Southern Man

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Energy Flow

To begin, here are links to a couple of interesting articles. The first is the 2005 Energy Flow diagram from the Department of Energy; the second is a 2006 Powerpoint by Dr. Tim Fitzsimmons that contains not only the first diagram cited but several others of interest.

First off, the USA consumes about 100 quadrillion BTUs of energy each year. We produce about a fifth of the world's energy, but as net energy importers we consume about a quarter. This energy comes in three principle flavors: fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum provide about 85% of our total energy), nuclear energy, and renewable sources (mostly hydroelectric). Energy imports into the USA - about a third of our total consumption - consist mostly of petroluem products. This energy feeds four sectors of the economy: residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation. However, it does not do so in equal proportions.

Nuclear, renewable energy sources, and coal are used almost entirely to produce electricity. About two-thirds of the nation's electricity is consumed by the residential sector; the other one-third by industry. Natural gas is consumed in more or less equal parts by electrical production, residential use, and industry. Petroleum products - forty percent of our energy - are consumed almost entirely by the transportation sector of the economy.

About 70% of the energy consumed for electrical consumption is lost, mostly in the form of waste heat. The percent lost in transportation is even greater at about 80%. Wth the steadily increasing (and occasionally volatile) price of crude oil, it's no wonder that there's so much excitement about hybrid electric vehicles and Bruce Crowler's six-stroke engine, both of which use existing fuel more efficiently.

But there's also excitement about wind farms and solar energy and ethanol and hydrogen. Southern Man will now explain why you should not be overly enamoured of these and will explain what you should actually be rooting for.

Wind farms and solar energy contribute a small but growing portion of our renewable energy. The upsides are little pollution (mostly from manufacturing) and noting that the wind will blow and the sun will shine whether we harness that energy or not. Southern Man is a proponent of small-scale solar power as an energy supplement to a home or small office building, but electrical solar panels will have to get a bit more efficient before such a system will actually break even. If you're handy, a homebrew solar hot water system (to supplement your existing electric or natural-gas water heater) will easily pay for itself in little time. But while useful, wind farms and solar electricity are not the big answers.

Ethanol is absolutely the wrong way to go. Ethanol blends like E85 are inefficient - your vehicle's mileage will drop from 25% to 40% when you burn it - but usually isn't any less expensive than regular unleaded (which is usually E15 - about 15% ethanol). The pollution problems are about the same. And while you can just about break even with ethanol produced from sugar cane (as does Brazil and other South American countries) we here in the USA have to do with corn, which does not yield the product easily. And world prices for both sugar cane (and sugar beets and other sugary plants) and corn are already rising due to the increasing consumption of these food crops by the energy sector. Which means that the prices of foods that depend on corn (like hamburger, which comes from corn-fed cattle) are also on on the increase. The choice isn't guns or butter; it's cars or butter. Do you want to drive, or do you want to eat?

The future of science fiction has always been a hydrogen-powered economy. Well, the science-fiction dream usually involves using that hydrogen to power nuclear fusion reactors, but we'll take it any way we can get it. The universe is, after all, three-quarters hydrogen, right? We're practically swimming in fuel! Why not use it?

Well, the problem is that the hydrogen available to us, being fairly reactive stuff, has already done reacted with something else and is bound up in a tight little molocule somewhere, and energy must be spent to extract it again. And as it turns out, the most efficient way to do this is to start with - hydrocarbons.

Yep. Fossil fuel.

What hydrogen proponents don't tell you is that if we could magically convert all of our economy to a hydrogen base tomorrow, our need for imported hydrocarbons would triple overnight. And the process to release that hydrogen produces just as much pollution (including CO2) as burning the hydrocarbons directly. And the net energy yield of the hydrogen produced is less than if you just burned the hydrocarbon directly as fuel. And hydrogen is fairly heavy, as fuels go. It's pretty hard to beat the energy density of gasoline.

Some day - some day - the technology will exist to extract hydrogen from sea water in a practical manner. This would be a good thing; for example, some of the waste heat in conventional power plants could be harnessed to produce hydrogen. But that technology ain't here yet, and it doesn't look like it will be anytime soon.

