Monday, June 29, 2009

Virtually Boring

Sat through the first episode of Virtuality... and for me, it'll be the last. What a yawner! Not sure what audience they were going for, but I can't imagine this plodding mix of science fiction, interpersonal drama, and mystery is going to click with anyone. Of course, the fact that they're airing it in the summer is indication enough that the network has no confidence in it... and with good reason!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thieves in the Night

It looks like the Obama Administration is once again going to try to force a 1000+ page bill through in a blitzkrieg vote without representatives and senators having read it. In this case, it's the move to socialized health care, an execrable idea that will force some of the best out of medicine entirely. As one good friend and great doctor told me, "I'd rather walk away from medicine entirely than to render inadequate care based on a government bureaucracy."

As to how good the plan is--well, bear in mind that the man responsible for trying to force this on us said that he would not use this system for his own family. When asked if he would want this plan for his family, Obama pointedly refused to say yes; instead, he said, "I always want them to get the very best care." What that should tell you, of course, is that we will have a two-tier system--the substandard care for everyone else and the first-class care for the President, congressmen, senators, celebrities, and cronies.

And if ain't good enough for them, it shouldn't be good enough for any of us...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Have It Your Way

You know, as sexist and suggestive as this ad is, it could be worse...

They could have had a picture of that creepy grinning King instead of the woman...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Robbed by Richard Branson

Have I mentioned that Richard Branson stole $10,500 from me?

Well, not me in person, but me in the form of Comic Shop News, the publication that Ward and I have been doing for 22 years now.

Richard Branson--you know, the guy behind Virgin Airlines, Virgin Records, Virgin Megastores, etc.--started a comics company. Guess what he called it? You're right: Virgin Comics.

His Virgin Comics company ran advertising in Comic Shop News--$10,500.00 worth of advertising in a short enough period that, as the last ad was appearing, they were just barely outside the time when they should have paid for the first ad. Then Richard Branson and his advisors decided to discontinue Virgin Comics. They sold the properties off to another company and laid off the staff.

And guess what he refused to pay?

We contacted Virgin on five different occasions about the ads, and were even told at one time that payment was forthcoming. Then Richard Branson decided to spend that $10,500.00 on a meal or a computer or a bottle of wine or a paving stone for his private island or something--at any rate, he and his company never did pay a penny of what they owed, and now the addresses where we were told to send the bills are no longer valid.

I see a lot of people refer to him as Sir Richard Branson. Y'know, Sir isn't the word that pops into my mind whenever I see a picture of him...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What a Dial!

Just juggled some numbers and realized that the old 5781 number (the one that I always think of as the family number, since my parents had it from the time I was old enough to really know what my phone number was) is about to turn 50. My parents got the phone number in the summer of 1959, shortly before I started the first grade (I finished kindergarten in Cedartown prior to making the move). I changed my answering machine message to acknowledge the half-century anniversary.

(Back then, we only thought of our phone number as a seven-digit number. Come to think of it, I don't even think I knew what my area code was until I was about ten years old, when I went out of town to visit David Lynch for a week and had to dial all ten digits to call my parents.)

I also went ahead and finalized the switchover of my old iPhone over to the 5781 number; ATT was very helpful, finding a way to restructure my package so that I got the second iPhone activated and added the 2G data plan without spending any more than I was spending for just a standard phone. I still have an affection for my first iPhone, even with its old 2G limitations, and even though it was a year and a half old, it was still about two decades ahead of the basic Samsung phone that ATT gave me when they set up the account.

Having the same phone number in the family for a half-century... well, it strikes me as a significant anniversary, anyway!...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dear Dad...

It's hard to believe that it's been almost two years since you left us; I can honestly say that there hasn't been a single day that I haven't thought about you; while I don't hear your voice, I can hear your words in my heart.

