Wednesday, December 31, 2008

5 Things That Have Changed....

...since the last time I wrote this.

(1) Christmas has passed--it was a good one, and I was lucky enough to find several gifts that seemed to really please the recipients, which is always a good thing. We also managed to donate more than 500 toys, books, etc., to Toys for Tots, which is also a good thing.

(2) I now have a Blu-Ray player. Didn't get it as a Christmas gift; I bought it myself when Amazon sent me a $100 off certificate, getting the price for this BD-Live capable unit to about $150.

(3) I almost bought an American car. Test drove a 2009 Enclave, which looked quite nice and seemed like it might be a replacement for the Sienna--but Capital Buick wanted to ultra-lowball the offer on the trade-in (75% the KBB/cars.com estimated trade-in value), so I walked. The situation wasn't helped by the fact that the test car they gave me to drive had a malfunction in the passenger seat belt module (yes, a new car with 7 miles on it already needed repairs). I started off talking to the folks at Carl Black Buick, but their way of doing business seems odd to me... the first visit, I couldn't even get the salesperson to give me a test drive; the second visit, he never could find the keys to the car I wanted and he was absolutely clueless about several features that interested me--and he wanted me to come back for at least one more visit before he'd look at the Sienna for trade-in, in spite of my asking twice that he do it now. Is this all SOP for American car dealers?

(4) I have now seen both Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Thought the former was the better superhero movie, although I enjoyed both. As for The Dark Knight--well, there wasn't enough Batman (too many gadgets, too little hero), and Heath Ledger's vaunted performance seemed pretty much like an actor just performing the part as written. And the film could have benefited from about 30 minutes of careful editing.

(5) I have once again experienced perfect peanut butter fudge. Susan made some for me as a Christmas gift, and it was just like the fudge Mom used to make. I'm rationing it out to make it last as long as possible.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The $5 Slice o' Cake

Today we made our annual trek to Whole Foods to purchase a few hunks of their dark, rich gingerbread, which they sell in cornbread-like squares. It's a much more flavorful gingerbread than we've found anywhere else, and we've made it a sort of Christmas tradition.

Usually, it's the only thing we buy at Whole Foods. I'm not a big fan of the store; even though it's owned by the same people who own Harry's, Whole Foods is a pale shadow of Harry's in its selection and its pricing. The same items are always more expensive at Whole Foods--but it's the items that aren't at Whole Foods that make me prefer Harry's. Unfortunately, the Harry's in Marietta doesn't offer gingerbread by the chunk, so we have to drive to Roswell.

While I was there, I noticed that their hot food bar includes a dessert bar, where you can buy whatever you want for $7.99 a pound. I started to ask why it's in the hot food bar area, since none of the desserts are hot, but my smark-aleckiness was sidetracked by the vision of an almost-virgin coconut cake that was included on the dessert bar. I say "almost virgin" because someone had claimed one corner of the square cake in order to get a heaping helping of the thick, rich, creamy coconut-laden icing. However, that meant that there were three corners left...

That left me with a dilemma, of course. I generally don't pay $8 a pound for cake. In fact, the very concept is anathema to me... but this wasn't just cake, it was coconut cake, the cakiest, desssertiest, bestest of cakes. My coconut craving overcame my frugality, and within a matter of moments, a $5.08 hunk of coconut heaven was all mine.

Yes, if you do the math, that's more than a half-pound of coconut cake, so it was actually two servings, not one... but even so, I felt foolish for wasting the money.

Then I had half of the cake for dessert this evening. All doubts went away. This was the best coconut cake I've had since Mom died; it wasn't the same as hers—in fact, it was more reminiscent of grandmother's coconut cake, which was always heavier than Mom's—but it was the best I'm likely to find, I suspect.

So yes, I bought a $5 piece of cake (that turned into two $2.50 pieces of cake)--and now that I've tried it, I'll do it again next year, if the opportunity arises.

Putting the Screw in Screwdriver

Okay, Amazon's price policies are sometimes puzzling, but this may be the first time I've seem them charge a couple of bucks less than four grand for a $40 screwdriver. This picture is not photoshopped or adjusted in any way, and Amazon insists (both to me and to others who have posted in the comments) that this is indeed the price you'll be charged if you order this item. Apparently the government is their intended customer...

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Buck Stops Here

One of those things that has mystified me: how can executives of major corporations agree to work for $1 a year? If I try to pay an employee less than minimum wage, I'm in violation of all sorts of labor laws, regardless of the employee's willingness to work for the negotiated wage. But apparently if the employee agreed to work for me for $1 a year, there'd be no problem at all, right?

Seriously, I'm not sure how this works... why is it okay for some people to work for far less than minimum wage when it's illegal for most everyone else to do the very same thing if they so desired?

Gapless!




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Counting the Days

My friend Trish is being deployed to Iraq tomorrow, and that makes me sad. I got to know Trish because she worked with Charles; she became a Wednesday night dinner regular, and I've become increasingly fond of her and appreciative of her company and her commentary. Trish is in the reserves, and is being deployed for an engineering job, so she won't be on the front lines and should be as safe as anyone is in Iraq--but I have selfish reasons for not wanting her to go. You hate to lose the company of friends for even a few weeks, so a six-month tour of duty is going to seem interminable.

I know that Trish will come back to us with hundreds of stories, and I look forward to hearing all of them. And I hope she's going to share some of those stories on her blog, so that we don't have to go Trish-less for six long months!

Until then, I'm counting the days, waiting for her return...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Why Is It?...

...that scented candles always smell great in the store but never smell like anything when you put 'em out at home?

...that just when you think you've found the perfect pizza place, someone decides it's time to change the house recipe?

...that editors think it's a great idea to have the main character absent from his/her book for prolonged periods of time?

...that hardcover publishers like oddball prices such as $27 or $28? Just go to $29.99 and be done with it!

...that no matter what time you get to the post office during the day, the postal worker has just emptied the drop box and is walking back in as you pull up?

...that no matter how many times we leave the house and return during the day, Anna and Mischa think they're supposed to get a new can of food each time?

...that the best sleeping of all is that half-hour or so that you get when you tell yourself "I'm just going to lay here for five minutes after the alarm, and then I'm getting up"?

...that Starbucks only orders four pumpkin scones every day, even though they continually sell out of them by about 10 am?

...that 99% of the people who give you specific times and/or dates that they'll be coming by don't actually make it on those times/dates?

...that no matter how much we hear about the dire situations facing the auto industry, whenever I inquire about the vehicle, it's supposedly the one model that's doing so great that they're not discounting it?

...that, conversely, the vehicle I have to trade in is always the model for which there isn't much demand, so they can't offer me as much as they normally would?

...that, even though there's only one crooked fork in a silverware drawer that has 24 forks, I will inevitably pick it up every time I reach for a fork.

....that the fork is crooked, anyway? Uri Geller has never visited me...

...that most people will treat you with much more respect if you're wearing a blazer or a sport coat?

... that Target seems to routinely store their chocolate candy in a warehouse with an ambient temperature of about 93°, so that whenever I buy it it's always melted and resolidified into an amorphous mass?

...that ziploc backs turn out to have routinely failed to either zip or lock?

...that smokers assume that none of their smoke will stink up a building if they merely stand 18" away from the door as they indulge their addiction?

...that no matter how much time you put into making a list, you think of the perfect entry the minute you've shut the computer down?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Closing the Books

I know I'm a jaded guy at times, but I'm beginning to wonder just how many more books can carry the name Marvel Masterworks without the editor being required to cross his fingers when he refers to them as such. When Marvel is reprinting random non-X-Men books featuring the mutants to fill in the gap between X-Men #65 and Giant-Size X-Men #1, you have to wonder--and the appearance of any Defenders volumes in a book called a Masterwork seems contradictory.

So what is there to reprint at this point?

Well, there are still some missing gems.

Of course, the pre-hero Marvel run should continue under the name, particularly those issues that feature the core Silver Age Marvel bullpen (Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Ayers, and Sinnott). And we're still missing the greatest part of the SHIELD run from Strange Tales--those Jim Steranko issues. There are some great Lee-Kirby issues of Two-Gun Kid (who was, for all intents and purposes, a costumed hero in the West) that deserve reprinting. And I think they should go much further with Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos than they've gone so far--at least through the end of the Severin era.

While I enjoy seeing the Golden Age material, the truth is that most of it is really sub-par once you get past the prime Simon & Kirby-Everett period. Take a look at the most recent All Winners volume and you'll see what I mean--it's fun, but it's amazingly crude and hardly Masterworks-ish.

I think it may be time to retire the Masterworks line in the near future. I'd like to see Marvel instead go for a chronological series of books that lets us experience the Marvel titles as they originally appeared. Let us see all the 1961 books, then the 1962 books, etc.; add historical commentary, text pieces, letters columns, overviews, etc., and re-present the Marvel Universe as those of us who were there originally experienced it. It would be great fun to see what was happening in Spider-Man at the same time that FF #25 & 26 appeared, or what Thor was doing in his own book at the same time he appeared in issues of The Avengers.

