Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Year-end lists...

Before getting down to business, in case it’s Tuesday, December 30 or Wednesday, December 31 and in case you noticed and were wondering, that’s Venus hanging there with the moon tonight. Pretty cool.

So, the year-end list.

It strikes me that I only like to read the blurbs about movies or music or news stories or web memes or gadgets that I already know about. And it strikes me that the reason for that must be what makes year-end lists so popular. They give us all a chance to confirm our genius and taste.

Yeah, The National’s “Boxer” is on my ten-best list also!

And now that I’m blogging I also realize that top-10 year-end lists are a great way to fill column inches. Easy posts to meet a quota that only exists in my mind.

But truthfully, 2008 was a pretty tough year for me professionally and personally. Any year-end list that I make is going to be a “bottom-10” instead of a “top-10” exercise and that’s not what I need to do in order to set myself up for a new and better 2009.

This blog though, this has been one of my highlights. As a reformed band guy, it’s been a creative outlet that helped distract, excite and motivate me when I needed distraction, excitement and motivation. It helped to keep my mind sharp when it might have become dull – especially when weeks of unemployment stretched into months.

So my year-end list consists of my personal top-10 favorite posts at TMUOTF in no particular order. I completely and guiltlessly acknowledge how self-indulgent this is and refuse to ask for your forgiveness.

In August I posted Hot Buttered Memories about the death of Isaac Hayes which was the first real personal story that I shared. It’s one of my favorites.

Later in August we took a family vacation to Maine and the post Acorns tried to capture how much it means to me to create positive, meaningful and lasting memories for Littlefoil. It’s really what I live for.

Also in August, we went to the fair. It was awesome. You sir! You look like a strong young man… was a blast. Truth is, we took Littlefoil to the fair one afternoon and had a great time. The next day I went back by myself for more. Next year: more in-depth carnie stories!

In September, when they fired up the LHC, I did quite a lot of research to understand exactly what the stakes were and spent a lot of time trying to craft a post that was simple but accurate. It’s Large Hadron Collider day! made me feel like a real reporter.

About half way through September I began an experiment in serialized drama/reality blogging. (I know, I know…) But I have great fondness for this mess of posts because at least I was stretching out a bit instead of just sharing funny videos from YouTube. The drama began with Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that someone isn’t following me… . The series continued with Spooked , I’m being followed… , It’s him. , Keep goin’ bro. and finally Over and Done. .

Another multiple-post entry had to do with the ice maker in our refrigerator. No hyperbole required in this story of one man’s quest. It began with For the love of ice… , and continued with The Iceman Cameth. And Then He Lefteth… and ended with The $730 Glass of Ice Water . And it's all true.

My final multiple-post entry in this list is my corporate greed/insanity series. Take an unemployed guy with a lot of time on his hands and mix with some of the craziest economic news ever and you get some righteous indignation beginning with They didn’t even jet-pool! , continuing with The Business of Honor and How about some perspective? and concluding with What tremendous balls! . Boy I was pissed. Still am really.

A fun story about my mom’s experience with Jane’s Addiction’s bass player makes the list also.

Although no one ever posted a comment, I was pretty happy with my post about California’s Proposition 8 .

Finally, Nan doing the Gettysburg Address . ‘Nuff said.

So it wasn’t all bad. But truthfully, 2009 can’t get here fast enough.

Thanks for checking in here and posting your thoughts. I get a lot out of doing this and I hope that you get a little out of reading it. Please stay in touch. Maybe tell a friend even.

Meanwhile, I hope that you all get your share of happiness and peace and rest and excitement and fun in 2009. Acorns too.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"The most exciting woman in the world."

Now that the holiday's are behind us, you've probably heard Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" for the last time this year.

But give it one more listen before you put it back in the attic. Eartha Kitt died today. She was 81.

Orson Welles called her "the most exciting woman in the world" and in a career that spanned six decades she earned Tony and Grammy awards as well as the ire of the FBI and CIA.

At a White House luncheon hosted by Lady Bird Johnson, Kitt spoke in front of about 50 women and said "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed...They rebel in the street. They don't want to go to school because they're going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam."

