Finding Adventure...

Online Shopping Tip

Many online retailers offer promotions and the way to get them when you place an order is to fill in a "promotion code" or similar box during your checkout. I've recently found that any time I encounter one of these, I go to Google and search for the retailer name along with "promotion code" or "online coupon" or whatever that particular retailer calls it. Often you find forums or sites where people have posted promotion codes that are still valid. Even if they're not, it never hurts to try as usually these are nationally advertised promotions (like 10% off one item, etc) and you're just as entitled to use them even though you never actually saw the advertisement. Give it a try, it's worked several times for me! One time in particular saved me nearly $300!
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Cooking with brown paper bags?

Yeah, me, and a cooking question. So often times my wife has Food Network on the TV. Sometimes watching, and sometimes just as background noise. I've noticed now, having seen exactly two episodes of Cooking for Real, that the cook on that show likes to use brown paper bags. Once for a fried chicken recipe and now for an oyster recipe. She just uses them to batter things, which I get. Except my problem here is that I can't find a sanitary brown paper bag anywhere. In quick google searches I have found recommendations to not use brown paper bags for the popular turkey recipe out there because they might combust and aren't sanitary. I've found places that sell brown paper bags, but none that list any as sanitary for cooking.

I know if you're just going to deep fry everything that you're not going to get any bacteria from the bag, but what about good old-fashioned dirt and/or bag material or even chemicals from the recycling process? You're eating that stuff. Now, I know that you can get a lot of different fried goods at the State Fair, but I don't think they are yet selling fried dirt or fried brown paper bags. And no, I don't plan to cook, much less with a brown paper bag. It's just something that bugs me to see repeatedly on TV.

Yes, I know it's been two weeks since my last blog. I'll do better, I promise.
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A sure-fire way to make money on Wall Street right now!


Go to Wall Street in NYC and become a street vendor selling Tums! I suggest keeping the prices low...something that works easily with small coins. Your target market is easily identifiable...they'll have lots of visible sweat and a facial expression that reminds you of deer-in-headlights. Do not attempt to engage them in petty conversation unless you have a very good shoulder to cry on.
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Final Koni Challenge update of 2008

Well, the last of my Koni Challenge races for 2008 is over, so it's time to recap it and the season. This race was at VIR, a track I know well and have done fairly well at in the past, so I had fairly high least of myself. This weekend was somewhat interesting as my co-driver and team owner wasn't around for any of the testing. That meant no data to look at, no coaching, and no setup help. For the setup help we enlisted the services of Brian Smith, who is a co-manager for Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC. Brian is a good friend of mine and a great professional driver.

The first test day had two sessions available, and I drove the first one on the same tires we used for the entire race at Miller Motorsports Park. That proved very interesting as our times were fairly mediocre compared to everyone else and it felt like there was a complete lack of grip all the way around. I thought it had to be tires, so we got some new ones put on for the second session and sent Brian out on them. He made a few minor shock tweaks and got some decent times out of the car...going five seconds faster than I had in the morning! I went out for the last session and immediately dropped 3.5 seconds off my time, which was pretty good. I'd still like to be much closer to Brian than that, but he's pretty good. I also wasn't feeling entirely well, which contributed some.

On Friday we had three more sessions. I jumped in for the first of those and in the out-lap the car decided to go into ABS failure, which caused me to make a minor detour into some strategically placed tires stacked against a wall. Cracked up the bumper cover some, but no damage. The ABS module continued to do that early in each session, but you could reset it and it stayed fine from then on. Very odd. Made a few pit stops in that session to check temps and things, but didn't really drop much time over the evening prior. The guys adjusted on the car some before the next session. I think it was better, but track temps were going up and grip was going down, so it didn't show on the clock. But the most annoying thing was the last twenty minutes of that hour session were pretty brutal on my body as sickness was setting in harder. I got fairly nauseous when I got out, in fact.

Our last session would have been in mostly dark conditions since that's how the race would finish the next day, which meant we couldn't really do much of that session as we didn't yet have working headlights (though the crew did get them working before the actual race). But since that was the case and I was feeling ill, I decided to go home and get some rest. The race was to be six hours which would mean I would need to do at least two stints of over an hour each, and each time I had gotten out of the car already I was completely soaked in sweat.

Our last practice session was first thing Saturday morning, followed an hour later by qualifying. There was an 11:30 drivers meeting and the race started at 2pm. Jason needed that practice since he hadn't been on VIR in the RX-8 yet and then he would qualify it. So I just slept in and got to the track in time for the meeting. Interestingly, we were told in that meeting there would be TWO pace laps before the race start. More on that in a bit.