I pitched this idea to David Gabriel at Marvel, but he didn't think it would sell. I'm not giving up yet, though; I think there's life in this idea, if I can just sell the right person on it. It was that sense of interconnectedness that made the Marvel Universe so distinctive at the time, and this would be a great way to re-experience that.

Surprise from the Past

Recently did an interview with Andrew Cosby, creator/producer/writer of Eureka, a Sci-Fi Channel series that I follow regularly. Andy is also the publisher of Boom! Studios, a comic book company that's doing a lot of licensed books... including a comic based on (how'd you guess?) Eureka.

I knew that Andy had shopped at Dr. No's many years ago, when he lived here (before he moved West to find fame and fortune), but in the course of the interview, another connection with Andy was revealed. I'll let Mr. Cosby fill in the rest:

“Cliff's comic book shop was the shop I grew up with. When I was a kid, it was really the only bonafide ‘comic book store’ around. Not to date myself, but this was during a time when comics were mostly purchased off the spinner racks at your local grocery store or convenient mart. You might also be interested in knowing that eight tracks were still around and The Six Million Dollar Man was ‘that hot new show,’ but I digress...
“I eventually moved away from Atlanta, but then moved back during my junior year of high school—North Cobb, to be precise. Happy times, me being the only punk rock kid in school that even the rednecks considered to be too redneck. I still remember my first day, in which I found myself sitting in the middle of Mr. Biggers' English class. He started the year off with one of those classic essay assignments -- ‘What I Did Over the Summer,’ or something like that. At the end of the hour, Cliff called me up to discuss my essay. I thought I was in some kind of trouble -- I was used to that at this point in my school experience. But it turned out they'd put me in the wrong class. This was a remedial English course, and Cliff was quick to ship me off to the advanced placement classes. Now I'm a writer being interviewed by one of the first teachers to recognize it. Funny how life works!
“Thanks again, Cliff, not just for taking the time to do this interview, but for taking the time more than two decades ago to recognize that the weird kid in the back of the class might have some potential. I'll keep on trying to prove you right!”

What a pleasant blast from the past! Thanks, Andy!

Back at the Keyboard

I've been gone for a while. I'm back now.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Putting the Bad News Behind Us

Unfortunately, America now has the most unqualified president in the nation's history.

Our nation was in much better shape until January 2007, when Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Now that they've taken the White House as well, I fully anticipate that the Democrats will escalate the journey down the path they've led us on for the past two years.

I only hope I'm wrong.

I've said in the past that I've lived through the three worst presidents in history. The statement will be just as true in 2012--but the next four years will determine whether the names have changed.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Howard Stern, Social Experimenter

I rarely watch or listen to Howard Stern, but this bit is too insightful to pass up. If you think people are voting for Obama because they like his policies, then you really need to listen to this:

Obama-nations Redux

So Obama's idea of helping our country is to bankrupt the coal industry, huh?

Meanwhile, the "never met a truth I couldn't evade" Obama and his political team are now downgrading the definition fo rich to $120,000 (that's the current level where higher taxes will kick in... but don't worry, it'll keep going lower). This should be no surprise, of course; Bill Clinton said that he would implement a millionaires' tax, and when he got through it kicked in at $240,000.

Meanwhile, numerous reports agree that speakers accused Israel of genocide at the Khalidi dinner that Obama attended, while Obama said that Israel has no god-given right to Palestine--which would offer good reason for the LA Times to avoid releasing the tape that they're attempting to bury.

And now Obama is talking about plans for an enormous expenditure (one equal to our current military budget) for a vaguely-defined "civilian national security force," but he isn't saying where the money for this huge expenditure will come from (does he plan to half the defense budget, or to continue to lower that definition of rich so that he can raise the taxes on more productive Americans while giving unearned money to the non-productive in the form of tax reductions that greatly exceed the total amount of taxes paid?).

Might he win the election? Unfortunately, yes--and if he does, this nation will be setting itself up for the worst administration I've seen since I voted in my first election way back in 1972. (And that's saying a lot--I lived through Jimmy Carter's presidency!)

Friday, October 31, 2008

And the Obama-nations Just Keep on Comin'

Looks like Obama loyalists ordered the illegal use of government files to check out Joe the Plumber, whose crime was to question The One. Read more here.

Meanwhile, Obama has said that anyone who doesn't want higher taxes under his plan is selfish. But he's demonstrated just how selfish he is; not only is his brother living in squalor overseas, but his aunt is living in a slum in Boston, and Obama has done nothing to help her out.

And speaking of Obama selfishness, howsabout this look at Obama's charitable gifts for the past seven years?







It appears that Barack was giving 1% or less of his income to charity until he decided to run for President in 2006 (remember, his 2005 income would have been filed in 2006, after the point where Obama began to launch feelers for his Presidential run). And even now, his charitable donations are much lower than those greedy Republicans he so condemns (Bush, Cheney, or McCain).

Then there's the Obama hubris: he has exiled from his plane reporters who work for newspapers that didn't endorse him. This is, of course, in keeping with the petty vindictiveness of the Obama machine (as Joe the Plumber knows all too well).

What a dismal choice for a potential president.

My earlier analysis saw Obama as 1/3 Gatsby, 1/3 Babbitt, and 1/3 Stark (Willie, not Tony). I'd reduce the Gatsby ratio to about 5% (at least Jay tried to better himself), and increase the Babbitt and Stark to about 47.5% each.

Oh, and in reference to the whole Rashid Khalidi thing? One person who was there reports that there were comments made to Israeli genocide and the need for continued Palestinian terrorism, and that Obama never said one thing to disagree with any of this. Had it been McCain at the same rally, do you suppose for a moment that the LA Times would be burying that video?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More Obama-nations

Here's a great story about how, under Ayers and Obama, the Annenberg Challenge and Woods Fund distributed money to (among others) ACORN (the group that Obama has claimed to have little to do with), Obama's own church (with no reasons given), and the South Shore African Village Collaborative, a group who condemns American values and whose ideologies are more in line with the racism that was an inherent part of Jeremiah Wright's teachings. (Notice the usual Obama evasion--rather than deal with the issue, attack the news source. Maybe they can ban them from future interviews as well... it seems to be the other standard practice of Obama's propaganda machine.)

And speaking of Barbara West, the reporter who was banned from future interviews by Obama's Ministry of Propaganda--you'll notice that McCain and team had no problems with her for asking them hard questions.

And if you'd like to learn a little more about the radical extremism of the SSAVC and its radical racism, here's an insightful piece by Stanley Kurtz.

Meanwhile, even strongly pro-Democratic voices like Linda Bloodworth-Thomason recognize the bigotry and vitriol behind some of the pro-Obama media venues' assaults on Sarah Palin and its totally unbalanced pro-Obama propaganda.

And even Politico finds it hard to defend the LA Times' refusal to release the potentially damaging videotape of Obama at a gathering reportely rife with anti-Israel sentiment.

If a combination Babbitt-Gatsby-Stark like Obama wins this election, it'll be in large part because the media worked to make it happen.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Journalistic Integrity - 2008 Oxymoron

Here's a great piece by Michael Malone about the erosion of journalistic standards, particularly in regards to coverage of the 2008 election.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why the Bailout Was a Bad Idea

So remember that $700 billion figure that someone at the Federal Reserve just made up on the spur of the moment? Remember how it became the holy grail of the bailout, and how that $700 billion given to banks was going to help them restore credit to American consumers and make it easier for the economy to recover?

Well, not so much.

It appears, according to this article citing an executive at Chase Bank, that the main purpose of all that money is to allow banks to use our money to buy other at-risk banks.

Read it for yourself.

And let's see if it's too late to get our money back...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

More News You Won't Hear Much About

Did you hear that there's a video of Barack Obama attending and participating in an event in honor of radical Islamist Rashid Khalidi (an event that reportedly was strongly anti-Jewish)--but because the public dissemination of such video would work against Obama, the LA Times is refusing to release it or tell where they got a copy? (Do you think for a moment they'd hold back on a video if it showed John McCain at the same gathering?)

Or that tough questions regarding Barack Obama's socialist tendencies in fiscal policies not only don't get answered, they get the questioning reporter banned from any further interviews with the Obama-Biden media coup... err, campaign?

Or that within hours of Joe the Plumber's talk with Barack Obama, government computers were illegally used to access supposedly private information... and that information was leaked by Obama politicos in an attempt to discredit and/or smear Joe Wurzelbacher, the man who dared to question Obama?

Or that while people are arguing about the cost of Sarah Palin's clothes, no attention is being given to the $5+ million spent for the Greek Temple of Obama constructed for the Democrat's convention?

Or that Obama volunteers decided to withdraw their fraudulent Ohio ballots when they were told that they would face felony charges for voter fraud if they cast ballots without meeting the requirements?