So, you ask, what are the other options?

Southern Man sez - better batteries and nuclear energy.

The Achilles Heel of transportation in general is that you have to carry your engine and your fuel and your pollution controls around with you, and that makes for a heavy vehicle. Your engine is heavy - it has to be large enough to provide needed torque for stop-and-go driving in town, but that's way larger than optimum for highway cruising. Your fuel is heavy - which is why we use gasoline, which packs a lot of energy into each kilogram of fuel. Your pollution controls are heavy - and it's remarkable that we are able to handle almost all of a car's pollution with only about a hundred pounds of equipment. The problem with electric transportation is that the energy density of batteries just plain sucks. You just can't store much energy per kilogram in your batteries. And they don't last long without a recharge. How often do you curse at your big, heavy battery when it won't run your laptop for more than a few hours? Now move that problem to your car. Practical all-electric vehicles are still decades away.

But there is hope. Gasoline-electric hybrids try to get the best of both worlds with a small (and thus efficient) gasoline engine for highway cruising, and a battery-powered electric motor for city driving. The increasing popularity of hybrids is pushing battery technology in the right direction. And as batteries improve, cars can rely more and more on electric drive rather than fossil-fuel engines. The day may come when you plug your car into the charger at night (and that charger may itself be based on a rooftop solar panel) and rarely run the gasoline motor at all.

And that leads to a second benefit. More than a third of our energy infrastructure is devoted to producing electricity - but the transportation sector can't use it 'cause most transportation is powered by petroleum-fueled motors. Improvement in hybrids and the inevitable production of all-electric cars means that the transportation sector can - finally - start to make use of energy infrastructure other than petroleum. For example, it's been said that we're the Saudi Arabia of coal. The USA has more coal than it knows what to do with. We already use it to make electricity - why not use it to make electricity that runs our cars?

And the third benefit is that it gives us a reason to increase our reliance on nuclear power. Southern Man is a big fan of nuke plants - in his opinion they are far safer and produce much less pollution than a coal-fired plant - but building more nuke plants today doesn't really decrease our reliance on energy imports. But as the transportation sector begins to tap into our existing electrical infrastructure, this will change. Southern Man sees a future where most of our transportation energy needs come from electricity and most of that electricity is produced by nuclear power (on the largest scales) and solar power (on smaller scales, like the rooftop car-battery recharger described above).

Nuclear power has languished in this country for a number of reasons, but the most important one by far is that the cost of fossil fuels remained unexpectedly low for much longer than anyone anticipated. You may be surprised to hear Southern Man say that in this painful era of $3-per-gallon gasoline, but the adjusted price of gasoline today is not much different than it was forty years ago (and part of our pain today is that throughout the 1990s oil was really cheap - Southern Man remembers one summer when the pump price of gas fell (briefly) to 59 cents a gallon after years of sitting at $1.09 or so). Believe me, Southern Man feels your pain - his old SUV gets 18 MPH and consumes the cost of dinner and drinks for two at Outback with every fillup. But he also believes that the future is bright.

In summary: think about supplementing your own home with solar water heating, support research into improved battery technology for hybrids (and laptops and cell phones!) and the upcoming generation of all-electric vehicles, and vote in favor of building as many new nuclear power plants as possible.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Memorable Weekend

Lessee here, what all did Southern Man do this long holiday weekend?
  • Watched youngest daughter practice her dance routines Friday evening and then took her home for snacks and movies and cuddling and sleeping...
  • Next morning, hosted youngest daughter and one of her friends for a "play date" at Casa Southern Man and Incredible Pizza...
  • After lunch, picked up the other two after their church campout and arranged for one of teen daughter's friends to spend the night...
  • Field trip to Wal-Mart for food and snacks and movies...
  • Teen daughter mowed the lawn and earned $20 to be blown later at the mall...
  • Took everyone to youngest daughter's dance recital that evening (she was in two performances)...
  • Had a good evening cooking for everyone (and watching them cook for themselves)...
  • Took everyone to church Sunday morning...
  • After church, lunch at Casa Southern Man followed by a trip to the mall (and returned teen daughter's friend to her own home)...
  • Evening at home cooking and playing and generally horsing around...
  • Up at the crack of lunch on Monday, grabbed a big bag of Chinese takeout and headed to Grandma's house...
  • Ate and played Scrabble with Mom and the older kids...
  • Left the girls with Grandma (they went to the movies) and went geocaching with teen son...
  • And finally back home to clean up the disaster left behind by a long weekend with the kids..

