Thursday, June 28, 2007

Produce Yet Green

Our purple tomatoes to be are finally showing a bit of color. They've been green enough for frying for what seems weeks now, and it's difficult not to be impatient.

As a temporary fix we bought some of the heirloom Cherokee variety at a farmer's market on Saturday from a guy and girl who looked pretty counter culture. Pleasure doing business local. It's a Green thing.

That prompted me to wonder if my square box garden and my back-to-the-land effort make me seem more hippie-esque or just more like my dad.

He didn't know about things like "local" and "Green" with a capital G. He just liked tomatoes, and he liked making me work in his garden.

I hated it. It was one more source he had for giving me things to do.

Now it feels a little more back to the land, which I guess is why any pseudo-suit with a bohemian streak tills the land, or the compost in his square box at least.

Maybe the Old Man was on to something. He just had a Dick Cheney way of expressing it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Night the Lights Went Out

Being a chronicle of my first evening without power in a while.

We've never had major power problems at our house. Usually the lights go out a few minutes and then come back on without us calling to report an outage. Does make the smoke alarms beep and the cats scurry, but that's pretty minor.

In Louisiana, when you called to report a service outage, you got a busy signal. I always figured that indicated either A.) Other people were calling too or B.) "We know, we know, stop calling!" Either way, you could rest assured the problem was getting fixed.

In my idylic fantasy world, I envision a power company that looks like a James Bond villain's control center. There are lots of big screens and grids and when power goes out at my house there's a little blip that lights up on their screen, prompting a technician to notify someone who flips a switch and makes my lights come back on and my alarms beep and the cats scurry.

I don't think it really works that way.

In the dark
After a couple of hours, in which we determined all of the people immediately around us were also in the dark and the guy a couple of houses down was watching The Closer, Christine said: "Do you think we should call?"

"I dunno," I said. "The lights usually come back on, and besides either the neighbors have called or they've figured it out at the power company."

We decided to call anyway. I was starting to remember the movie "The Trigger Effect." Wasn't it a power outtage that pretty much made society break down in that flick?

"Have you checked your breaker box?" asked the customer service rep. No James Bond villain lair, just a woman in a headset in a cubicle farm, possibly in New Delhi.

"No," Christine said. "We kind of thought since the street lights and all of our neighbor's houses are dark that there might be a bigger problem."

"We'll take it under advisement," the operator said. "We cannot give you an estimate at this time as to when your lights will come back on." Gotta have some wiggle room.

"They're never off this long," Christine said. "Something bad must have happened?"

"Yeah, I saw that is this movie called The Trigger Effect," I said.

So I'm reading a Robert B. Parker novel by flashlight a while later, and I get a strange sense of deja vu: Bad experiences the first time I had power connected to our house. It was delayed and I had to spend a weekend on auxiliary power.

The guy who assigns crews skipped over us, and the rep I talked to explained: "He's already assigned his crews. He won't reassign them. He'll just put you on tomorrow's rotation."

"Tomorrow's Saturday," I said.


"And he won't correct the problem today just because, what? He has no imagination? Think outside the box."

"Well you see, he's already assigned his crews..."

I figured if we were relying on that kind of bureaucrat they might be waiting until morning for action. After all he may already have had things fixed at the house of the guy who was watching The Closer. So I called New Delhi again.

"We have logged your report," the rep said.

"Yeah, but are you actually, you know, doing something about it?" I asked. "You didn't forget to fix our area when you fixed the others in our neighbor hood and then send the crew off on some unwavering path to other problems?"

"Your estimated time of having your lights back on is 1 a.m."

Ah, progress.

Flash forward another couple of hours. I'm in the back room at the Bada Bing. I don't know why. The phone rings and wakes me before Paulie Walnuts breaks my knee caps.

It's the service truck driver looking for the house. Guess my neighbors didn't call or at least didnt' call twice, or he wouldn't have called me.

I talked him through the neighborhood and he arrived at my doorstep.

"We're going to have a look at that box in your neighbor's yard."

"There's a box in my neighbor's yard?"


"What are they doing?"Christine asked as I watched them through the utility room window.

"Poking a box in the neighbor's yard with a stick."


"No wait now they're digging."

