Name - Mike Smith

I enjoy computer(ing)(s), my guitars, my motorcycle, gaming in general, all kinds of music, sci-fi, reading, and just generally being lazy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Penn Said...

I'm not gonna lie...I love me some Wil Wheaton. I read his blog, I read his books, I listen to his podcast, I follow him on Twitter, I follow his Tumblr...yeah, I know. Anyway, ever since my unfortunate "unfollow John Cusak or go insane" incident on Twitter, I try to stay away from the political ideologies of the people whose work I admire.

Wil posts a lot of funny things on his Tumblr feed. That is why I follow it. He also uses that platform to provide commentary on politics, sometimes his own and sometimes links to quotes from others. I don't mind the bashing of the republican party because, hey, I don't claim to be a part of that party either. I do, however, have a problem with the insistence that all things conservative are evil and that anyone that agrees with conservative ideas is either brain dead, incompassionate, or both.

I've been considering putting my thoughts down in a blog post here, but two things have kept me from it: 1) With everything that has been going on at work and in my personal life...who has the time! and 2) Who is going to read this anyway? Probably just the 2 people who follow the link from my facebook post.

Luckily, I don't need to. Someone posted a link (thanks, LaLa!) to an article by Penn Jillette that sums it up nicely. So I link for you: I don't know, so I'm an atheist libertarian

Friday, December 10, 2010


The story of our first VCR, TRON, and rewinding; for Jedi and skr8pn.

Sometime in ’83, it must have been, the family loaded into our Chevette, put “Thriller” into the cassette deck, and headed into town with the intent of purchasing the latest bit of 7+ year old technology; our first VCR. We pulled in front of the fairly new video rental store located in the Delchamps parking lot, just across from the K&B. While mom and dad listened to the advantages and disadvantages of both VHS and Betamax, my sister and I browsed the shelves full of blockbuster titles we couldn’t wait to see. There must have been at least 25-50 movies on the shelves! Finally, mom and dad settled on the top-loading VHS model (good call). With purchase, we got 2 free rentals, so it was decided to let me pick one and my sister pick one. I don’t remember what kind of pre-teen girly crap she chose, but being the nerd-geek I was (was…), I went for TRON, which I had wanted to see at the theater.

Once back home, I used my leverage as the only person in the house who could successfully hook the VCR up to the TV and work the remote to get dibs on first viewing. So mom and dad sat on the couch and me and my sister sat in the floor and watched Jeff Bridges fight the MCP. Once the movie was over, it was time to rewind. Back in those days, the rental store had a machine specifically made to rewind tapes brought in by customers who didn’t rewind, and who consequently hated puppies, ice cream, and baby seals. The stores, however, charged the customers’ accounts for this service. Being the thrifty family we were, there was no way we were paying for that! So…I stood in front of the console TV with my finger on the REWIND button, and re-watched all 96 minutes of TRON, in reverse, at something like 1.5X speed. I think I have carpal tunnel in that hand because of that.

It was during whatever pre-teen-girly-crap movie that my sister had rented that I took the time to finish reading through the owner’s manual and learned that the tape could be rewound after hitting the STOP button…and without holding the REWIND button down for 40 minutes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

*Gold*, Jerry! *gold*!

In another week or so, probably during the 5 week break before my fall classes start, I'm going to finish unpacking and setting up my bonus room. Finally, after approximately 2½ years in this house, I'll get everything unpacked and in its place. And for some of this stuff, it may be the first time out of a box through several apartments and a few houses since I moved away to pursue my bachelors degree in 1992.

I'll be posting pictures here and showing it off. Let me say though, that most of the memorabilia setting about; Star Trek stuff, Alabama stuff, toys, etc., was bought by me, or more than likely by my mother (love you, Mom!), since I graduated college in '96. You see, almost everything I had that pertained to my childhood burned in my parent's house somewhere around '93 or '94? I don't know, I'm not good with dates. But it was all there; Darth Vader's Tie Fighter, my Snow Speeder, the 1st run Boba Fett action figure with the rocket pack on his back so that he didn't fit in either of the previous mentions (along with the awesome carrying case full of other action figures), a ton of vinyl records including Twisted Sister's Stay Hungry (and some that were handed down from my parents, like Kenny Rogers and The First Edition), cool Bear Bryant posters and knick-knacks, and sadly (it seems as I am running out of boxes) my bag full of miscellaneous dice.

