Friday, February 19, 2010

Mosaics from Grandma Bleizeffer's funeral

I think Joann created these. Click the images to go to Flickr and view all the individual pictures.




Monday, June 29, 2009

R.I.P. Sheila Bleizeffer

If memory serves, it was in early spring in 1996 that Karen was volunteering at the SPCA, and she asked me to come in and meet one of the dogs. We already had Indigo at this point, who was a handful, to say the least, so after the requisite browbeating I agreed to go in and meet this dog. I insisted that I was only going to meet the dog, but we were not bringing the dog home that day... which just goes to show my level of naivete at that point in our marriage.

We came home with Sheila that day. Her given name was "Shula" (maybe her original owners were Miami Dolphin fans), and given that she was an Australian Cattledog (mostly) and she was female, we decided to change her name slightly to Sheila. Get it? Australian female? Sheila? Yeah, we're clever.

Sheila died in my arms around 3:45 today, June 29th, 2009, after the cancer in her jaw and throat made it difficult for her to breathe. She stopped eating yesterday, and she couldn't sleep because it took too much effort to breathe to relax enough to sleep. It was her time.

Sheila was the antithesis of Indigo. Indigo was too smart for her own good (it's never good to have a dog that is smarter than its owners). She was willful and mischievous... and we loved her. She seemed to take a perverse enjoyment out of pushing our buttons.

Sheila was eager to please. If she ever misbehaved, it was obviously a mistake because she would be devastated to think that she had done something wrong. Indigo thought anyone who came to the door was Jason Vorhees incarnate. Sheila thought everyone was a potential friend.

Our cats would rub up against Sheila's legs and spoon with her when she was sleeping. And she wouldn't complain.

And she purred when she was happy.

Tyler used to gleefully grab Sheila's fur and hold on tight until he got bored or Sheila's fur detached. Sheila never complained.

Carson has a friend named Rebecca. She invited Rebecca over for a playdate, but Rebecca and her mom were concerned because Rebecca was deathly afraid of dogs. We told them "You've got to meet Sheila." They met. Rebecca is no longer afraid of dogs... in fact, she now wants to get a dog of her own.

Old age was not particularly kind to Sheila. She developed arthritis and had bouts of severe joint pain over her last couple of years. At one point a couple years ago it got so bad that I built her a ramp to get up the two steps from the sidewalk to our front porch, and I was convinced that she didn't have much longer. Then, amazingly, she recovered. She still had trouble and couldn't make it up the stair to the second floor, but her mobility increased enough that worries about her quality of life went away.

Then, a little over a month ago, she started snoring while awake. A quick Google search suggested it was probably allergies, so we switched her food, but it didn't help. So I took her to the vet and they found severe cancer in her jaw and neck that was obstructing her nasal passages and throat. There was nothing to be done at that point but try to make her comfortable. The pain medication helped a little, but when she stopped eating we knew it was time.

Of course, the thing I'll miss most about Sheila is that she loved me far more than I deserve. We all need as much of that in our lives as we can get.

Goodbye, Sheila, I love you too.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday morning

From 2009-Jan-20

From 2009-Jan-20

From 2009-Jan-20

From 2009-Jan-20

That's Sorcha on the left and Sebastian on the right in the photo above.

From 2009-Jan-20

Monday, January 19, 2009

Perfect team?

What does a perfect basketball team look like, in your opinion? Obviously we could say "A player at every position that is great at everything" but that's boring. I'm thinking more about the key characteristics, thinking about prior Indiana players who might resemble that player, and players on the current team or recruits that might become that player.

Here's my take:

First, I don't think a great team needs more than 8 players. In fact, part of me thinks having more than 8 players in the rotation can be a distraction. And because I think it's very important for players to understand their roles, I'm going to assume a stable starting lineup with a stable set of reserves (though in reality I think a stable starting lineup is almost always overrated). I'm only going to discuss the starting five, but the bench players would be (as you'd expect) a ballhandler, a wing, and a guy who can play in the post.

Point Guard: The three main traits I like to see in a point guard are
1. Mental toughness
2. Defensive stopper
3. Decision making
The best point guards are the guys who are always in control, who disrupt the opponent's offense everytime down the floor, who are absolutely convinced that they're smarter than you, and who play their best when the game is on the line. These are rare individuals. Right after these top 3 are things like ballhandling and court vision. And then farther down is scoring ability. Obviously we want every player on the court to be a scoring threat, and I enjoy watching point guards who can score, but I'm willing to give up a whole lot of scoring ability if I can get ridiculous mental toughness in return.

