Saturday, September 3, 2011

Shameless plug

Consider this a shameless plug for this CD (or digital album or collection of singles...whatever we call and however we buy music nowadays) recorded by a good friend of mine, who apparently now goes by the musical nom de plume Mozley.  The album is called s/t.

You can sample it and buy it here.  It is quite good.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Visiting from Facebook?

If so, welcome!  I'm still tinkering with some of the layout details (I'm probably about 80% of the way to a completed format), but I'm excited about HillcrestBlog's 2011 reboot.  There are several days' worth of posts, as I wanted to lay a foundation before I went live on Facebook, so hopefully you'll see something you like.

I'm dedicating myself to keeping this blog current, with at least one new post, of something, per day (preferably more, although I'll cut myself some slack on the weekend), so hopefully you'll come back every once in a while to see if I've got anything new.  Or, if you want, you can sign up as a "follower," subscribe by e-mail (at the bottom of the blog), or get notifications of new posts.

Anyway, that's enough self-promotion.  I hope you enjoy.


Summer memories, 2012 (with footnotes)

While it may still be in the mid-90's here in Little Rock (at least for only one more day, hopefully!), it is September 2nd, leading right up to the Labor Day Weekend, which in my mind means that the Terrible Summer of Hell 2011 is official over*.  Indeed, the unprecedented and not-at-all overstated** heat wave that sat down upon the Great State of Arkansas for almost six straight weeks in July and August is probably the thing that I will remember the most about this summer***. Which sucks because it is not a pleasant memory.  And what else will I remember about this summer?  The debt-ceiling debate?  No Freaking Thank You. 

Nope, my Favorite Summer Memory of 2011 is, without question, this (go to the 5:10 mark):

Or, if you, like me, watched the live TeeVee feed, it looked and sounded a little more like this:

Yep, one pass and one goal and Abby Wambach, American Folk Hero, is born****.  An absolutely stunning goal, so very late in the game, in second overtime, in the biggest tournament in the world.  We'll forget about the heat***** and will hopefully never, ever have to talk about the debt ceiling again, but that goal will be remembered and replayed over and over for generations.  Like this.  And this.  And this.  And this

Or, if you are an Arkansawyer like me, this, this, and this (go to 1:39).

Not a bad summer memory.

*  Well, if you want to get technical about it, in North America, summer lasts from the summer solstice (June 20th or 21st) to the autumn equinox (September 22nd or 23rd), so we've still got a little less than three weeks left of summer.  Which I'm just choosing to ignore.  The schoolkids are back in class.  Summer is over :)
** Not meant to be at all ironic.  The heat really was as bad as the media would have you believe.
*** Not counting, of course, the awesomeness that is my pregnant wife and ever-more-enjoyable daughter.  For purposes of this post, family were exempted :)
****  For those of you living under a rock this summer (which, really, wouldn't have been such a bad place, in the shade and out of the heat), that was the United States Women's National Soccer Team, competing in the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany.  Specifically, the quarterfinal match versus Brazil, played on July 10, 2011.  The pass came from Megan Rapinoe and tied the game in the second minute of injury time of the second overtime.  The US eventually won on penalty kicks.
*****  Until next summer.  And subsequent summers after.

The Official HillcrestBlog 2011 Razorback Pigskin Preview Post!!

Pretty sweet title, huh?  I decided to go for sports-cliché homerism (with an extra exclamation point!) this year.  I think it works a bit better than the title I would have used last year (if I had been still blogging at that point).  Yes, in my revisionist-history imaginiation my 2010 football preview post would have had a more academic theme to it and would have been titled Tales of the Cardinal and White: An Exposition on the Throwing of and the Running With the Foot Ball by Arkansas' Preferred State-Subsidized Sporting Collective for the Current Calendar Year.  That blog post didn't get nearly as many imaginary hits as I had hoped, prompting the change to this year's aforementioned sports-cliché homerism.  I think it works.  Don't you?

