Thursday, October 30, 2008

Really? This is the spot?

How does an advertising agency convince a room full of executives in the financial services industry that this is the perfect ad?

Featuring music by Joanna Newsom, this thing careens from violent confrontation to love story in the span of 60 seconds.

Really? So you'll take care of my money then?

So apparently there’s an election coming up?

I have avoided commenting on the campaign because while I participate in participatory democracy, I’m not crazy about politics.

If political debate really created a marketplace for ideas and creative solutions for some of the challenges we face, then perhaps I might join in.

But like any kind of marketing, there’s no time for nuance or deeper understanding so the conversation inevitably turns into a shouting match. And if you listen to the people doing the shouting it becomes clear that they’re not nearly as informed as they think they are.

Further, my experience suggests that the certainty of someone’s argument is usually inversely related to the accuracy of that argument. And if that’s a maxim that you think you might believe in, then the shouters are the last people that we should be listening to.

But I accept that you can’t run a campaign and win without shouting. That’s probably just a function of the scale of an election in a country this big. But the challenges we face are so complex…I just hope that whoever wins surrounds himself with smart, smart people.

Maybe when all of the shouting is done they can sit down in a quiet room and figure out just what the eff we’re going to do with this mess.

All I know is that I’m not smart enough to do it. And neither is Sarah Palin.

(Oh c’mon…that was pretty mild. And I would feel like total milquetoast if I didn’t at least allude to who I’m voting for. Besides, she’s been using an anti-intellectual appeal in her speeches and I think that we need more intellectualism, not less.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A pumpkin on the porch and maybe a skeleton in the window....what else do I need?

What you need is Hallowindow. Mark Gervais created a great DVD that will keep the tricksters away!

He pins a sheet over the windows inside the house and aims a projector at the sheet. The text is reversed out on the DVD so that the copy can be read from the street.

He's been doing this for two years and has sold out his supply for this year. He promises more by the beginning of November so you can get an early start unnerving the kiddies in the neighborhood!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Your mother should know…

Among the readers of this blog, you will find an attorney, an artist, an economist, a surfer, a teacher, a karate instructor and an engineer.

You will also find my mother.

And mom has a history of adding value when she comes around. For example, in 1990 I started a radio program in Memphis. The station played old-school country music during the daytime hours and then I came on at dinner time and started spinning Dinosaur Jr, The Cure, Jane’s Addiction and the like.

I worked from 6pm to 3am seven nights per week.

The country people hated me. I occasionally received threats over the phone although they were all just blustery intimidation. Still, try walking out to a dark parking lot at 3:15am all alone after taking a call from a guy who was reading the studio address from a phone book. That happened at least a half-dozen times. I took to parking my car flush against the back door of the studio just to facilitate a quick getaway.

But it wasn’t all paranoia and black coffee. I actually developed a small but loyal following – especially among the alienated high-school types. Most calls I took were enthusiastic and I even got fan mail. I introduced and emceed a few rock shows in town and got to hang out with luminaries like the guys from Reverend Horton Heat’s band and School of Fish . The Hoodoo Gurus actually kicked me out of their dressing room!

So there were lots of upsides.

The most popular thing I ever did was interview my mother on the air after she had breakfast with Eric Avery, the bass player from Jane’s Addiction. It’s true. Let me set the stage…

Picture a classic New England town – wait, I’ll get even more specific. Picture the town from the movie The Witches of Eastwick. That movie was filmed in my home town. A pristine, coastal New England village with a white church on the town common. We lived across the street from that church in a house built in 1750.

This is the actual place I'm trying to describe. Is it any wonder that the producers of The Witches of Eastwick found this to be the "perfect, typical, charming New England town"?

My parent’s neighbors had a daughter who worked on the Lollapalooza tour in some capacity and when the tour was in town, she took Avery to her parent’s house for a home cooked meal and, as it turns out, breakfast at my parent’s house.

So there’s my mom, sitting by herself having a quiet breakfast on the back patio – probably some juice, toast, maybe some cantaloupe – with the dogwood tree in full bloom when this guy peaks over the white picket fence:

My mom’s interview about that breakfast was the most talked-about thing that I ever did on the radio.

So you can see, having my mom around has its benefits.

