The Case Against Medical Marijuana

March 31, 2010

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English: Medical marijuana neon sign at a disp...

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This is not going to discuss energy savings, shutting down oil refineries or offshore drilling.  In this case, Going Green is referring to Cannabis Sativa, Mary Jane, Blunts, Roaches, Joints, Spliffs, Bongs, THC, Bob Marley, yes….marijuana.

California has captivated headlines by saying that they’re going to place an initiative on their ballot to legalize marijuana.  This is happening even as numerous states are running into numerous problems with their Medical Marijuana laws.

Some of you know that I live in Colorado.  Colorado has a Medical Marijuana law and it has exploded in use over the last couple of years.  There are currently more marijuana dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks and they continue to pop up.  Each night on the news I hear stories about another robbery or burglary happening at another marijuana dispensary.  Cities across the state are now scrambling for ways to better regulate these facilities.

A very basic question that I have is this.  THC, the ingredient in marijuana that people are smoking it for, is available in pill form already.  Why then do we need to have smoked marijuana available with all the problems that it brings?  Marinol is a prescription medicine that can be prescribed by a doctor and dispensed from a controlled pharmacy.  http://www.rxlist.com/marinol-drug.htm

I live in a suburban neighborhood in Fort Collins, CO that is filled with middle to upper middle income families.  Crime is essentially non-existent and the homes are all single family dwellings filled with families that have roughly 2.54 kids each.  The only crime other than an occasional vehicle break-in was an armed Home Invasion Robbery.  What prompted this to happen?  The two residents of the home are medical marijuana patients.  When the masked gunmen forced their way into the home they asked for one thing:  marijuana.  They didn’t want money or electronics…just the drugs.

Denver (in 2010) passed a new ordinance that requires all dispensaries to have a special license.  It requires applicants to complete a background check, submit dispensary diagrams, security plans and pass zoning/fire inspections.  This is significant because dispensaries have been popping up next to schools and in residential areas where other businesses could not be located.  Can you imagine a marijuana dispensary opening in the home next to yours?

On January 31, 2010 Christian Thurston published an article in the Denver Post entitled Smoke and Mirrors.  Christian is the Medical Director of a substance abuse treatment program in Denver.  Christian provided an example of a 19 year old being treated for “Severe Addiction”.  This 19 year old walked in to dispensary, gave them $300 and discussed his depression with a “doctor”.  He was then given a medical marijuana card.  One pregnant woman was given a marijuana card to smoke because of her nausea.  Yes, she was told to smoke marijuana during the pregnancy.

We have people showing up to work stoned and claiming no foul because the marijuana was “prescribed” for them.  We have 18 year olds obtaining a license to smoke joints daily for an ear ache, depression, etc.

When the people of Colorado passed this law, the thought was that this would be an alternative to people with debilitating illnesses another option for treatment.  We did not think that this was going to be an epidemic of hippies and teens look for a legal way to get their fix.

There are other states in the same situation and others contemplating placing similar marijuana laws on the ballots.  Hopefully, they will plan ahead better than the State of Colorado has and only put the law on the books when they’re prepared to handle all the problems that come with the law.What needs to change?

  1. More stringent guidelines to obtain a medical marijuana card.
    • Conditions like ear aches should not be included
    • If they aren’t going to be more specific, then legalize marijuana so we can hopefully get past the crime that has come with the law
  2. Better zoning regulations so we don’t have dispensaries set up next to each other, located in residential areas or near schools.
  3. Mandatory security in these dispensaries to reduce violent robberies and burglaries.
  4. Better definitions of a caregiver and restrictions on growing quantities.  This too is turning residential neighborhoods into marijuana farms.
  5. Dispensing marijuana should be done through a controlled environment like a pharmacy, not the corner house where Guido is set up.
  6. Better education of patients
    • This does not give them the right to smoke and drive
    • This does not give them the right to smoke then go to work and operate a forklift
  7. The granting of a medical marijuana card should require the prescribing doctor to visit with the patient’s Primary Care Physician and thoroughly review the patient’s medical history.  Is there a history of drug abuse?  Is this appropriate therapy for the combination of their conditions?

Following the passing of the new healthcare system, it will be interesting to see if we will now begin covering the cost of medical marijuana.  Will Little Johnny down the street be able to walk into the local dispensary, choose from Raspberry flavored marijuana and have us pick up the tab?

Squeaky…

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Why Did Stephen Strasburg Get Sent to the Minors?

March 30, 2010

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Two young pitchers signed big deals last year. The Nationals signed highly touted Stephen Strasburg to a deal that will pay $15.1 million between 2009 and 2012. The Reds signed Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman to a six year deal worth at least $30.25 million (if Chapman is arbitration-eligible after the 2012 or 2013 seasons, he can convert subsequent salary amounts into bonus and go through arbitration – a great deal for him).