So much has changed since you left. Cole and Christy have added another son to their family, so the Marchmont house now resonates with the sounds of a happy family of four, just as it did through the 1960s when you and Mom first brought us to the brand new house. I know you'd love what they've done to the place; while they've brightened it up and renovated, you'd instantly recognize it as your home, and you'd be proud of them. Cole has a new job that he loves, Christy is back in school and hoping to be a nurse, and life gets better for them with every passing day.

Jess and Adam are married now, and they have a son of their own on the way. Adam has a major job promotion on the horizon, and Jess is staying at home, waiting on the baby's arrival. She's just thrilled with the new and unexpected addition to their family, and she's writing almost daily on her own blog to preserve all her thoughts and memories of this time. It's wonderful, really; while Kim and I were enthralled by the many stories that you and Mom would tell us about the days before we were born and the days of our early childhood, Jess's son will be able to actually read his mother's words and know what she was feeling at the time. (I so wish I could have talked you and Mom into writing those stories down for us; while we still remember them, I would love the chance to relive those days in your own words one more time.)

Kimberly and Phil have been married for over a year now, and she's so very happy--I know that was what you always wanted for her, and you'd be thrilled to see how everything has come together in her life. I still worry for her--she works too much, too hard, and I wish that she could slow down a little bit. But she's doing great at her job with UTS, and there's so much less pressure on her than there was during her days at Randstad.

Susan and I are doing well; as I always tell Kim, my life is remarkably routine... and there's something good about that. I've come to enjoy routine, to appreciate the thousand little joys that accompany that familiarity.

I don't get to Rome very much any more; I tried to go back a few times after you left, but I always feel so sad once I leave there. I miss the things we always took for granted--visiting with you, talking politics, grabbing lunch or dinner, swapping stories, laughing at wonderful memories and reminiscing. We still go up to Kim's house for Christmas, but I haven't been back to Rome since the last holiday season. I still talk to Kim once or twice a week, and I try to stay in touch with Cole and Jess just to know what's going on, but everyone's so busy that we're not able to stay close the way we once did. I miss that closeness, and I miss them a lot sometimes, but I'm also happy that the lives they're building for themselves seem to be filled with joy and hope and promise for the future.

I'd give so much for a chance to talk with you one more time, Dad. Oh, I know that I talk to you every day, but I just wish I could hear your voice, hear your laugh again. I will always envy the fact that Kim, Cole, Christy, Jessica, and Adam got to share one joy-filled lunch with you before that stroke took you from us; I wish I could have been there. We never realize how important those little joys can be until they're taken from us.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. No one could have asked for a more loving, guiding, caring, generous, supportive father than you--


iPhone 3gYes!

At last, Apple has solved almost every one of my concerns I expressed two years ago when the initial iPhone rolled out.

I preordered an iPhone 3GS so that I could avoid that whole standing in line thing. Worked out great; FedEx delivered the iPhone Friday afternoon, I activated it through Apple before I went back to the store Friday evening, and I called ATT to get the phone itself activated on Saturday morning. (Yes, it was supposed to happen automatically, but somehow my equipment ID info and my SIM card number never got entered into the system before ATT shipped me the phone, so I had to call them with that into to finalize things.)

Is it fast? Amazingly so in comparison with a first generation iPhone that used the EDGE network; I never had a 2nd generation model on 3G so my comparison is 1st generation to the new 3rd generation phone, and I detect amazing differences. I can stream music through the 3G network while I'm walking, which always glitched on the EDGE network. Software is zippier, the camera is better, it records video...

And best of all, it recognizes voice commands. Hold the command button on the headset for two seconds and it chirps at you; at that point, tell it what to do and it generally does it. I've had no speech recognition problems so far, which is quite impressive, since I've tested it with all sorts of commands.

More as I continue to put it through its paces...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why I No Longer Woot

I used to hit the website every day--and much more if they happened to be in the middle of a wootoff. But now, not so much.

In case you aren't familiar with them, Woot is a site that offers one product at a discounted price every day. At 1 am Eastern time, the new item goes up for sale. You can have it for the listed price plus $5 for shipping. Sometimes it's a great deal, sometimes it's junk, sometimes it's a great deal for some people and it's junk for others. Sometimes it sells out right away, sometimes it doesn't sell out at all. And every now and then they have a wootoff, where they list one item after another to get rid of the things that didn't sell out.