And that’s why I panicked when she told me that she listened to the first 5 or 10 minutes of Dan Carlin’s Punic Nightmares podcast (from my October 16 post) and that she couldn’t stand it.

“He sounded like the worst history professor I ever had. Boring and slow and dull.”


Slow and dull? That was the opposite of my impression. And I was so…forceful about that recommendation. What have I done to my readers?

What have I done to my cred?? !!

But upon further review, I’m going to stick with the recommendation.

The thing is, mom doesn’t have an iPod (mental note – iPod for birthday present) and she was sitting at her desk, listening and, well, just sitting.

Also, I could see her point for the first ten or fifteen minutes. It does start slowly. The host, Dan Carlin, is speaking in a kind of deliberate way at the beginning. But I think that’s intentional, his way of building suspense and working up to a crescendo.

If I can get mom to listen while she walks the dog or drives somewhere, I think she’ll get caught up in the story. If I can get her to give it 15 or 20 minutes in the right environment I still think it will pay off for her.

I also spoke to Bob, my history-major friend and drummer and while he hasn’t yet listened to the particular episodes I recommended, he is familiar with the Hardcore History podcast and he’s a big fan.

So while mom’s opinion matters, I’m going to stand firm on the recommendation. Get out there and give a shot. I would love to read your comments when you do.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here's the short story on New England weather:

Summer is great.

Autumn is beautiful.

Winter is great if you have a warm sweater and the right attitude.

Spring is awful. Muddy, rainy, misty, bone-chilling, buggy rotten.

Plan your visits accordingly.

Fall in New England is all harvest festivals and hayrides and cider and clear blue skies. It smells earthy and crisp and good.

And also there are the leaves. And the thousands upon thousands of people who come to see them. Imagine fleets of Oldsmobile’s parked at knick-knack choked bed & breakfasts across New Hampshire and Vermont. They come in busses and RV’s just to look at leaves.

The weather reports in October track the band of “peak foliage” as it moves from Nova Scotia and Maine down through the White Mountains and across western Massachusetts into Rhode Island.

It’s never been my particular passion but this year a wet summer and September’s warm days and cold nights have made for unusually bright colors.

These two pictures were taken within five minutes of our house and it just reminds me how much I love where we live.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Warning: Podcast Recommendation

Somewhere in my travels I came across a podcast called “Hardcore History” by a guy named Dan Carlin.

Carlin actually does two podcasts; the second one is called “Common Sense with Dan Carlin” and, apparently, is more political in nature. Fact is, I’ve never listened to “Common Sense” and only just discovered it this morning while I was researching “Hardcore History” so I can’t give it the official TMUOTF imprimatur yet.

“Hardcore History” however, gets the TMUOTF gold star and his two most recent podcasts are mind-blowing, unbelievable stories.

But before I get into the juicy details, let me make some observations about podcasts. First, I love ‘em. My music consumption has been cut in half because of them. In fact, this post started as a eulogy for the music consumer I used to be but that seemed a little melodramatic and not entirely accurate either. More on that in a future post.

Podcasts, like blogs, fall all over the map because of their DIY nature. You can listen to some as background noise while you work and others require your attention and focus.

“Hardcore History” is in the latter category. It usually runs an hour or longer and works well for car rides and commutes. Carlin describes himself as an amateur historian. This love of history combined with his background in broadcasting plus a flair for story telling makes these podcasts great history classes even if you never liked history classes.

So if you do decide to follow these links, give them a fair chance. I think you’ll be rewarded.

Start with his current three-part series on The Punic Wars which took place between Carthage and Rome between 264 and 146 BC.

WAIT! WAIT! WAIT! Really, it’s so much more exciting and fascinating than you’re thinking right now. You’ve got to hear these. Please. Give me your confidence and trust on this.

Part I and Part II have been posted. (Scroll down on that link to get to both parts and make sure you listen to them in the right order! They are also available on iTunes .) It might be a month or longer before we get Part III but I’ll bet that you’ll be waiting like me to hear the conclusion.

(And Bob, I hope you’ll give a listen and offer some feedback from the perspective of a history major…)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Maybe I was a bit hard on Ringo...

I love me some comments from readers! The always reliable Arkay posted a great follow up to the Ringo Starr video below. I may have been a bit too hard on old Ringo judging by this video...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

All of a sudden Ringo is too busy?