The Reds are seriously considering bring Chapman to Cincinnati with them to start the season (although it has become increasingly likely that Chappy will also start the season in the minors). The Nationals are sending Strasburg to AA Harrisburg to start the season (not even AAA, but AA!). Does this mean that Chapman is better than Strasburg?

First of all, why is Strasburg being sent to AA instead of AAA? One reason is that Harrisburg’s average April temperatures (average high 61; average low 41) are a bit higher than those of Syracuse (high 56, low 35). Low temperatures can contribute to injuries.

The bigger question you may be asking is this – why send Strasburg to the minor leagues at all? Why not have him start the season with the Nationals?

As with many things in life, the short answer is easy: money.

Baseball players become eligible for free agency when they have accumulated 6.00 or more years of Major League service with a team. This is based on the number of days on the major league roster (or disabled list). You can accumulate six years of service in a six years span, or you can bounce up and down for twenty years and never reach this threshold.

There is one wrinkle to this – if you send a player to the minor for less than 20 days, he still gets credit for the entire season. Send him to the minors for 21 days, and he gets credit only for his actual time served.

If you aren’t grasping the significance yet, it’s this: if you can keep a guy’s service time at 5.9 years instead of 6.0 years, you delay his free agency by a year – saving quite a bit of money on the 7th year.

The point of having Strasburg start the season in the minors, then, is to delay his free agency eligibility until after the 2016 season.

A smaller issue is whether the Nationals can delay Strasburg’s arbitration eligibility. All players are eligible for binding salary arbitration after they have 3.00 or more years of service. Additionally, amongst players with more than 2 but less than 3 years of service, the top 17% (in terms of service time) are also eligible for arbitration. These players are referred to as “Super Twos”. The cutoff for Super Twos has historically been between 2 years, 128 days and 2 years, 140 days (but it’s a moving target, since it’s based on the current year’s group of players). In recent years, many teams attempt to game the system by giving a player slightly less than 128 days of service their rookie year, in an effort to have them fall short of Super Two status. If the Nationals can manage to do this, this would make Strasburg arbitration eligible after the 2013 season instead of after the 2012 season.

So, what does this all mean for Strasburg’s salary?

Note: Strasburg also got a $7.5 million signing bonus.

  • 2010: $2M (per contract)
  • 2011: $2.5M (per contract)
  • 2012: $3M (per contract)
  • 2013: If a Super Two, salary determined by arbitration. If not, the team can impose a salary (must be at least 80% of the previous year’s salary).
  • 2014: Salary determined by arbitration
  • 2015: Salary determined by arbitration
  • 2016: If Strasburg has six years of service, he becomes a free agent following the 2015 season. If he has less than six years of service, his salary is determined by arbitration.

At any point in this path, Strasburg and the Nationals can sign a new contract that would remove him from the arbitration process. This is quite likely, since arbitration can be quite adversarial and tends to hurt some feelings. However, if Strasburg’s arbitration year is pushed back to 2014 and his free agency pushed back until after the 2016 season, these years are worth less money, and this will be reflected in any long term contract offered by the Nationals.

Dealing With College Students

March 29, 2010

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Over the last few weeks, I have written several articles about dealing with everyday problems, from dealing with aging parents to dealing with aging yourself. This week I will discuss dealing with college students. My eldest son is a freshman in college, therefore he knows everything about everything. His biggest desire right now is to NOT live in the dormitory next year. The primary reason for this is the lack of privacy. Sharing a bathroom is bad enough, but having a common hall with people who are not quite as interested in study or sleep as he is, has caused him much distress.

He has been hunting for apartments to move into with his current roommate, a friend from high school. Although we support this effort (the proposed drop in food costs alone is encouraging), he, being the all knowing college student, has refused to listen to any sage advice from his parents. We must remember that from a college student’s point of view, no one has ever thought of anything before. No one has ever had the great idea of finding his own apartment, no one has every figured out all of the problems of the world, and most importantly, no one has ever discovered sex.

Luckily, he is only telling me about the apartment. The apartment search has revealed several very interesting misunderstandings, the most exciting of which was the idea that if you roommate decides to scamper, the landlord will find you a new roommate. It took quite a while to make him understand that the landlord does not care about your problems, pay the rent or get out. He was also unaware that some of the apartments are in no way associated with the university. This little tidbit was a shocking revelation, that a landlord could care less about your career at college, again pay your rent or get out.

The cost of an apartment was also a revelation, to think that the Neanderthals that are your parents might have known something about that, to bad they didn’t tell you before you went looking. Their plaintive comments that they had told you are just attempts to hide how backward they are. Parents also seem to think that just because they went to college, they might know some of the problems the new college student is facing. How could that possibly be true, no one has ever experienced this before.

