Sunday, January 28, 2007

Viral Marketing

Okay, this will actually be pretty bad as far as marketing is concerned--but as far as the "viral" is concerned, I seem to have that one cornered!

Yesterday morning, I was feeling fine; went up to Rome to see Dad and Kim, had a pleasant time visiting, and all was hunky-dory. When I got home, I still felt good, but I knew something was wrong when I got very tired halfway through my afternoon walk. I never get tired walking--it's almost second nature for me. This time, though, I was so weary I actually remember thinking, "maybe I'll sit down somewhere before I finish the last part of the walk."

When I got home, I finished my workout with light weights and floor exercises, but I was so weary during my situps that I nearly dozed off halfway through.

Three hours later, I began running a fever of 103°-104°. I ached, particularly in my long muscles. My eyeballs felt swollen; my head hurt intensely, probably due to the fever. No respiratory problems, no coughs, no stomach problems other than a total absence of appetite.

By bedtime, I felt as lousy as I've felt at any time in the past five years. I slept fitfully because I was so hot; I felt sore just from laying on the bed.

Sunday morning, I was the first patient at WellStar UrgentCare, about a mile and a half from our house (they're on my Kaiser plan--it costs $10 more, but it gets me seen right then and it saves me a drive of at least six miles); they thought at first that I had the flu, but two different flu tests came back negative. The doctor said it wasn't bacterial; in his words, it had to be viral. He gave me a prescription for Naproxyn for the aches and pains, and I went home to exist in a lethargic stupor for a few more hours.

Tonight, I feel like I'm coming out of the slump. I'm not as tired, I'm less sore, and the headache is gone.My stomach seems a little upset, but that might be related to the fact that I've only had one piece of toast and one small bowl of chicken noodle soup since yesterday.

I certainly hope that I'm nearing the end of my bout wth Mr. Mystery Virus. I had taken for granted the ability to get up and exercise or do other things whenever I got the urge; a day and half too enervated to do anything has left me very appreciative of my usual good health.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Panning Pizza

Tonight, I ate the worst pizza I have consumed thus far in this century.

The source of the disastrous pizza? Chicago Pizza, a new restaurant that opened a month or so ago at the corner of E. Piedmont and Roswell in Marietta. I should have been alerted to potential problems by their inability to do something as advertise properly; their first ad had no phone number or address on it, and their second ad had the wrong phone number.

Nevertheless, I have fond memories of real Chicago style pan pizza (love Pizzeria Uno, of which there are none in Atlanta, alas), so Susan and I figured we'd give it a try.

The place looks good; nicely decorated, spacious, clean, appealing. Oh, but what they pass off as pizza...

If you bought a slab of day-old foccaccia bread, baked out any remaining moisture, then carefully arranged two nuggets of Italian sausage, two pieces of pepperoni, three our for diced bits of green pepper, and two or three mushroom slices atop a layer of cheese so thin you'll need a micrometer to measure properly, then you too could open a Chicago Pizza franchise. I have never paid so dearly for so little pizza atop so much bread. Price isn't really a problem, though; there is no price low enough to make it worth buying this instead of pizza.

Sometimes I wonder why we feel that need to search for the holy grail of pizza--the perfect pie. We have some excellent places nearby (Zappoli's, Bellacino's, and Godfathers certainly qualify, while G'Angelo's would make that list if they could only find a source for Italian sausage that had any flavor at all). I guess it's that idea that the pizza is always pizza-ier on the other side... but in this case, hardtack with jerky would have been comparable.

I allow myself pizza once a week in moderation; I only regret that I wasted a pizza week on this stuff...

Lost 'n' Found

Don't want to wait for years to see the final episode of Lost? Well, here ya go, right now--no waiting!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Am Curious--Yellow?

Do you still use the Yellow Pages as your primary tool of shopping research?

Twenty years ago, whether I was looking for a bookstore or a plumber or a car dealer or a stereo equipment dealer, the first thing I did was drag out the Yellow Pages and see what was listed. But I have used the Yellow Pages only one time in the past year--when our garage door opener was malfunctioning, I went to the Yellow Pages to see if there was anyone who advertised same-day service. There wasn't, so I made use of the home warranty service we had and used the repair tech they recommended instead.