OK!  On to the Razorback Pigskin Preview!  Ahem...
Let's see, um...I think we'll win about nine games.  I think Wilson will be a pretty good quarterback.  It sucks that Davis is hurt, though.  War Memorial is a terrible stadium to watch a game but the tailgating cannot be beat.
Ta da!  That was awesome, wasn't it?  What, you expected more?  Man, college football prognosticating is its own cottage industry.  There is literally nothing I could say here that hasn't been finely dissected by a dozen sportswriters, local or national, to the point of overkill.  Go here.  I just googled "razorback preview" and it came up.  Its as good a summary as any.   That should tell you all you need to know, when you get down to it.  I'm as big of a Hog fan as anyone, but the amount of ink (both real and digital) devoted in July and August to what sportswriters think will happen over the next four months is pretty silly. 

All that being said, I'm totally spot-on about War Memorial tailgating.  This primer is far more interesting than any lame sportswriter preseason football...ahem...analysis.  See you on the golf course!


So I was at Kroger for lunch, hitting their salad bar and hoping that it contained fresh and crisp produce this Friday as opposed to limp and wilty lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower a week ago (my hope was rewarded, FYI), and I spied some red bananas in the fruit section of the store.  If you've never seen a red banana before, they are about 1/2 the size of a "normal" banana (i.e. the type of banana you picture in your mind when you're thinking about bananas) and look like this:

Now, normally I would not have stopped or thought twice about red bananas (imported from Ecuador, no less -- talk about not eating locally), but I had heard a story yesterday on NPR about, of all things, bananas.  Specifically, it was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, apparently a replay from a 2008 interview.  Click here to go to the NPR page about the interview and listen to the story.  Its pretty interesting.

Anyway, the NPR story said that the types of bananas that we eat here in the States, which are called Cavendish bananas, are, apparently at least to banana snobs, really crappy bananas as far as taste.  So I decided to buy a bundle of the red bananas (despite the fact that, as I previously noted, their Ecuadorian heritage was so decidedly against how I want to try and eat locally-grown produce), to see what the fuss was all about.  As of the time of this post, I have yet to try them, so I cannot speak as to whether or not the red banana is more of a treat for the palate as a "regular" banana, but I'm holding out hope.  After all, here's the way Wikipedia describes them:

They are smaller and plumper than the common Cavendish banana.  When ripe, raw red bananas have a flesh that is cream to light pink in color. They are also softer and sweeter than the yellow Cavendish varieties, with a slight raspberry-banana flavor.

Sounds fantastic!  And we all know that Wikipedia is 100% accurate and truthful so there's no worrying about this being misinformation.  (I'll let you know my impression of the Ecuadorian red banana as soon as I chomp into one).

With banansas still on my mind after my Kroger trip, I could not help thinking about how bananas have been so effectively utilized by the auteurs of our cinematic arts over the years.  And I keep coming back to the best banana scene committed to film.  Sure, there was a Woody Allen movie actually called Bananas, but I've not seen it so it doesn't count (does it even feature actual bananas?  I have no idea).  No, when it comes to bananas in the movies, this scene (or, rather, two different scenes involving the same banana aspect), trumps all others.  I dare you to disagree with me:

Which leads to this:

Ladies and Gentlemen, the best film of the 1980's an the best ever use of a banana in the movies.

The movie I'm most excited about seeing this fall is...

Yes, this Michael Lewis book was made into a movie, with protagonist getting the mega-movie-star treatment with Brad Pitt assuming the role of still-current Oakland A's manager Billy Beane.  I'm sure Mr. Beane is quite pleased with the appearance upgrade ;)

In any event, I read Moneyball a couple of years or so ago and it is a very interesting book, whether you are a baseball person or a numbers/math person, as the premise involves the use of statistical analysis of a baseball player's historical statistics to extrapolate how well he will perform in the future.  And then, applying those findings to acquiring undervalued players overlooked by the marketplace.  So, I guess there's some economics theory in there as well.  This is known by baseball supernerds as Sabermetrics.  And, as Beane and his A's demonstrated (and Moneyball documented), it worked.  It worked famously.  That is, until the baseball world, which had initially resisted, if not outright vehemently rejected, Beane's methods, came around and started employing some of the same mathetmatial ideologies promoted by sabermatricians, such as Bill James, which evened out the playing field, so-to-speak.  Just ask the Boston Red Sox how that worked out for them :)

So, I plan on enjoying Moneyball, the movie.  I hope it is as good as the book.  Here's the trailer:

Friday video - The Flaming Lips

Continuing my musical walk down memory lane, I'm posting the following clip of the Flaming Lips performing their crowning achievement, "Waitin' for Superman" off of one of my very favorite albums of all time, The Soft Bulletin.