Well, that is enough mocking for one night. He is listening, albeit late. He will continue searching, and with luck, he will not sign anything until his mother or I get there to read the fine print. Good luck with your own children as you try to send them off into the world

Civility Lost

March 28, 2010

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Usually at the end of my post each month I list the three “bad nuts” of the month.  This month’s posting will basically be nothing but the bad nuts of the past few days.

Health Care reform has now become law of the land and despite my own questions on whether it is actually enough done, it is a big effing deal to quote the Vice President, and a step in the right direction for the country that has been a long time coming.  However, it is now abundantly clear if it was not before that conservatives completely lack any sense of dignity, humanity or civility within their course of actions and the words they use. There will be many examples I leave out, as there are far too many to put into the space I really want to take up here.

Tea Party protesters on Capitol Hill last weekend repeatedly shout the n word at members of the Black Caucus as they walked by the protest and shouted other obscenity laced rants as well.  They also threw out homophobic slurs at openly gay congressman Barney Frank. This is the least threatening example of the loss of control the right has made a turn towards in the final days and aftermath of healthcare reform, but is still a shiny example of the ignorance and intolerance on the right.

At a Rochester, NY Democratic Party office a brick with a note with this quote attached, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,”  was thrown through a window. No one was harmed other than the window in this instance, but it is another quite fitting example of what conservatives really are looking for these days as many other offices across the state of New York and around the county have had bricks with such revolution inciting quotes attached to them.

While House Republican leader “Hell No You Can’t” John Boehner passively spoke out that the climate needs to change to a positive to get his party back in power as that will get the real job they want done. It’s is a little too late for his change of heart over the flames he and his party has stoked for well over a year now. In the past few days he has also made countless references to many Representatives in congress who have been getting death threats as being a dead man for how they voted. More than likely he was hopefully meaning politically speaking, but it is the passive aggressive stoking the flames of hate in his masses to get them to seek violent action over civil discourse over issues. So in reality his actions in the recent pass fully outweigh the passive rebuking of threats of violence in the aftermath of the bill passing.

Congressman Bart Stupak hasn’t just had to deal with Congressman Randy Neugebauer shouting “baby killer” as he spoke on the house floor, but has become the poster child for the right wing nuttery’s rage. Here’s a sampling of what he has had to go through. Endless voicemail messages to his office and home many simply stating, “I hope you die.” others with a more prophetic viewpoint. “There are millions of people across the country who wish you ill and all of those thoughts projected on you will materialize into something that’s not very good for you.” 

Also his office received a fax depicting him on a noose with the caption “All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends either by the hand of man or by the hand of God.”  All this for deciding to vote for healthcare because he got his exact wording put through in an executive order instead of holding up the process any further by having it inserted into the text of the bill. Despite the fact that in reality the wording did not need to be there in the first place because well it was already law and nothing done was changing that anyways, but I digress.

Never to be absent from stoking the flames of anger, the queen of the nutjob right, Sarah Palin, continues to be her usual self. The two main instances of note of the past few days have been commenting that Republicans don’t need to regroup after healthcare had passed, but need to reload the gun and take more shots at Democrats. There must be some continual obsession with guns for Sister Sarah as she also depicted the pictures of 20 House Democrats and the states they represent with crosshairs of a gun and mentioned that these seats in states won by her (i guess she forgets that McCain was the head of the ticket) as targets to dispose of in the next election. I get the cute play with guns and everything, but when your supporters obviously aren’t playing with a full deck then you probably do not need to continue to put this kind of imagery.

Even though his network now only allows about two minutes a day of actual coverage of the passing of the healthcare reform bill, Glenn Beck has not been absent from the fanning the flames on the right. He has now referred to the passing of healthcare reform as a mother spanking a child. And now our decision as a is whether we love our mother and want to hug them or to we want to pick up guns against them. Beck was more for the guns approach to getting back at “mother” approach. So if you hear any news of tea party people shooting their mothers in the next week or so you know who to blame on that one.

Like I said before there are too many examples as of late of incivility from conservatives, leaders and followers to list here. It is clear that the Republican Party has reaped what they have sown over the past year in these past few days as the climate has boiled over even more. They may shy away from it in public light passively now, but in reality it is what they have wanted all along. In the end it is clear that one thing for conservatives is, that civility has been lost and I don’t think they’ll find their way back to it any time soon.