I used to buy a lot from them; I'd get things at pretty good prices, with an occasional mega-bargain in the mix, and they stood behind their products. If it didn't work, they'd give a replacement or a refund.

Then I got a Slacker G1 portable internet radio player from them... and right out of the box, it didn't work right. Problems galore, failure to function, needed to be restored every few days. I contacted Slacker, and they were little help; send it us at your expense, they said, and we'll try to fix it but we don't really support that unit any more, so if it's not fixable, you can apply the price you paid towards a Slacker G2 and pay us the $149 difference. The thing was, I would never have bought a Slacker G2 at $79 plus $149; I bought the G1 because $79 was about right for an 8gb 40-station internet radio player that I could carry with me to listen to in the car, etc.

So I contacted Woot and said "this doesn't work and the manufacturer won't replace it without a hefty upgrade fee. What can you do?" And their response? "Talk to the manufacturer; there's nothing we can do."

I still have the G1; it still doesn't work right, and it still fails about once every three or four uses and has to be reflashed with firmware to make it stumble along for a few more days. I won't renew my Slacker subscription when it expires--no reason to, really, since the hardware is only semi-functional. I didn't make a big stink of the issue with Woot, but I decided then that they were no longer a Trusted Vendor on my list. Now I hit their site once a week or so to see what sort of stuff they're listing, but you know what? I think I'd rather pay a little more to get it from somewhere else where the seller ships me functional merchandise or stands behind the product...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Another Doc Delight

In my earlier post, I mentioned the Doc Savage portfolio--but I forgot to add that I had also bought from Terry a hardcover copy of The Savage Art of Bob Larkin that included a signed tip-in page with an original Doc Savage head sketch; here's the one that I picked for my library.

(And due to the newest-post-first structure of blogs, this may make less sense if you haven't read the earlier post, which will be the next post as you read 'em. Check it out for more info about Terry Allen and Bob Larkin, then come back to this one. I'll wait for ya...)

A Day With Doc

FedEx just delivered a Doc Savage portfolio, Lost Savage, along with a Bob Larkin art book that I had ordered from Terry Allen (who can be reached at docsavagefan at yahoo dot com for those of you who might be interested), who is helping ot raise money for artist Bob Larkin and his wife.. As Terry explained in a post, "The purpose of the set is to try to help out Bob in his time of need. His wife Fran is recovering from multiple bouts of cancer and Bob is her caregiver 24/7. Everything from the sale of these sets as well as the bookplate editions of his art book go to Bob."

When Jim Bama quit doing Doc Savage cover paintings for Bantam, Bob Larkin was brought in to continue the Bama-esque imagery... and he did a great job of it. Larkin's paintings evoked the same dynamic energy and sense of drama as Bama's had, but many of his paintings were reproduced in a smaller, cropped format due to a trade dress change at Bantam as Doc Savage moved from standalone books to double-book volumes and then to four-novel omnibus editions. Lost Savage offers 11" x 17" recreation prints depicting the Doc Savage covers as they should have appeared, with the original trade dress and logo design and with full-sized cover art. I opted to go with the of the lettered sets, which also includes a full-sized original Doc Savage cover sketch by Larkin; mine depicts Doc confronting a Terminator, as is shown here.

The portfolio itself is stunning; it's not just a cardboard portfolio, but an expensive, elegant, hinged multifold textured black embossed portfolio with velcro closures. Each of the 14 covers is individually signed by Larkin, who also signed the certificate of authenticity. If you're interested, contact Terry for more info--but don't wait long, because there are only 40 of the signed and numbered sets and 26 of the lettered sets that include an original cover drawing, and I believe that almost all of the lettered sets are sold out at this point.

(Below are small images of the cover mockups included in the portfolio, for those of you who might be interested in this peek at what should have been...)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Change the Channels

Tonight's the night that television changes.