Or that, in order to raise maximum funding while circumventing FEC regulations regarding overseas donations and untraceable funding, Barack Obama's donation website has purposely disabled all credit card security, allowing people to process credit card charges under false names and false addresses--the sort of thing that would result in a business's credit card processing account being shut down in days?

Unfortunately, you don't hear much about any of these things, because widespread national dissemination of this information might work against the media's attempted coronation of Barack Obama as the country's next President. But it's important for people to know that this is the modus operandi of the man who may become our next President.

As Orson Scott Card said, "would the last honest reporter please turn on the lights?"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Taxing the Rich, Huh?

The Democrats haven't won the election yet, and already they're looking to commit the largest middle-class theft in government history: they want to nationalize all the revenue in private 401k accounts, and turn these tax-free retirement accounts into huge sources of tax revenue. Read all about it here.

A few years ago, I heard someone who insisted that the next time a Democrat moved to the White House, this would be among the first sources of funding they would target. I thought for sure that he was wrong; surely they would never do anything so brazenly anti-middle class, something that would remove billions of dollars from the very people they claimed they were trying to help.

Guess I was wrong.

Let's hope that the word gets out on this in time for people to run some numbers and see just how much this would cost them. It appears that "spreading the wealth" isn't just a casual aside from Obama: it's the new Democrats' mantra, and no revenue is off limits.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Card Deals It Out

Here's a great piece by Orson Scott Card about the media's totally shameless attempts to present propaganda in place of news in order to influence the results of an election.

Had the news media exerted even a small percentage of the effort to investigate ACORN and Obama, or Ayers and Obama, that they've exerted in attempting to smear Joe the Plumber for his legitimate questions regarding Obama's socialist fiscal beliefs, then we might be able to call these guys reporters. Unfortunately, the purported news sources (major newspapers, television, and even news suppliers like AP) have abandoned any pretense of neutrality in this election; they're part of the campaign team now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Daysed

I'm 20, 143 days old.

Ever figured out exactly how many days you've been alive? Ever since my brief death, I've calculated how many post-heart-attack days I've lived. Recently, I calculated backwards to the date of my birth, and now I have a script that updates my age by one day each time the clock hits midnight.

20,143 days. I remember so very many of them--some vividly, some in fragments and mental snapshots.

And there's something about a precise count that makes you want to avoid wasting a single day. When you're more than 55 years old, as I am, a day may not seem like much. But when you're 20,143 days old, a day seems more significant.

Think of it this way. Most of us make more than $20,143 a year. But I don't think there's a single one of us who'd pass up a free dollar, or who'd be willing to throw a dollar away for absolutely no purpose. So why should a day be less valuable than a dollar?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Buck Stops Here

Remember a couple of months back, when I mentioned that I had let my TV Guide subscription lapse, leaving our home TV Guide-less for the first time in thirty-five years? Well, apparently I'm not the only one who decided the new guide-less, larger-size gossipy format was unnecessary--TV Guide has become a massive money-loser, and as a result the publisher has sold the magazine to another investor for $1.

That's right--TV Guide the publishing venture, once the second most profitable magazine in the US, has become such a money loser that the entire operation sold for 1/3 the price of a single issue. Don't take my word for it--read all about it here. I'll wait...

Even better, they get a $9 million-plus loan at less than current market rates in exchange for paying a buck. And when you consider how tough loans are to come by right now, that's doubly amazing.

It's also sort of sad. I remember a time when TV Guide was so integrally linked to my entertainment that the new issue was the first thing I grabbed from the stack of mail when it came in. We usually got our TV Guide on Thursday for shows starting on Saturday, giving me a scant two days jump on the first listings. Bear in mind that we had no VCRs at this time, so actually planning our schedule around must-see TV shows not only made more sense, it was necessary. There was no other way to see them, other than hope they'd be rerun at some point in the future.

When VCRs did come along, TV Guide made it possible for us to plan our schedules for viewing and for recording; I'd spend an hour or so scanning the lists for rarely-seen movies so that we could record them and watch them without having to sit up until the wee hours of the morning.

Back then, TV without TV Guide seemed only half as enjoyable. Now, TV Guide seems less useful than a number of media websites. Oddly enough, the one site I never visit is... tvguide.com.

I wish the new owners lots of luck. But until they can find a way to convince former diehards like me that the magazine has any value in today's world, there isn't a chance that they'll turn it around. I suspect that there will be no TV Guide five years from now... but I hope these guys can prove me wrong!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Random Thoughts

You may remember, if you've been reading my ramblings for a while now, that I had one problem with the Hyundai Genesis' Lexicon 17-speaker stereo system: they took off the random button, but they forgot to add a random feature to the software to compensate. So you can hook up an iPod just fine, and it'll play back wonderfully--but it wants to play back in alphabetical order and steadfastly refuses to randomize. I tried randomizing through the iPod itself, and it would work on a hit-or-miss basis on an "all song" basis, but nothing I tried would randomize songs in individual playlists.

Then someone suggested that I quit focusing on the two most obvious elements in the equation--the Lexicon system and the iPod--and instead turn my attention to the third element--the iTunes-running computer that puts the music on the iPod to begin with.

Turns out that iTunes' "smart playlist" feature allows you to create pre-randomized playlists; you can specify how many songs you want and set all sorts of qualifiers, then click once. The result? A totally randomized list built to your parameters.

Needless to say, once I verified this I spent a half an hour or so building Genesis versions of all my playlists, randomized and ready for listening. Hoorah!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dare to Be Grating

I have now watched one episode each of two of the worst sitcoms ever made.

I've mentioned previously that I'm a sucker for sitcoms; I think the half-hour situation comedy is probably television's greatest accomplishment (yes, I know that the concept was derived from radio and from film shorts, but television perfected and polished it until it made the sitcom a uniquely televisionesque product).

The first sick-com I endured was Worst Week. The premise here is that the main character continues to cause bad thing after bad thing to occur, and they get worse as each episode goes along. Apparently he'll cause the large hadron collider to create a black hole and destroy the planet before the season ends--that's about the only way they can end a story of progressive disaster like this. One episode proved to be slightly less pleasant than my dental crown-replacement appointment--but at least I got to deal with a likeable person when I went to Doc Sturn's office. There's no one likeable on Worst Week.

Last night, I watched one horrifyingly bad episode of Kath & Kim, a sitcom starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair. I'm not sure why this is a sitcom; there's nothing comedic about the situation, there's nothing likeable about the characters, and there's nothing appealing about the writing. Molly Shannon remains one of those comedians whose appeal eludes me--and Selma Blair demonstrated that she has no concept of or skill for comedy.

I actually tried a third disastrous sitcom, a Jerry O'Connell vehicle called Do Not Disturb, but it was so irredeemably bad that even the network couldn't sit through it for very long; the show was cancelled after three episodes, which was two more than I could bring myself to watch.

But I've found one good sitcom--Gary Unmarried--and some old favorites are back. The Big Bang Theory remains the best new comedy on television, closely followed by How I Met Your Mother. The Office and My Name Is Earl are still perfectly adequate (although nowhere nearly as good as their first seasons). So I have no shortage of sitcoms to fill my exercise-room DVR (one sitcom is just about the perfect length for one exericse session).

Food for Thought

When we were having dinner at the Canton Road El Rodeo (the Mexican restaurant we frequent every Wednesday night), I had a conversation with the manager (a wonderfully thoughtful and generous woman who never fails to make us feel at home) about business. Unfortunately, the news wasn't good. Like most of us who rely on the public to come in and spend money, her business was hit hard by the two-week-long gas crisis in metro Atlanta. When people aren't sure they have enough gas to get to work for the week, many of them quit going anywhere non-essential. And while I certainly don't agree, many of them apparently define Mexican restaurants and comic book shops as non-essential.

And like us, some of her customers still haven't returned to their old habits. Almost everyone I've spoken to in the metro area has seen the same problem: traffic is down from its pre-gas-crisis levels. It's like 10% to 40% of the customers (the percentage varies depending on the nature of your business, but it seems the restaurants are suffering the worst) just haven't come back to the places they used to frequent. It wasn't a gradual change, either; for almost everyone, the problem began between September 8th and September 11th, the first week of the post-Ike gas problem.

Of course, we left a better than usual tip--and usual for us is 35% to 40%, but I kicked that up to 55% or so instead--but I know that's not enough to make up the shortfall. I hope there's a turnaround soon; I always hate to see friends forced to endure hard times...

Biden His Time

Apparently, Joe Biden would have done better had he been able to plagiarize his debate responses the same way he did his speeches.

During the Vice Presidential debate, he managed to flub all sorts of things, including the duties and role of the Vice President, for which he chastised Sarah Palin. Problem was, she got it right and he got it wrong. He got lots of other things wrong, too--and you can see a list here. (And this is the guy whose supposed to bring experience and wisdom to the Obama campaign?...) Don't look for a list of these errors in most other news venues, though; somehow, they forgot to mention them...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

So long, AJC

I've decided to let my subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lapse when it comes up for renewal in January.