How to Get Your Guest Post Submission Accepted

March 27, 2010

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How to Get Your Guest Post Submission Accepted

Over the course of the past few months, I have had guest articles on six different blogs.  The blogs have been in the fields of personal finance (Lazy Man and Money and The Digerati Life), technology (40 Tech), blogging (ProBlogger) and blogs that defy categorization (Life, Laughs, and Lemmings and World’s Strongest Librarian).  I suspect that I will be the only person to land articles on this specific mix of blogs.  Interestingly, despite being first and foremost a fiction writer, I haven’t been a guest author on any fiction-oriented blogs.

My recent guest article on ProBlogger was related to the multi-author aspect of The Soap Boxers.  Not surprisingly, this spurred many comments related to guest posting.  Some of the commenters were frustrated at their lack of success in landing guest spots.

I’m hardly the most successful guest poster in the history of the blogosphere, but I may have a few tips for those who are in the beginning stages of trying to build their brand.

Build relationships

I’d like to say that everyone submitting a guest article has an equal chance of being accepted.  In reality, this isn’t the case.  If a blogger is comparing two articles of similar quality, it’s only natural they lean toward someone they know.  I’ve known Lazy Man for several years.  On the other side of the spectrum, I was less familiar with Josh at World’s Strongest Librarian, but had commented on an article of his at ProBlogger.  The other sites are ones where I had established myself as a frequent commenter.

This doesn’t mean that you need to stalk your favorite bloggers as a way to get to know them better.  Please, don’t.  Many of us carry pepper spray.  However, do take the time to comment on other people’s articles – the comments that are relevant and insightful.  This will raise your profile a bit.

Try, try again

You’re not going to get every article accepted.  Rejection is part of the process of being a writer.  In addition to the articles I had published, I had many others rejected.

Just because one site isn’t interested in a particular article doesn’t mean that it’s dead.  A couple of articles that landed as guest posts on one blog had been previously rejected by another site.  Do some blogs have high standards than others?  That’s possible – the New York Times probably has higher standards for submissions than the Hometown News.

Equally possible is the fact that each blogger just has a different taste.  Quite often, when a blogger rejects your submission, they will give you feedback on WHY they rejected it.  A few weeks ago, I was trying to peddle some fiction stories based on the theme of personal finance to blogs that specialized in personal finance.  This is admittedly a bit of a square peg/round hole situation – these blogs didn’t usually run fiction pieces.  The response from The Digerati Life was that she simply wasn’t interested in fiction – but would be interested in a non-fiction piece.  A short time later, I had an article on the etiquette of tipping (waiters, not cows) on her site.

Always be respectful during the process.  Never go down the road of “You’ll regret it when this article appears on your competitor’s site!”  You can spend years building a bridge and just a moment burning it.

Give them a quality, finished product

First of all, give away your top shelf work.  Don’t use your guest articles as a dumping ground for substandard work.  Darren @ ProBlogger made reference to this in one of his articles.  This seems completely counter-intuitive to me.  You’re introducing yourself to a room full of strangers – put your best foot forward!

Make sure that your article fits into their niche, if the blog is a niche blog.  If it’s a baseball blog, don’t submit an article about football.  I’ve bent this rule on occasion with some things that were a bit outside the box.  However, I knew that this could work against me.  Even in those cases, the articles were a half twist away from the true focus of the target blogs.  Sure, I was pitching fiction to personal finance bloggers – but finance played a significant role in those stories.

Give them a finished, polished product.  A blogger wants to be able to turn your content into an article quickly, with minimal fuss.  Proofread your article carefully.  Nobody wants to spend time cleaning up typos.  Even worse, poor grammar reflects poorly on the blog.

Add a short biography for inclusion in the article.  This avoids having the blogger contact your for additional details.  I have developed a standard short bio for myself that will now be appearing wherever my guest articles appear.  The consistency may also help trigger familiarity amongst readers who stumble across your articles on several different blogs.

Most sites are going to want exclusive use of the article you submit.  If you truly value the experience of being a guest on that blog, give them the exclusivity.

Last, but not least, include a link to your blog – you want to make sure to reap the benefits of your work!

OK, I surely missed some good tips.  For those of you who have landed guest posts – what are some of your secrets?

Strangers in the Night

March 26, 2010

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Troy Peterson secured the two gas cans into the trunk of the car and slammed the trunk lid.  A few minutes later, he was on the road.  The hunt had commenced.

Troy pointed his Impala in the direction of – well, of nowhere in particular, actually.  He just drove.  Mile after mile of interstate zoomed by.  Troy locked the cruise control in at 65 miles per hour and listened to the radio as faster cars zoomed by him in the left hand lane.  On this day, Troy could not risk a speeding ticket.

A bit after dusk, Troy pulled off the interstate and quickly found himself on a deserted road.  He refueled the gas tank with one of the cans, urinated in the ditch, and then jumped back in the car to continue his journey.  As he drove, he grabbed one of the ham sandwiches he had packaged for the trip.  He wolfed down the sandwich and chased it down with a can of Pepsi.