And Southern Man hopes for many, many more such weekends!

Friday, May 25, 2007

List Of Links

One of the grand old traditions of the World Wide Web (if something that's barely a decade old can be said to have grand old traditions) is the "List of Links" page. These were often pretty bare-bones pages (yes, children, once upon a time "web browsers" were text only, or were graphical only in the most primitive sense - as were search engines that you've never heard of such as Archie and Gopher) but always interesting - kind of like pulling a volume from the encyclopedia and reading totally unrelated articles in the order in which they appear (and, yes, Southern Man's great-grandmother had the full set of 1962 World Book Encylopedias and Southern Man read the whole thing cover to cover three times before the age of thirteen - so take that, Britannica Guy!), or just following random links on Wikipedia (good practice for your next round of Six Degrees of Wikipedia). Well, anyway, in keeping with this grand tradition and also as a reflection of Southern Man's tendancy to wander aimlessly between unrelated topics, watch for the continual growth of the Official Southern ManTM List Of LinksTM down the right-hand side of this blog. And like any good List of Links it's even organized by category, sort of. So take a moment, click on a random link, and enjoy your visit to a new corner of the World Wide Web.

Disclaimer - the Southern Man Blog is rated PG and he has no intention of linking to offensive content, but Southern Man makes no guarantee that these links might not be offensive, disgusting, or even NSFW, so TBYC.

Movie Review - Pirates Of The Caribbean III

To begin with - what the heck happened to "midnight" premiers? We were all set to go to the late, late show and then found that the new Pirates flick was showing as early as 8:00 PM all over the city. Ah, well, midnight movies with the kids were a lot of fun while they lasted but Southern Man has no complaints at all about being home and blogging by midnight instead of, say, fourish.

That said, it has not been a good season for movies with "3" in the title and Pirates is no exception. To start with, they've pretty much abandoned the campy fun of the first (in which pretty much no one got hurt until the very end when Captain Sparrow shot Captain Barbossa, and Barbossa didn't stay dead all that long) or even the second (in which Davie Jones and his fishy crew were more comic relief than evil villain). This pirate movie opens with mass hangings - including a small boy - and is quickly followed by one more-or-less innocent bystander shot in the head and another executed by a uniformed soldier at point-blank range - and both victims are women, by the way. Hardly the stuff of pirate comedy. Indeed, Southern Man could have done without the entire first hour of this movie, which was occasionally dazzling but mostly boring and confusing. But somewhere after that point the film sort of rediscovers its roots but the fun stuff is always intermixed with stabbings and impalings and other inventive on-screen deaths. It's too long and too complicated and (as did Spider-Man III) spent too much on effects and not nearly enough on the script.

Some reviewers are trotting out the old line of "if you liked the first two, you'll like this one." Sorry, not in this case. Pirates III is quite a different movie from either of the first two and you may like it and then again you may not. Southern Man gives it a thumbs down and will buy the DVD only under intense pressure from his young'uns. And then it'll be watched once and soon forgotten while the first and second continue to earn spin time in the players.

ADDENDUM - On further reflection Southern Man may have been too harsh. Teen daughter purchased the movie soundtrack, which is terrific and is getting a lot of time in Southern Man's car stereo. And Southern Man must admit that Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa goes a long way to carrying the film when Johnnie Depp's Captain Sparrow falls short. So Southern Man may relent and see this one again with the kids some weekend soon.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Daughter Day Part Troix

Well, at least a brief daughter evening...

This one began with a late afternoon phone call from teenage daughter - can Southern Man pick her and her sister up, pick up her friend, and drop them off at Starbucks for an hour or so?