For the next four years she performed almost exclusively in Europe. Twenty years later in an interview in Essence Magazine she said "The thing that hurts, that became anger, was when I realized that if you tell the truth — in a country that says you're entitled to tell the truth — you get your face slapped and you get put out of work."

That chapter was put behind her after she accepted another White House invitation, this one from Jimmy Carter after her Tony Award nominated performance in "Timbuktu!"

Her first album came out in 1954 and she performed in movies, on stage and on television right through the new millennium.

And of course, she took a turn as Catwoman on the TV series "Batman" in 1967-68.

The self-proclaimed "little urchin cotton-picker from the South" died from colon cancer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The Christmas Tree cluster is a colorful collection of stars about 2,600 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Monoceros, the unicorn.

The cluster was first discovered in the 18th century but was captured anew in this stunning image by by the 2.2-meter Max Planck Society/ESO telescope at La Silla observatory in the Atacama Desert. The telescope was outfitted with a specialized astronomical camera called the Wide Field Imager and a series of filters, and then aimed at the cluster for 10 hours to get the full-color image above.

The swirling gas clouds appear red because of ultraviolet light emanating from the young, hot stars that look like blue ornaments on a Christmas tree. The triangular feature near the bottom of the photo is an area of gas called the Cone Nebula.

The brightest star, at the top of the image, can be seen by the naked eye. The furry texture of the light to its right earned that area the name Fox Fur Nebula.

Sleep well everyone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nan's Gettysburg Address

Littlefoil's great-grandmother turned 91 this month. She is a lifelong Mainer who is as comfortable chopping fire wood as she is baking pies.

She can clean a fish, handle a rifle and drive a snowmobile. When it comes to cribbage, she takes no prisoners.

When she was eleven years old, she memorized The Gettysburg Address. That was 80 years ago and last night she recited it for us. (Apologies for the low volume...you might want to turn your system volume up for the full effect...)


We even have a funny out-take to share!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Not nearly a foot...

It has officially stopped snowing. 10:37pm and we didn't quite reach the 8-12" forecasted.

More like 6-7".

After all of the hype, it's almost disappointing until you step outside and hear the quiet. The wind is picking up and it's not too cold so the snow is drifting and smooth like a heavy blanket. It's so nice...

There will be some shoveling to do in the morning but nothing to keep us from my father's birthday party.

That's our car under there...with the wipers still upright and locked! Should be a pretty easy morning all things considered.

More snow is due over the weekend. And the forecast calls for in-laws as well! We'll have a full house with plenty of strong backs to handle whatever nature throws at us!

Blowy Snowy

And so it begins...

Part of the fun of snowstorms at our house is watching cars slip and slide up and down the hill…

Please place your tray tables in the "upright and locked" position...

That's us at the red arrow...right in the 8"-12" range.

No snow yet as of 1:32pm but as you can see, our windshield wipers are in the "upright and locked" position.

Bring it!

Battening down the hatches...

We're expecting the first major storm of the season today. Snow is forecasted to start late this morning and before the night is over we may have as much as a foot on the ground.

Of course the local TV stations have gone apoplectic and have initiated "Storm Watch Coverage." Thankfully, Channel 7 has opened the "News 7 Critical Weather Action Center."

In response to the hysteria, many schools have already cancelled classes or moved to half-day schedules. The mayor and governor have ordered all "non-essential" employees to stay home.

In this economy, I'm not sure that I would be comfortable if I were considered "non-essential."

I joined the rest of my community at the grocery store last night so the Foil family is stocked with food. I may have also stopped at the liquor store for provisions.

Assuming that we maintain power throughout this "crisis", I hope to post a picture or two throughout the day.

Wish us luck and stay warm everybody!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Behind The Music: Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy

I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon, but if I never hear “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” or the Chipmunk’s Christmas song ever again it will be too soon.

And let me also say that Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” is an annual reminder of the former Beatle at his absolute “Another Day” worst.

I’m good for one – just one - annual listen of Springsteen doing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” but I’m ashamed to admit it.

What I’m not embarrassed about is my fondness for David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s duet “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.”

