc. if I need to have them. I also have lots of nice attachments to hang things on, like my amateur radio HT. I think this bag will work better if I actually have to stay somewhere for a while; as in in a search and rescue scenario. If needed, I can also grab just a few things and put them in the other backpack if that is more appropriate.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Twitter "Re-Tweet" Survey Results

Just before the holidays, Rick Osborne and I got into a discussion about using Twitter to promote blog posts and other writings. As we went back and forth, I came upon the idea of doing a poll to see what other tweeters thought on the subject. 

It would have been nice to have more responses. But, I think there's a good enough cross section of users to get a good idea of how folks feel about the subject.

Here are the results:

How Many Times A Day Do You Check Twitter?

1-3 Times A Day14%
3-5 Times A Day7%
5-10 Times A Day21%
10-20 Times A Day14%
I'm On Twitter All Day On My Computer24%
I'm On Twitter All Day On My Smart Phone/PDA3%
I Really Don't Know/Varies Per Day17%


How Many Tweeters Do You Follow?
One to Fifty28%
51 - 10021%
101 - 20014%
201 - 30010%
301+28%


When You Check Twitter, How Many Posts Do You Read?
First Page (20 Tweets) Only52%
2-3 Pages (40-60 Tweets)
28%
3-5 Pages (60-100 Tweets)3%
As far back as it takes to pick up where I last left off26%


If someone has many followers (over 500), knows those followers are on at different times of the day and wanted to promote a blog post, new web site feature, or other such thing, at what point would you consider multiple tweets as tweet spam?

1 Tweet Every 4 Hours41%
1 Tweet Every 3 Hours
14%
1 Tweet Every 2 Hours10%
1 Tweet Every Hour24%
More than one tweet is spam - period10%

Here are some of the comments:

I think identifying it as a 're-tweet' helps with the spaminess of it. For me, I don't go too far back since tweets are generally time sensitive and quickly lose relevance. If someone's postings were so important that I couldn't miss one, I might setup device updates so I would get an e-mail or sms notification of it. (That's kind of up to me to decide, not the person who wants me to read their blog ;-| ).
Twitter is a social networking tool. People follow each other because they're interested in networking and sharing content. If Twitter came up with a way that you could notify all of your followers of something new there would be no need 4 multiple tweets. However until that happens multiple tweets R needed. What I find annoying is when most and/or all the tweets coming from someone R all commercials - that's spam 2 me. Multi-tweet but twitter, connect and converse even more. : )
I'm not bothered by people re-tweeting their stuff. I won't follow someone who only tweets the same thing over and over again
I think Twitter usage changes depending on the client you use. Since changing to Tweetdeck from Twitterific, my usage is more focused.
I didn't know the reason people Retweeted their own posts. Now I do and I understand Rick's reasoning. I don't follow too many people, so the RT's aren't too bad. If I felt that's all someone was doing, RT'ing their own posts all day, I might stop following them. But I haven't seen anyone exclusively TR themselves.
If something's so crucial that Followers in different time zones might miss it if not RTed, I suggest the Blogger should send them a DM. S(he) might also encourage their Followers to RSS his/her Blog to avoid spamming the rest of us.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Crocs™ For The King


A while back I wrote about how my wife and I love our Crocs™.

My wife really goes all out when she decorates hers. January 8th is Elvis' birthday. In honor of the occasion and in preparation for our visit to Graceland later this month, she decked out a pair of her Crocs™ in honor of The King. I think they turned out pretty well.

I think what amazes me most is that she can wear these decked out like this and they don't fall apart. The engineering which goes into these creations is really impressive.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Google's Approach To Language Translation

Machine Translations Have Been Pretty Iffy
In a former life I worked as a translator and an interpreter. That experience has made me quite skeptical of machine translated text. In the past, translations I've seen from some software packages have ranged from "OK" to outright terrible. In the past when someone needed translations done and were contemplating purchasing software to do the work, I always strongly advised against machine translations in favor of human ones.  The cost may have been higher, but it was certainly offset by the quality of the work.

To be sure, human translations are not always perfect. There are subtle nuances which can be overlooked when going from one language to another. If the translator is not familiar with technical jargon, mistakes are also quite possible. During my time as a linguist I embarrassed myself on more than one occasion by completely botching a phrase. But, on the whole, humans tend to pick up on things and refer to dictionaries where software could not, no matter how well the package was written.

I think the biggest failing of those software packages, though, was the lack of memory and processing power available. Even today's powerful home computers are not powerful enough to run the serious computations required for the abstract programming a good translation package requires.

Google Has The Tools To Pull Off Better Translations
This is where the folks at Google can shine in this area. A recent posting in the Google Research Blog by Shankar Kumar and Wolfgang Macherey touches upon this very subject. Google has a good approach to language translation. First, they look at translation as a search problem. This makes a lot of sense because much of the same thought process and algorithms which goes into selecting relevant web sites based on key words goes into selecting the appropriate words and phrases when moving from one language to another. Second, Google has the processing power to run very complex calculations. They have the power to run routines which would be impossible for an individual PC to handle.