Keith Smart, who wasn't even a pure point guard, is pretty close to my archetype here. Obviously Smart was a great defensive player, and like the rest of the 1987 team he displayed amazing mental toughness. He also knew his role well and didn't often make bad decisions. I think if I could trade a little of Smart's scoring ability for a little more court vision, that would be the point guard I'd want.

In terms of current or future Indiana players, it's tough to say because mental toughness is hard to predict. I really Jones, but his defense in particular has a long way to go before he even approaches my archetype (though I do think his defensive ceiling is high). I don't know enough about Rivers or Hulls to comment. As I said, in my opinion great PGs are very rare.

Shooting Guard: Main traits:
1. Pure shooter
2. Defensive stopper
3. Mental toughness
For some reason, it seems unusual to see #1 and #2 in the same player. When I think back at the really great pure shooters in Indiana history (like Steve Alford, Jay Edwards, A.J. Guyton) it seems that most of them lack greatness on the defensive end. Everybody loves the pure shooter, but honestly I'm not a "trade baskets" kind of guy, so defensive stopper is a close second here. Mental toughness is also critical. Jay Edwards, who as far as I could see had no mental toughness off the basketball court, knew that he would sink the big shot. You want your shooting guard to be dangerous everytime down the floor, but you want to opposing team to terrified of him taking the last-second-shot-to-win-the-game. Other things I like to see in a shooting guard is the ability to slash to the basket and score (off the dribble or not), plus some amount of the ballhandling and court vision that we want in a PG. Not a "combo guard" necessarily, but someone who can contribute offensively even when they are not shooting from the perimeter.

Dane Fife is one of the best defensive players I've ever seen, and his shooting ability was phenomenal during his senior year, but he wasn't a guy a wanted shooting the last second shot and he certainly had some notable, um, mental lapses diuring games. Greg Graham as a senior is probably the closest to the archetype I can think of in one player. He could score from anywhere on the court and he was the best defensive player in the B10. All I would add to Greg Graham is a little bit of Dane Fife's mean streak and a little bit of Jay Edwards' arrogance and he'd be my archetypal point guard.

I don't see any current players or recruits who resemble my archetype. I like Dumes' lack of fear and he has the potential to be a lockdown defender, but he's not a pure shooter and his decision-making needs a lot of work. Plus he only has one more year to put it all together. Maybe Maurice Creek is closer, but as usual I don't know much about our recruits.

Small Forward: Main traits:
1. Triple threat
2. Defensive stopper
3. Rebounding
This is probably my favorite position in basektball. Really good small forwards are a delight to watch because thay are so versatile. I listed my top 3 traits but those traits miss the point - great small forwards are jacks-of-all-trades who do everything well. They can shoot from the perimeter, drive to the basket, pass the ball, rebound, defend smaller guys or bigger guys, and handle the ball reasonably well.

Of course, the easiest way to explain my archetypal small forward is simply to type, "Calbert Cheaney". I'm trying to think of what I would change about Cheaney and it's tough to think of anything. Maybe add a little more vocal leadership. Maybe a bit of a mean streak. But mostly Cheaney is my archetype.

I have high hopes for Christian Watford and Derek Elston, but I don't know how Cheaney-like their games are.

Power Forward: Main traits:
1. Quickness
2. Length
3. Rebounding
I think the "power forward" vs "center" designation is even more useless than most of the other standard player positions, particularly at the college level. This made it tough to think of my archetype because it's really the pair of interior players as a package that creates my archetype. Anyway, when I think of my favorite "power forward" type players I think of guys like Jared Jeffries, Alan Henderson, and Jeff Newton. Not strong, bulky guys or guys who play with their back to the basket (though Jeffries played with his back to the basket a lot). Rather, guys who were sneaky good because of their quickness and length... which contributes to scoring, rebounding, and defense. All three of those guys were excellent defenders and a danger to block shots. And all three could hit mid-range shots, which I think is critical. Newton had some issues with consistent effort, but when he was at his best he was very, very good.

No one on this year's squad is like that, though maybe Watford next year will be.

Center: Main traits:
1. Rebounding
2. Defensive stopper
3. Mean Streak
This is the one position where thinking of an Indiana player who resembles my archetype is tough. I don't remember pre-1986 Indiana basketball, and in the last 23 years there hasn't exactly been a parade of great centers going through the Indiana program. And I have a particular archetype in mind... big and mean. I like the "power forward" (see rant on positions above) to have finesse, but I want this guy to spit on the very idea of finesse... and then punch the idea in the mouth and kick it in the ribs while it's down. I want someone who thinks every shot within ten feet of the basket looks like a dunk, and I want the opposing team to be terrified of trying to take a charge. When this guy sets a screen it should be a felony in some states and Puerto Rico. You get the idea.