How much stuff could he be getting? Send your shit to me. I'll sign it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

High Roller

On September 28, 2008, Space X became the first private company to place a liquid fueled rocked into orbit.

Super cool.

Even super cooler is the fact that they put a web-cam on the rocket and created a video set to Crystal Method’s “High Roller.”

This was the fourth attempt by the company to get their Falcon 1 rocket into orbit and while it was obviously important for Space X, it turns out to be important for NASA as well.

As it happens, there will be a gap in time between the retirement of the existing shuttle fleet and the launching of the Ares rockets that will replace them. In order to service the International Space Station in the meantime, NASA was going to rely on Russian rockets – something that would have required a waiver to an existing law preventing the use of Russian technology.

Now that Space X has proven their capability, NASA has publicly stated that they prefer to use US companies instead of foreign agencies. In reality, the Russians will certainly fill at least part of the gap but the private space age is upon us and that’s certainly a game changer.

In skewed celebrity news, the August 2, 2008 launch attempt of the Falcon 1 contained the ashes of 208 people including James Doohan who played Scotty on Star Trek as well as Gordon Cooper, one of the original Mercury astronauts. Sadly, that rocket disintegrated during liftoff.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

So we have a new paper guy...

We get home delivery of the Boston Globe every day. And Adeilson, our former delivery guy was relentless in his consistency.

Once, while getting ready for an early morning flight, I got to see Adeilson in action. He didn’t get out of his car or even pull into the driveway. He actually threw the paper, wrapped in a rubber band, about 60 feet across our lawn and landed the thing within two or three feet of our doormat every time. And I mean every time.

Sadly, Adeilson left a note for us a few months back informing us that he was returning to Brazil to be with his family. We sent him a nice check and told him he would be missed.

And he is.

The new guy is good enough I guess, but he doesn’t hit the doormat like Adeilson did. He usually lands the paper at the top of our driveway which means I have to make a barefoot dash to retrieve it.

And now that the weather of October is here and the driveway is freezing cold I miss Adeilson more and more!

But that’s not the worst part about getting the paper. As a guy in the job market, it’s the front page news of the last month that has been making my Cheerios considerably less cheery.

Every day there’s more bad news about the financial and economic crisis. Usually, I don’t pay too much attention to this kind of thing but I guess that I’m like everyone else in that my savings has been reduced to rubble and I’m not nearly sophisticated enough to understand why.

I mean, I know that financial companies were lending money to people who they shouldn’t have been in the form of sub-prime mortgages and I know that once the housing market declined, the negative value of the defaulted mortgages caused those financial companies to crater. And I also get that the crisis spread across other financial sectors.

What I don’t understand is why they made such huge loans to such high risk borrowers in the first place. And I don’t know why they assumed that the housing market would just go up and up and up forever. I don’t know anything about finance but I know full well that kind of thing is unsustainable.

So if I knew…wtf?

Clearly, a lot of stuff is happening that I don’t understand. And I haven’t found a news source able to take all of the craziness and complexity and explain it very well.

Until now. And in the most unlikely of places.

You are surely aware of This American Life , a long form radio show produced by Chicago Public Radio and hosted by Ira Glass. It’s a really great program and is now available on free podcasts every week.

Back in May, they did a show called The Giant Pool of Money which did a fantastic job of explaining just what the subprime mortgage crisis was all about.

And just last week they did a follow up show called Another Frightening Show About the Economy that attempts to explain all of the crazy financial shit that’s been going on since.

Both programs are excellent. I highly recommend them if you need help getting your mind around all of this.

But be forewarned. You‘ll probably understand things a bit more, but you won’t feel any better about it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The $730 Glass of Ice Water

Regular readers, both of you, are well aware of my quest for ice. The drama began way back at the beginning of August and continued in fits and starts through September and October.

To bring you up to speed, we have a refrigerator that has a built-in ice and water dispenser that we never bothered to connect because we’re not big ice people. However, after four years of taunts and insults from our family and friends who do enjoy ice, we decided to call a plumber to connect the fridge to a water supply. Which he did.

When the plumber left, we discovered that the ice dispenser was broken so we had an appliance guy come over to fix it. Which he did.