I sometimes wish there was an musical odometer attached to my CD player that I had back in the day (before I sold my soul and went all-digital) that could have tracked the number of times I played this particular CD, among others.  I have no idea how many it would have registered, but I know it would have been over 500, at least.  Anyway, here's the video in all its The-Lips-Really-Are-More-Of-A-Studio-Band glory:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thursday video - Guns N Roses

So how old do you feel now?  Yep, the dual Use Your Illusion CD's were released over twenty years ago.  Ouch.  But, thankfully YouTube has come along and preserved a treasure trove of video for future generations.  Here's my favorite track from the Illusion Era:

Three still-undeniable facts can be gleaned from this video:

1.  GNR was one hell of a live band with superb musicians;

2.  Axl Rose is probably the last truly great rock n' roll frontman (yes, even including you, Bono); and

3.  Slash must play those leads purely from sense memory because he clearly cannot see a thing behind his hair.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Recommended viewing - McLeod's Daughters

Can I explain to you how excited I am about the new season of television soon to be gracing our screen?  Well, not so much the usual new swill offered up by the Big Four, but to be able to watch those handful of returning shows that aren't entirely crap after a very hot summer with a year-and-a-half old daughter and pregnant wife keeping the HillcrestBlogFamily indoors and at the mercy of whatever was on the tube.

Luckily, here at the HillcrestBlog residence we are nothing if not resourceful and are not afraid to try out something a little on the new side (for us at least).  Armed with a laptop, a Netflix account, and a VGA cable, we were able to weather the void of quality local (and national) TeeVee programming by diving into McLeod's Daughters.

An Australian-produced show about two sisters running a ranch in rural, southern Australia?  Sign us up!  I'd never heard of McLeod's Daughters before Netflix recommended I watch it, based I guess on my high reviews for BBC-produced TeeVee shows.  In any event, its a great little show, not to high on the drama, not too stupid on the comedy, with very likable but equally frustrating characters.  And with a largely female cast, which you don't see that much in stateside dramas, aside from maybe The L Word

While I expect everyone to dive back into their fall and spring shows -- around our household you'll see us watching Fringe, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, and The Walking Dead among others -- remember McLeod's Daughters next May, when the new-TeeVee-show well goes dry and the thought of watching any show with the word Dancing, Idol, Survivor, Brother, or Extreme in the title makes you want to put a gun in your mouth.

Wednesday video - The Arcade Fire

This is another of my recent favorites, the Arcade Fire's newest CD, The Suburbs.  My favorite track:

And no Arcade Fire post is complete without my favorite track off of their debut CD, Funeral:

Well, truth be told, it is probably my favorite track of theirs, period :)  Such a great band.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

HillcrestBlog tip - Loose change

No, I'm not referring to infamous internet movie that alleges an inside job behind September 11th.  I'm talking about the pennies and other metal legal tender that you find in couch cushions, in the parking lot, or other random nooks and crannies throughout not only your house, but the world in general.  You might, like me, collect it and put it in a change jar that looks a little like this:

It is a small pleasure seeing the jar fill up to the tip top.  It is after all, money.  But you may wonder what to actually do with these full-to-the-brim change jars.  You can always cart that change jar up to your local convenience store and buy a bunch of candy, counting out the individual change for the beleaguered cashier.  You know, if you are twelve.  But for us grown-ups, unless you want the neighborhood to perceive you as either 1) an extremely frugal cheap-skate, or 2) a pauper, there's gotta be another way to maximize the actual cash value from your collected glass-contained fortune.  And, as luck would have it, there is.

Even luckier, that solution is NOT one of these.  Those machines take 9.8% off the top of whatever you run through them.  So if you have fifty bucks in coin, it'll cost you almost $5.00 to get that converted to paper money.  If you are not the investor type, let me clue you in: that is a terrible deal.

Instead, do what I do.  If you live by a Kroger like me that has a self-checkout, grab a handful of coins out of your jar whenever you go.  When it is time to checkout, if you don't have too many items to make it annoying to other customers (don't get me going about proper grocery store etiquette!), go to the self-checkout and scan through all your items.  When it comes time to pay, hit the "pay with cash" option and run your loose change into the machine, pennies and all.  It might take a minute or two and it looks like (and sounds a little like) you're feeding a slot machine, but it is really not that big of a deal.  Once you've run out of loose change, you can then feed bills into it or you do what I do and change the payment option so I can use my debit card to pay off the balance.