"The problem's a little more isolated than in The Trigger Effect," Christine said.

"Good thing, society would have broken down by now."

Forty-five minutes later, an hour ahead of the estimate, the service man, who was a nice guy and clearly was working all night, had my lights back on and the lights of all those around me. I guess you could say they had me to thank since we called first.

"I guess it could have been worse. Wonder what caused that?" Christine asked.

"I don't know, but we can check the paper in the morning," I said. "My editor when I was a reporter always used to say: `When people's lights go out, they want to read about it in the paper.'"

Geeze, I guess on that point he was right.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Strange Vuze

Not long ago an Advertising Age columnist spent a week watching television anywhere he could find it, except on his set, and did OK. Cliff in his 8-Things Me-Me confesses to the world he gets by without television except on PC.

The online entertainment options are certainly getting better. It's still a matter of sitting in my home office for me, but I find myself doing that more and more. I mentioned making use of Netflix's "Watch Now" option, definitely added value for that subscription.

This week I discovered Vuze, which has been floating around in code-name form for a while. It's a wedding of You Tube and High Definition video, harnessing the power of that cousin with a slightly dark reputation, Bit Torrent.

Unburnt offerings
Their offerings currently include programinning from Showtime, A&E and the BBC. From what I can tell, the first episode of a featured series is free then it's 99 cents for additional episodes.

I sampled a show I've always wated to see - the British series Strange with Richard Coyle from Coupling, which incidentally is also an offering.

Interesting if not overwhelming show. Coyle is John Strange, a priest defrocked because he's given to a literal interpretation of demons in an age when the church is leaning toward symbolic. The late Ian Richardson of House of Cards and Murder Rooms is Canon Black, a manipulative older priest opposing Strange's effort. Demon hunting frightens parishoners.

Scientific Help
Samantha Janus is a nurse who brings a touch of science to the equation when she's drawn into Stranges battle with evil.

It's an interesting premise, a bit pokey in execution for my American tastes but overall fun viewing, especially in the sharp Windows media file Vuze provided.

I had to get a quick download to get started, but otherwise things went smoothly and relatively quickly. Took about an hour for the 1.3 GB show file on a fast connection. I'm sure it's proprietary in one way or another but I haven't explored that.

All in all not a bad experience and there seems to be enough free content for hours, although each additional episode of Strange will run into money.

Maybe I need a way to connect the PC to the TV in the den with options continuing to improve.

(No rights to image implied.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Looking into the Afterworld

The word up is that Afterworld is looking like a hot property to advertisers seeking to penetrate the mobile market. (It's in Advertising Age but this blog requires no registration.)

If the adman protagonist of the piece--reminiscet of Cell and The Stand--should pop a top on your favorite softdrink somewhere in the 130-or-so minute-or-so episodes from the creator of the TV show "Dark Skies," well that would be fab.

That sounds like a good bet because it's been downloaded many times so far on You Tube and subscriptions are coming. Will the iPod and iPhone be among them? Would I put it on the SidPod? Not sure.

I'm not certain if I'm willing to pay, but the story so far on You Tube is stylish, cynical and fresh in spite of King echoes.

The hero is from Seattle, but he's in New York when Captain Trips--sorry--when disaster strikes and he has to traverse a post-apocalyptic America to get home.

Would I stay with it for 130 episodes? Will it develop a cult following like the "footage" in William Gibson's Pattern Recognition which anticipated You Tubesque guerilla video?

Time will tell. In the meantime the music video above offers a taste of what's to come.

Crown from Bud.TV was nice enough to drop by and remind me in comments that Afterworld is available on the Bud site as well. They have available episodes in a convenient menu scroll. There's a brief registration. It's that Bud, so it is an adult beverage.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

There is nothing like a meme (My Me-Me)

OK, Tammi at Drawing on Words , who has some cool new Wordpress diggs, tagged me for this game:

1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.

2. Each player starts
with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

3. People who are tagged need to
write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Here are my eight:

1. I am working to purge myself of all superstition.

2. I keep a statuette of a figure called a Mum-Ra from the Archie McPhee catalog beside my computer for luck.

3. I met my wife on the job, meaning one of us had to leave the organization due to company policy once we were wed. Our boss at the time got mad when she tendered her resignation.