And it turns out that there is pretty good story behind the song…

In September, 1977, Bowie was invited to perform on Bing Crosby’s “Merrie Olde Christmas” TV special. The producers agreed to air the video for Bowie’s newly released single “Heroes” and Bowie joined Twiggy and “Oliver” star Ron Moody as guests on the program.

The original plan called for Bowie to sing “The Little Drummer Boy” but he apparently refused saying “I hate this song. Is there anything else I can sing?”

With just hours before they were due to go before the cameras, Ian Fraser, Buz Kohan and Larry Grossman wrote the “Peace on Earth” counterpoint lyrics and melody that Bowie sings and hammered out an arrangement in just 75 minutes.

Bowie and Crosby rehearsed for “less than an hour” and nailed the take complete with a little sketch at the beginning highlighting the generational differences – and similarities - between the two performers.

No one expected anything much from the number although it did circulate as a bootleg for several years. Finally, in 1982, RCA released it as a single and that’s why you can now hear is seventeen times each day during the holidays.

(Thanks to the Washington Post for details and background .)

Of course, being parodied is the real arbiter of cultural currency these days and Stephen Colbert and Willie Nelson have done the honors with the song “The Greatest Gift” from the DVD “A Colbert Christmas.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Merry and Happy

Getting wholesome at the Foil house!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Lights

I don't know. We got the tree up tonight and strung some lights and there was wine...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Music videos…or rather, some videos about music…

In the last several weeks, I’ve been posting some pretty negative stuff, mainly dealing with Proposition 8 in California , my bout with pneumonia , the economy, my own unemployment, federal bailouts and business ethics. (See here , here , here and here .)

I’ve sprinkled in some happier moments about wild turkeys in our yard and the first snowfall of the season , but admittedly it has been a bit gloomy around here.

My personal situation has certainly been at the bottom of some of the negativity but I must say, the shit about the economy isn’t all in my mind. It’s easy to get bitter when the newspaper comes each morning with more outrageously bad news. Thanks to Mr. Blagojevich for this morning’s dose. Jerk.

But my personal situation might be changing for the better before too long and so you might find the happier Tim on this page as the next few weeks pass.

Besides, it’s kind of tiring to be so bitchy. Those tirades have a way of taking it out of you for the rest of the day.

And so today I want to just give you a couple of interesting videos to watch. One of them is kind of cool and historical and the other one is positive, upbeat and even inspiring.

So chin up. I’ll work on being a bit more positive and we’ll just see what happens.

This first video comes from Current.com and kind of ties in to my note about the 28th anniversary of John Lennon’s death . I’ll let the copy from Current’s page do the explaining…

In 1969, a 14-year-old Beatle fanatic named Jerry Levitan, armed with a
reel-to-reel tape deck, snuck into John Lennon's hotel room in Toronto and
convinced John to do an interview. This was in the midst of Lennon's "bed-in"
phase, during which John and Yoko were staying in hotel beds in an effort to
promote peace. 38 years later, Jerry has produced a film about it. Using the
original interview recording as the soundtrack, director Josh Raskin has woven a
visual narrative which tenderly romances Lennon's every word in a cascading
flood of multipronged animation. Raskin marries traditional pen sketches by
James Braithwaite with digital illustration by Alex Kurina, resulting in a
spell-binding vessel for Lennon's boundless wit, and timeless message.

The next video was brought to my attention by my friend Molly from the blog A Little House In The Clouds .

It features Benjamin Zander, known as a leading interpreter of Mahler and Beethoven, giving a talk at the Ted Conference this past February.

Zander is energetic and charismatic with a passion for teaching people about classical music and this talk explains why. (This clip is about 20 minutes long. But then I wouldn't have posted it here if I didn't think that it was worth your time would I?)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What tremendous balls!

Monday’s Wall Street Journal reported that Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain was fighting for an additional $10 million bonus for his performance in 2008.

Must have been a pretty good year for Merrill Lynch! Let’s see, total loss of $11.7 billion, stock price lost 73% of its value, narrowly averted bankruptcy and hastily arranged purchase by Bank of America. (Numbers courtesy of Business Week .)

But, argues Thain, things would have been much worse without his leadership. He was, after all, the guy who phoned Bank of America after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Called them that very day in fact…hey, you guys want to buy an investment house?