It's not primarily a political thing. It's a content thing. Believe it or not, the comic strips are an important factor in my decision to subscribe, and they won't be carrying two of my favorite strips when the renewal comes up. They've already dropped For Better or For Worse, even though Lynn Johnston is still producing revised versions of the original strips (most of which I've never read). And Opus is going away in early November as Berke Breathed ends the strip.

The other thing for which I buy the paper? Coupons--but the AJC now distributes those coupons for free in a weekly distributed only to non-subscribers. So why bother spending money for 'em when they'll show up in my driveway if I don't?

News? Forget it. Like it or not, the newspaper is no longer a source of current news--it's a source of recent history instead. And they make all of their news content available online anyway, where you can read it when it is news.

So long, AJC.

The Audacity of Treason

The Washington Times has reported here that Barack Obama tried to prevent the completion of an agreement to keep American troops in Iraq--in effect working against the interests of his own nation and against the proper negotiations of our nation's elected commander in chief. And the source on this information isn't one of those anonymous third-party sources, but the Iraqi government itself.

Obama demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice the truth in order to win the presidency. Now he's proven that'll sacrifice the safety of our troops and the interests of our nation as well.

Maybe, if Obama wins, he can appoint William Ayers to handle our negotiations with the Iraqis on his behalf; who better understands the threat of murderous bombers, after all, than those who have embraced the concept for decades?

Classic Concept

Just read an interview here with the folks who are re-releasing the original Classics Illustrated. Problem is, they're only rereleasing them in the UK and select regions that do not include the United States--probably because Papercutz has the license for the Classics name here. The news is great for UK readers--the publisher has gone to great trouble to restore the art for these classics, they've located original plates for many of the covers, they have an ambitious release plan and sufficient funding to make it work...

And unlike the American releases, they're actually giving readers the Classics Illustrated they want, not the ones the publisher wants to force on them.

Here in the US, the Classics name is attached to a number of works on the Papercutz line--but none of them are produced in the style of the original Classics Illustrated. Some of them are the product of the short-lived First Comics/Berkley Books Classics relaunch that saw creators like Bill Sienkiewicz brought in to re-adapt the classics. I tried to use those in the classroom when I taught; give the Sienkiewicz version of Moby Dick to a high school student, and within ten minutes he'll be longing for the clarity and simplicity of the Herman Melville prose.

The original Classics were simple, straightforward, traditional... perhaps even a little staid in their approach. That's what was necessary; if the idea was to sell readers on the classics that they might otherwise not read at all, then simplicity and understandability is paramount. I often compare Classics Illustrated to Cliff's Notes; if you're buying the Cliff's Notes of a book you might not otherwise read, you don't want the author of those notes to take a bold, experimental literary approach to adapting the work, do you? Of course not! You want the story, simplified and clarified.

The other problem with the PaperCutz Classics Illustrated is that they're using the name as a home for previously-released non-CI adaptations of works like Wind in the Willows, figuring that the Classics Illustrated logo might sell them into a new audience. But these aren't the major classics that readers are looking for; this is advantageous publishing that hopes to ride on the established reputation of a brand name to sell a product that really isn't. It's sort of like buying the rights to the Kentucky Fried Chicken name so that you can fill the box with McDonald's Chicken McNuggets; odds are people will notice that what they're getting isn't what they want.

I hope that some American publisher--perhaps PaperCutz, but if not then someone with a real understanding of what the market wants--will put these UK editions out in the US. I'm not too optimistic right now, though...

Genesis Revisited

Had to take the Genesis back to the dealer's yesterday to correct a glitch. When I walked into the garage at 7am, the first thing I heard was the loud whirr of the cooling fan. However, that fan had not been on when I went out for a walk at 12:30 am, and there was no reason it should be on at all--the car hadn't been driven since 5:30 the previous day.

Of course, the continually running fan had drained the battery to the point that I had to get a service truck sent out to jump-start the car. (Since it was in the garage and there was no way to put it into neutral until it cranked, it was a good thing that the Genesis' battery is in the trunk, underneath the floor mat--it made it easy to hook up the jumper cables.) Got it to the dealer's, and they verified that the problem was actually an issue that had cropped up in a few other cars recently--a cooling sensor switch that had failed, deceiving the engine into thinking that it was hot when it wasn't.

New problem: Hyundai had all the replacement sensor switches in one warehouse in New Jersey. No chance of getting it fixed that day, so they gave me a loaner. Alas, it wasn't another Hyundai Genesis--or a Hyundai Santa Fe or a Hyundai Azera--but a Ford Fusion that I found myself driving.

I didn't think much about it until I cranked the car. It was loud, uneven, and coarse; it reminded me of an old pickup truck, not a contemporary car. This wasn't an old beater of a car, either; it was a 2008 with only 20,000 miles on it. All of the sudden, I remembered why neither Susan nor I had bought an American car in thirty-eight years; this was so substandard, that I was surprised Ford would want it to go out with their emblem on it.

The car was sluggish and weak; the seating was functional but unappealing; the sound system was boomy and muddy. There was nothing about this car that would ever make me consider owning one. I pointed out to them that had they given me a Santa Fe--a vehicle that Susan was considering for a purchase--they might have generated a sale. No chance this car would generate anything other than disappointment...

When I talked to Hyundai Consumer Affairs, I mentioned my disappointment. They seemed to take it seriously, as did Jamie, the sales manager at Woodstock Hyundai; the next day, I heard from him that had he known of the problem, he would have gotten me a Hyundai no matter what. He offered to have an Azera sent out to me right then, but the service department had told me the part had arrived and my car would be ready in an hour, so there was no need for that extra effort (although it was much appreciated).

Picked up the car this afternoon; they had to replace the battery as well, since they were getting anomalous readings indicating that it wasn't holding a full charge.

End result, I got a repaired car and a restored confidence in Hyundai's support for Genesis owners. I also learned that sadly enough, American cars had done nothing to close the gap between them and their foreign competitors. I was honestly surprised; I figured that with the move towards globalism, car manufacturers had taken steps to ensure that everyone gained from the improvements in technology and manufacturing standards. The Fusion proved me wrong; I couldn't believe that a Honda Accord competitor would have such poor performance and such shoddy fit and finish. At one point, I had toyed with the idea of a Lincoln MKS or an MKX; now, knowing that Lincoln is a Ford division, I don't know that I could feel comfortable spending so much money on a company that produced such low-end mediocrity.

(The last American car either of us bought? A 1970 Mustang Mach I, purchased by Susan in September of 1970 and disposed of in 1973 after several years of phantom stalls, start failures, hot-engine warnings, and trips to the dealership. The dealer never solved a single one of the problems; had this occurred today and not in 1970, the car would have qualified for replacement under the lemon law, but back then there was no such thing. Pretty vehicle, but the most unreliable car either of us has ever owned...)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Numbers Game

Today I laid claim to Mom and Dad's phone number. Since I don't live in Rome, I can't have an actual number because there's no actual address to link it to--but I can have a standalone voice mailbox, which means that whenever anyone calls the old home number, they'll get a chance to leavea message.

Cole and Christy had the phone number for a while after Dad passed, but when they switched to Comcast, they weren't able to port the number over, and they lost it. When ATT contacted me about another matter, I asked what I might do about reclaiming that phone number, since it hadn't been assigned yet. Initially, no one really knew what to do--then I heard from a remarkable ATT rep named Lisa, who had not one but two possible solutions. The memory call seemed like the better of the two solutions (and the more affordable), so here we are. As of now, 234-5781 is once again the Biggers phone number.

Can't say why this is important to me, really, but it is. I had always thought of that as our real "home number," in that it was the one number that had belonged to all of us--Mom, Dad, Kim, me, and Susan. Back when Susan and I couldn't afford our own phone, Mom and Dad were good enough to act as a surrogate phone service for us; people could call and leave messages (and back in the early 1970s, that meant someone had to physically write the message down, because Mom and Dad didn't have an answering machine--did they even make answering machines in 1971-1973?) and Mom or Dad would relay the info the next time they talked to me.

And today, I realized that this number has been the Biggers number for fifty years now. Mom and Dad first got this phone number way back in 1958, when all of north Georgia had the 404 area code, no one had dreamed of mobile phones, and we were making our first home in Rome. Fifty years... one number... and now it's ours again.

Thanks, ATT!

Monday, September 29, 2008

After Midnight

Got out a little after midnight tonight to make a circuit in search of gas, and it paid off right away: the QT at Scufflegrit and Sandy Plains (about four miles from my house) had just gotten in a delivery of regular gas. I was able to fill up the Genesis, come back home, switch it out for Susan's Murano, and fill it up as well--and all in about 30 minutes time! I called Brett and Buck to spread the good news (tried to call Ed, but got his machine), and I know that Brett was able to fill up both his car and his truck... although he noticed, as did I, that there were far fewer functioning pumps by the time he got back with the second vehicle than there were initially.