So what Indiana center resembles my archetype? Um... let me think... hell, I don't know. Maybe Jarrod Odle? A taller, bigger, meaner version of Jarrod Odle, I guess. With this one I should probably go outside Indiana and point out someone like Reggie Evans at Iowa.

Current players or recruits? Uh, let's not go there.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Indiana picked the wrong year to be bad in the B10

Let me make an obvious point - Indiana's ability to win a game is based on two factors - #1. How good Indiana is, and #2. How good the opponent is. Clearly, we know the answer to #1 -- Indiana is the worst B10 team in recent memory. But let's look at #2.

Fortunately, Indiana fans usually don't have to concern ourselves with how good the bad teams in the B10 are. Whether they are kinda bad, pretty bad, or super bad, it usually just means a "W" for Indiana. This year it matters a lot. So how bad are the bad teams? Let's use Pomeroy's ratings of the bottom 4 teams in the B10 for the past six seasons (including this one):

63. Michigan
68. Iowa
77. Penn State
244. Indiana

108. Penn State
112. Michigan
116. Iowa
158. Northwestern

64. Iowa
112. Northwestern
119. Penn State
140. Minnesota

79. Minnesota
117. Penn State
123. Northwestern
159. Purdue

98. Purdue
107. Northwestern
109. Michigan
180. Penn State

94. Northwestern
109. Minnesota
117. Ohio State
210. Penn State

Two things jump out - first, sadly, Indiana is really, really bad. We know this, but the ratings knock that point out of the park. This isn't just a bad year by Indiana standards, this is a bad year by any standard. No team in 6 B10 seasons (as far back as Pomeroy goes) has been as bad as Indiana this season, and most seasons no team even comes close.

The other thing that jumps out is that the bad teams in the B10 (Indiana notwithstanding) are clearly better this season than any season in the last 6. Heck, Michigan is on the list of the 4 worst B10 teams and they are ranked in the Top 25!

Bottom line: Unlike most years, for Indiana to avoid going winless we're going to have to beat a pretty good team.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


a.k.a. “Italian Doughnuts”
(pronounced screw-PELLA)

4 to 5 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 packages Active Dry Yeast
¼ cup softened margarine
2 cups very hot tap water
2 tablespoons Amaretto
1 egg (at room temperature)
Peanut Oil
Cinnamon-Sugar mix

In a large bowl thoroughly mix 1 ¼ cups flour, sugar, salt and undissolved dry yeast. Add softened margarine. Gradually add very hot tap water to dry ingredients and beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally. Add egg and enough flour to make a thick batter. Beat at high speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Stir in enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Cover, let rise in a warm place, free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down and let rise again. After the two risings, grab meatball amounts of dough out of the bowl, cut off with a knife or scissors and drop into hot oil (375˚) and fry until golden brown. Put cinnamon-sugar mix into paper bag and shake the warm doughnuts in the bag. Do not store in airtight container or ziplock bag! Store in paper bag and eat them quickly.

(Adapted from Great-Gram Santillo's recipe)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Holiday pictures

2008 holidays">
I just emptied my camera. A few pictures are priceless. Some are very funny. They cover Thanksgiving, Dominick's holiday concert and Christmas Eve at Chris and Dave's.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Flower Cookies

There used to be more, and some of the icing has already been scraped off, but here they are:

From Miscellaneous

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Still trying

California trip plus

I'm still having trouble doing this

Monday, June 09, 2008

Interesting week... lots of news

Tyler is now officially going to Voyager Academy next year. We got the call last week. Yeehaw! We're very, very happy about this. Voyager is grades 4-8, so we now know where the kids will be going up through high school. Of course, we know our current high school district as well, but a lot can change in 5 years. Carson will be going to Voyager as well, and we know she'll get in because of their "sibling preference" policy. Next year is going to be a challenge because Tyler will be on traditional calendar while Carson is on year round calendar AND of course they'll be going to different schools, which means lots of coordination on drop-offs and pick-ups.

Speaking of school calendars, last Friday was the last day of school. The kids are now on summer vacation. In Tyler's case, he has ELEVEN weeks of summer vacation. He's very happy.

Carson got her hair cut into a bob. She's adorable.