Well, sure he can. Even playing chauffer is better than not seeing them the girls at all. So Southern Man picks up his girls, picks up teen daughter's friend (yes, one of those involved with last week's kidnapping), and drops them off at Starbucks. Then baby daughter suggested dinner at Incredible Pizza - a place that is rather hard on Southern Man's finances, diet, and generally calm state of mind - but, again, eating at that madhouse is better than not seeing them at all. And we did have quite a fun time. After dinner Southern Man watched in amazement as she burned through a $5 game card in ninety seconds flat. Then the older girls called - we're tired of Starbucks, take us to Target! So we went to Target and shopped a bit, then took everyone back home.

So tonight was an unexpected pleasure. May there be many, many more daughter days!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Another Daughter Day

Southern Man has had kind of a long day today. First off he headed out to his barn-roof project with a truckload of asphalt shingles only to find after unloading them that they were not only the wrong color but were three-tabs instead of real shingles. As Southern Man has learned the hard way, the winds that come sweepin' down The Land peels three-tabs right off the roof, so with a great sigh he heaved all umpteen-hundred pounds back into the truck and hauled them back to the store. At least Southern Man still had the receipt and they didn't give him any trouble about the refund.

After a brief set of chores at the office Southern Man then headed to the first counseling session with his ex with Dr. Jim Talley, who actually has something of a national reputation. He has a couple of good books (including Reconcilable Differences, which Southern Man just finished a few nights ago) and is a frequent guest on various Christian television and radio shows. He works out of his house, which is perched more-or-less between ex's home and casa Southern Man so it's an easy trip. Today was spent filling out forms and answering a lengthy questionaire. Southern Man's ex was in a fairly distant mood today; not at all like she was during our long (and enlightening) conversation on Monday evening, so who knows what is going through her mind. He gave us a diagnostic to complete and return to him before our next appointment, which is next Thursday. Southern Man vows to keep an open heart and mind but after today is even more convinced that any love she once had for him is dead and gone and the best we can hope for is a better working relationship as parents. It is a bitter pill to swallow. Until Monday evening Southern Man had been convinced that there was still something in her heart for him and that we still had a chance; now he's equally convinced that there is nothing left for her at all except heartache and disappointment.

The next events were much happier. Southern Man's teenage daughter has a major speaking and singing part in a school play - an adaptation of the well-known SchoolHouse Rock - and we all went to the performance this evening. They did many of Southern Man's favorites (including the wonderful "I'm Just A Bill" and "Interplanet Janet") and the audience enjoyed the program immensely. Teenage daughter has a lovely singing voice and Southern Man couldn't get enough of hearing her. And of course his seven-year-old daughter spent the entire program perched on Southern Man's lap, which was just fine with him.

Southern Man had promised to take the girls to see Shrek The Third on Friday, but a quick check of the theatre listings revealed not only the traditional 12:01 AM opening-day showing but a ten o'clock as well, so after the school play Southern Man dashed home, gave the kitchen a quick cleanup, and headed back to ex's house to pick up his daughters for an evening at the movies. We armed ourselves with the usual theatre goodies and were with a good crowd. However, baby daughter - who is usually quite good at staying up during late-night movies - went to sleep about halfway through. Well, sorry to say she didn't miss much. Both girls elected to spend the night (Friday is Southern Man's day to take his teen daughter to Starbucks and school anyway) and both are already asleep in their beds.

Thus ends what turned out to be another daughter day. Hopefully there will be many, many more down the road!

Movie Review - Shrek The Third

Shrek The Third doesn't officially open until Friday, but this time Southern Man and his daughters didn't even need to stay up for the traditional Thursday midnight showing; there was a ten o'clock offering as well. And at several different theatres, too. Southern Man has no idea why they let this one out two hours and one minute before the official opening date. Perhaps to get it over with early so we could get a good nights sleep.

OK, it's Shrek, so you know what to expect. The first was an irreverent poke at fairy tales (and animated films) in general; the second equally clever. But Shrek The Third is telling evidence that the series has pretty much run out of steam. Sure, there are lots of fun moments during the hour-and-a-half running time and there was plenty of laughter from the audience, but as a whole the movie was mainly a bunch of short jokes and sight gags looking for a story. In a way, the circle is now complete: Shrek The Third is the kind of movie that the first two entries in the franchise made fun of.