Since I have a bookstore, we are visited once a year by Yellow Pages salespeople who try to convince me that the only thing that ever gets a customer through my door is that ad in the Yellow Pages. Our research, though, shows that isn't the case; the huge majority of our customers come to us from Google searches and the Comic Shop Locator Service and other internet-related tools, not from the Yellow Pages. The number of people who mention the phone book decreases with each passing month.

Today was the day the Yellow Pages salesman came by to try to convince us to spend significantly more money than we had spent last year. Our Yellow Pages ad cost us $273 a month for the past twelve months (that's one of my big complaints, by the way--I shouldn't have to pay every month for a book that's published once a year). "But we gave you a free ad last year to accompany your larger ad, and you'll have to pay for that free ad this year," the salesperson said through his practiced smile. "Your new rate will be $485 for the same thing you had last year."

"I want to spend less."

"If we drop the color, we can get it down to $420..."'

"Not less than $485," I said. "Less than last year. Less than $273."

I could tell this wasn't the way he wanted this conversation to go. He tried to convince me to spend more money, I offered him a deal: if he could guarantee that I would get 70% more customers and 70% more revenue in the next twelve months, I would gladly give him 70% more for the Yellow Pages ad.

He tried to convince me that I should spend money for a big internet listing on the Yellow Pages website. I reminded him that their website was cumbersome, less than wholly helpful, and far more difficult than Google to use. Basically, I see the Yellow Pages as the Sears or Radio Shack of advertising; they were once the Big Guys, but they don't realize that the times have largely passed them by, and they haven't been willing to implement the real changes necessary to keep up with the times. (The only way they could make it work is to make every business information call absolutely free to the consumer if the business has a Yellow Pages listing--but that would require a paradigm shift as great as the one that led AOL to go from a fee-based service to a free service, and I don't see the phone company as being that forward-thinking...)

We'll have a much smaller listing next year, and it'll cost us just a smidge over $200 a month.

The year after that? Who knows--I may decide to cut back to nothing more than a line listing with our name and phone number, which would cost me about $60 a month.

The Worst President Becomes The Worst Ex-President

Jimmy Carter was undoubtedly the worst President this country has known during the years that I have been alive. That shouldn't be a surprise, since he was the worst governor the State of Georgia had prior to becoming the worst President; had the media fairly reported Carter's incessant ineptitude as governor, he would have never become President.

In more recent years, Carter has become an unflagging enemy of our nation, excoriating it and undermining its actions again and again while embracing tin-horn dictators and third-world despots. In his recent book, he takes the side of the hate-filled Palestinian terror regime against Israel, implying that the country is guilty of apartheid.

Finally, someone who was there has pulled the notes of all those mid-East peace negotiation meetings and has revealed the truth: Carter has had to lie and dissemble in order to support his assertions. Read the detailed rebuttal by someone who was in Carter's inner circle here; it's a pretty eye-opening piece.

The Sworded Details

Okay, I'm not a videogame fan, but I at least have a passing knowledge of the Wii and its remote control (Buck has one for in-store play, so I see it every day). I knew the remote was pretty sophisticated, but I never imagined that someone would find a way to hook it up to an industrial robot arm and develop a robotic swordsman... Pretty impressive.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

So Long, Boys

Boys has been cancelled by WildStorm/DC. Immediately. As in "there will be no more issues, no trade paperback--we're done here."

I suspect there's a story behind this. Like many others, I suspect that the story involved creators Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson pushing the edges of acceptability until they pushed too far. I have no inside knowledge to this effect, mind you, and the truth could well be something very different--but considering the deliberately iconoclastic, irreverent, crude nature of the book, I find that wholly believable.

I neither applaud DC nor excoriate them for this action, since I'm not privy to the whys and wherefores. I know, though, that there are a lot of people who will be upset by this; it seems that Boys had a devoted following. I'll simply say that it never clicked for me. The book tried too hard to offend; it was the comic book equivalent of the little kid who kept saying bad words to see if he could shock everyone else.