4. I was born when my parents were older, and the impact of that fact on my life is not insignificant.

5. I can sometimes be opinionated and passionate. (Could you tell?)

6. I wrote a college paper on detective fiction and got a pretty good grade.

7. I have way too much stuff on my DVR.

8. I follow the political world more closely than I once did. I know what the Enterprise Institute is, for example. Still, one of my best sources for analysis is "The Daily Show."



Monday, June 18, 2007

Was it something I said to the headhunter?

Sometimes I wonder if the laments about the lack of talent in the advertising and marketing worlds are accurate.

Not long ago, I discovered one of several e-mails from a recruiter hidden away in my web-based e-mail inbox. They had been there a while because they weren't flowing into my "new mail" display. Oops.

If you look at their website, they're a BIG talent recruiter. Possibly true, so I e-mailed back on the most recent query with a polite response.

I wasn't rabid about the position, but I thought I'd at least express interest to make contact, make nice, get the ol' foot in the door with the headhunters just in case they're sitting on my dream job, don't know you?

Best laid plans.

"Hi, how do you do, can you tell me more about the position...," sez I.

Then they start mildly insulting me:

this position has some requirements that you have
not yet had experience in.... Please stay tuned for a
more jr. position that will allow you to
continue to build on the career path you have
already embarked on.


Now--the creative syntax aside--to their credit they'd picked up on a copywriting-oriented resume, one that didn't focus as much on the web side of my day job slash. And I know the intent was not to insult, but I sent back an e-mail to the effect that I've been in the workforce a few years now, and I'm not really interested in a "junior" position.

They caved and sent back a job description that pretty much could be my resume. BA degree, writing, at least 5 years job experience...

Competent in the usual suspects HTML, Javascript, Flash, web forums, blogs ;-) etc. etc.

You know and I know the company was throwing everything but the kitchen sink in there. Bottom line - one web monkey to run the show.

I couldn't say yes to Vignette, but I'm familiar with site management software in general. I'm confident I could figure it out.

I couldn't say yes to Cold Fusion either, but again, with a gun to my head and a manual... If the monkey can write and run web software, the monkey can be trained to operate other machinery and create web forms accordingly. Sometimes the reverse is not always true.

Put 'er in there
The catch: the company was basically involved in an enterprise slightly more boring than, well, everything. Hence the need for a recruiter, methinks.

I e-mailed back.

"Thank you, but the position watching paint dry (a paraphrase) does not appear challenging. I do have the skillset mentioned in the description, however. Perhaps you were looking at a copywriting-focused resume. Please blah, blah blah ."

That's the last I've heard from them, and prior to that several e-mails had circulated into my box, so I'm thinking assertive was one thing not in the qualification mix.

Looking for talent? Maybe talent's not absent. Maybe talent just made your headhunter mad.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Airplane Reads

The captive environment of an airplane and airport has always been a great place to get some reading done.

I hate to fly. I shudder when the airlines get on the speakers to say - "We have more people booked on the plane than we have seats. Oops, should have seen that coming, would anyone like a can of tomato juice as an inducement to take a later flight?" Someone said worry is imagination misused, well I have a very good imagination. I'm always waiting for that overbooked shoe to drop.

But in an environment of otherwise total boredom I get more immersed in a book than perhaps anywhere else. At my house there are cats, you see. They don't time their disagreements or hunger impulses to chapter breaks. Also Christine is prone to watch HGTV.

I've read many books on planes over the years and I recall many of them. I read Elmore Leonard's Split Images on a puddle jumper to New Orleans once.

Other great airplane reads include Mark Frost's The List of Seven pitting Conan Doyle and his Sherlocks Holmes inspiration against esoteric societies.

Also, John Farris' The Axman Cometh which he wanted you to read in one sitting, and Robert Petitt once insisted I read Chet Williamson's short story "Her Skin's Just Soft and Purty, He Said" from Razored Saddles on a flight to Seattle.

I'm glad I don't have to fly more, but if I did I'd probably get more reading done.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Life 2.0

My friend came by my office the other day, and I realized how long it had been since I'd seen him in person. He didn't look like his instant message icon anymore.

Staying in touch with scattered and absent friends online is great and I love it, but this pal is a free-lancer who I've worked with for years on the job.