I wasn't feeling at all well, but I did get some sleep and did hydrate okay, so I figured I had at least one stint in me, which was pretty important to me. We had a couple backups lined up in case I couldn't do the second one (as Jason would have gotten fried trying to do the rest of it himself). Jason started the race in 33rd out of 38 starters. Not good, but that was the best time we'd seen in the car all weekend so far, so it wasn't too far off what the car could do. We worked some good pit strategy early and worked our way into the top 2o about an hour into the six hour race. We hovered around 15th for the next hour and then I got in. I had done about 45 minutes and we were still easily in the top 20 when the motor decided it had enough of this abuse and gave up on us.

That's the first time I've ever had a motor just decide to expire for no external reason (missing a shift, etc). I wasn't able to make it around to the pits, so they had to throw a full course caution and pull me back in. Day over at the 2:40 mark.

Our car was never fully developed for this series as far as what we would have been allowed to do to the engine, so we were down on horsepower in a significant way to most of the field. We did get the car to handle better than most cars, though, and used that to stay somewhat competitive. It was a good learning experience, as we did see a lot of different conditions both with the car and the tracks we raced on. Fun stuff. Big thanks to the Team MER crew...Jason, Juliann, Darrin, and Wally in particular. Thanks for all the hard work, guys!

What's up for next year? Who knows. I do still have an MX-5 Cup race left at Laguna-Seca, a set of Spec Miata races at VIR, and then the 13 Hour enduro at VIR.
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Illegal Immigration to increase thanks to weak economy?

So the subject of illegal immigration is a complex problem that becomes very annoying when you add the social aspects to it. On the one hand, there are lots of dollars at stake, but on the other nobody wants to be the "bad guy" to the poor and downtrodden. I get that. But then sometimes the dollar amounts are so staggering that one can't help but be annoyed. Take, for instance, the fact that not only is Mexico's second biggest source of foreign income the money that legal and illegal immigrants send to Mexico (around $2B per month), but Mexican oil production has been dropping such that their first biggest source of foreign income isn't so hot.

So now, according to this story, when the US economy gets hit hard, the Mexican economy gets hit harder. In August the amount immigrants sent to Mexico dropped 12%. Since most of the immigrants leave the poorer villages for a better life and then send money back to family still in those poor villages, we're talking about $300M that didn't go to those villages last month that normally would have. So that makes the poor villages poorer. So what will people do? More people will leave to find ways into the US! Then we have more illegal immigrants to add to the enforcement load of the border patrols and immigration officials. There are going to be more of them competing for the same jobs as US citizens. More of them using government services (like school for the kids they have here) even though many aren't paying taxes for those services.

This makes my head hurt. It's been easy for so long for the defenders of the illegal immigrants to say that they are only taking jobs that citizens don't want. But as this ecomonic crisis ripples down (and even if things start to turn around, the effects are most assuredly going to linger and work their way downward) you're going to see more citizens willing to take on those jobs they might not have had to in the past. They'll find competition from illegals hard to beat if employers continue to pay the illegals below minimum wage and not have to take out taxes to boot.

I'm all for giving everyone we can a fair shot. But I believe we need a firmly closed border and tight controls on how many people are allowed into the country. The folks allowed in should definitely be paying taxes and given all the freedoms and protections this great country has to offer. But those who can't get in legally? They'll need to be sent back home. I'm not necessarily opposed to amnesty and citizenship for those who are already here, either. But we've got to stop the flood, too.
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Grandfather Mountain becomes a NC State Park

Hugh Morton was one of the greatest North Carolinians ever. He truly loved everything about our state, and made sure he did what he could to preserve it with his work at Grandfather Mountain. Sadly, Hugh died in 2006 and the mountain passed to his heirs. I worried then that perhaps his heirs might not be as good at being stewards of such a majestic place, but at the same time I felt like any heirs of someone as great as Hugh must have enough of what Hugh had to want to protect it. As I visited the mountain over the last two years I was very happy to see little had changed except the items put in motion by Hugh before his passing. I even exchanged reassuring emails with one of those heirs.

Now comes the news that the heirs have sold the mountain to the state of North Carolina and Governor Mike Easley has made sure it will become a state park. This should eternally protect the mountain from development while keeping it open for tourists to continue to do what I did, and that's grow up with a great family vacation destination right in their back yard. Thank you to Governor Easley and the legislature of North Carolina. For more on this story, see the WRAL news video here.