At 10 PM, Troy parked his car outside a large grocery store.  He grabbed his Cubs hat and pulled it down over his face.  He also grabbed another very important item from the car.

Troy began to walk away from the grocery store, deeper into the heart of the neighborhood.  At this time of night, there was very little activity.

After twenty minutes of walking the streets, he saw a light come on.  A door opened, and a young woman stepped out of her house.  She turned onto the sidewalk and began to walk directly toward Troy.  It appeared that she, too, was out for a walk on this peaceful evening.

As the woman approached Troy, she gave him a friendly smile.  Troy responded by pulling his gun and firing two shots into her head.  The woman was dead before she hit the ground.

Troy immediately began to run.  Soon, he was several blocks away from the crime scene and slowed his pace to a walk.  He returned to the parking lot, got back into the car, and pointed the Impala toward home.  He made another pit stop on the way home, once again filling the tank an emptying his bladder.

Troy returned home just in time to stop by Denny’s for breakfast.  He visited the bathroom first, scrubbing off the residue of any gasoline smell that remained.  His hands now smelled of soap.  Troy exited the bathroom and took his seat at a table nearly the window.  As he waited for the waitress to bring his grand slam, Troy greeted several friends, firmly establishing his whereabouts early that morning.

Hundreds of miles away, a woman lie in the morgue.  The police could find no obvious motive for her murder.  Nor would they ever find one.  She had been cut down in the prime on her life by a stranger looking for a cheap thrill.  The randomness of the attack and her killer’s effort to avoid a paper trail would make it virtually impossible to solve the crime.

Back at the Denny’s, Troy Peterson smiled to himself as he sipped his orange juice.  He loved his monthly field trips.

The Making of an Audio Book

March 25, 2010

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This is the story of the little audio book that could – struggling through adversity to final lay down 4 tracks for consumption by the public.  Not just any audio book, but the audio book of The Cell Window.

Writing

Let’s start at the beginning.  This audio book, like all audio books, began its life as a written story.  When I released The Fiction of Kosmo, Volume 1, I included the 10,000 word story Key RelationshipsKey Relationships basically poured out of my brain and onto the keyboard thousands of words at a time.  Even with many competing priorities, I was able to finish the story in ten days.

The Cell Window was a completely different beast.  I struggled to gain traction with story.  Despite the fact that it is nearly identical in length to Key Relationships, it took six weeks to complete!  In the process, it delayed the release of The Fiction of Kosmo, Volume 2.

That’s not to say that the process of writing the story was entirely negative.  When I was finished, I was very pleased with the story.  The mature tone of the story caused me to lose one loyal readers, but it got very positive reviews from many others.

The store

At some point along the way, I decided that I wanted to sell some of my content online in an effort to break even on my blogging.  I wanted to avoid sites that would charge me fees, in order to keep costs low, allowing me to keep prices low.  I ended up going with Zen Cart (see review here), a product that installed on my web server.

While Zen Cart has the benefit of being free, it has the drawback of having a much steeper learning curve than a site where you simply drop your files, set a price, and wait for the cash to roll in.  I’ve tinkered quite a bit with it, taking time away from my writing.  At this point, the Hyrax Publications store is probably in a fairly stable form.  Other than adding new content, I don’t foresee any major changes.

Headset woes

What would an audio book be without the audio?

When it came time to record, I went in search of the headset microphone I had used with my old copy of Via Voice speech recognition software.  It wasn’t in my drawer of computer stuff.  I pulled out the large tote from the closet – it wasn’t in there, either.

Oops.  It seems that I had bundled Via Voice – and the accompanying headset microphone – with an old computer when I sold it.  I’m guessing that this is because Via Voice was for OS9 and I had replaced that computer with an OS X machine.  In any case, no headset microphone.

OK, so I went out and bought a headset microphone.  No problem.

Well, actually, problem.  When I went to use Audacity to record the audio, it didn’t pick up any sound at all.  What was going on?  I’m not an expert on recording audio, so I searched Google in hopes of finding out what was at the heart of the problem.

It seems that Macs require actually “line level” audio input, whereas PCs do not, because of some additional component on the motherboard of PCs.  Thus, the headset intended for a PC was not going to work.  Curses.  I abandoned the headset microphone.  As a last ditch effort, I recorded audio to my microcassette recorder and tried to feed that in.  The computer DID recognize the input – but the sound quality was pretty crappy.

I went back to eBay and ordered a USB headset that should work with my Mac.  A few days later, the headset arrived in the mail.  I was ready to roll – I wanted to start recording immediately.