I know what you're thinking...that's your tip?  Well, yeah it is.  I've found that an average "handful" of coins, however you want to describe it, will come out to about $2.00.  And that's $2.00 off the top of your bill, and $2.00 more in your checking account than you normally would have had.  And all you had to do was utilize a jar of coins that would have ended up sitting there, unutilized or, worse, lost and rescattered from whence they all originally came.  Sure, $2.00 isn't much, but it is something.  Would you ignore two one dollar bills sitting unclaimed on the ground?  Of course you wouldn't.  You'd pick them up and spend them on candy.

Seventeen pounds

That's how much weight I'm down since June 20th.  And yes, it has been a concerted effort, with an initial six weeks or so of eating mostly protein and cutting out practically all carbohydrates.  No chips, fries, or hash browns.  Pretty much the entire potato.  Also, no bread or pasta.  Or BEER.  In years past that would have been a doozy, but with an expectant wife I have not found myself going out as much (and, really, who wants to enjoy a nice patio outing when its consistently hitting 100 degrees during the day??).  Indeed, when I attempted diets featuring a distinct lack of carbohydrates in years past, it was beer that derailed them.  I have no problem eating a protein diet and don't really miss the carbs if I don't dwell on it.  Breakfast of eggs, bacon, and sausage?  Yes, please.  Salad at lunch, meat at dinner?  Yep.  If I need crunchy -- Lee's pork rinds, conveniently located at the Shell station across from UAMS, are mighty fine. 

So, without beer or other alcohol getting in the way*, I proceeded to drop about ten pounds before I felt like I started plateauing.  In order to jump start my weight loss, I changed up to a veggie-fruit-and-nut diet, hoping to confuse my metabolism.  Apparently, a weight-loss plateau can be hit in a high protein diet and I didn't want to lose momentum.  So far, so good on this new veggie/fruit diet, as it has resulted in another seven pounds.  As you can see, I approached this from a completely scientific angle ;)  That being said...

Seventeen pounds.  Fitting into clothes so much better and actually have had to get a smaller belt.  Some shorts I wear now fall off with it.  A long way to go, but I'm pleased so far with the progress.

BTW, do you know what seventeen pounds actually looks like?  Well, one pound of fat would look like four sticks of butter.  Four of these:

So, using basic math skills (or the calculator on my iPhone), seventeen pounds of fat looks like 68 sticks of butter.  Or, if you need a better visual aid, I appropriated this image from the web, which portends to be the same as approximately one pound of fat:

Seventeen of these things.  Blech.  Makes me want to double that number. And double it again.

I'm still a good seventy pounds away from where I want to be, so this is still a work in progress.  But I want to quit taking my cholesterol medication and my blood pressure medication, and to be healthy for my little girl and soon-to-be-born son.  I also want to be able to run on the soccer field again like I used to.  And to fit better in my clothes.  So, yeah, I still got a way to go.

But still.  Seventeen pounds.  Nothing to sneeze at.

* OK, fair disclosure, so I did go out with friends for beers a couple of times during this time period.  Probably set me back a bit, but I am, after all, a social animal :)

Tuesday video - The Decemberists

If I've spoken to you in the last six months about music at all, I probably had such severe tunnel vision that this band was all that I could talk about.  The Decemberists are so utterly fantastic that I really don't know what else to say.  Take a peek yourself.

Return to the blog?

Its been, well, over a year since I last posted on HillcrestBlog, to the extent that I had forgotten that I was in the process of reformatting it to be more visually appealing and user-friendly.  And, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised of how I left it looking.  Not too cluttered, not to busy, with a nice brown background ;)  Alas, I've been toying with the idea of getting back into everyday blogging.  What do you think?  I've had some topics that I thought I might like to speak out on -- everyday kinda stuff, not the overt political stuff I was doing a couple of years ago when I first go this this rolling.  Whether or not I actually *do* revert back to an everyday-blog sorta thing remains to be seen.  But I'm trying to be positive.  I think if I actually got a couple of posts under my belt, gathered some momentum, that I'd get back into it.  We shall see.  Wish me luck.

In the meantime, I'm going to go a bit of exploring on what I expect are all the new bells and whistles on this platform that have been developed since I was last here.