I grew up with a plethora of over-the-air channels when I was a child. Since Rome is midway between Atlanta and Chattanooga, we received channels 2, 5, 8, and 11 from Atlanta and 3, 9, and 12 from Chattanooga. I think I learned channels and networks before I even fully knew my times tables: 2 and 3 were NBC, 5 and 12 were CBS, and 9 and 11 were ABC. (And then there was 8, the educational channel that no one watched in the early 1960s...)

(Those network assignments were so ingrained in my head, in fact, that when channel 2 in Atlanta switched from NBC to ABC in the early 1980s, it took me years to re-learn the network configuration. Then, when 5 went from CBS to Fox, things got even weirder...)

Channel numbers and networks and station designations have become interchangeable over the years; channel 2 and WSB and (then) NBC were three ways of saying the same thing. Even when cable came along, with its habit of re-assigning channel positions, we'd use channel number shorthand, saying things like "2 is 3, 5 is 4, 11 is 6, and 46 is 9," and it all actually made sense.

But tomorrow, those channel numbers become pretty much meaningless.

Oh, I think that WSB intends to use the 2.1 designation for its primary signal, but they're really not broadcasting on the frequency for channel 2; they're broadcasting on a UHF frequency and remapping to 2.1. That's the way it is for all the channels; they're remapping, I suspect, so that all of those like us who have grown up with these channel designations won't feel lost.

But before long, phrases like "channel 2" are going to be as archaic as phone numbers such as "Pennsylvania 6-500" or "Klondike 3-2343."

(And as an aside on the digital transition: I still have a file from Comcast, over a year old, saying that "the digital transition will have no effect on our customers, who will not have to make any changes to enjoy television." I'm putting it in with this week's letter from Comcast, informing us that all of our TV tuners are going to be worthless for any channels other than 2-26 on their cable system, because they're forcing customers to use digital adapters when they reconfigure their channels, so that VCRS, DVD-Rs, and analog and digital tuners will be unable to watch these channels. I asked a Comcast rep if that would also affect QAM tuners, and I may as well have asked if any information could escape from the event horizon of a singularity.)

A Life in Four Colors (Part Twenty-Six)

(The photo above, in all its unfortunately blurry glory, depicts Gary Steele showing off some of the highlights of his collection in 1965.)

West Rome was, as I've indicated previously, a very close-knit community. Geographically, it was a relatively small area--perhaps three miles from the western city limits to the underpass that was the unofficial dividing line between Romes East and West, maybe three more miles from the Garden Lakes area to the southern city limits--so it's no surprise that so many of us who went to school together also lived nearby.

But it was an amazing bit of good luck that I found not one, not two, but three comic book buddies less than a ten minute walk from my house. And while my friendships with Phil Patterson and John Ball only lasted for a couple of years, my friendship with Gary Steele would continue for a decade and a half... and to this day, I have no idea why it ended.

Gary lived on Leon Street, in a small two-bedroom house that I suspect was built in the 1940s. And when I say small, it's worth remembering that I grew up in a three bedroom house that barely measured a thousand square feet. By today's standards, our house was tiny, with tiny rooms and a cramped kitchen. But Gary's house was even smaller--maybe 850 or 900 square feet, and that included a dining room, two bedrooms, one bath, a claustrophobic kitchen, and a small living room.

I don't know if Gary's parents were significantly older than my parents, but they always seemed closer to my grandparents' age. Gary's mother was a sturdy Aunt Bea type who was incredibly protective of her only child; as a result, she wanted to involve herself in almost every aspect of Gary's life, and Gary seemed to resent that.

Gary's father was a stoic, taciturn, introspective man who worked at Fox Manufacturing; when he wasn't working, he enjoyed fishing and gardening... in fact, he seemed to love both. Once he accepted the fact that his son didn't share his love for either, he also accepted the fact that he and Gary didn't share much of any interests, and weren't likely to share any interests in the future.