I borrowed the phrase "gas vampires" to refer to those of us who get out after most everyone else has gone to bed, hoping that we can find gas before everyone gets up to go to work the next day. I've found gas vampirism to be very rewarding, thank you very much...

One thing I've noticed during my late-night walks is how very quiet it is; traffic is greatly reduced, both in the neighborhood and on normally-busy Sandy Plains Road and Shallowford Road, both of which normally produce a constant, muted buzz of traffic noises all through the night. Not now, though--it's reminiscent of Christmas Eve night, when most everyone is where they want to be and no one is driving. Occasionally I hear the sound of a single car passing in one direction or the other, but that's it. It makes for a very peaceful night... although when I consider why it's so peacefully quiet, I'd gladly accept the noise just for a return to fuel normalcy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Primo Explanation for Subprime Mess

Here's the best, most concise explanation I've found for how we got into this financial mess:



I think you can figure out what should be done to remedy it; unfortunately, a lot of politicians seem to think that driving a whole further down this dead-end road is the best course of action.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Top Billing

Today I got to talk to Bill Shatner.

I can call him Bill--he told me I could!

I interviewed Shatner for an article I'm doing on Bluewater Productions' William Shatner Presents comic book line; the interview was worked in around the shooting schedule for Boston Legal.

It's always a little awkward to talk to someone whose work you have enjoyed for many years; there's a constant struggle between the tendency to fall into fan mentality and the need to focus on the task at hand. But talking to Bill was comfortable and casual, largely because he made it so.

He was honest and down-to-earth for the duration of the interview; at no point did he try to give me pompous speeches about his comic book line. He was honest about his level of involvement, he seemed genuinely enthused about what was being done with his concepts, and he seemed quite happy that readers would be interested in these books.

He also spoke a little bit about how it never would have occurred to him when he took the Star Trek job more than four decades ago that it would make science fiction a permanent part of his life--one that he found himself enjoying even more now than he did then.

All through the conversation, I had to remind myself that I was talking to a 77 year old man. His energy, his exuberance, his gregarious nature all seemed more indicative of a personality at least thirty years younger. Would that we could all be so vital in our seventies!

It's No Gas Gas Gas

Today is day five of Atlanta's gas crisis.

Approximately 10% of the gas stations in Atlanta have any gas at all, and those few that do have such long lines that the average driver burns gallons gas waiting to buy more gas. Business is off throughout the metro area because drivers can't risk the extra gas for any unnecessary travel. We already have customers who not only can't come to the store, they can't get to work because they can't find gas.

And we have a governor who took days to do anything, who refuses to address the issue head-on, who says that the crisis is psychological, and whose stock solution to the gas crisis is to talk about possibly closing schools for a day or two.

What we need is a governor who'll order rationing statewide until the supplies level out, who'll take action to force suppliers to divert more supplies to Atlanta, and who'll see to it that the supplies we do have are evenly distributed across the metro area.

What we get is a governor who still thinks millions of dollars spent to promote fishing is a good idea; a governor who doesn't see a problem because he can still go wherever he needs to; and a governor who fails to recognize that the metro area is the heart of Georgia's economy.

Next month, when Georgia posts the worst sales tax collections of any month in recent history, our governor will moan and groan about how devastating it is to the state budget... but at no point will he admit openly, "and this happened because I was too inept to do anything to solve the fuel problem."

Talked to the folks at El Rodeo, where we eat every Wednesday night; their business was off 40% yesterday and 50% today, because no one is coming in. I'm hearing the same thing almost everywhere in this area.

In the meantime, most other parts of the ocuntry are seeing declining gasoline prices and ample supply. But for us--empty pumps, lost business, and a lackadaisical governor...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Thinking back on decades of comics reading, I realize how fondly I remember the efforts of a number of companies that were unable to find enough appreciative readers like me.

When I was a kid, I loved Tower Comics. THUNDER AGENTS, No-Man, Dynamo--these were books that rivalled (and often surpassed) anything that Marvel and DC were doing at the time, and the art was some of the industry's best. Alas, they survived only a few years, leaving behind a small but stunning body of work.

In the early days of the great independent publishing boom, First Comics enlisted talents like Howard Chaykin, Mike Grell, Jim Starlin, John Ostrander, and Tim Truman to produce some of the field's most innovative and intriguing comics. Their star shone brightly for a relatively short period of time, though, before the company fell apart.

The early 1990s saw the debut of Valiant Comics, a company whose name still elicits praise from readers who were around during their heyday. Bob Layton and Jim Shooter were the men responsible for this remarkable superhero line built around a few core concepts licensed from Gold Key. There have been few books as clever as Archer & Armstrong or Quantum & Woody. Alas, things went wrong on the business side and the personal side (dissension in the ranks led to polarization and the eventual loss of several integral creators), and the company was gone far too soon.

The early part of this decade saw the short-lived Crossgen. The company had a controversial business model, but they made it work--their books were some of the best on the stands at the time, and they produced a number of distinctive series that brought new readers to comics and established an incredibly loyal fan base. Publisher Mark Alessi's snipe-hunt pursuit of mainstream market success for his line eventually did him in, though, and the company died (even worse, no one latched on to the good things that Crossgen was doing, leaving those readers with nothing similar to move on to, so many of them eventually left comics once again).

There are a number of good publishers whose stars are shining brightly now--and I suspect that some of them will follow the same nova-like path as all these others. It's part of the cycle of publishing, I guess--being good and being successful remain two wholly different things.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fringe Fan

While I don't think that Fringe is a great show, I can't help but like it. That's not a surprise--the blend of science fiction, fantasy, pseudo-science, and conspiracy theory is almost certain to click with me.

The story of an agent who gradually becomes aware of a world of complex conspiracies and contradictions is a good one--but the weekly episodic elements aren't always as "on target." I like J.J. Abrams' approach to storytelling, so I can almost forgive such pseudo-scientific babble as the second episode's ridiculous assertion that the final things a dead person saw can be viewed through careful study of his eyes (I thought that idea had been abandoned in the Victorian era, but apparently Abrams and crew saw no reason not to toss it in as if it were viable science.)

I also hate the affectation of alerting readers to locale changes by having the name of the location inserted into the establishing shot as if it were a tangible object. While Will Eisner made it look pretty cool in the pages of his Spirit tales, it looks incredibly hokey on the television screen. Unfortunately, Abrams and crew embrace it so fervently that they even have the intrusive words reflected in puddles, leaving all of us to wonder why bystanders aren't standing around wondering why there are huge letters floating in the air near them.

The first episode had a bit of an X-Files vibe; the second episode continued in that direction, but the bad science regarding dead people's eyeballs was so absurd that it made the entire story seem weak and contrived. (then again, X-Files wasn't immune to that, was it?...)

As I told someone after I watched it, it's a good thing that Abrams wants to do a 21st Century X-Files, since Chris Carter apparently hasn't the slightest idea how to accomplish that goal. Now, if Abrams can avoid his Alias problem of getting lost in his own overarcing storylines, he might be able to develop Fringe into a real must-see.

The Brothers Not At All Grim

What a wonderful day for e-mail!

As one of those people with a very fond memory of my high school years, I'm a regular reader of the West Rome High School newsletter. Recently, the newsletter included a note from Martin Rollinson, who had become a friend of mine during my high school years because he was the brother of one of my best friends, Lon Rollinson. I had briefly corresponded with Lon a decade or so ago, but a computer failure had wiped out those records (yes, there was a time when I wasn't wise enough to back up my files), so we lost contact again.

I immediately sent Martin an e-mail to find out how life had been treating him, and got an almost immediate reply. We caught up a little bit on old times, and it was apparent that Martin has done every bit as well as I knew he would.

The Rollinsons were an amazing family. I knew Lon well, Martin relatively well (he was only a year behind us), and Matt to a lesser degree. Selby and Jim I knew only peripherally because they were part of Lon's family. But anyone who knew Lon, Martin, or Matt knew that these were men destined to do well for themselves, and they have.

It's always good to reconnect with old friends... and it's even better to learn that they they have found the success and happiness that they so richly deserved.

Tooth is Beauty, and Beauty Tooth

It's hard to imagine I'd ever say this, but it's true--I really like my dentist.

Dr. Sturn is the first dentist I've truly trusted since the days when I relied on Dr. Cromartie for all my dental work. Dr. Cromartie retired more than a decade ago, and I've gone through numerous dentists, some of whom were only mediocre and some of whom were truly abominable.

I lucked into Dr. Sturn, and was surprised to discover that he was someone I knew through Dr. No's, where he had been a regular customer for a year before he became my dentist. He's a great guy--no trendy procedures du jour, no push for ultra-expensive treatments, just highly professional dental work. I like that; I never trust a dentist who tries to turn a routine cleaning and checkup into a push for $3000 of cosmetic dentistry.

I have bad teeth (a family trait I would gladly have done without, but nature offered me no choice), so having a dentist I trust is pretty important to me. Dr. Sturn fills the bill perfectly. So when he told me after my most recent checkup that I was having some problems with decay at the base of a couple of decades-old crowns that have loosened over time, I believe him. While I'm not looking forward to having to have all that work redone, I'm glad that Dr. Sturn is the man who's doing it.