I have no doubts the book will find a new home, since DC has released it to the creators to shop around elsewhere. That's a very professional action on DC's part, which is just what I'd expect from a first-class operation. And I'm sure that we'll carry the book, since we carry lots of other books that I don't enjoy (it's not a prerequisite that I like the book for us to carry it).

But I don't mind that it's not continuing from DC or one of its imprints. It always seemed odd to me that a company whose foremost product was a line of books that ennobles the superhero concept would also give a home to a book that continually denigrated the same idea, and in the most vulgar of terms.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

OptiPod Prime

Go ahead. You know you want it.

You can get more info on it here.

Yes, it's a fully functional iPod dock... and it's a Transformer.

I was never a Transformers fan; I guess I came along too late to be fascinated by the toy line, although it would seem like something I would enjoy.

Nevertheless, I can appreciate the efforts that someone went through to merge these two techno-marvels.

Let me know how it sounds, okay?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Making Beautiful Music

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have an addiction to electronics. Even when Susan and I were living on an almost-bare-bones budget (I was a college student workng part time, she worked in the payroll department of a manufacturing plant), I still managed somehow to buy the occasional bit of stereo equipment or a massive 25" color television. (Hey, that was large as they made 'em back in the early 1970s!)

So it's probably no surprise that I have bought a Pioneer VSX-84TXSI 7.1 A/V receiver. It's probably more surprising that this is the first non-theater-in-a-box receiver I've bought in about six years. I had been pretty satisfied with the whole Sony HTIB approach for a few years, but I found myself really wanting a unit that would process DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD, and the only quality units I could find were components rather than all-in-ones. I ended up getting a phenomenal deal on a Pioneer Elite DVD player that could handle both formats (along with DivX and DivX Ultra) and this receiver.

Then I let it sit for about a week. I enjoy electronics, but I don't always enjoy hooking up electronics. Particularly something like this, which has about eighteen thousand connections on the back. Even worse, the only way to connect it was to disconnect the old Sony receiver I had, and that meant that I was going to inevitably end up with a half-dozen wires left over once I got through with everything.

Today was the day, though. Right after lunch, I crawled behind the downstairs stereo cabinet and somehow found a way to pull the Sony receiver through the back of the cabinet, standing it up on end so the connectors were in front of me. I undid the speaker wires, attached banana plus connectors to each to simplify future switchouts, and hooked 'em up. Then I transferred the various component and composite cables, ran an HDMI or two, hooked up the six RCA plug connectors for the DVD players, and turned everything on.

Lo and behold, it was about 90% effective at the first turn-on!

Of course, every time I hook up electronics, there's something that doesn't work. In this case, there was one speaker that had reversed polarity; on a lesser stereo, this wasn't much of a problem, but on this receiver, it was a major (as in no sound coming out of the speaker) problem. Once I realized what was wrong, I revered the cables and all was hunky dory.

Finally had to break down and read the manual to switch the DVD player from 2 channel to 5.1; got it working, though, and I have to admit that the sound is simply phenomenal. And that's with a totally unbalanced speaker array--two huge left and right speakers, a mid-sized center channel speaker, and four small wall-mounts for the side and rear surrounds. Even with this motley speaker arrangement, the automatic setup for multi-channel sound worked flawlessly; the sound is well balanced, crystal clear, and enveloping.

So why's the new stereo in the basement, where I don't spend most of my time? If you want the answer to that, you'll have to back up a few entries and see why Anna didn't want me to put any new equipment in the upstairs A/V unit...

Letting Go

Charles Rutledge and I often end up on the same page philosophically, and today is no exception. Charles writes on his blog about getting rid of some books that he's enjoyed but doesn't foresee reading again. I'm actually moving more and more in the same direction.

Back in the 1960s, 1970's, and even the early 1980's, I never would have believed that I would ever part with any of the books that I owned. Then, in the early 80's, I fell out of love with SF and fantasy as literary genres; I still enjoyed reading some works in both fields, but I didn't feel the need to own a book simply because it was either SF or fantasy. And even more significantly, I realized that there were many books I had enjoyed tremendously that I could enjoy just as well without owning them. I've read Isaac Asimov's Foundation series; I loved it, and my love for it isn't at all diminished by the fact that I haven't owned the books in twenty years. Same for Edmund Cooper's Five to Twelve, one of my favorite novels; or John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar; or the complete works of Robert A. Heinlein. Likewise other favorites like The Great Gatsby or A Tale of Two Cities or Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I have ineradicable memories of the power of each of these books, and those memories will always be with me; having the books is just an attempt to recreate that initial excitement by re-establishing a physical connecton with the book itself.

