Thursday, January 31, 2008

Heeere's Johnny!

I had so much fun with the Rock Album meme that I went ahead and mocked up another album cover, just not a random one. Back in high school while bored in Calculus, I made up the lamest possible name for a punk band ever, Johnny Derivative and the Indefinite Integrals. For years I have imagined the exploits of this imaginary group of nerdcore musicians. Guys who put the "rock" into "rocket scientist." And the ultimate album name for them would be The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.

I’ve vacillated on what the stage image should be. Sometimes I think they should be clad in leather jackets with black plastic glasses, like The Ramones meet Devo. Other times I feel they should go for the skinny tie hipster look like The Specials. Either way, they would have a great playlist of math inspired songs:
  1. Rise Over Run
  2. As Epsilon Goes To Zero
  3. ∫ex=f(un)
  4. Unit Circle Run Around
  5. Points of Inflection
  6. Square Root of i
  7. Leibnitz Was A Loser
  8. Plus A Constant
  9. Un-Normal Distribution
  10. Kiss My Asymptote
  11. Imaginary Numbers (Never Let You Down)
  12. Velocity, Acceleration, Jerk

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Think of more song titles. Better yet, come up with lyrics for some of these.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Plagiarism Police: Savage Sex Stealing

It’s been a long time since I did a Plagiarism Watch, but this story is an excuse to download the accompanying prurient image. The New York Press, a weekly alternative newspaper that is the lamer rival to the famed Village Voice had to fire it’s latest sex advice columnist. It seems that instead of soliciting letters from hapless folk on the web that seem only too eager to air dirty linen, she stole old letters from Dan Savage’s "Savage Love" column. If you are going to steal, be a little more discrete. This is like submitting a John Updike story to the New Yorker. You are going to get caught. See if you can notice the similarities (and see Jezebel for longer quotes):

New York Press, 2007
I'm beginning to be weirded out by her relationship with her brother. They're always touching in each other. Then, one day, I come home and my girlfriend is in her brother's arms on the couch. As soon as I walked in the door, they jumped up, and I saw a clear view of the outline of his boner. They both looked guilty.
Dan Savage in 2006
Two weeks ago I came home and found my girlfriend in her brother's arms on the couch. They freaked at my sudden arrival and jumped up, providing me with a clear view of the outline of the boner in his pants. Guilt was on their faces.
This is a clear case of someone trying to get away with Plagiarism Excuse® #7 (I didn’t copy. I changed a bunch of words.) but the official excuse was closer to #5 (It was a youthful indiscretion.):
She has told us she was unaware that using questions from Savage's column was a breach of journalism ethics. She has offered her resignation, and we've accepted it. We apologize to our readers, and to Dan Savage, for this error in judgment.
In his podcast, Savage Lovecast, Dan has said that one of the most common questions he gets is “How do I get your job?” His answer is to not bother. There is only one of him and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Out of context that sounds incredibly arrogant, but the germ of truth is that the alt-weekly sex column niche is pretty narrow and if you are going to compete with the market leader, you need to find a better gimmick than just rewriting letters about siblings that are a little too close and the sterility of urine. Dan has officially stayed classy, but he can afford to. In an e-mail to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he says it doesn't quite rise to the level of plagiarism:
"I don't think she did this on purpose," Savage wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "The borrowing was an accident, not malicious, and doesn't rise to the level of plagiarism, in my opinion. She could've avoided this ... if she'd said, 'I don't have any letters yet, so here are some I swiped from 'Savage Love.'' And I would've given her my permission to use 'em."
Now the Press is taking open auditions for their smut advice writer. If I knew it was that easy, I would have gotten into the sex columnist business. Any questions?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Nutjobs and NaJuReMoNoMo

Way back in October of 2005 I named a certain Scientologist movie star Hunkiest. Nutjob. Ever. Since then he has done everything possible to cement his crown. I have long spun an elaborate theory that the break-up between him and a certain redheaded Australian was due to her infidelity being discovered as a result of her pregnancy not being his since he was impotent. This theory refuses to die and was recently rehashed complete with a not entirely convincing timeline and official denials in Defamer.