(And he also has a spiffy-keen new office with televisions in every room, which is a great selling point for me!)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lexiconfrontation

That book over there? It's a book you'll never be able to read, thanks to J.K. Rowling. It's a Harry Potter Lexicon, a print version of information available for a long time on a fan website--a website that was praised by J.K. Rowling before she decided that revenue was more important than anything else. And this week, a judge decided that fair use didn't support non-fiction works of literary annotation, explanation, or criticism, apparently, since he ruled in favor of Rowling and basically banned the book's publication.

My response? Well, I won't be doing anything to give Rowling any more of my money, nor will I be carrying any further Rowling material in my store. I would have thought an author would be pleased to see a guidebook designed to make her work more accessible and enjoyable to large numbers of readers, but Rowling didn't see beyond the dollar signs. And that makes me want to deny her a few of the dollars she values above all else... including literary freedom and fair use.

And let's hope that the author is able to find an attorney to appeal U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson's verdict that subverts justice; I would hope an appeal would reverse this freedom-of-the-press-stifling ruling.

In the meantime, I invite you to join me in seeing to it that no more of your money flows into Ms. Rowling's accounts... apparently money is all she understands, so it's the only way to make a point to her.

Journey Through the Past

This morning I discovered that the Rome News Tribune has provided online access to much of its archived material, and that includes a large number of Dad's pieces that he wrote for them over the years. It's not a complete selection, but the newspaper is continuing to add content. However, a search this morning brought up almost 350 pieces written by Dad during his decades at the newspaper; while many of them are routine sports articles, I'm finding a number of his columns there as well. I'm leaving to pick up books fairly soon, so I don't have as much time to scan through all of these pieces as I'd like, but it's wonderful to discover the availability of all of this material--and it's particularly nice to find the columns from the late 1970s and the early 1980s, since I didn't live in Cedartown or Rome at that time and thus had limited access to this material. That means I'm reading a lot of Dad's words for the first time.

Anyone who's interested can click here for a list of available articles. And thanks to Burgett Mooney and the Rome News Tribune staff for offering this treasure trove of archived articles!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Funny and Not Funny

Yesterday I got a bulk e-mailing from a minor and largely unknown comics writer/artist containing a lot of bogus photos purportedly featuring vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family--if you want to see what they look like, just do a search online for "bogus photos" and "photoshopped Sarah Palin" and you'll find the whole gamut of them. I let the sender know I found this sort of thing to be demeaning and offensive--but oddly enough, in response, he defended the disproven photos as real, and then ventured into some strange argument about how none of this should matter anyway, as long as there were teenagers contracting AIDS.

I always remain surprised that people use this sort of irrelevant non sequitur as defense for anything they might do. Did the writer/artist consciously think to himself, "Well, this might be wrong--but heck, there are teenagers with AIDS, so I'll do it anyway"? The world is filled with wrongs--but if we point to one of them every time we make a conscious decision to add another wrong to the list, then all we're doing is making the world one wrong worse than it was before.

That's the new standard of public discourse, though. What a shame...

The photo above, by the way, is the REAL version of one of the photoshopped pictures he sent to a large number of people, claiming his version was real...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nothing to Get Hung About

I lead a remarkably pleasant life on many levels--I'm rarely forced to follow any sort of precise schedule, I have a great deal of freedom in regards to my store responsibilities and my Comic Shop News work, I have ample opportunity to exercise, I can do much of my work within the comfort of my own home, I rarely have to venture into traffic, and I genuinely like what I do.

Even so, there are periods when I have to deal with a certain restlessness. Every now and then, I wonder what it would be like to have every day to do as I please--to write what and when I wish, to paint again, to spend days rereading old favorites and discovering new ones, to organize the assorted accumulations that are the joy and the plague of everyone who collects.

I've been in one of those periods for the past couple of weeks. That's one reason why I haven't been posting as much; it sounds odd, but when I know that there are things I should be doing if I weren't putting them off, I feel almost guilty if I do something else (such as writing for fun)... so I end up doing absolutely nothing productive and squandering the time.

Recognizing the problem, I'm trying to get past it by forcing myself to do a little bit of productive work and a little bit of "fun stuff" every day. Apparently, even a life of semi-leisure requires some self-discipline...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

55 & 1/365

For no particular reason, I never managed to post anything at all on my birthday, and now it's 37 minutes past that date. Oh, well... I'm now 55 years and one day old.

Birthdays are odd occasions for me; I rarely celebrate them on the day itself, and it's rare that anyone other than Susan and Kim and Aunt Jean ever wish me a happy birthday on the actual day of my birthday. Saturday, we went up to Rome to see the old Marchmont House, which Cole and Christy have reshaped into a wonderful home for the two of them and Oliver (and soon, for a new addition to the family, gender as yet unknown); it's amazing to see what they've done to the kitchen, renovating it and making it into a showpiece. They remarked on how much more they had than would comfortably fit into the house, even with the two storage buildings, the large den that was added on to the back in the 1980s, and the large screened in porch. It still seems remarkable that Mom, Dad, Kim, and I lived comfortably in the home sans all those additions back in the 1962-1971 period; it just goes to show how much more stuff comprises our daily existence now, I guess. I can't imagine how we possibly fit four people and all of our stuff into that 1000 square foot home...

But I digress...

The birthday get-together was great fun; it was good to see Cole, Christy, Oliver, Jessica, Adam, Kim, and Phil (who has added a full beard since I saw him last!), and it was nostalgic to celebrate my birthday in the house where I celebrated so many birthdays in the past. When we got back home, Brett and Allyson dropped by with a surprise birthday gift--specialty popcorn from a Marietta shop whose existence was unknown to me!

Today was a normal workday for me--a busy day with a huge comics shipment that also happened to be the rainiest day we've had all year, making the whole book pickup process a little more demanding. Kim called very early, and Aunt Jean called soon after that, both wishing me a happy birthday; I got a few very nice e-mails from correspondents wishing me a happy birthday, and that was it.

Susan gave me a gift that I always love--chocolate oatmeal drops, a sort of no-bake cookie that's a lot like crumbly cocoa fudge with uncooked oatmeal added to it. I always loved those as a child, and Susan makes 'em to my demanding specifications... sort of crumbly, very dark with extra cocoa powder, and lots of oatmeal. It's my favorite cookie.

Susan was also willing to get me a coconut cake, since I've mentioned in my blog on multiple occasions how much I miss those--but I didn't want her to have to make something else, and I'll be snacking on these cookies for a while (plus we still have some nifty Superman-Batman-decorated birthday cake left over from the gathering in Rome!). Still, I hope to some day celebrate my birthday with another rich, sweet, coconut-laden extra-moist cake... oddly enough, I haven't had a coconut cake at all since Mom died, and sometime I find myself positively yearning for a slice or two. Anyone who says I'm hard to shop for, just add coconut cake to your list of things I like!...

No other mention of birthdays today--it's not surprising, really, since I don't make a big deal of it. It would never occur to me to drop lots of hints that my birthday is coming up, because every day is someone's birthday, after all, and there's no reason to make a big deal out of it.

So now my 55th birthday is history, and I'm underway on my 56th. I'm on the 3064th day of my second chance at life. I'm relatively healthy, quite happy, blessed in many ways, and doing things that I enjoy--what more could one ask for from a birthday than that?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Forget that Whole Russia/Georgia Thing

Apparently there's a much more ominous invasion going on much closer to home--in San Francisco, no less! Don't take my word for it--look for yourself. It has to be true--you saw it on the internet!


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Music, Music, Music

Thanks to this site, I now know that the number one song on the day I was born was "Vaya Con Dios" by Les Paul and Mary Ford.

Even more interesting, at no point in history have any of the Beatles, solo or as a group, had the number one chart position on my birthday.

*sigh*

Missing Dad

It's been a year since Dad died.

Tom wrote wisely that it takes a passage of a year before you can begin to move past the grief. One has to experience the first winter without, the first spring, the first summer, the first fall, the first Christmas, the first birthday... every occasion that we share with those we love, we have to learn to experience without them.

Haven't felt much like writing anything for the past few days. Had to make myself finish up Comic Shop News, in fact. Haven't felt like doing much of anything, other than ruminating and remembering. Maybe brooding a little, too.

It gets better, I know.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Wait a Minute...

Let's see... John Edwards, who has denied for years that there was any truth to the rumors that he had an affair, now admits that he had an affair back in 2006 or so. The affair ended, however, just before the "window of conception" for the baby that is rumored to be his. His wife has known about this for a couple of years now and it's all in the past.

So then, why was John Edwards meeting the purportedly-former other woman in a hotel a couple of weeks ago?...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Al: The News That Fits, We Print

Presented for your amusement, a particularly good story from the Onion regarding the future hopes of the House of Al. Click on the picture or the title for the link.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Genesis Revisited

As I mentioned earlier, I bought a tech package Genesis (black exterior, tan leather interior) on 7/31. I hadn't thought about the fact that it was the last day of the month, but that seemed to have made the negotiations go even more smoothly; the fact that I was ready to write a check for the difference right then seemed to help.