The simple truth is, I hardly ever re-read books. Of the tens of thousands of books I've read, I suspect I have re-read fewer than two hundred of those books. So I find myself devoting more and more space to storing items that I am less and less likely to re-experience because I have too many new books I still want to read for the first time.

Comics are, in some ways, more problematical--the collectible nature of the medium makes me feel more inclined to keep them around. But in many ways, comics are even less likely to be re-read, because most of them are stored in boxes that make it difficult to dig them out on the spur of the moment. And the availability of DC Archives, Marvel Masterworks, and other trade paperback and hardcover collections of classic faves makes it easy for me to pull those books off the shelves when/if I wish to re-read them. Since I do tend to re-read some of my favorite comics--and frequently look at the art--having those collections proves useful to me. But having the original comics is in many ways a trophy accomplishment; I have them because I have been able to acquire them, not because there is more joy in having them.

Maybe it's time to adopt a "catch and release" policy on comics. I've acquired them; I've proven that I can acquire them. My fond memories of those books will be present whether I have the books in a box in the basement or not. Heck, I can sell the books, conveniently forget that I sold them, and then I can imagine that they're still down there, waiting for me to dig them out!

I have already begun getting rid of some of my once-beloved niche-market books, such as my Kennedy assassination books (a guilty pleasure of mine) or my religious literature and archeology reference works; again, I rarely go through them, and I think they can do much more for others than they're doing for me right now.

Oh, believe me, my house is still filled with far too many items that I don't need but can't bring myself to part with. But little by little, I'm trimming down that list. Memories are much lighter than the objects themselves, easier to store, and often far more entertaining to revisit...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

My Lap Cat

A couple of days ago, I wrote about Anna, my angelic little shelf cat. Tonight, I'll share a picture (albeit not a particularly good one) of Mischa. If you're having trouble getting the bearings on this photo, let me help: Mischa is lying across my lap, partially tucked under a lap tray on which my MacBook Pro is resting. I'm sitting in the recliner, working at the computer, and as usual, Mischa has burrowed under my elbow, settled into my lap, and is periodically issuing a faint kittenesque mewling sound to let me know that I need to type less and scratch more. The blue denim is, of course, my jeans; I happened to have the camera sitting near my chair, so I held the camera up above my head and took the shot, hoping it would turn out.

I've never known a cat that was so determined to spend every evening in someone's lap; we've had Mischa for almost two years now, and she's been a lap cat almost all of that time. If anything, she's gotten more insistent about it now; when she sees me going to my chair to work on Comic Shop News or to bounce around the internet or to natter on in my blog, she immediately jumps up to the lamp table next to the chair and waits for me to sit down, at which point she burrows down to her lap position and settles into a contented, purr-heavy sleep.

The photo doesn't do her justice, by the way; Mischa is a bit, furry, miniature pony of a kitten, fourteen and a half pounds with very little fat. She's broad across the back (I always say that she's built like a coffee table), loves to gallop, and doesn't realize that she weighs almost as much as Anna and our dear old girl Tisha (our eighteen year old cat) put together. But once I sit down, she's a kitten once again, and here she is, back in my lap like she was when she weighed in at three pounds.

It's sorta nice having a lap cat, once you get used to the heat buildup associated with a fourteen pound furball...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

They Blinded Me With Science

The latest issue of Popular Science (Feb 2007) came in the mail today (the issue pictured is actually last month's, but I thought I'd remind you what the magazine looks like, since a lot of folks haven't seen an issue in years), and as usual it was a "put everything else down and read it first" magazine.

I've always enjoyed Popular Science; when I was a kid, I would get to school early so that I could stop by the library and read the latest issue. I always thought it was incredible that the school would actually spend money to subscribe to lots of magazines like this that I would have subscribed to if I could afford it--but thanks to their willingness to pay for them, I didn't have to!