Merrill Lynch CEO and piece of shit John Thain with Minnie Mouse

By the way, here’s a quick look at Thain’s 2008 compensation as provided by Merrill Lynch in March, 2008. (Numbers provided by CompanyPay.com .)

Salary: $57,692
Bonus: $15,000,000
Restricted Stock Awards: $902,966
All other compensation: $4,449
Option Awards: $1,342,503
Total Compensation: $17,307,610

And Thain has the nerve to argue for another $10 million! Shall I say it again? The company lost $11.7 billion!!!!

And the thing is, this isn’t just another insanely over-compensated CEO with a god-complex whose leadership led to more than $11 billion in losses. Those kinds of assholes are, sadly, a dime-a-dozen. (See here and here .)

What’s really galling about this is that Merrill Lynch has so far accepted $10 billion of US taxpayer money in the banking bailout. (numbers courtesy of CNN .)

And this money grubbing shit-stain, John Thain, is trying to get his filthy, snotty hands on as much of it as he can.

That’s your money my friends. And your kid’s money and your grandkid’s money and this gated-community, private jet, restricted country club asshole is ripping you off.

Want to get angrier? Bank of America has accepted 15 billion of our dollars in the bailout. And since Bank of America is buying out Merrill Lynch, that means that the company that took a grand total of 25 billion of our dollars is considering giving 10 million of them to John Thain!

At what point do we gather the villagers and march to his mansion with torches and pitchforks, rend him limb from limb and burn his riding stables to the fucking ground?

This morning, the furor has died down a bit as the Merrill Lynch compensation committee announced that Thain and other executives will be receiving no bonus “at their request.”

That means that the storm of angry reaction was so severe that they had no choice but to back down. I’d still rather see one of his vacation homes burned to the ground but this will have to do for now.

But make no mistake. This is what these people are about. They will get away with whatever they can. They will fuck you, me and the generations that follow us without even thinking twice if it means another piece of art to hang in the mansion or another Hummer in the 10 car garage.

And we’re just handing over our ATM passwords...

One more note on the auto industry bail-out…

It appears now that the big-3 auto-makers are going to get about $15 billion in loan guarantees and bailout dollars. The three CEO’s have also announced that they will all be taking salaries of $1, a gesture showing their sincerity, integrity and patriotism.

But let me just point out what it means to take a $1 salary. Allow me to re-print John Thain’s compensation package from above:

Salary: $57,692
Bonus: $15,000,000
Restricted Stock Awards: $902,966
All other compensation: $4,449
Option Awards: $1,342,503
Total Compensation: $17,307,610

His salary ($57,692) amounts to just one third of one percent of his total compensation.

So don’t be fooled into thinking that these are stand-up guys who are rolling up their sleeves and brown-bagging lunch until this crisis has ended.

It’s all for show and you’re a sucker and an idiot if you don’t think that these guys aren't getting theirs in the end.

For example, are you aware of the fact that Ford CEO Alan Mulally lives in Seattle? Any idea where Ford is located? Detroit! That's a 2,331 mile commute. Each way!

And Ford provides him with a corporate jet to make that trip.

How do you feel about handing over $15 billion now?

Wake the fuck up everyone! Grab your pitchforks and let’s go! What more do you need to see?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First snow of the season...

We woke up this morning and it was snowing! I love the first snowfall. It means that the season machine is working.

This is our best tree...a Japanese maple. First two months ago...

And then today...

This is as things should be.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

How about some perspective?

In my November 24 rant about the CEO's of the big 3 auto-makers, I spent some time talking about unemployment figures and the frightening estimate that the nation might lose 350,000 jobs in the month of November alone.

Well, today's Boston Globe has the final figures. We actually lost 500,000 jobs in November - the most in single month since 1974.

And of course this news has prompted lawmakers to move to pass a rescue package/bail-out for the auto industry that now exceeds $34 billion.

That brings the total cost of federal bailouts to well over $4 trillion.

That's "trillion." With a "T".

That's 4,000,000,000,000.

How much is 4 trillion? Phil Plait from the blog Bad Astonomy offers these comparisons...

=4 trillion is roughly 600 times the number of human beings on earth right now.
=4 trillion is about 20 times the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
=4 trillion is about how many days separate us now from the Big Bang.