In short, if you liked the first two you'll end up seeing it once (and yes, you'll laugh at the Monty Python-esque nuttiness), and if you have kids you'll eventually shell out for the DVD, but Southern Man predicts that the first two will continue to please while the disappointing third sits forgotten on the shelf.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Stormy Weather

For over a week now Southern Man has been itchin' to get to work on his barn roof but has been unable to do so due to all the rain last week. Well, today was a bit overcast but at least it wasn't raining so Southern Man headed out to The Land at the crack of dawn with roofing hatchet and nail bag in hand to finally get started on this long overdue project.

Southern Man has learned the hard way that lightweight three-tabs just don't hold up in his windy clime so he's overlaying the original roof with much heavier asphalt shingles. "Heavier" being the key word. Southern Man is getting a bit old to be hauling mumble-pound bundles of shingles up a long ladder to that roof, but with considerable grunting and sweating and a bit of mild profanity managed to get enough up there to start. And the first several courses went just fine; it was cool and just a bit breezy and Southern Man was enjoying the peace and solitude of his rural retreat.

Then the wind unexpectedly kicked up and Southern Man heard an ominous scraping sound and before he could react his ladder blew down.

Now, this is not so much a barn as it is a two-story barn / workshop and there was no way that Southern Man could jump off that roof without breaking a bone or ten. And the wind was picking up. And then the clouds began to crackle with lightning and the raindrops began to fall.

The next hour or so was less than pleasant. "Cold" and "miserable" and "nerve-racking" come to mind. Remember the "solitude" comment above? There was absolutely nobody around. It appeared that Southern Man might be stuck on that cold, slippery, wet roof for a good long while.

Well, all Southern Man could do was continue roofing and keep out an eye for any sign of another human presence. And after a few failed attempts to attract attention, eventually a neighbor pulled up into a nearby driveway and Southern Man managed to catch his eye (by standing on the peak of a tall roof yelling and waving his arms while lightning crackled all around) and he came over and set the ladder back up. And as it turned out Southern Man was able to get off the roof before the heavenly floodgates opened for good.

So, once again, Southern Man has a bit of bad luck but suffered no permanent consequences (unless this cough doesn't go away soon) and will be content to relax at casa Southern Man and handle some indoor chores for the rest of the day!

Friday, May 11, 2007


It turns out that the felonious plot alluded to in the previous post was that several middle-school-aged girls (including Southern Man's daughter) were to kidnap a classmate (with the full complicity of her parents and boyfriend) and haul her off to a surprise birthday party at another house. Southern Man's role in this charade was to drive the getaway vehicle. So off we went - we being Southern Man and three teenage middle-school ninja schoolgirls "disguised" by silly masks procured from the local Party Planet - to do the dirty deed.

We arrived at the victim's home and the girls were admitted through a side door by the victim's dad. They soon emerged with the kidnap victim bound, gagged, and blindfolded and with camera-wielding parents in close pursuit (pics to be incorporated into this post when Southern Man gets copies). The aforementioned victim was unceremoniously tossed into the back of Southern Man's old SUV and away we went.

Betwen quoting random lines from his script ("Is she the one that saw it? We'll take her to the dungeon!") Southern Man also gave some thought as to what he would say to the nice officer if caught with a bondaged underage teen in the back of his truck. In the meanwhile, the dialog from the back seat was somewhat sillier:

"Uncomfortable? Of course you're uncomfortable! This is a kidnapping! Did you expect pillows?"

After some circuitous decoy driving through a parking lot or two (causing the "victim's" guesses as to where we were to wander further and further afield) we arrived at our destination where the victim was unceremoniously tossed into a tornado shelter and Southern Man was dispatched to purchase pizzas. By the time he returned the party was in full swing. By the time he returned again two hours later much pizza and cake and ice cream and candy had been consumed and everyone was soaking wet. Southern Man didn't inquire as to why (something to do with an extended water war that started with balloons but quickly escalated to other weapons of mass soakage) but just tossed them in the back seat, took the accomplices home, and finally returned with his dripping teenage daughter to the relative peace and quiet of the now-so-nice-and-tidy casa Southern Man.

