Premiere: Burn Notice

This new series on USA is about a burned spy. What amazes me is that if something like this was on a hundred years ago, the first question would be what is this flickering box we are watching? The second question would probably have to do with where the signal comes from, since television jumped moved from black and white to color pictures to over-the-air to cable back to over-the-air in the form of dish broadcasting in relatively short order. But eventually the discussion would come around to what the heck is a burned spy?

And to that, everyone would just accept that it's someone who was kicked out of some organization for no apparent reason, and get on with watching the show. Years ago, however, they would probably get caught up in the fact that there is no good reason that we should know anything about such organizations even existing. How far we have come.

It's not often that I use new software. Of course, new releases mean that I have to do so from time to time, but it's fairly rare that I will actually use entirely new software - it's just that I'm fairly set in what I use, and I barely have enough time to keep up with what I do now (no comments on posting frequency, please), so installing new software just to play doesn't happen often.

But every once in a while, I will come across something that I need to do, and at that point, I have to find a tool that becomes a bit of a lesson in just how difficult it is to find something that works and works right to do the job. These days, it seems like everyone wants to put every bell and whistle possible into their applications. Witness the growth of software over the years to see what I mean. That's why it's a pleasure to find two simple applications that do their jobs - and do their jobs exceedingly well - that I'd like to tell you about: FastStone Capture and FastStone Photo Resizer.

According to the Simple English Wikipedia, Asperger Syndrome is a term that is used when a person has a hard time talking with other people in the usual way. Doctors see Asperger syndrome as a mild form of autism. It is sometimes called "high-functioning autism". This means somebody with autism who looks like they do not have autism, but their brains still works differently than that of other people. Doctors often make mistakes about whether someone has Asperger syndrome, and they often believe by mistake that the person has schizophrenia, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, or mental retardation instead.

What does this have to do with anything? We have frequently been told to have our youngest son should be treated for ADHD, and we don't really subscribe to the idea. So we went looking for some alternate explanations. One of the best descriptions we came upon was Asperger Syndrome.

In something of an unlikely series of events, there were actually a couple of events happening on the same weekend that we wanted to try out. So after the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest Regional Qualifier, we headed to the Charlotte Dragonboat Festival. Unfortunately, by the time we finally got through at the qualifier, it was getting on a bit in the afternoon.

There were multiple problems with this. First and foremost, it gets hotter towards that part of the day. Naturally, we were thinking that boats have to have water, so we were going to be okay. Not necessarily a good idea, because (of course) we weren't on the boats. Perhaps we should have been. Second, the capacity planning coordinator should have been shot.

In 1916, two Polish immigrants started Nathan's Famous, and over 100 years later, the idea is still going strong. Legend has it that on July 4, 1916, four immigrants held a hot-dog eating contest outside the original stand on Coney Island to see who who was the most patriotic. There is no word on why eating the most dogs in the shortest amount of time makes you the most patriotic, but 90-odd years later, the contest is still going strong.

Among the competitive eaters, there is no shortage of events. As recently as one week ago, someone consumed almost 60 hot dogs and buns (HDBs for short) in just 12 minutes (update: this record itself fell in the official event on July 4, 2007 - the record now stands at a whopping 66 HDBs!). The record for spam is 6 pounds in 12 minutes. Butter? 7 quarter-pound sticks in 5 minutes. French fries? 4.46 pounds in 6 minutes. You get the idea. But Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest may well be the oldest event there is, so when a regional qualifying event came to Charlotte, we had to check it out.

Premiere: Pirate Master

When you think reality television, your mind must go to none other than Mark Burnett. The man practically invented the genre. While he has had his failings, you have to think that he is going to put up something worthwhile, especially when it is right there in his wheelhouse.

I mean really - lush scenery, incredible landscapes and pirates, for crying out loud. It has to be good, right?

After visiting Ghost Town in the Sky (and not enjoying it much), and visiting Santa's Land (and probably enjoying it more than we needed to), it was time to decide where we were going to stay. If you'll recall, the original plan for the Maggie Valley trip was to try - yes - camping. We even had a whole bunch of food packed up so that we would be able to be somewhat self-sustaining for the entire weekend.

The first thought was to try and find a hotel with a refrigerator, so that the food we had packed in the cooler at least wouldn't spoil. But then it came to us that if we actually preserved the food, it wouldn't really do much good unless we could prepare the food as well - and even a hotel room with a microwave wasn't likely to help much, when a lot of what we had was designed for open-flame cooking. Sure, hot dogs could go in the microwave, and in a pinch, so can many other things - but without certain accessories (bowls and the like), cooking eggs, chili and other products was out the window.

After the somewhat disastrous events of our visit to Ghost Town in the Sky, you would think that we would throw in the towel and head home. Certainly the last thing that we'd be likely to do is check out another theme park, but I never said that we were particularly bright. So the next day, we decided to head up the road a bit and visit Santa's Land.

Now I'll be the first to admit that, in addition to not being very bright, we had lowered our expectations considerably. So this helped. Add to that the fact that Santa's Land has, to my knowledge, been in continuous operation (perhaps not during the off-season) for some forty-odd years, so despite being a bit gray around the temples, the park doesn't have to deal with the issues of Ghost Town, which had been shuttered for the last five. Finally, throw in the fact that the cost of Santa's Land was a full 20% cheaper, and you've got yourself a winner in my book.

Now for the downside.

Looking for a quick getaway, we decided on... camping. Yes, for some reason we thought that it would be nice to go camping. Actually, I've always had a bit of a soft spot for camping, since I did a decent amount of it as a kid. So my wonderful wife, who was in charge of this getaway, booked a reservation at a campground near Maggie Valley, and we packed up our cooler, loaded the tents and sleeping bags, and headed to Ghost Town in the Sky.

I didn't say that we were particularly good at camping. I just said that were were going to give it a try. So we thought that we'd stop at Ghost Town on our way, since doing a theme park on the way was going to be easier than spending night out, then trying to do it on the second night, after fitful sleep and lack of showers and such. Since Ghost Town had just recently reopened, and we were off on a Friday, we decided that it would be a good day to avoid the crowds. On that front, at least, we were right. But it doesn't mean that it's a good value. Read on for the details.