Basically, the Google method pulls a large number of possible translations for a given phrase and narrows them down to the "safest" one which will cause the "least amount of damage. " There is a link on the blog post which leads to the details of their method. I won't even pretend to understand most of the calculations, but the basic methodology appears to be similar to the way a person might work though a translation - especially if there is time to mull over and check things over once or twice. I think this makes their translations far superior than  those previously possible by machines.

Google's Method Seems To Work Well
I have used Google's Language Tools to help me quickly go through articles in German and Czech (2 languages I at least used to know very well). From what I can see, their methodology works quite nicely. I've at least come to trust them enough to translate items from English to French for our Intranet when the items are shown in our Montreal, Canada location. I'm no Francophile, but from what I can tell at least the basic points are made in the translation.

I love the way Kumar and Macherey describe getting the best translation as doing "the least amount of damage." As I mentioned above, I've caused little bit of damage, mostly to my own ego, with some of my translation faux pas. Perhaps I'll regale a story or two on another day.

Monday, January 05, 2009

La Vita è bella - Life Is Beautiful

Last night we watched a movie I feel good about recommending. The 1997 film "Life is Beautiful" ("La Vita è bella" in the original Italian) is a fascinating story set in WWII Italy. The story is about a happy-go-lucky fellow named Guido (played by Roberto Benigni, who also directed) who falls in love and wins the heart of his lady with his wild, wacky and sometimes absurd sense of humor.

The first part of the story is set in 1939 and tells about the meeting of Guido and Dora when Guido moves into town to work with his uncle at a high-class hotel restaurant. Guido orchestrates a number of "accidental" meetings where he uses his sense humor to win Dora over. The plan works and they marry and have a son.

The second part of the story is much darker. Set in 1945, Guido and his family are targeted for harassment because they are Jews. Guido, his uncle and his son are carted off to a concentration camp. Though she is not Jewish, Dora joins them on the train and is put into the same camp as her husband and son. 

Guido uses his fantastic sense of humor to convince his son they are on a trip planned for his birthday and that the stay at the concentration camp is part of an elaborate game in an effort to win the "grand prize." He even takes the ruse so far as to pretend to leave when his son announces he's tired of the game and wants to go home. 

Although separated in separate male and female parts of the camp, Guido also manages to send special messages to his wife from time to time.

The story culminates when the war comes to an end. Guido hides his son and tries to find his wife to prevent them being carted off and executed by the retreating Germans.

This movie reminded me a bit of "Jakob The Liar" where Robin Williams portrays a Jew in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII who makes up stories about hearing radio announcements to keep up hope in his circle of acquaintances. It also brought back to mind "Closely Watched Trains" ("Ostře sledované vlaky"), the Czech movie about a rail worker in WWII Czechoslovakia.

"Life is Beautiful" is a great story, a jab at Fascism and a lesson in love and sacrifice. The dubbed version we watched streamed off Netflix web site was very well done. Check it out.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Donald E. Westlake

Sometimes books we read become like old friends. Those books are the ones we carry around with us wherever we move and pull off the shelf when we spot then and realize we haven't read them for a while. They are like the literary equivalent of comfort food.

"The Hot Rock" by Donald E. Westlake is one of those books to me. I don't remember where I got it. When I was young my mom and I read voraciously and would exchange paper grocery sacks full of paperbacks with friends and relatives as we read through the piles of books. I think that's where we got "The Hot Rock." Wherever it came from, it ended up on a shelf in my room and followed me all over until a few years ago. I read it many times, enjoying it each time.

(The movie, however, was very disappointing. It's often true that "the movie is never as good as the book" and that saying is true in this case. Read the book, you'll enjoy it much more.)

Donald E. Westlake passed away today. I'll have to get a replacement for my lost copy of "The Hot Rock" and read it in his memory.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Mouse Wars Part 4 - The Saga Continues

The Mouse Wars Part 3 - One Gone

There has been scant sign of any mice in the apartment since I wrote Part 3 a few days ago. We've heard some scratching under the stairs and in the walls between the closet and the kitchen, but that's been the only activity. Perhaps sealing the gap in the stairs denied the rodents entry into the house proper.

Although we're standing down from high alert, we will stay vigilant for the next week or so just to make sure they don't find another way in.

In München Steht Ein Hofbräuhaus

Please vote for my dream vacation ...

Background
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to live in Germany - twice. My first stay in Germany was in the beautiful Bavarian city of Augsburg. I came to love Bavaria; it's history, architecture, nature, and people. Although it's been many years since I was last there, I dream of going back there again. I was single when I lived there, so it would be wonderful to introduce my wife and three boys to this fantastic place.

Munich Is My Choice
While living in Bavaria, one of my favorite places to visit was Munich. Other than Augsburg, I think it's the most beautiful city in the region. There are a number of great "touristy" sights to visit such as the Marienplatz, the Englisher Garten and the Hofbräuhaus. In addition, there are also a lot of great things to see "off the beaten path."

Munich is also central to many other great places to visit like Augsburg, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Salzburg (Austria), Füssen, and much more; all close enough for a day trip by rail. This makes Munich the perfect base for a Bavarian getaway.

The rental I chose on HomeAway.com has enough room for my family and a few friends or extended family who might like to join us. It's close to many of the great places in Munich as well as the train station for taking off on day trips. The perfect place in the perfect location. If more want to come than this place will hold, HomeAway has many choices in the area which will accommodate more travellers.