Thus kicks off another weekend with the kids. Teen daughter showered and changed and baked cookies and Southern Man put in some quality trampoline time with his baby girl. Tomorrow is completely unscheduled so there's no telling what we'll do. Southern Man will state that no alarm clocks will be set tonight and if we end up dragging ourselves out of bed at the crack of lunch that's just fine with him!

The Joy Of VPN

Southern Man calls himself a geek but the truth is he's usually well behind the curve on most things tech so this will be old news to many readers. However his university just started a beta program in which faculty can use VPN to remote into their office desktops. Southern Man signed up and having finally gotten all of the instructions home spent a few minutes setting things up.

And it works. Oh, boy, does it work. Southern Man is using a dual-monitor setup at home and currently has his office PC on one monitor and a home machine on the other. He can access all of his files at school, do everything the network normally allows, and even drag and drop across machines.

It is pure geek bliss. Southern Man can't begin to count the times where he went into the office early or on a day off just 'cause what he needed was on his office PC or somewhere on the university network. No more! The era of Southern Man telecommuting has begun!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Daughter Day

As luck would have it Souhern Man got the opportunity to do a bit of running around with not just one but both of his wonderful daughters.

First, by arrangement, Southern Man picked up his teen daughter to take her around town for errands (she and her girlfriends are planning a party for Friday night that may or may not involve at least one felony; keep posted for news on how that turns out) and to mow the lawn at casa Southern Man (as she needs the money) and make banana bread ('cause it's sooooo good!). So Southern Man had a great time chatting with her and even managed to complete repairs on Mower #2 and mow a little with her. She and I get very little quality time and every moment is precious. Then in the process of getting her back home youngest daughter took the opportunity to hitch a ride back and spend the night. It was fairly late and she pretty much just crawled in bed and went to sleep, but it's still time with her and Southern Man will take whatever he can get in that regard.

Southern Man also was able to talk a bit with his ex. Sadly, she and he have rather different views of what went wrong with our marriage and found little common ground. While Southern Man is looking forward to our upcoming counseling sessions (the first is a week from tonight) and hopes to greatly improve his relationship with the mother of his children, he has accepted that the marriage is probably broken beyond any hope of repair. However Southern Man will keep an open mind and see where counseling will lead them. Lord, I pray that you would comfort all of us during this trying time. Examine my heart, O Lord; cleanse me of the anger and bitterness that remains there; grant me the wisdom to focus on my own faults and not on what I percieve to be the faults of others; free me from the failures of the past and enable me to follow Your will in all things. Amen.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Southern Man Wins The Lottery

The Euro Millions International Lottery, that is. Southern Man knows it's true 'cause he got a beautiful full-color letter explaining it all to him snail-mailed all the way from Madrid, Spain at a cost of .78€ in postage. Looks like he's got eight hundred and fifteen thousand US dollars plus change coming to him, and to grab the loot all he has to do is fax the following information back to the Mother Continent:
  • Full Name
  • Birth Date
  • Full Address
  • Social Security Number
  • Mother's Maiden Name
  • Bank Name and Full Address
  • Bank Account and Routing Numbers

And a whole bunch more stuff. But that's OK, they provide a nice friendly form to fill out. Strange, though, that Southern Man's name isn't pre-preprinted anywhere (unless "Esteemed Winner" is Spanish for "Southern Man"). But Southern Man has no doubt at all that once all of this highly personal information has been faxed to 011 34 912 919 738 that Señors Don Marco Gomez and Allianz Seguros will see to it that the winnings are transferred into Southern Man's bank account lickety-split.

So it's party time at casa Southern Man. Quit the day jobs, run up the credit cards and cash out the retirement accounts - Southern Man won the lottery!