There was only one problem – there was no USB adapter.  I took a careful look inside the case and couldn’t find anything.  I carefully re-read the eBay description.  Yep, it was supposed to have a USB adapter.  I looked at the image in the auction – it clearly showed the USB adapter.  It was quite obvious that the adapter had been left out of my package.

I communicated the problem to the company, and they quickly shipped out the adapter.  I made a few quick test recordings, and I was ready to roll.

Recorded

The first thing I recorded was The Tale of the Wolf.  Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed by the audio version.  In particular, I notice some idiosyncrasies that I didn’t like.  (No, I’m not going to point them out.  If I did, they would jump front and center for you. )

Tale of the Wolf was a mere 2 minutes in length.  The Cell Window was clearly going to be much longer.  Since the story contains about 20 times as many words as Tale of the Wolf, I estimated that it would be 40+ minutes long.

Clearly, a 40 minute audio book should be broken into some tracks.  I had a few things to consider.  I could choose to zip up all the MP3s into a compressed file and have the customer download just one file.  Alternately, I could have the customers download each file separately, as MPs.  I decided to go the route of the multiple downloads because I didn’t like the extra step of extracting the MP3s from the compressed file after download.  This seems like a minor issue to a lot of people – but one of my computers does not have any native tool to expand a ZIP file, and it took some time to find the proper tool.  It wasn’t a big deal for me, but I felt it might be problematic for some customers.  Better to leave the files as MP3.

How many tracks?  I founded that breaking the story into chunks of about 2500 words would allow me to end each track at the end of a story section.  The audio book would have 4 tracks (for a total length of about 48 minutes).

I was very self-conscious during the recording.  I’m not a professional reader, and knew that the audio book was not going to have the slickness of something by an audio master such as Scott Brick.  The goal was for the audio performance to be neutral – not adding significantly to the value of the original story, but also not detracting from the value.

When I was finished, I popped the files into iTunes and gave them a listen.  Surprisingly, I thought the MP3s came out sounding OK – better than they had sounded to me when I was recording.  Certainly, there are a few awkward spots where I momentarily lose my place when reading.  Overall, though, my biased opinion was that I had done a somewhat competent job, considering my amateur status.

I burned the files to CD and listened one more time the next morning.  After listening a second time, I was still happy with the performance, and deemed it ready for the store.

You can download the audio version of The Cell Window at the Hyrax Publications store.  You can purchase it separately for $3.99.  It is also included in the Annual Kosmo Pass (regular price $18, currently on sale for $9), along with all of Kosmo’s eBooks and audio book, including those scheduled for release in the future.  We expect to add a few eBooks each year, and plan to record nearly all of the 50 existing fiction stories to audio in the next few months.  The annual pass is currently good for 14 months, rather than 12.

As a special bonus, the first person to buy a copy of the audio version of The Cell Window today, will get it for FREE – and I’ll upgrade you to the Annual Kosmo Pass!  What’s the catch?  Well, you won’t know if you’re the first person until later (the charge will be processed, then I will refund the money later in the day).

If I Had a Million Dollars, I’d Be Rich

March 24, 2010

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If I had a million dollars, I’d be rich.

Well, that’s what Barenaked Ladies would have you believe. In actuality, a million bucks doesn’t stretch as far as it once did.

If you were indeed rich, how would you spend the money?

First, I’ll set down a few rules.

First, let’s assume that you have already donated a sizeable chunk to charities and taken care of your family.

Second, let’s make these without any thought as to what your spouse or kids would think of the decision.

Yes, this is a nice, breezy little “we can always dream” article.

Where to Live

I’d definitely want two homes. I’d want a summer home in the Florida Keys. I like the laid back atmosphere in the Keys, love being surrounded by water (which is odd, considering that I can’t swim), and most importantly, I intensely dislike cold weather. Lay under a palm tree reading a book and listening to Jimmy Buffett. Yeah, that’s the life.

Summers would be spent in the mountains of Colorado. Sadly, I’ve only been to the mountains once, but I absolutely love them. I’d spend lots of time hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and shooting the wildlife and scenery with my digital camera.

Oh, and Colorado has one distinct advantage over other locations – it also happens to be the home of my favorite baseball team. I’d plunk down the cash for season tickets right behind home plate. None of those fancy skyboxes for me – I want to be able to hear that batter arguing with the umpire.

The House

There is one aspect to my dream home that has never wavered over the years – the presence of a large library. When I say large, I mean something that would rival the libraries in some small towns. Not only do I love to read, but I’d happily lend tomes to visitors. The library would have a media center with a couple of high end Power Macs.

I’d definitely want to grounds to be landscaped with synthetic turf in order to minimize the maintenance. They make some very realistic synthetic turfs these days. Grass is overrated.

The rest of the details are relatively unimportant.