The newest issue has a great section called "Cop Tech--Inside the Police R&D Lab" that offers a look at the cutting-edge technology that might enable police to carry out their jobs more safely and effectively. GPS devices that can be fired from police cars so that they attach themselves to fleeing cars; video "grenades" that offer 360° views of the immediate vicinity; highly focused pain beams that do no permanent harm; these are the sorts of SF devices that are long overdue for police enforcement. The idea behind most of these devices is more effective apprehension and prevention with less deadly force; I don't see how anyone can argue with that.

My favorite part of each issue, though, is "How 2.0," offering tips on how one might implement various tech-geek concepts at home. A lot of it is beyond my level of expertise, but not all--and even when it is, it's fun to daydream.

If you haven't checked out PopSci in a while, pick it up the next time you're at the magazine rack; it's a great read!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Curse of the Cat People

It's official. I've become one of those "cat people" you hear about. And the picture to the left of this paragraph is absolute, incontrovertible proof of that fact.

I've been shopping around for a good 7.1 A/V receiver; I finally narrowed it down to a Sony, a Denon, and a Pioneer Elite unit. Each of them is fairly large--one is about 35 pounds, the other two are about 30 pounds each, and all three are about 7" high x 17" wide by 17"/18" deep.

I have just enough space in my A/V rack for the unit.

Problem is, Anna likes to sleep right where you see her curled up in that photo... and if I put the receiver there, she won't be able to get into her favorite early-evening sleeping space.

So it looks like I'm going to forego the amplifier and get by with my current, more limited, sound system unless/until Anna decides she'd rather sleep somewhere else.

Yep... one of those cat people...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Peake Performance

Charles recently forwarded me this link to the Mervyn Peake website hosted by Peake's son, Sebastian. I dropped by to check it out, and came away more impressed than ever with the eclectic talents of Peake, a writer whose work initially confounded me. My first shot at Gormenghast left me wondering exactly what Peake was attempting; I could tell that the effort was ambitious and distinctive, but I had become so accustomed to more traditional linear fantasy storytelling that I had trouble warming up to Peake's more complex, mazelike structure. Once I got into the book, though, I was entranced; In some ways, he constructs an engaging vision of medieval quasi-reality that perfectly complements more traditional period pieces like Perceval and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Peake, though, uses words as M.C. Escher uses images, to create a puzzling and paradoxical narrative that just fascinated me the first time I read it, and still fascinates me to this day.

The edition of Gormenghast pictured above is the edition that I actually read way back there more than a third of a century ago. It's the cover of the Ballantine edition; it became a part of my collection because I was a Ballantine Adult Fantasy completist (this series, collecting classics of fantasy that would appeal to adult readers before the phrase "adult fantasy" conjured up images from a Penthouse letters column) and one edition of these books carried that circle-with-a-unicorn-head symbol that Ian & Betty Ballantine used as the BAF symbol. Being always the completist, I picked up those editions with no intention of reading them; during a time when nothing else particularly appealed to me, though, I picked up the first book, gave it a try, and put it down. I never put it out of mind, though, and was drawn back to it later on, whereupon I discovered its appeal.

I never cared for any of the performances of Peake's work that have been done in film, because so much of what makes Peake work for me is his prose, not his plotting. Like Lovecraft, his work has never translated fully well to film as far as I'm concerned. But oh, what wonderful books they are!...

The website also made me aware of Peake's skills as a visual artist; I was largely unaware he was so versatile and adept at painting and drawing, but want to see more of his illlustrative work.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Valerie Should Despair...

Just watched another execrable episode of Masters of Horror, the series that most definitely does not live up to its name. This episode, "Valerie on the Stairs," is misdirected by Mick Garris, based on an original story by Clive Barker (which, I have to presume, he threw away here because he realized that it was too bad to actually put into print).

This abysmal tale focuses on a writer who moves into a rent-free sort of writer's commune known as the Heiberger House. Supposedly, this is a halfway house for unpublished writers who are on their way to being published.