A side conspiracy theory of mine implies that the child of his with his current starlet wife is not his own and is part of a cover-up when she needed to protect her squeaky clean image and he could use some positive publicity as cover. Now a new book is out alleging things that even my imagination is too tame to invent. Let’s just say that L. Ron Hubbard lives. Why have I written this without naming said nutjob? Because Scientologists are not just nuts, they are highly litigious. I guarantee I will receive at least one comment accusing me of religious intolerance for besmirching such a noble respected religious institution.

NaJuReMoNoMoThe parody newspaper of record, The Onion, has inadvertently commemorated National Just Read More Novels Month with this article (ht to kb) about a town upset at the oddball behavior of one of its inhabitants. He read a book. If you want to be among the many, many winners of NaJuReMoNoMo, you only have four more days left to get that novel read. I’m going to be combing through the comments, e-mail, and Google Alerts for as full a list as I can. I know that Marg and raidergirl are two of the many participants closing in on the coveted Gold Badge.

And for the record, while Dianetics is a complete work of fiction by a second rate hack, it does not count as a novel for NaJuReMoNoMo.

BlatantCommentWhoring™:: Does the couch jumping lunatic hurt or help himself with his constant libel lawsuits?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Zoey Zingers

Jamie Lynn Spears is still pregnant. Since her big announcement she has been playing things suspiciously sensibly. She was seen with a GED study guide so that she has a diploma to fall back on when the whole tween role model gig falls apart. She also announced that her mom will be getting custody of her child so that she can carry on with her TV career. This is actually a rather common coping strategy in these cases. I know of several families where kids that are presented as siblings are really parent/child. My only concern is that Mama Spears doesn’t exactly have a great track record in raising normal stable children.

New episodes of Zoey 101 start on Sunday and I’ve invented a new viewing game. After every line of dialog add the phrase “because I’m pregnant” Rocky Horror style. I tested this gimmick on a few reruns and the results can be hilarious, well modestly amusing:

I don’t want to be class president...because I'm pregnant.

So you think you can beat me...because I'm pregnant.

I don’t want this to affect our friendship...because I'm pregnant.

No I’m trying to be good...because I'm pregnant.

You’re in trouble...because I'm pregnant.

Everybody thinks I made it...because I'm pregnant.

I’m not eating raw fish in a closet...because I'm pregnant.

This whole week I’ve been getting mad at you but its all Logan’s fault...because I'm pregnant.

Maybe I did in the past, but I’m not going to anymore...because I'm pregnant.

I thought you might be a little depressed...because I'm pregnant.

Stop acting like a freak right now...because I'm pregnant.

He and I are boyfriend and girlfriend...because I'm pregnant.

We can’t help that we’re in love...because I'm pregnant.

Just kiss me like you always do...because I'm pregnant.

It worked out. Just not like I planned...because I'm pregnant.
Give it a try if you can find Nick on your channel line-up and can stomach the view of a Spears emoting.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Is the Jamie Lynn Spears situation merely schadenfreudistically tragic or Rock Hudson/Doris Day level ironic?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Cheers For Cheerwine

I love exotic soft drinks. Anytime I’m in a new region or at a specialty grocery store, I am drawn to the off-beat flavors and brands. Sodas are a very regional thing. Even the generic name that soft drinks go by varies across the country. This map shows the variation by term across the United States.

Click on image for full map and web page.

My favorite soft drink of all time is Cheerwine, a cherry flavored carbonated drink available only in certain parts of the Carolinas. Anytime we drive south I make sure there is enough room in the trunk for a case or two of Cheerwine (and its lemon-lime cousin Sundrop) in the trunk. Even being in the Carolinas is no guarantee that it can me found. More than once we have dashed into a Piggly Wiggly and found only one lonely box sitting on a bottom shelf.