The Cars

Lamborgini? Porsche? Mercedes Benz? Nah, just keep a Ford Taurus in the garage and I’ll be happy. My first car was a Taurus (had 96,000 miles when I bought it), as is every car I have bought since.

Could I spend lots more on a fancier car? Sure. But I see a car as a way to get from point A to point B. If I’m going to waste a lot of money, it’s certain not going to be on a luxury car.

Hobbies

What would I do with my spare time? Well, as mentioned above, I would read, hike, watch baseball, and listen to Jimmy Buffett. But I’d do other things, too, right?

I’d definitely try to make the cut for Jeopardy. I don’t watch a lot of TV – and even fewer game shows – but Jeopardy has been a longtime favorite of mine. I wouldn’t necessarily have to win – competing would be enough fun.

On there is one other thing. I want to go into space. Not just as a tourist, mind you. I want to take a space walk – tethered to civilization by just a thing line. I can only imagine the thrill this must give astronauts. The only downside is that I’m not much of a handyman, and most spacewalks involve fixing some sort of equipment.

Maybe I could hold the ladder for the other guy.

What would you do if YOU were suddenly rich?

Why the Joe Mauer Contract is a Good Deal for the Minnesota Twins

March 23, 2010

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You might have missed the news with the hoopla of the NCAA tournament over the weekend, but the Minnesota Twins signed All Star catcher Joe Mauer to an 8 year, $184 million deal.  Obviously, $23 million per year is a lot of money for any player, but I think this deal makes a lot of sense for the Twins.  I’ll tell you why.

It prevents fan defection

The Twins have, historically, been a bit, er, frugal.  This in spite of the fact that former owner Carl Pohlad actually had more money than Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.  Steinbrenner ran the Yankees as a hobby and desired to have World Series championships.  Pohlad ran the Twins more like a business, actually paying attention to the bottom line.  In a smaller media market such as Minneapolis, this often meant having players like Johan Santana and Torii Hunter leave to pursue more money elsewhere.

Mauer has always been a special fan favorite for the Twins.  Mauer played his high school ball at Cretin-Durham Hall, right in the Twins cities.  In 2001, the Twins made him the first overall pick in the draft.  This wasn’t a slam dunk decision.  Many observers felt that USC pitcher Mark Prior was a much better gamble than a high school catcher, regardless of the numbers he put up in high school.  Looking back nine years later, the decision to pick Mauer was clearly the correct decision.

Mauer sets a good example on and off the field.  I am unaware of him ever being in any trouble off the field.  On the field, in his first 5 full seasons, he has won three batting titles, three gold gloves, and an MVP award – and has finished in the top 6 in the MVP voting on two other occasions.

In short, Mauer is bigger than hockey in Minnesota.  Well, maybe not.  Probably bigger than curling, though.  Losing Mauer would have been catastrophic for Twins fans, and they would have stayed away from games in droves.   This is a franchise that was once on the chopping block to be removed from baseball as part of contraction (the Expos-now-Nationals were the other team).

Keeps him away from the Yankees

The big fear, of course, was that the Yankees were going to come in and grab Mauer as a free agent.  This makes a lot of sense, with Yankee catcher Jorge Posada in the twilight of his career.  Brian Cashman would have loved the opportunity to add Mauer’s bat to the lineup.

This would have been a double whammy for the Twins.  Not only would it have been more difficult for the Twins to reach the post-season without Mauer, they’d be forced to play a Mauer-led Yankees team if they made it into the playoffs.

It’s actually not a bad deal, financially

You may look at Mauer’s numbers and say “meh, they’re pretty strong numbers, but he’s not exactly Albert Pujols.”

That’s quite true, but you need to look at the context of the numbers.  Mauer is a catcher – the most difficult position on the field.  It’s very rare to get elite offensive production out of a catcher.  Mauer is a best offensive catcher since Mike Piazza.  I hesitate to even make this comparison – not because of any shortcomings of Mauer, but shortcomings of Piazza.  Piazza was a very good hitter, but it’s very generous to refer to him as a catcher.  It’s an exaggeration to say that I’m a better defensive catcher than Piazza – but not by much.

Mauer is not a catcher in the mold of Piazza, though.  He is actually a good defensive catcher.  Finding a catcher who can combine good offensive and defensive skills is almost impossible –and you need to pay for it.  The drop-off between Mauer and the average MLB catcher is enormous.

Finally, the Twins are paying for some of Mauer’s peak years.  Players typically begin their prime years around age 27 and start to fade in their late 30s.  Mauer will be 28 next year when the contract starts in 2011 and 35 when the contract ends after the 2018 season.  Those are good years to pay for, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mauer enter a bit of a decline toward the end of the deal.  An 8 year contract that starts at age 28 is much better than an 8 year deal that starts at age 32.