After waiting in vain for the machine to start making ice we discovered that the ice maker itself - not the dispenser but the maker - was also broken.

Cue the existential crisis music.

Well, as you can see in the video above, we finally have the convenience of automatic ice and water. And the glorious thing is that we don’t have to walk the additional two feet to the sink to get a glass of water! Who can guess how much time this is going to save?

And now, the final numbers:
$245 Plumbing and installation of water source
$100 Deposit for the purchase of new pfetzer unit for dispenser
$160 Balance due on pfetzer unit
$125 Appliance guy labor to install pfetzer unit
$100 New ice making unit

Mercifully, the appliance guy took pity on me and sold the new ice making unit at his cost. He also installed it for free.

So I’ve got myself a $730 glass of ice water and an appliance repairman with a heart of gold.

Nothing can stop me now.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Breaking news...HEADS UP!

I've mentioned Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog before and he just posted some news that I want to share/rip-off.

Turns out that that an object a couple of meters across will enter the Earth’s atmosphere at about 10:46pm eastern time tonight.

With a diameter of two meters, the object poses no real danger to anyone because it will break up in the atmosphere. Worst case scenario is that a few small rocks will make it to Earth's surface and while it would be an incredible bummer to be hit on the head by one, the odds are very small.

It is predicted to burn up over Africa, northern Sudan to be specific.

It will be an amazing shooting star because most shooting stars that you see are about the size of a grain of sand. As Plait puts it, "Something as big as a grape would make a very bright fireball. A rock two meters across will be incredible."

Plait will post updates as he gets them so check out his site for more info.

You nerd.

(Oh, and if you want to read some scary shit about asteroid impacts with Earth, The Atlantic published a fascinating article by Gregg Easterbrook which can be found here.)

Two videos about folding...

Having once worked at a company chock full of engineers, this first clip has a special resonance for me. But I have to admit, when I saw how well it worked I considered, just for a few seconds, making one myself.

Then I snapped out of it.

This next one is a clip from Philip Morrison's 1987 PBS program "The Ring of Truth: Atoms" featuring chef Kin Jing Mark making noodles to demonstrate the principle of halving.

It's a great example of using metaphor to explain esoteric scientific concepts that are, let's face it, becoming so specialized and counter-intuitive that it's hard for a regular guy to keep up.

I just love how proud Chef Mark is at the end. That expression on his face is, I think, what pure joy looks like.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Never mind the butter...

"Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols" came out in October of 1977 - 31 years ago this month.

Just imagine how John Lydon might have reacted if an ad agency approached him three decades ago.

But today, it doesn't matter at all does it? It doesn't even seem weird. I was all set to get my dander up but...nothing. Who cares?

Just another TV moment, a blip in the blizzard of media of which even this blog is a part.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Now that we have that out the way….

Ye gads. Now that I am no longer a fugitive from unscrupulous sealcoaters, I want to share with you just what the hell I was thinking.

And here is where I bloviate about experimenting with narrative within the confines of the blog form while using written, visual and audio elements typical to the medium.

And here is where you roll your eyes and click away….

Actually, the idea was born partly out of my desire to keep the posts coming and partly because I wanted to come up with some inventive ways to incorporate video into TMUOTF.

The business card was real as was the hand written note on the back. I found it funny that the message on the back was so cryptic and that started my mind to wandering.

By chance I had to go to Toronto for work so I saw an opportunity to add the word “international” to the word “intrigue.” The role of the guy following me was played, unwittingly, by my boss.

I didn’t have an ending in mind. Or a middle for that matter. I just kept unfolding the story as I went along until I found myself holed up in the seedy motel. And then I started trying to figure out how to end it.

Meanwhile, I had lots of other things that I wanted to post but I felt that I had to see this story to its conclusion without interruption. I thought that breaking away to post something else would destroy my “alternate reality." I mean, why on earth would a guy on the lam take the time to blog about the financial bailout bill?

Anyway, my post-mortem on the entire episode is basically that in the beginning it was fun and interesting (for me I mean, not necessarily for you) but that it became tiresome and confining towards the end. It was probably a valuable exercise for me as a novice blogger and I won’t promise that something like that won’t appear on TMUOTF again. (Notice that I didn’t not use a double negative there…)

That said, it’s a bit of a relief to be moving on.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008