So, 4 trillion is a lot.

In fact, at over $4 trillion, this bailout is going to cost more (in inflation adjusted dollars)than the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the moonshot, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, the Iraq war, the S&L crisis, the New Deal and NASA's all-time budget - combined!

(Click on the image to embiggen.Thanks to the Voltage Blog for the nifty pie charts.)

I don't know if we really need to do all this or not, but I do know, I know it in my bones, that you're getting screwed and I'm getting screwed and our kids are getting screwed and their kids are getting screwed...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My vast and powerful influence...

The influence of TMUOTF clearly extends much further than I thought.

Remember my post from November 11 about Proposition 8 and the biblical case for discrimination against homosexuals?

Marc Shaiman (connected with Will Ferrell and his website Funny or Die ) clearly read that post, was properly exorcised and wrote "Proposition 8: The Musical."

And a veritable "who's who" of Hollywood clamored to be connected with the project and, by extension, TMUOTF!

Among the leading lights in entertainment who I must now assume are regular readers - Jack Black, John C. Reilly, Neal Patrick Harris, Margaret Cho, Andy Richter and Maya Rudolph!

To each of these celebrities, excuse me, people, welcome. We are honored to have you join our humble community. I look forward to some lively conversation in the comments section!

And now, without further ado, I present for your viewing pleasure, "Proposition 8: The Musical!" (and yes, it's spelled "ado." I looked it up.)

There it is. Right there.

On Monday night I was coming out of the drugstore and noticed two “stars” dangling right close to the crescent moon. From somewhere in the back of my mind I recalled reading something about this…but I couldn’t quite “pull up the file.”

I did deduce that those weren’t stars at all because stars are fixed relative to each other and so wouldn’t one day just show up on the moon’s doorstep.

So they must be planets because planets move around in their orbits independent of the star field behind them.

Quick pat on the back for my overall cleverness and then onto my Treo to Google the answer…and…yes! Venus and Jupiter! Venus is the bright one and Jupiter is right next to it. Whoa. Biggest planet in the solar system and 390 million miles away! And there it is.

So I ran home. (you know, drove home…) and grabbed my camera and tripod and dashed to this little pond on Carolina Hill to grab a picture. Littlefoil and Jillfoil wouldn’t be home for another 30 minutes or so maybe I can get a couple of long exposure shots before dinner duty and the bed-time ritual.

It was nice and warm too…good night to be out.

And I get there and I get all set up in total dork mode – tripod, cable release, everything. And of course, my camera battery was dead. And the voice of the guy at the camera shop came back to me…”you should buy a second battery so one is always charged.” Please. Don’t try to sell a salesman. I’m too clever for such a clumsy up-sell.


Back home. New plan. Charge the battery, get Littlefoil’s dinner going. Feed the boy. Bath. Skip the shampoo. Cup of milk. Bit of TV. Into bed where we read “Goodnight Maine” and then I’m off to get my picture.

Only now it’s raining. Clouds obscure everything.

Shit again.

So here is someone else’s picture of the event. SHIT!

It was cooler in real life. And fun to think about. I mean, Jupiter is 390 million miles away! That's so far. And there it is right there.

Think about this too...the little twinkle of light coming from Jupiter is just reflected sunlight. That means that the light I'm seeing left the sun, traveled about 484 million miles, bounced off Jupiter and then traveled 390 million more miles to reach my eyes.

What I'm seeing has traveled a grand total of about 874 million miles.

The speed of light is about 185,000 miles per second so that means that the light left the sun, travelled for about 44 minutes, bounced off Jupiter and then took another 35 minutes to reach me.

What a trip! And on truly cosmic scales, even that's a relatively short journey. Pluto is about 3.6 billion miles from the sun...meaning that sunlight reflecting off Pluto (not that the human eye can see it) would take over 13 days to reach us back here on earth. And Pluto is, of course, still in our solar system.

Other stars? The center of our galaxy? Other galaxies? Forget about it. Our brains evolved in a much smaller environment making these scales almost beyond comprehension.

For now, it's just kind of fun thinking about the 79 minute trip that little twinkle took just to reach me.

And there it is. Right there.