Rainy Days and Tuesdays

With all but one of Southern Man's university employers out for the academic year this is a light work week and indeed Southern Man had planned to devote today (and Thursday and Friday) to the long-needed reroofing of his barn. But the rain, rain, rain is coming down, down, down - which matches Southern Man's mood, as he and his ex are in the midst of a pre-counseling email exchange that is no doubt equally painful to both - so today will be an inside day. It will be a good opportunity to give casa Southern Man a top-to-bottom scrubbing. Including the bathrooms. Yuck. But if he takes a break and plays a computer game or three - well, that's what rainy days are for, too.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Eleven Months

It was just about eleven months ago that my now-ex said "I'm going to divorce you."

A lot has happened in that last eleven months. There's been plenty of time to reflect on what went wrong and remember all that was so wonderful about our marriage. The perspective of separation has allowed me to better understand all that I (and she!) did that so damaged our love and our marriage. And I have made great strides in finally understanding and recovering from the codependence and depression that had haunted me during the last several years. Indeed, I'm healthier and happier - physically, emotionally, and spiritually - than I've been since my now-teenage children were babies. I've established a level of financial security that I haven't had for a decade or longer. And regular readers have read between the lines and know that I've found a wonderful new love in my so-far anonymous (at least on this blog) gf. In truth, I'm living a pretty good life right now. There are really only a couple of down sides: I miss my children terribly, and - part of my heart still aches for my ex-wife.

I've known for a while that my current relationship just can't progress until I resolve my remaining feelings for my ex. After all, I gave her my heart for many, many years. We shared so many wonderful times and overcame so many obstacles and reared three amazing children. And I chose to love her, for better or for worse, in good times and in bad, and in many ways I still do. And although my head tells me that I'm a fool for even thinking of going back into a relationship that took me into the darkness of depression and to the edge of suicide, my heart tells me that I must give our marriage one last chance. And my children need to fully understand that I never wanted the divorce in the first place. I owe it to them to try to give them their family back once again, better than it ever was.

So last week I communicated to my ex that I am open to counseling with the possibility of reconcilliation with her, and last night my gf and I parted ways. Many tears were shed but gf fully understood what I must do: an honest effort to rebuild a broken marriage can't hold anything back. If - if - my ex also desires a renewed relationship with me she needs to know that she has all of me during that time of renewing and rebuilding. And my gf understands that I could never be fully hers until I can put that marriage to rest once and for all.

The genesis of the Southern Man blog was our separation eleven months ago. Now is a time for new beginnings. Whether the future holds a renewed relationship with my ex or final release from that marriage so that I can continue to move forward with my own life remains to be seen. Lord, guide and direct us during this difficult time. Let your comfort be upon us all as we seek Your will. O Lord, my heart is so troubled and the way seems so unclear. Light a lamp before my feet, Lord; grant me the wisdom to see and to follow the path that You have laid before me. Amen.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Concert Review - Jimmy Webb

Concert Review? This is graduation weekend at Southern Man's university, meaning that he is beholden to endless awards banquets and baccalaureate services and commencement exercises. But the honorary degree receipient at this morning's ceremony was singer / songwriter Jimmy Webb and we were treated to an all-to-brief mini-concert. Southern Man always appreciates an opportunity to hear good live music and today was a pleasant surprise.

You may have never actually heard of Webb but you've certainly heard his work. He's the only person to win Grammys in all three categories - music, lyrics, and orchestration. He has a gravely country voice and plays a mean piano, and peppered his performance with several interesting stories about his college days and early songwriting career. An interesting observation - his most popular works were penned before he was 21 years old.

He opened his concert with The Highwayman, the title of which was adopted as the name of the group formed by Waylon Jennings, Johnnie Cash, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson. This was followed by a most well-received performance of By The Time I Get To Phoenix, a song that Jennings said he didn't really understand but was appreciative of the Grammy he won with it. Next up was All I Know, followed by a stunning rendition of Wichita Lineman. Webb complained that Billy Joel spent twenty minutes deconstructing that song at a recent awards ceremony and that Joel didn't get it either. Webb's mini-concert concluded with his biggest pop single Up, Up, and Away (In My Beautiful Balloon), Chances are most of the student audience didn't know many of these but us old fogies in the faculty certainly did and we gave him an enthusiastic standing ovation.