What are your thoughts on the Mauer deal?  (Let’s try not to go down the “athletes are overpaid” route too much.  Elite performers in many fields are paid insane amounts of money.)

 

Store Update: We’ve been busy stocking the shelves at the Hyrax Publications store recently.  Last week was the release of Sell Yourself Short: A Guide to Short Story Writing (currently on sale for 99 cents!).  Today, we’re happy to announce the release of the audio version of The Cell Window.  The Cell Window is the tale of a professional voyeur.  The audio version is 48 minutes long and features the voice of Kosmo.  Note: Kosmo is not a professional audio book reader, so keep this in mind when setting your expectations.  The price is $3.99.

Want to read The Cell Window, but don’t like audio books?  You can buy the eBook featuring The Cell Window and eleven other stories in The Fiction of Kosmo, Volume 2 ($3.65).

Want it all, but don’t want to pay the a la carte prices?  The Annual Kosmo Pass (regularly $18, currently $9 + a bonus 2 months) will allow you to download all of Kosmo’s content for an entire year.  We plan to add 3-4 eBooks (10,000 – 20,000 words) per year and are planning to populate the audio book section to include nearly all of the fiction from the site. 

Not satisfied with your purchase? Please email Kosmo at Kosmo@ObservingCasually.com and we’ll refund your money!

NCAA Tournaments (Men and Women)

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The big news over the weekend was Northern Iowa’s victory over top seeded Kansas.  Ali Farokhmanesh once again provided the key shot for UNI, hitting a dagger of a three pointer late in the game.  Ali had about 5 minutes to get set for the shot (look at the replay – he has time to get his feet perfectly set), so it’s hardly a surprised that he was able to knock down the shot.

Northern Iowa’s path to the Elite 8 got a bit smoother yesterday.  Michigan State beat Maryland to advance to the Sweet 16, but they lost star point guard Kalin Lucas to a torn Achilles tendon during the game.

After the game, The Soap Boxers got dozens of Google hits for our NCAA round 1 recap.  We had a brief blurb about Ali and his parents (Cindy Fredrick and Dr. Mashallah Farokhmanesh).  Interestingly, we weren’t getting hits on Ali’s name (as those were probably sucked up by the mainstream sports sites) but we did get hits on his parents’ names – particularly his dad’s.  I’m really not sure why people were searching on his dad’s name – but if some of you folks have become permanent members of The Soap Boxers community, welcome aboard!

In addition to Northern Iowa, several other teams swung by the shoe store and picked up a pair of Cinderella’s glass slippers.  We have a 12 seed (Cornell), an 11 (Washington), and a 10 (St. Mary’s) are still dancing.  In some years, the mere presence of two 6 seeds (Xavier and Tennessee) in the Sweet 16 would be cause for celebration; in a year with 4 teams at an 8 seed of higher, Xavier and Tennessee are simply afterthoughts.

How am I doing in my bracket?  I’m in last place in my pool … and I have a chance to win.  Although two of my Final Four teams have been bounced from the tournament (Kansas and my runner-up, Wisconsin), I’m one of two people who have Syracuse picked to win it all.  If that happens and a few other games break my way, I win.  I’m cautiously optimistic.

The women’s NCAA tournament also got under way this weekend.  There’s usually considerably less drama in the early rounds of the women’s tournament.  One reason for this is that many of the first and second round games are played on the campus of the top seed in that set of four teams – something the men’s tournament forbids.  This helps boost attendance for the women’s tournament, but makes it much more difficult for upsets to occur.

The state of Iowa had three teams in the women’s tournament.  Northern Iowa had punched their ticket by winning the Missouri Conference tournament and entered play on Sunday with a lackluster 17-15 record.  Not surprisingly, #1 seed Nebraska clobbered them 83-44 (although this game was NOT in Lincoln, but Minneapolis).

The University of Iowa was an 8 seed and beat 9 seed Rutgers on Saturday 70-63.  The interesting story in this game was that Rutgers’ coach, Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer, was formerly the coach of a very successful program at Iowa.  Stringer is originally from the East, and left Iowa shortly after the death of her husband.  She is still very much respected in Iowa.

My Iowa State Cyclones also had a first round game.  The 4th seeded Cyclones won their game against Lehigh 79-42.  The best news to come out of the game for ISU was the return of Alison Lacey, who had missed 4 games because of pneumonia.

Notable first round upsets were 12 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay over 5 seed Virginia, 11 seed San Diego State over 6 seed Texas, 11 seed Arkansas-Little Rock over 6 seed Georgia Tech, and 10 seed Vermont over 7 seed Wisconsin.  Top ranked an undefeated Connecticut rolled in their game 95-39 over Southern University.

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