The Steeles were genuinely nice people, the sort of people who always seemed to the be the likeable aunt and uncle sort... but Gary had few cousins that I know of, so they didn't get to play that role. Instead, they stood slightly outside of their son's life, doting over him and supporting his interests even when they didn't understand or share them--and Gary seemed to close them off from his life.

Gary, me, Phil, John... we probably lived a quarter to a half a mile apart at most, so it was natural that we would cross paths. I first became aware of Gary's comic book interest at school, when he heard John and me talking about a Fantastic Four story (FF #16, a Doctor Doom tale), and he joined in the conversation. He had obviously read the book, and he knew the story. His enthusiasm for comics was evident, and he gradually became a regular part of our lunch table group, talking about comics and monster models and trading cards.

Within weeks, Gary had invited me to come to his house--not just for a visit, but for dinner. Gary's mom made hot dogs with chili and slaw, and I was won over immediately--not only did I love hot dogs, but she made the absolute best slaw in the work, a slaw so flavorful and creamy and rich that in my mind I still to this day measure all slaws against hers. While I always felt that John Ball's father would rather that none of his children's friends ever came to the house, Gary's parents were gracious and welcoming and seemed to enjoy their son's friends.

Gary and I hit it off right away. We both loved comics of all sorts, so each of us had huge accumulations of Marvels, DCs, Gold Keys, Charltons, Archies... if it was a comic, we'd read it. Living so close to one another, we both shopped at the same places, and we had both learned the local comic book delivery schedules. So it was only natural that the two of us would start walking to Couch's and Candler's together (I had to walk right past his house to get to those two stores if I was going the back way, which was much shadier and therefore preferable in the summertime), since his house was only four doors down the road from the back doors of both stores. Hill's and Couch's were a little further away, but once again Gary's house was a convenient stop on the way.

Within a few months, Gary and I began spending the night at one another's house, reading comics and sharing stories and producing our own comic book stories and our own superheroes. That was one other thing that Gary and I had in common: we both enjoyed writing our own stories. Gary also drew a little bit, but he didn't enjoy drawing comics as much as I did--but oh, did we both love to write our own fantastic adventures! Our personalities and interests perfectly complemented one another; when one of us would discover a new interest (as happened, for instance, when we found the Coosa Valley Book Shop in downtown Rome and I discovered a rich collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs Ace F-edition paperbacks), the other would inevitably find the new discovery just as appealing and we'd have yet another interest in common.

So in early 1965, I was lucky enough to have not one but two good comic book buddies, John Ball and Phil Patterson... but even then, I knew that Gary and I were kindred spirits with far more in common than any other friend I had known before that time.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Legend No Longer Continues

David Carradine died today; it appears that he may have committed suicide, for reasons unknown, or there are some who theorize that it may have been something else.

Whatever the cause, I hate to hear of his passing. Carradine was 72 years old; in some lives, that's the end of a lifetime, but in Carradine's case, it appeared that he his vitality was far from running out. He was working on a new film at the time of his death, and his career (revitalized by his work in Kill Bill) continued to flourish. I had hoped that at some point a new Kung Fu project might allow him to complete the work that began with him as a young man and continued in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (an underrated series, I think) as a middle-aged man; it would have been nice to see him in the role of older teacher, but that will never happen.

I knew him only through his work, but I had come to like him as a quirky, sometimes eccentric actor who didn't always make the best choices but who always made the best of the choices he had made, if that makes any sense.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Childhood's End

Over on Facebook, I asked this question: "Does everyone believe that his childhood must have been the best of all possible times to be a kid?"

I was a little sad to see that some said no.

Obviously, some times have to be better than others... but it sure would be great if everyone thought that there could have been no better time to be a kid than the time that he or she was young.

My childhood had its problems and turmoil, but I cherish those years (as if obvious by my "Life in Four Colors" posts--which I'll return to soon, I promise!). And as many things as today's kids have going for them (wondrous technology, more in the way of entertainment and recreation than any generation in history), I'd not want to change places with them.