The kids had their first swim meet on Saturday. Carson won her heat and got a ribbon. Tyler now has to swim 50 yards (across the pool and back), which he did without a problem, at his usual speed. Tyler likes swimming, but he's not very concerned about what place he comes in (which is a double-edged sword -- it's good that he doesn't get upset at himself, but it's hard to motivate him to improve). Carson is a natural swimmer. She's amazing. She'd probably be one of the fastest free style swimmers in the city (after 2 weeks of practice) if she knew how to dive. We're going to setup a private diving lesson for her. She's mad at us about it, because she's scared of diving. This is the same story for Carson... over and over... she's always scared of trying anything knew and gets really upset when we force her to do it and then she ends up loving it. Like swim team. And bike riding. And water parks. And cartwheels. And skydiving.

We got Guitar Hero 3 for Carson and we're having a blast with it. Karen is the best, but she has the unfair advantage of knowing how to play guitar. Tyler's busy playing Lego Indiana Jones so he hasn't been too interested in Guitar Hero yet, but it's all Carson wants to do. Maybe she'll enjoy it so much that she'll want to take real guitar lessons like cousin Nick. I'm really bad at the game but it's still fun.

And La-La got poisoned and almost died. We still don't know what poison she swallowed, but last Thursday night she walked into the kitchen while we were eating dinner and she was panting and drooling and making strange sounds and her pupils wouldn't dilate so Karen rushed her to the vet office where she started vomiting blood and lost control of her bowels. They had two vets working on her for an hour and a half while I scoured the house and yard trying to find some toxin that she might have gotten into, unsuccessfully. They stabilized her and then Karen took her to a nearby animal hospital that could monitor her overnight. Her liver and kidneys were having problems, so the vet basically said that if the toxin destroyed her liver or kidneys then she wasn't going to make it. Her kidneys did not get back to normal until Saturday morning. We picked her up Saturday morning and she's now back at home and feels fine. The whole thing was very scary. Karen and I agree that La-La is the best cat either of us have ever had (which is saying something), so we're extremely relieved.

Friday, June 06, 2008

I had my first MRI this morning

After hearing so many horror stories about getting MRIs, I had my first MRI this morning. I've got a pinched nerve in my lower back that is causing my left thigh to go numb. They're trying to find what exactly is causing the pinched nerve... er, the "nerve impingement" is what they call it. First I had to get an X-Ray because my insurance won't let me get an MRI until I've had an X-ray first, even though everyone agreed that the X-ray wouldn't find anything. It didn't.

Anyway, the MRI was boooooooring. I didn't feel claustrophobic at all. It was just boring to have to lay there for 20 minutes with nothing to do.

So I've decided the rest of y'all are big wusses.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Explaining UX to 3rd graders

This morning I went into Tyler's class to explain what I do for a living. Here's the presentation I created to give to the class. It went well. They really liked talking about video games.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Stuff that Grand Theft Auto IV messed up

So Grand Theft Auto IV made $500,000,000 in its first week of release, and $60 of that was from me. People are falling all over themselves in praise of the game, and no superlative has gone unmentioned... and I can't disagree. I've been a gamer since before "gamer" meant "computer gamer", and GTA IV is definitely on my list of "Top 10 Favorite Games Ever". I'm thinking it'll end up around #5, but I really need to go take a fresh look at my Top 10 list. A future post, perhaps. Regardless, the point is that getting onto my Top 10 list is a big deal, because I'm not some 13 year old kid who just started playing games a couple years ago.

So it would be really easy for me to write a post about all the things I love about GTA IV. From the ridiculously great job they did developing the Niko Bellic character, to the way they made Liberty City different than the previous GTA games yet still familiar, to the super skinny model on the "Anna Rex" billboard, to chases through subway tunnels, to... well, you get the idea. I could go on and on.


So instead I'm going to list some of the things Rockstar messed up... or at least some missed opportunities.

1. Graphics: Rockstar was obviously not going for photorealism in this game, because there's a certain style associated with GTA games that's not exactly cartoonish and not exactly photorealistic but something in between. I love that style, but I still think the graphics were merely good and not great. Anyone who has played Oblivion or Heavenly Sword knows what I am talking about. I was expecting to be blown away by the graphics on GTA IV, particularly considering it was only available on the next-gen XBOX 360 and PS3 consoles, but instead I thought they were just okay.

I should probably mention that I don't think graphics are really that important when it comes to making a great game. There are plenty of game on my "Favorites" list that are still wonderful in spite of being as much as 20 years old. I prefer a game that focused more on gameplay than graphics.