The other day I was driving home from a meeting along US 15 from Leesburg to Great Falls and stopped in a little independently owned Qwikie Mart type place to get a Dr Pepper or Cherry Coke or, as a last resort, a Wild Cherry Pepsi. Instead I found a row of Cheerwines in the drink case. And not just any Cheerwines, bottled Cheerwines. I bought two to have one to drink and one to save. It was heaven. I got home and took the picture of the remaining one you see here. I put in back in the refrigerator, but when my son got home he saw it and claimed dibs. I told him it was mine, but he saw the empty bottle and said that I already had mine.

He inherited my taste for sodas and for awhile was picking up Jones Sodas whenever he was in the grocery store. Jones comes in a wide variety of flavors and one of the features that make it a premium brand is that it uses cane sugar as a sweetener instead of high fructose corn syrup. Low and behold, on the side of the Cheerwine bottle was a declaration that it too used cane sugar.

I was living in Atlanta when the New Coke debacle took place. The City Too Busy Too Hate sure found time to show some animosity towards the company whose headquarters overlooked the campus. Some people claim that New Coke was a trick to drum up publicity, but there was no way anybody could be that clever. When Coke Classic came back, eventually to drive New Coke completely off the market, there was much rejoicing but purists noticed one difference: Coke was now made with HFCS instead of sugar.

I don’t know enough to prove it one way or another, but plenty of people point to the domination of HFCS in the drink market as a causal relationship with our nation’s obesity epidemic. The super-sized fast food meal may also share some blame, but I can’t help but think that the cloyingly sweet corn-syruped soft drinks have a role.

You can still find Coke with real sugar. The kosher variety is still made that way. My wife swears she could taste the difference when we were in China. My tastebuds aren’t that refined, but I like to know when I have The Real Thing.

In the meantime, that last bottle of Cheerwine is still in the icebox and if my son isn’t careful it may disappear one evening.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is your favorite soda?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Rock Album Meme

Updated (2/29/08): I have removed the album image at the request of the copyright holder.
Updated (2/29/08): The image has been restored and is being used with the permission of the copyright holder for this post only. No further reproduction is authorized.

I haven't done a meme in a long time because I got tired of answering endless lists of pointless questions. Dave of Blogography hates lame memes too, so when he does one, it's usually first quality. Earlier this week he did one that had a strong creative element but still within the skilz level of a l@m3r like me. Dave did a great set of directions, but I will try to explain as well.

1. Pick a band name by visiting a random Wikipedia page. My band is New Jersey Route 164. At first I was ready to pick another, but then I decided there was a certain Springsteenesque cachet to being named after an obscure road. Plus it comes with it's own built in logo. There is also some sort of karmic significance that Route 164 is now Dowd Avenue, which is right by Newark Airport where my son's marching band stayed last spring. The coincidence is now seeming kind of mysterious. I do worry about what WikiGnome decided all the highways in Joisey were WikiWorthy while Josh Fruhlinger gets dumped.

2. Name your album by going to this random quote page. Take the LAST quote on the page and select the last four words of that quote. My full quote is:

Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
- G. K. Chesterton
English author & mystery novelist (1874 - 1936)

So the name of the album is The Subject of Cheese, thus making a liar of Chesterton.

3. The album cover art is the THIRD image on the random Flickr page. My image comes from Roland Lacson a/k/a rlphotography who has many wonderful beautiful photographs. Then I ran the whole thing through Photoshop Elements, picked some fonts and came up with this album cover mock-up:

Image rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

I feel a few qualms using a copyrighted picture on my faux album cover, but since I'm not a real rock band, maybe I can get away with it.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Play along either in the comments or on your blog. Pasting up the actual cover is optional.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Battle Of The Box Sets

With no end in sight to the end of the writer’s strike and new scripted shows drying up, I am looking at the winter as a golden opportunity to catch up on DVD series that I own but have never bothered to watch. I buy them on a whim or as a thinly veiled gifts to other family members. The list of shows I own is a little bit eclectic so let us review the choices.