Yesterday, I made one unpleasant discovery: the car's front license plate bracket had been mounted to the front bumper by the use of sheet metal screws through the bumper itself. I normally remove the front license plate bracket, but when I took it off, the look was hideous--the sheet metal screws had left ragged upraised holes when they were unscrewed.

The dealership was willing to have the bumper sanded out, filled, and repainted if I wanted--but they also offered an additional price adjustment if I'd keep it as is, and they offered to get me a black plate with the word Genesis in silver in the distinctive Genesis font. I liked that idea well enough, so I agreed to go with that.

Here are some observations after tw days of driving:

(1) The cooled driver's seat is wonderful. Driving in Georgia's 95 degree August afternoons is much more pleasant when you have that coolness on your back. It's a shame they changed plans to offer this feature on the passenger's seat as well; I can't say too much about how great it feels without Susan giving me a hard time!...

(2) Lexicon 17 speaker sound system = audio excellence. It requires a little fiddling to find the right balance of treble, midrange, and bass, but once you find your preferred audio "sweet spot," the sound is impeccable. I tried the Lexus Mark Levinson system, but it sounded mushy. Acura's ELS system is superlative, but there's no midrange control and the system won't play the audio from a DVD-Video. The only vehicle that Acura makes that can do that, as it turns out, is the Acura MDX, because you can add an optional rear entertainment system and use the DVD-Video player to play back audio from DVD-Video discs--but that's a lot of extra money for one feature. The only thing that the Lexicon system lacks that it should add is an audio control for the center speaker; I find it to be tuned slightly low in comparison to the other speakers.

(2) HD radio really does sound great. I'm most impressed with the clarity and the dynamic range.

(3) XM radio sounds superb as well. I can't tell if they're running Neural Surround processing on the channels that offer such or not, but the surround setting on the Lexicon certainly creates the impression of surround from some XM channels.

(4) Bluetooth is adequate but not superb. The speaker volume is a little soft, but if you turn it up to sufficient loudness,the volume is excessive on the ringer when you get an incoming call. There's no mass import of a phonebook, at least not that I've found so far; I've had to load the phone numbers in one at a time (the easiest way Ifound to do that was to call a number once, then bring it up from my "called numbers" list, push the controller to the right, then choose "add to phone book" and program in the proper name). And hanging up the phone seems to require two moves, not one: you have to push down to select "end," then push in to confirm the selection. This should be done with one button on the steering wheel or the controller (and if it is possible to do it single-button and I've missed it, someone let me know, okay?). Adding a phone to the bluetooth system is quick, easy, and intuitive; I had programmed my iPhone to work with the car in less than three minutes of test-driving (at that point, I had already decided I was going to buy it, so I figured why not?).

(5) Navigation system seems to be at least as good as Acura's (which is much better than Toyota's or Nissan's), with one tiny omission: I can't find a way to determine the elevation above sea level of my current location, which is something that I used to bring up a lot on the Acura when driving in the mountains.

(6) They added an automatic trunk unlock, but they should have gone the extra step and added an automatic open/close control as well; the trunk will pop unlocked slightly, but you have to lift it open (which means getting fingerprints on that lovely black pearl paint), and then you get more fingerprints on it when you close the trunk again. Yes, I know there's an interior handle you can use to pull it down and if you're quick, you can tug and move your arm out of the way and get it to latch... but I rarely complete that move effectively.

(7) I don't use sun roofs very much at all, but one person already asked if they offered a panoramic sun roof option; that's something they might consider in the future, as these things seem to be increasingly popular.

(8) Center console is a bit small when you've connected an iPod.

(9) New iPod interface software/firmware is really needed; the current connectivity is basic and minimal. They need something that allows full randomization from any playlist, something that displays artist, song, album, and playlist data, etc.

(10) Mileage is right where Hyundai guessed it would be. My mixed around town/highway mileage is about 21.3 mpg, and we were getting 26 mpg on a 60 mile trip at 70 mph on the interstate.

(11) The car is quiet--so quiet, in fact, that twice my wife thought the car had failed to start.

(12) The A/C system seems a little bit undervented in the front; a larger vent with more cool air diffusion would have helped increase airflow and expedite cooling on hot days.

(13) The glove compartment is a bit smaller than it should be, and they've gone with a single glove box rather than the increasingly popular "large glove box below, smaller glove box above" approach. If there's room in the dash to carve out that extra space, they should consider doing this.

(14) Not only does the passenger seat not get cooling, it also doesn't get lumbar support, according to my wife (I haven't sat in that side so I can't address this from experience). Should be added to a car of this caliber.

(15) The car seems to be frequently confused with a BMW when seen from the front; I've had three people make that mistake so far.

(16) the DVD changer will play MP3 files burned to a DVD-R disc, but it won't randomize across folders, so if you have folders based on artists or albums, random will only play all the songs in that specific folder, not every song on the DVD-R.

That's it so far--more observation to come, I'm sure...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

New Genesis

Yes, I bought a new car.

Ever since I read the first reviews of the Hyundai Genesis, I was intrigued. Everything about it sounded like an upscale luxury car--well, everything except the Hyundai name and the $35-$40k pricetag. The car actually offers more than an Acura RL or an Infiniti M or an entry level Lexus 460, for a whole lot less money.

I've enjoyed my Acura MDX, but I've been dissatisfied with the lack of DVD-Video audio support, the rather simple radio features (no RDS, no HD radio), and the cabin noise at higher speeds. I've also been a bit concerned about Acura of late; Honda seems to be making one wrong move after another with their luxury brand, and I think their misdirections could jeopardize the entire line.

The Hyundai drives like a charm; the Lexicon 17-speaker 7.1 sound system is superlative, with iPod integration, HD-radio, DVD-Video audio playback, and more; the cooled driver's seat is amazingly comfortable; the cabin is comfortable and quiet; and the styling is sophisticated without being ostentatious, which is something Acura can no longer say.

There is the fact that it's a Hyundai, which means that customer service is rudimentary and lackluster (shuttles instead of loaners, for instance), but I don't plan on spending that much time at the service site. And of course, the 5 year/60k mile warranty pretty much eliminates any need for an extended warranty, since I hardly ever keep a car for 5 years or more.

I've only had it for one day so far, but I'm impressed. More to follow, of course...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Type of Humor

Print geeks, this one's for you...

Monday, July 28, 2008

El Pollo SoSo

This evening, Susan and I tried El Pollo Loco for the first time. We had seen the chain on many occasions during the years when we travelled to California fairly frequently, but we never got around to trying it then. The chain began to open locations in Georgia year or so ago, but none of those early locations were anywhere near us; finally, a few months ago, they opened a location about ten miles from here on Holcomb Bridge Road, so we added it to our "we ought to try that some day" list.

We got some coupons in the mail that made it possible for us to try a variety of items with minimal investment; add that with an errand run that put us in the general area anyway, and that was enough to make El Pollo Loco a go.

I wish I could say it was something wonderful, but it wasn't. None of the food we got was bad, but there wasn't a single thing we purchased that someone else doesn't do better. The burrito was good, but nowhere nearly as good as Chipotle's or Willy's; the chicken was good, but Publix' Chipotle Mole rotisserie chicken is better; the rice was okay, but the Spanish rice at any mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant is better; the beans were adequate, but Chipotle's beans are amazingly good in comparison.

So-so food isn't a problem in itself--it's better to be adequate at many things than to be sub-par at all of them--but when you combine it with a staff that seemed to prefer that no one come in, and a restaurant that was dirty and poorly stocked (no containers for salsa until I asked... twice; no napkins in the dispensers), and the result was a pretty mediocre first impression. I don't foresee going back unless we happen to be hungry, have coupons in our pockets, and find ourselves near another location.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey

Today, Susan and I headed back to Cedartown for a few hours. Susan was born in and grew up in Cedartown, while my parents were born there. I lived in Cedartown for a year or so when I was four and five years old, before we moved to Rome; later, Susan and I lived there for almost six years after we got married. In between those two times of calling Cedartown home, I visited there regularly to visit grandparents and relatives.

From my parents' stories and my own childhood visits, I remember Cedartown as a small but growing community with several large employers (including several factories--Goodyear, Jockey, and Arrow Shirts all had large operations in Cedartown at one point). It was a town with its own groceries, its own clothing stores, its own restaurants, its own office supply stores, its own department stores, its own furniture stores, its own auto dealerships... in short, Cedartown was the sort of town that dotted the landscape in the 1940s through the 1960s. It was a town that families could call home, a town where it was possible to find everything one needed without having to travel out of town. Of course, Rome was only a half-hour away, and Atlanta was two hours or so--but most residents found it quite possible to carry out their lives in Cedartown without having to make the trip to these larger towns.