He works from his home that's about a mile from my office as the crow flies.

Yet we communicate mostly by IM and e-mail, utilizing various resources to move large files we're working on back and forth.

We just happened to have several to deal with this week. "Burn a CD," my friend happened to say. "And I'll pick it up."

Web 2.0 is great, introduces us to new friends and reunites us with old friends scattered by time and distance, yet I find myself wondering if some of Clifford Stoll's old ZDNet editorials about the importance of walking on grass once in a while aren't even more relevant.

We shouldn't fail to notice the world beyond the office window whether it be the grass or the people walking on it.

An IM's great but a handshake is even better if it's possible.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The ear thing and Sopranos spoilers

So I'm sitting in an airport terminal this morning with my fingers in my ears, stamping my feet and humming "I don't hear you!"

Christine was beside me doing the same thing.

An old guy next to us was looking at us strangely. (By old guy I mean at least 10 years older than me.)

Why was this going on?

Because we spent most of the night on a red eye or in airline terminals, we didn't get to watch The Sopranos finale live and CNN WOULD NOT SHUT UP with spoilers. It wasn't like changing a channel was an option.

First, American Morning or whatever they call their morning show, was on, blasting through the terminal, where we really needed to listen for a flight to be called.

We got through that with the finger in the ear trick, then apparently the staff or the airport gods switched the channel over to CNN Headline News for the Robin and Company discussion. I can't really blame Robin she was off. It was a sub on her show that was spewing spoilers

Again we had to do the ears.

It is seriously time for the news channels to reconsider how television shows are covered.

CNN and FOX News are broadcast all over public places, in hotel lobbies, terminals, department stores. They're not passive. It's one thing when it's Paris live, all the time.

However, when you're talking about a show scheduled for numerous rebroadcasts, spoiler alert does not cut it if there's not an easy way for people to look away.

Fortunately I did manage to avoid hearing anything other than "Fans were disappointed..." and "When Phil Leotardo..."

With your index fingers, you can turn spoilers into teasers. Finally we made it home and relaxed to watch the show, and, you know, make it safe to live with open eyes and ears.

And for those who thought the finale was a bust:

(Spoiler warning)
It wasn't. The show wrapped up with more red herrings than a shelf full of Christie novels, riffing on the very thing for which the show's always been attacked.

That's brilliant.

But whatever did happen to that guy who was a Russian Green Beret?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Killing Fred

The picture was everywhere and initially I though it might have been produced "Lord of the Rings" style with trick perspective.

Not so, the 1000+ pound hog that was hunted to it's death was real. It's the reality horror writers might easily spin into a tale of terror.

The story behind the initial headlines is horrific in a different way.

Wayne Pacelle posted a link yesterday to a less publicized news account. The "monster" was raised as a pet and had a name, Fred.

The hunt to his death was a canned hunt.

I'm cursed with a writer's empathy - I can imagine what it must have felt like to a coddled, domestic animal, raised with meals provided and other care to suddenly become prey. Even if you want to argue that the creature did not possess the reason of a human there had to be a feeling of confusion.

Did Fred have the sentience to feel betrayal? Certainly he felt fear and pain even though there are those who argue animals don't have an understanding that they are going to die or of what death is.

As humans with empathy and reason we need to ask these questions. If we don't, we're less human.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The King Must Die - Or Why I'm Worried About Tony Soprano

Since the episode early in The Sopranos when Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano talked about failed attempts at college before his segue into organized crime, or waste disposal as the case may be, I've felt he was a Shakespearean character.

Now that the series endgame is going full throttle, if that's true, I don't think things look good for T.

On message boards, and in living rooms, viewers are rooting for Tony to take down rival boss Phil Leotardo.

Dramatically a showdown would certainly satisfy. Phil's just mean, after all. But I'm afraid like Macbeth and Lear, Tony's going to have go down one way or another either by the sword or under the wheels of justice. There is that lingering gun violation after all.

His psychiatrist's determination that he's a sociopath would also seem to further charge the tragic flaw notion, and the fact that he's drained the show's heavily symbolic swimming pool does not make for a sunny outlook either.

I just don't think Tony can live happily ever after, but the show's writers are always full of twists and surprises.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens next.
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