2. Niko Customization: It's 2008, man, people expect more ability to customize their main character than some crappy suits. Obviously Niko's appearance plays a part in the main storyline, so I can't imagine GTA IV allowing a "Tiger Woods PGA Tour"-style face customization tool... Niko can't have long, curly blond hair. He just can't. But even the ability to choose between several prefab faces would give the user a little control. Or some choices of hairstyles, or more than ONE style of sunglasses, for pete's sake! This gets back to the graphics problem a bit, but one of my problems with the small amount of customization that was allowed (buying new clothes) is that all the clothes looked terrible on Niko. Everything was form fitting to Niko's pot belly (and why does an ex-soldier hired gun need to have a pot belly anyway?). It's simple - I just want the ability to make Niko look like I want him to look... which is significantly cooler than anything that was allowed in the game.

3. Music: There's a TON of radio stations to choose from in GTA IV, and the radio stations play a part in providing the emotional feel for the game - the faux interviews and satirical commercials are hilarious, there are often updates on the radio that are relevant to the storyline (though no missions rely on listening to the radio), and when Niko steals a car the choice of radio station in the stolen car adds to the game. The radio stations are extremely well done, and Rockstar is rightly proud of them.

But GTA IV is a looooooong game. It took me about 80 hours of gameplay to complete the main storyline and I'm still in the 80s in term of percent complete. And I'm going to start my second trip through the main storyline soon. About 3/4 through my last game, I finally got so tired of the radio that I turned the music volume all the way down.

Why not have a "Listener Request" radio station and allow me to download my own music onto my XBox 360 and play that music when I tune to that station? It seems like a simple technical feat and then I could rock out to Everclear while tooling around Liberty City.

4. Bridge Driving AI: Hopefully this is something that will be fixed in the first game update, but the tendency for cars on bridges to swerve all over the place, randomly, and then get stuck in traffic jams at the end of the bridge is really annoying. I assume this is just a bug, because it doesn't add anything to the gameplay. Navigating through traffic is part of the game (in fact, it's a really fun part of the game), but what happens on the bridges is something different. It's not fun. it just gets in the way.

5. Mini Cooper: You can drive everything from a forklift to a fire engine to a Ferrari to a limo in GTA IV, so it might seem strange to complain about a missing car, but they really need a Mini Cooper clone in the game - a high performance SMALL car is exactly what you want in Liberty City, where driving in between lanes on and sidewalks is business as usual. I tend to drive motorcycles a lot for exactly this reason, but a really small car with really good performance would be a great addition to the game.

Plus, I just love Mini Coopers.

Other cars (or clones) that would be nice additions: VW Beetle, Dune Buggy, SmartCar, Dodge Charger.

6. Mini-Map: Where are you looking when you're driving? At the top of the screen. Where is the mini-map? At the bottom of the screen. Why? I'm happy to say that I play the game on a huge, widescreen HDTV, but this means that it's a significant distance to look from where I'm going down to the mini-map and then back up. Yes, if the mini-map were at the top it would sometimes get in the way (and if they had put it there I might be complaining right now about what an idiotic decision it was to put the mini-map right where you're trying to look when driving), but I really think it would be better at the top.

Hell, give users the choice. Maybe some people will want it on top and some on the bottom.

7. Body Armor on Retry: Goodness gracious, they really screwed the pooch on this one. It's great that they give that handy "Retry?" option after I fail a mission. But obviously the missions that I most often fail are the ones where someone kills me with a bunch of bullets... but when I choose to retry, it takes away my body armor!

I understand the reasoning behind this. I die, I go to the hospital, they nurse my wounds, and I emerge with "full" health... minus the body armor. Makes sense. But it's no FUN. I rarely answer "Yes" to the retry option because I always have to go find a gun shop and buy some more body armor before continuing. If I had body armor when I started a mission and I fail and I choose to retry, give me my damn body armor back. Charge me $500 for it, no problem. But don't make me waste 10 minutes buying new armor before retrying the mission.

8. Pigeons: This is LIBERTY CITY. I can run over pedestrians with only the lightest of police interest. I can blow up S.W.A.T. vans and they won't remember who I am a few minutes later. I can run red lights or run other cars off the road without any cop caring. This is a dangerous city.

But if a shoot a pigeon the cops will come after me. What the heck?

I like shooting pigeons instead of finding hidden packages. It's a nice addition to the game. Except it's annoying when cops chase me for shooting a pigeon... that's not fun.

That's my list so far. I'll add more as I think of them.