In that video, you will note a brief comment from Hugh Morton that just says "Wiseman's View." I don't know how that made it in the editing of the story, but Wiseman's View is not part of Grandfather Mountain. It is yet another of many great overlooks in the mountains of NC, and one I highly recommend to anyone visiting the NC mountains and the areas around Grandfather in particular. Be warned that it is a long drive down a fairly rugged dirt road, but it's usually passable by car (stop at the ranger station on your way in and ask to be sure), but almost always passable by SUV or truck. More info below...

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Side Effects


So a good friend is having some sleeping trouble and thus taking Ambien CR. She gave me the side effect warning label. Part of it reads:

"Sleep-Driving" and other complex behaviors: There have been reports of people getting out of bed after taking a sleep medicine and driving their cars while not fully awake, often with no memory of the event. If you experience such an event, it should be reported to your doctor immediately, since "sleep-driving" can be dangerous.
Well no kidding! But wait, there's more!

This behavior is more likely to occur when Ambien CR is taken with alcohol or other drugs such as those for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Other complex behaviors such as preparing and eating food, making phone calls, or having sex have been reported in people who are not fully awake after taking a sleep medicine. As with "sleep-driving", people usually do not remember these events.

This is kind of funny on a lot of levels, but I think my favorite is how "having sex" is equated as a "complex behavior" with eating and making a phone call. And in searching around for pics to use for this blog entry I found this little gem:

Talk about something that would sell! Too bad the warning label gets in the way.
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Paul Newman passes at 83

There are some people who seem ageless and immortal, and Paul Newman was one of those precious few. You can read any number of news articles today profiling his life and achievements (which included a fifth place in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and, more impressively, a second place at Le Mans...he was quite a race car driver). I just want to say simply that I will miss not only his work, but his amazing vigor for life. He was truly an amazing American artist who brought joy to people's lives in many ways, and his philanthropic endeavors are legendary.

The following snippet from The Late Show with David Letterman is a classic piece of Paul Newman. I loved every appearance he made on that show, and it's because it was almost always something like this.

Paul, I wish I could have known you personally.
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Art versus Commerce

Heard an interview on an XM station with a country artist and songwriter a few minutes ago. Sadly, I have no idea who it was because I didn't stick around that long and jumped in during the middle, but the lady had a nice way of putting the struggle that artists face when trying to make a living at art. Three simple words: Art versus commerce.

What she was referring to was the fact that artists must often try to decide between doing something they find rewarding and doing something they think others will find rewarding enough to purchase. Fortunately for me I have no artistic ability so I don't have any such struggles, but I can sympathize with those that do.

But this leads me to a small rant, and that is the association here between art versus commerce and government spending on art. Government spending on art? That's right, the government buys art, and in increasingly large dollar amounts. Many cities now have ordinances requiring all large building projects include some percentage in their budgets for art. Like in Charlotte, NC, they apparently had to spend some percentage of the money that went to the new light rail system on art. That system cost quite a bit of money, so they had to spend quite a bit on art. Problem here is there's no process for how to find good art. But what's worse than that is that even if there is a process, it's likely to never be met with much popular appeal. Why? Because while most people like spending some amount of money on art they like, most people also don't like being forced to spend money on art even if it DID happen to be something they like. And I think most people see government spending on art as forced spending of THEIR hard earned tax dollars on something they probably wouldn't ever buy themselves.

So what is one to do? Not allow the government to spend money on art? Seems like a bit of a stretch there since one could consider any architecture style past "brutally basic" to be a form of art. Plus we need to be able to decorate our governor's mansions and have some pictures on the wall in our government buildings. But at the same time, I wonder about policies that force artwork into places where it probably just isn't going to be very welcome, like along a rail line. Nice landscaping is one thing, but trying to please most people with a big expensive piece of artwork is a recipe for disaster, I think.

Outside of the rant, I just found the art versus commerce line to be a very interesting one. Artists are obviously welcome to just do what they like and worry about money in some other way. And many artists not only choose but quite enjoy trying to find something that the masses will love enough to buy. There's nothing inherently wrong about either tact. It is fun to try to decode particular artists motives sometimes, however. The term "sell out" comes to mind...
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Talk about a party foul!


Stealing a beer truck is one of those things every college boy jokes about. Okay, maybe not every college boy, but most of them. But this guy did it. He probably saw some serious hero status in his future, too. But boy did he screw it up.