However, a few moments ago I opened a box and struck gold! Well, as good as gold. A few momentos preserved from my childhood. Just a couple of things that I felt I couldn't live without as I packed my things for Tuscaloosa. A lot of that stuff has been lost to roommates or rummage sales over the years, but not these ...precious... sorry, I Golemed out there for a sec. I'll let you peek at the picture before continuing on.

(click to embiggen)

Ok, see that one right there, the one facing you? That is my Dungeon Masters Guide! (AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide - Revised Edition, December 1979) Bought when I was ten. That next one moving left is the AD&D Players Handbook - 6th Printing, January 1980. Continuing on is the AD&D Deities & Demigods - 1st Printing (as far as I can tell), no date, copyright 1980 with the forward written by Gary Gygax dated 1 May, 1980 followed by the AD&D Monster Manual - 4th Edition, August 1979. Hot diggety!

And the best one of all?! See that non-descript looking little white folder on the far left next to the Monster Manual? No, just to the right of the breadboard... That thing holds the red D&D Player's Handbook from the red box! along with the blue D&D Expert Rulebook and the orange D&D Expert Game Adventure "The Isle of Dread"! YEAH! It does!

I'll even one up that. Do you know what else it contains? It contains my first. character. EVARR! According to the character sheet, a 150 year old elf named, Olion. Wow. How cool is that?! I won't give his stats here because I can tell just by looking that I may have fudged the rolls a bit. *cough* Also there are some awesome monsters that I created complete with stats and descriptions, and a few dungeons drawn on graph paper.

Along for the ride in that box were some Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, and Garfield books that I managed to hold onto also. I know I used to have umpteen more Garfield, but their numbers have dwindled over the years. [sadface]

Book Review - "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" by Wil Wheaton

I submitted the following review to for the front page, and I'm putting it here for anyone that reads this and isn't part of gg...

I want to preface this review with a little explanation on how I got to this point. I don’t remember if it was in the GGSE forum or if it was on Twitter, but a conversation was had about following famous people on Twitter. Someone (I won’t call him out here, but he changes his gamertag more than his toothbrush and it always includes the letters M, O, J and O…) mentioned that they followed Wil Wheaton on Twitter and enjoyed his tweets.

I made some snide comment about Weaseley Crusher, and then immediately searched for and followed @wilw, because "inRL" Wil is a cool guy. From his tweets, I eventually made my way to Wil’s blog. As it turns out, Wil is only 2 years younger than myself and we have a lot of the same interests. He is also an excellent writer. I added his blog to my Google Reader subscriptions and entered the world of a father, husband, struggling author and fellow geek. Wil occasionally updates his blog with excerpts from his current project, as well as pieces from his previous books. He has self-published a short collection of writings, titled Sunken Treasure in non-DRM pdf format which is available for download at for the low, low price of 5 bux. He has also published audio versions of two of his books, Just a Geek and The Happiest Days of Our Lives, available in non-DRM mp3 format from This is great for me because I love to listen to audio books on my 90 mile round trip commute everyday, but DRM usually renders them useless to me in one way or another, so I rely on my music mp3s, talk radio and satellite radio. So, when I found out that I could download these and copy them to my Archos 705 with no problems, it was a no-brainer. Truthfully, I hesitated over the “Proceed to Checkout” button because Just a Geek tips the scales at $35, bringing the total to $54.72, and I was a bit hesitant to spend the cost of a 360 game on audio books :), but in the end, it was a good choice.

So now that I have you up to date… the review.

In The Happiest Days of Our Lives, Wil Wheaton weaves together some genuinely good narrative storytelling centered around his childhood, his wife and children, family pets, and working as an actor.

--I want to break in here and say that I am glad I purchased the audio version because the version is “super-annotated”, which is Wil's term for “unedited”. :) Well, it isn't completely unedited, but there are conversations between Wil and his friend/recording-engineer/self-publishing-site-host David Lawrence that were left in, and provide some interesting commentary about each story.--

Listening to Wil read his stories, I couldn’t help but think that this must be how the generation before me felt as they listened to Jean Shepherd narrate the adventures of Ralphie in A Christmas Story (a purposeful similarity as admitted by the author later in the book, and he does an outstanding job). Only these stories go beyond your childhood memories and your current memory-making life events. They thrust you into the world of a child/teenage actor. A world to which you couldn't possibly relate, but somehow Wil tells it in a way that you do; completely. I think it is because, no matter if he is telling a story that could be plucked straight from my biography or a story about life on the Enterprise D, he remains himself, Wil Wheaton.