Last time I looked, Clive Barker had managed to write a story or two... so why in the world did he construct this garbage story that presents the ideas that writers are all psychotics who have to work away from society, isolated from all but their art. This was a literary cliché long before Tennyson's "Lady of Shallot," but at least Tennyson gave the concept a bittersweet melancholy. Barker transforms the isolated environment into a charnel-house (I presume as a metaphor for his butchery of the concepts of storytelling), totally abandoning his own premise in the process). This is supposed to be a home for unpublished writers, but it turns out that several of the people who live here have been published after all...

What still baffles me, though, is why a perfectly talented man like Barker wants to perpetuate the myth that writers are socially inept, emotionally stunted, intellectually warped, psychologically disturbed people who cannot create while interacting with society. It's an inaccurate, stereotyped, outdated gimmick that makes the story seem even dopier than it might have been otherwise. (I also want to know why Barker assumes that a laptop computer will lose what has been typed into it when there's a power failure... that's precisely why I use a laptop, because it has a built-in power supply that works through intermittent power failures!)

As for Mick Garris... well, this is a man who couldn't make a true horror film even if someone gave him an unlimited budget. He has no idea how to frighten, only how to startle; he mistakes gore for fear, dealing out far too much of the former and none of the latter.

Remember when the relaunched Outer Limits came on, and those of us who remembered the original wondered why the new series just couldn't get it right? Well, Masters of Horror makes the relaunched Outer Limits seem like the product of literary and cinematic geniuses; episode after episode, it seems to be a contest to see who can be more embarrassed by the wretched quality of the series, the directors or the writers. I think it's a tie... they're both losing...

The "Taking Up Space" Museum: Thunderball--The Game

One overlooked early Silver-Age comics gem from DC's science fiction line was "Space Museum," an every-third-issue series of stories that ran in Strange Adventures from the late 1950's until the early-mid 60's. Gardner Fox's concept for the series was brilliant in its simplicity: in every tale, a father took his son to the Space Museum, where the son zeroed in on some artifact on display; the father then told the fascinating story behind the object, demonstrating that there's always a story behind the most seemingly innocuous items...

Inspired by Gar Fox, I now kick off my irregular line of tales: The "Taking Up Space" Museum. In each entry, I'll pick some item around my house, and explain why it's here. (Since I'm a pack-rat with 53 years of experience, this could be a looong series...)

Today's item: The Milton Bradley Thunderball game, released in 1965. Thunderball is the James Bond film for me, because it's the first Bond film that I saw in theaters in its initial release. I was familiar with James Bond and the premise of the films, of course, but I had missed Dr. No and From Russia With Love in their initial release, and my parents were a little unsure about Goldfinger, what with a naked gold woman and a character named Pussy Galore. By the time Thunderball was released, though, I was an avid James Bond fan who had never seen a single film, although I knew the storylines and had seen all the crucial moments via trading cards and magazines.

I went to see Thunderball at the DeSoto Theater on Broad Street in Rome, a well-maintained classic-architecture theater complete with a balcony, velvet-covered seats, a full stage for live performances (I saw Bob Brandy and Officer Don there--and while that own't mean anything to anyone who didn't watch Chattanooga and Atlanta television in the early 1960s, it was a big deal for me!), and a sense of opulence that benefited from the low luminescence of theater lighting. I was entranced; the film had excitement, humor, gadgetry, adventure, drama--everything an eleven-almost-twelve-year-old could ask for in a film.

And then, less than a week after seeing the film, I was in Murphy's 5 & 10 Cent Store (where very few things were either five or ten cents by that time) when I saw the Thunderball game. I knew that I had to have it; all the money I had set aside for comic books was rebudgeted for the game, and within two weeks it was mine.

And for months after that, it became almost a ritual for Gary Steele, Phil Patterson, John Ball, and me (rarely as a group, usually in pairs) to play the game almost every day, while the Thunderball soundtrack played in the background. We memorized every possible permutation of gameplay, virtually wearing the game out in the process.

To this day, when I hear a bit of music from Thunderball, I am taken back to my room on 3 Marchmont Drive, where we would spend hours huddled over the gameboard spread out on my floor. And when I see the game, I remember the melodrama of John Barry's score, the excitement of the film, and the many hours of pleasure we derived from this simple boxed game. I suspect that we probably played the game for many more hours than Milton Bradley staffers spent designing it, in fact...