I remember that my grandmother's house on Olive Street was just a few hundred yards away from a factory of some sorts that was just on the other side of Highway 27 (Olive paralleled Highway 27 south of Cedartown); I saw that factory hundreds of times, but I had no idea what it actually produced. Nevertheless, it was a large building, and its parking lot was filled during the day, which meant that many dozens of people worked there and earned a paycheck.

That's the way these small towns were in the middle of the last century: they had reached a sort of municipal "critical mass" that made it possible for them to be largely self-sustaining. They weren't suburbs or bedroom communities--they were homes, and they met their residents' needs. People lived there; they worked there; they went to school there; they raised their families there; they shopped there; they saw their children make a home there. Generations were born and lived and died there, and other generations followed in their footsteps.

I remember being amazed when Dad told me that Cedartown had two thriving movie theaters in the 1940s; by the time I was visiting there in the 1960s, it had only one barely-surviving theater. Susan and I went to the West Theater a time or two when we were dating and after we were married, but for the most part there was no reason to go; it was a run-down theater with second-run films that never appealed to us.

Cedartown used to have at least two car dealerships---a large Ford dealership and a large Chevrolet/GMC dealership. If either is still there, we could find no evidence of it today. The lots are converted or empty; the only cars that can be bought there are used cars from small lots that dot Highways 27 and 278.

Factories are torn down or empty. Industrial parks are now home to small businesses, mostly distribution centers; there is no sign that anything is thriving there any longer. Homes that were once opulent and impressive are worn and dreary; most of Cedartown seems to be in deterioration or decline.

Cedartown isn't an exception. All over, there are small towns of 10,000 to 20,000 people that were once thriving, healthy communities; the shift in economic focus in the past forty or fifty years has eliminated the local factories that offered numerous jobs to support the residents, and it appears that for the most part, the only jobs in small towns like this are sales/cashier jobs at the local WalMarts or grocery stores or fast food establishments, or jobs in the many banks that somehow still survive in these declining communities.

It's sobering to realize that in my own lifetime, I've witnessed the gradual elimination of local self-sufficiency in Cedartown--and I know the same process is occurring in hundreds (if not thousands) of similar towns. I see little chance of reversal; as more manufacturers shift to a global focus, moving more of their factories to facilities in other countries, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for communities like Cedartown to offer that balanced hometown experience to its residents.

Communities like Rome, with 35,000 residents in the city limits and another 20,000 or more in the surrounding county, have a greater chance to survive--but even these towns are suffering from some of the same shifts that have devastated the small towns. By the time my nephew Oliver is old enough to really understand the stories of our childhood, the sulf-sufficient small town may seem as isolated from his own world as the pioneer villages of the 1800s were from my own childhood.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bleak Anniversaries

It was one year ago yesterday that I spent my last pleasant afternoon visiting Dad, taking him out to lunch, and taking care of routine household matters for him. It was such a mundane Monday afternoon that I can only remember small fragments of it--I remember that Dad really liked the meat loaf that they had on the buffet at M&J's, so he went back for seconds. I remembered that Dad had me show him again how to play a videotape on the television in his bedroom, because he found some old tapes he wanted to watch again. I remember helping him make the bed, and his chuckle as he talked about how much he liked to sleep on clean sheets.

The next three weeks will be filled with much less happy anniversaries, and I'm already bothered by it. I think that, once I get past this first anniversary of Dad's stroke and hospitalization and death, it will be better.

I hope so.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Having Trouble Finding Sympathy...

I think I'm supposed to feel really sorry for the two people pictured in conjunction with this story. Try as I might, I'm not mustering up a lot of sympathy...

(I'll wait while you check it out: you can click on the link above, or you can just click on the URL here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92592545 )

First off, a reduction in caloric intake might have some beneficial effects...

Secondly, notice that "Nunez, 40, has never worked and has no high school degree." I do not accept the premise that "a car accident 17 years ago left her depressed and disabled, incapable of getting a job."

You know, if you really want to eat and have a roof over your head, it's time to get over a 17-year-old accident and move on to finding a way to making yourself a productive member of society, dontcha think?...

Perhaps at some point in the very near future Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs will begin to kick in and Ms. Nunez will actually begin to take responsibility for her own existence. Maybe it's not too late to teach the same sort of self-sufficiency to her daughter...

I'll Be Looking at the Moon...

Jo Stafford died on Wednesday at the age of 90.

There are hundreds of women with beautiful singing voices, but no one had the pure, melodious, heartfelt, caring sound of Jo Stafford. I first discovered her music about twenty years ago; she instantly stood out from every other female vocalist of the 1940s and 1950s, though, because her voice had a sincerity and an emotion that surpassed anyone else I had heard from that era... or from any other, for that matter.

She lived a long--and I hope, deservedly happy--life, but that's never comfort enough to her family and friends. I hope they can find some touch of solace in the fact that her recordings not only captured the spirit of a bygone time, but that they will continue to do so for many years more.

If you haven't listened to her, I offer a link to my favorite of her recordings, "I'll Be Seeing You." Give it two or three minutes and you'll see why I see her recording of this classic as the definitive one.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

So Far, No 3G for Me

As you may remember, I was quite late to the party regarding the original iPhone. In fact, back in June of last year, I devoted some space to the reasons why I wasn't buying an iPhone right away. Apple still hasn't addressed all of my concerns over missing features, but they did remedy enough of them that I ended up buying an iPhone in February of this year.

But I haven't bought a new iPhone 3G yet, because I now have a few new concerns that convince me I can get by with my original iPhone for a while yet. Here are my reasons for going old-style for a while longer:

(1) I'm not even sure I have 3G in this area. ATT's maps say I do, but when I picked up a non-iPhone 3G unit at the nearby ATT store and attempted to use it, it reverted to the old Edge network. "We're right on the edge of 3G coverage here," the sales clerk said. So if I buy the phone, will I even be able to take advantage of the increased speed? Since I've been told ATT's coverage maps are "optimistic" at best, I really don't know... but I'd hate to expend almost $700 to find out.

(2) The unit is entirely too costly. "Oh, you're wrong," you say. "It only costs $199 for the 8gb unit, $299 for the 16gb unit. That's true--plus about $60 for activation and junk fees, right up front. Then there's an extra $10 per month for a data plan even worse than the one I have now--and another $5 a month if I want to have a minimal text message plan. (I don't send text messages, but there are a few people who insist on sending 'em to me, even though I tell them that I will condemn their souls for doing so...) So there's $15 a month for 24 month, or $360 more. That's how much it'll cost to get the exact same coverage I have right now in terms of data plan and features. The only change? It'll supposedly be faster... (go back to reason 1 to see why I say "supposedly")

(3) Apple software version 2.0 is Not Ready for Prime Time. I upgraded my old iPhone to 2.0 last Friday, and my email has been pretty much nonfunctional ever since then. I thought I was just the unlucky exception, but a perusal of Apple's own iPhone forums shows that hundreds, maybe thousands of others are having the same problem. If I switch from my home wireless network to ATT's edge network or vice versa, mail quits working. I have to restart the phone (or, as I've just learned from an Apple guy, force quit the mail program) to make it work... and then it quits working again when I switch from one network to another. And the phone doesn't know that it's not working, so it eats through its battery charge trying to make the connection and check e-mail.

I've been exchanging emails with aforementioned Apple guy, forwarding him my crash logs and other data, and he said that they indicate I'm having a problem that they already know about, and they're working on a fix. I appreciate that, but I'm still wondering how the maker of the nation's best-selling mobile phone could release software that wreaks havoc on basic functionality? And how could they not get it fixed immediately? Or at least offer us an option to downgrade to the working system rather than this broken one?

(3) The new system and the iPhone App store still don't offer some of the missing functionality from that first list I posted last June. For instance, I still can't use voice dialing/calling without going through more steps than just choosing the call recipient from my favorites list. What I want is simple: I want some way to touch something on the headset or the outside of the phone that allows me to say the name of the person I wish to call, and then have the phone call them. I don't want to take it off my hip, out of the holster, open its screen, touch any buttons, etc. Dozens of others phones offer this basic function, so how did the iPhone miss out?

(4) I'm still concerned about that glass front.

(5) iPhone and ATT seem to be at odds regarding customer support, warranty service. etc. One customer bought a defective iPhone at the Apple store; he was told by ATT that he could return it for a refund, but he could not then get a second iPhone at the $199/$299 price because that was a subsidized price, and he would have already purchased his one subsidized phone (his broken one). He could get a refund, but he's have to pay a 10% restock fee and he still couldn't get the subsidized phone. Apple had to ultimately give the guy a gift card for the difference ATT was charging him and then let him use that to pay the difference. Kudos to Apple for stepping up and doing the right thing, but this says volumes about the lack of cooperation coming from ATT this time around. I suspect they really hate the iPhone; I know they tried to talk me into buying something else when I finally did buy my first generation iPhone.

So there you go; now you know why I'm still an iPhone 2.5g guy in a supposedly-3G world...