If you are like me and “grew up in the seventies and came of age in the eighties” as Wil writes, this is a set of stories that will move you in one way or another. As you listen, I dare you not to lose yourself in your own memories of browsing the Star Wars figures on the toy isle in K-Mart. I dare you to not genuinely laugh out loud when he addresses the 'damn kids today'. I dare you to not crack a smile when he takes a trip to Cold Stone with his kids and gets exactly what he wanted. I dare you not to squirm a bit as he does a pretty good Dennis DeYoung impression. And I dare you not shed a tear as he says goodbye to Felix the Bear.

--Do NOT listen to “A Requiem for Felix the Bear” as you drive to work...or anywhere except for home, for that matter...--

The Happiest Days of Our Lives clocks in at just over 3 hours and 26 minutes. A bargain at $19.72, in my opinion. Why $19.72? If you can't guess, I'll let you go to Wil's blog and find the answer(s) for yourself. Perhaps it'll spark your interest in his writings as well, if my ramblings here haven't done the trick.

Now I can't wait until morning, when I can begin listening to Just a Geek.

--Did I just imply that I am looking forward to my morning commute? :~ --

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


This is the weekend I begin my graduate studies. I'll be getting a Masters of Engineering in Construction Management from the graduate program at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. To kick it all off, we are having a "boot camp" this weekend, eight hours on Friday and eight hours on Saturday. Included in the schedule for Saturday is a 3-4 minute presentation from each student to introduce yourself and tell everyone a bit about you, and give you the chance to learn about the others that you will be studying and working with over the next 18 months. I've been writing down notes on what I want to say, and now that it is time to start putting it all together, I thought that this would be a great time to post the draft here on the blog.

I want to include a bit of interaction. Since this is a short presentation, I want to do it right up front. So, I plan to begin in a standard way by giving my name and where I'm from. At this point, I plan on asking if anyone has heard of the town. I'm counting on two things here; 1) that we are presenting to the whole group and not smaller sub-groups and 2) that a good percentage of the people have lived in this area for a bit and that a few like to vacation at the beach. Usually, in a crowd this size (25-30 people), there is at least one person that knows where I'm from because it is on the way to the beach. ...and they have gotten a ticket driving through there. Even if no one has heard of it, it gives me the opportunity to engage the crowd and it is still a bit of trivia to start out.

After some feedback, I think moving the hobbies to here is the right thing. So I will begin the quoting of what I want to say here, and then break in after the hobbies for more commentary on the setup of the next part.

"Now, to tell you a little bit about what I like to do. Whenever I have to write out my hobbies on a form of some kind, it usually goes like this: video games, computers, softball, guitar, Mustangs. And that is about how they stack up in order of my current involvement. My main recourse for r&r time lies in video games. It is something I enjoy and can pretty much be done on an anytime, anyplace basis. It started back in the 70's when my parents bought a Pong console for the family to play. My current recourse is my Xbox 360 and Xbox Live, coupled with all of my online friends that I have met through the site: I also enjoy tinkering with computers and have a home network setup with a home-built file server that we use to store all of our media; pictures, music, videos, etc. I've recently gotten back into softball, only to realize that I'm getting way old! But I still enjoy it as much as ever, and will continue to play until my body won't let me anymore. I have a few guitars kicking around the house. My favorite style is the Fender Telecaster, of which I own 3, along with two acoustics. I can't play all that well (strictly bedroom picker), but it is great relaxation. I just recently sold my Mustang, a 1970 Mach 1 with a 351 Cleveland and 3 speed automatic. I may buy another classic someday, but for now I am content to ride my motorcycle when I miss the 'Stang..."

Next, I plan to tell everyone that I have a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Alabama. Following from here, I want to type out (in quotes) the version that I hope comes out while I am talking. :)

"Now, I would like to tell you that engineering was my choice; a product of my own free will. My parents, however, will tell you that it was destined to be. My mom likes to tell the story of how I argued with my 3rd grade teacher over a math problem... and won. Not on the answer, because she had it right, but on how she performed the math to get the answer. I don't remember that incident, but I'm sure it didn't help me when I lost the argument later in the year that 'David Copperfield' was not a fictional character, but a real person; a magician in fact. I suppose she wasn't going to let an 8 year old win two arguments in one school year. Not long after, around Halloween, I was in my room with the door closed, and called for my mom to come in under the ruse that I had a question or something. As she opened the door, she was greeted by a ghost falling down from the ceiling right in front of her face. I had taken a yard stick, some screws, hooks, nails, and a bit of fishing line and created a linkage connected to the door that would lower the ghost in front of the victim as they entered my room. It was at this moment, she will tell you, that she knew I would become an engineer.