So as commencements go this was certainly out of the ordinary and even though it stretched an already interminable ceremony by a good forty minutes it was well worth it.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Movie Review - Spider-Man III

Southern Man has always thought it a great treat to take his children to midnight premiers of movies, even when they invariably fell on school nights. You never really know what's going to stick in your kid's heads, but he's always hoped that these evenings would be among those that his children remembered and treasured. So with the gracious permission of his ex Southern Man grabbed all three kids (plus gf's youngest daughter) and the five of us headed to the local megaplex for Spider-Man III.

Now everyone pretty much acknowledges that the first two entries in the series were pretty good; indeed, the first sequel may have been a touch better than the original movie. Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franko are comfortable with their continuing roles and all are convincing and entertaining as their characters. And Southern Man personally thinks that Dunst has a perfectly fine singing voice. But as a movie, Spider-Man III falls flat. It is plain that cash aplenty was poured into the special-effects fireworks; they might have held back a few hundred thousand of that and invested in a script instead. There are four, count 'em four bad guys (if you count Spidie's brief bad-boy phase as one), which is at least one too many, and the movie ran at least a half-hour too long. While Thomas Haden Church does a fine job with Flint Marco and even garners quite a bit of sympathy for the plight of his unfortunate character, the entire Sandman subplot could have been omitted entirely. And the open-pit "particle physics" experiment into which Marco unwittingly stumbles was just plain silly, even for a comic book. Topher Grace doesn't handle his character (Eddie Brock / Venom) nearly as well - not that the script gave him much of a chance to go beyond a one-dimensional cardboard cutout of a villain. And to top that off we still have to deal with Peter Parker's evolving relationships with both his girlfriend and with Harry Osborn / the new Goblin. Spider-Man III would have been much, much better had it developed only one of Sandman or Venom; to have both, plus the Goblin, plus the bad-boy Spider-man, made for a movie that was too long, to jumbled, and too complicated. It's a comic book, for crying out loud. Southern Man shouldn't need a scorecard to keep track of all that's going on in a comic-book movie.

It was hardly a lost cause - we all had fun and Southern Man loves to be with his kids regardless of the event - but this one gets a vote of thumbs down. You'll end up seeing it anyway, but he predicts that fans of the series will be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Blu-Ray and HD-DVD Key DiggStorm!

Just before Valentine's Day this year, a sixteen-digit hexadecimal key that can be used to unlock, decrypt, and decode pretty much any Blu-Ray or HD-DVD movie hit the 'net. A few sites attempted to spread the word; in response, the RIAA worked swiftly to suppress them.

For whatever reason, this didn't garner a lot of attention until today. Then today it made it to Digg.

Southern Man watched with unbelieving eyes as a Digg article about this key accumulated fifteen thousand Diggs in just a few hours before the site pulled the plug. But too late - when the levee breaks, the waters are gonna rise. With Digg moderators quickly cancelling both posts and the Digg accounts of the posters, the Digg community is in open rebellion and user are finding increasingly clever and ingenious ways to get the story back up. Earlier this evening every single story on the Digg front page was related to this key. Stories and posts containing this key are also running rampant on Slashdot and other popular tech news sites. The key can be found on t-shirts and coffee mugs. It's in song lyrics and YouTube videos and haiku. Googling portions of the key returns a quarter-million hits. For cryin' out loud, domain names containing the key have already been reserved.

Both the RIAA and Digg have let genies out the bottle - the RIAA has suffered a crucial breach in their prized DRM and Digg management has engaged in open warfare with their own user base. It'll be interesting to see the lengths to which they go to stuff them back in.

Southern Man's life is already interesting enough and he doesn't need to spice it up with his very own DCMA takedown notice, so there is no potentially copyright-violating information or links to such in this post. But he is gonna get himself one of those t-shirts.

UPDATE: Late last night Digg founder Kevin Rose apparently decided to go with the flow and has retracted Digg's own take-down policy regarding this story, which currently (Wednesday morning) owns the top five spots on Digg. One user has estimated that this story has earned an aggregate 50,000 Diggs over the last day or so. If nothing else, this has been a watershed event for Digg and it'll be interesting to see how it all plays out.