My dad's story is a bit different, but along the same lines. His first clue was when, around the same age, 8-10, I completely gutted 4 CB radios that he had laying around his workshop. Now, if you don't know what a CB radio is, do NOT say anything, because then I will really feel old! He will swear that I did this to learn how they worked, and part of that is true. I took the first one apart to try and learn its inner workings. The rest I took apart because I found magnets in the speakers of the first one! :) For my dad, the certainty came a few years later, around age 13 or 14. My parents had decided to put in a swimming pool. Before ground could be broken, we had to remove several tall cedar trees from the area. When my dad, one of his older brothers and my mom were all consulting and waiting on me, the 13-14 year old to tell them where and how to cut to make each tree fall in the desired direction, and not onto our house, was his a-ha moment.

So for me, I had high aptitude for both math and science (specifically biology), probably equally, but my passion was in biology. I loved it! So when the time came to go to college, I knew what I wanted to do; become a marine biologist! So I began researching, and there just weren't many opportunities in that field at the time, and the compensation left a lot to be desired. So, I decided; engineering! :) So, I guess my parents were right, because in the end, it was my analytical mind that led me to the engineering path. Ironically, I chose mechanical engineering for the sole reason that it was the only one that did not have a public speaking class as a requirement in the curriculum... So, by the time college graduation rolled around, engineer hiring was at the lowest point it had been in probably 10 years, meanwhile, environmental awareness had boomed, and a marine biologist could write his own ticket, and get to live on the beach of their choosing anywhere in the country. Obviously my destiny wasn't in fortune telling...

Despite the down turn in engineering upon my graduation, I was able to become gainfully employed. I went to work in the coal mining industry for Jim Walter Resources in Brookwood, AL, a subsidiary of Walter Industries in Tampa, Florida. I had a great career there for 10 years, moving up from a draftsman at the machine shop, to the resident engineer at #4 Mine. While there, I had the opportunity to learn many aspects of business management by being involved in engineering, budgeting, business planning, and construction projects. I felt, upon leaving, that I had been involved in, and responsible for, some pretty big construction projects.

...then I went to work for Southern Company. I entered the company a few years ago in my current role of Quality Engineer, involved in vendor surveillance on capital and new construction projects. A few weeks in, I was asked to visit one of the construction sites to look at some structural steel that had just been received. What I saw when I got there was beyond belief. When I say acres, it just doesn't do it justice. I want to use something that sounds more grandiose, something biblical almost. There was an equipment/material staging area there that was hectares (since it is bigger than an acre, sounds impressive, and I don't know any biblical units... :) ) of land partitioned off and filled with ...stuff... and I thought, "What have I gotten myself into!" So, the desire to learn more about the management of these large construction projects along with the opportunity to open up further career paths within Southern Company leads me to be here today. I look forward to working and learning alongside all of you and being apart of helping everyone here reach their goals."

I'm going to do a few run throughs tonight and see how long it is. I hope I don't have to cut anything, and I seriously hope it doesn't run short. :)

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Long Hauls and Close Calls

Above photo courtesy of Hope they don't mind...


It seems I came to face the harsh reality that sitting around, typing on the laptop after spending all day at work isn't all that fun... But, here I am back for more. (Mainly because I'm a little caught up at work at the moment and don't have to type on the laptop at home... *cough*)

Anyway, I figured I would jump right back in with an extended rant about my fellow drivers. Surprising, right?

I grew up watching 'The Bear' coach football at Alabama. I understand that defense wins ballgames, ok? I drive defensively. Now, before old-man Slinger images start popping into your head, let me essplain. No, there is no time, lemme sum up. I watch what the cars ahead of me are doing... not one car ahead of me (you know who you are), but as far ahead as I can see on the current stretch of road. I constantly check the lanes around me. I even keep watch off-road to the sides; just to keep tabs on anything that might dart out into the road. I will let up on the accelerator if I see brake lights way ahead.

Those are the things I consider defensive driving.

However, even with a great defense, you ain't gonna win the game without scoring some points. When somebody fumbles, you gotta be able to pick up the ball and run with it! And, a good defense is there to give your offense the chance to control and move the ball. So these drivers that insist on giving the ball back to the other team and never going on the offensive just perplex (and aggravate!) me. And to be honest, I feel that they can cause dangerous situations just as often as someone being too aggressive.

Following are a couple of examples that I can think of:

With the obvious exception of cloverleafs, interstate highway on-ramps offer you the opportunity to accelerate up to highway speed before trying to merge into the flow of traffic. Then, all it takes is a slight tap of the brakes or a slight increase in speed to find your spot and merge over. Why, oh why, do people insist on coming to a complete stop at the end of the on-ramp before continuing on and trying to merge? I'm fairly certain that your '86 Buick LeSabre can't go from 0-70 in the 6 seconds you need to get out in front of that 18 wheeler. Luckily, these people seem to be fading away for the most part, but I still encounter them with regularity. While on this topic, though, I was shocked and appalled while visiting Portland, Oregon to discover that they had installed traffic lights at the end of some on-ramps to the interstate. WTF, Portland? There are no lights on the interstate to regulate that traffic, so how in the *frak* does making people stop at the end of the on-ramp supposed to help the flow of traffic on the interstate? IMHO, it just causes extra delays because people aren't up to speed when trying to merge in, causing those drivers already on the interstate to have to slow to allow people access. One unrelated note about on-ramps. Goodness gracious people, quit using your turn signal on the on-ramp! We all know where you are going... you only have one choice. I live in an area where the blinker is the most under-utilized tool for driver communication, yet there are tons of people here who feel the need to signal to me that they are merging onto the interstate at the end of the on-ramp. Well, no der!

My next piece of advice... ok, I realize I'm not giving advice, I'm ranting, but humor me, sheez. TAKE CHARGE! That's it. I hate to get behind someone that can't pull out from a side street or parking lot, especially when turning left. If it's a busy street in a large city, you aren't going to have an open road with no signs of oncoming traffic in either direction. This is when I start screaming to the driver, TAKE CHARGE FOOL! I'm not saying endanger yourself, but it should only take a few minutes to figure out a safe distance for entering the highway by judging oncoming traffic speeds. Plus, committing and going has got to be safer than hitting the gas, then suddenly changing your mind, risking getting hit by oncoming traffic as well as whatever poor soul is behind you waiting for his/her turn. Also, use all of the resources available to you. Assuming you pay your taxes, your money went to add those nice dual-direction turn lanes where there used to be only grassy medians. When traffic clears from the left, pull out into the friggin middle lane. Sure, there is always going to be a jackhole that doesn't think you have the smarts not to pull on out in front of him, or doesn't have the smarts to figure out what you are doing, and he is going to honk his horn at you as he goes by because you had the audacity to make him pay attention to what the traffic around him is doing. But you aren't breaking any rules, so let him honk and forget about it.

Let's see, what else? I know there are more examples, but quite frankly, I'm getting tired of typing. So there. Remember, a good defense is only half of the team you need to be successful. One thing you learn by riding a motorcycle is that the brake is not always your only, or best, option.

Just a little tip from your Uncle Slinger.

Boy, I feel better. Can you tell someone ticked me off on the drive back from lunch today?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Candy! Popcorn! Peanuts! eh?!

Last week I traveled to Toronto, Ontario for an equipment inspection. It was a pretty nice trip, except for when I got waved into immigration at the airport. I've flown into Canada twice, and both times I got the wave. So, I'm either really unlucky, or I look highly suspicious.

Anyway, while there I got to tour Toronto a bit. Downtown, there is an area with two theaters, and on the street that runs in front of them, they have created a Canadian Walk of Fame. I took this picture of John Candy's plaque, but didn't get any other pictures as not to hold up the others with me. I did see stars for William Shatner, Dan Akroyd, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Rich Little, Michael J. Fox, Jim Carrey, and Ann Murray.

We also got to visit Roger's Center and watch the Oakland A's battle it out at the Blue Jays. It was a good night of baseball. The Jays took the lead early with a 3 run homer in the first. In the top of the 7th, the Jays were leading 3-1 when Oakland loaded the bases with nobody out. The pitcher made a good play to the plate on a swinging bunt to save a run. Next batter grounded into a double. Then in the bottom of the 7th, the Jays were threatening with runners on 2nd and 3rd. They put the squeeze on, but the batter fouled the bunt back. They ended up scoring with a ground ball and a good slide at the plate. Jays went on to win 5-1. Also, a Backstreet Boy walked by me to get a hot dog. Seriously. Also, the best looking women in Toronto are baseball fans. ;-) Rogers Center is nice! The dome was retracted and the weather
was perfect. Mid to high 70's and breezy.