I rolled my eyes at this show’s concept of a western in space as hopelessly lame, but it turns out to be one of the best shows to never last more than a season, and I’m am mighty familiar with those. I pulled this out the other night because of 57 Channels And Nothing On Syndrome and watched the episode where Saffron comes back and Mel ends up naked in the desert. I have made it through all but Disc 4 of this show and only have three more episodes to watch.

Freaks and Geeks
I watched this show religiously when it first came out because it was practically a fly on the wall biography of my high school years. Seth Rogen has gone on from this show to become the featured member of the Apatow players. Many of the other cast members have also gone on to bigger and better things, making a reunion show less and less likely. The only episodes I missed were a few near the end of the series that were burned off after the show had been cancelled.

WKRP In Cincinnati – Season 1
A landmark show that has only gotten better with age. The epic flying turkey show is episode seven. The show had a fantastic ensemble that played of each other brilliantly. Most people loved Lonnie Anderson, but I had an enormous crush on Bailey. And Johnny Fever was every sixties relic hero.

Remington Steele – Season 1
Before there was Moonlighting, Remington Steele paved the way in the sub genre of mystery shows where the actual crimes were secondary to the will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry of the stars. Season One was the best because they still bothered to put in clever movie allusions into the plot. By the end of the series without the original creators, the show had devolved into lame clich├ęs.

Best Of The Original Avengers
I’m ashamed to admit that I have never seen a episode of this classic series. Clearly an oversight I need to fix. This collection has six vintage episodes, but only one or two feature Emma Peel, so it might be disappointing.

So help me pick my writer’s strike survival kit by voting for the show I should watch first. Or write in your favorite show that I should go out and buy. And you can vote for more than one if you want.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Lobby for your vote or write-in.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hillary's P.C. Pit Bulls

There is a website out there with the innocuous name of Media Matters that has the following mission statement:
Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.
While that seems like a valuable service, in reality it serves as a water carrier for Hillary Clinton and attempts to silence criticism of her with harsh and casual accusations of sexism. They have become a hotbed of the umbrage industry. No remark is too slight or innocuous to incur their wrath.

Joel Achenbach, a journalist, blogger, and erstwhile humor columnist, had been covering the Clinton campaign when he came up with this observation about her speaking style:
Clinton fought back, but she needs a radio-controlled shock collar so that aides can zap her when she starts to get screechy. She came perilously close to going on a tirade. Volume is critical in these things: Ask Howard Dean.
It seems like a mildy humorous take on a frequent observation about Hillary’s triangulation on the right mix of wonkery and folksiness in her campaign appearances. Media Matters took it another way:
As Media Matters for America has documented…, the media have frequently attacked Clinton for the tone and volume of her voice or laugh. Most recently, following Clinton's appearance on all five Sunday political talk shows on September 23, 2007, the media latched onto Clinton's purported "cackle."
Now Joel never used the word “cackle” or even referred to a laugh, but he is now tarred with the same broad brush that Media Matters has used on a half-dozen other commentators that have noticed something off-putting about Hillary’s tone. While Media Matters did not directly accuse Acehnbach of thought-crime, their stories tend to get picked up by more strident sites with fewer qualms about mudslinging. Feministing, without the benefit of ever reading anything else by Joel in context, said:
Thanks Joel, for doing the work of marking yourself as a misogynist so I now know never to read anything else you write. Shameful.
The remark even got a Malkin Award nomination from Andrew Sullivan, who is normally in favor of Hillary bashing. In all, nearly two dozen blog posts were made as a result of the original Media Matters post, some extremely vitriolic and one Spinal Tap parody that was pretty funny.

In addition to their website, Media Matters runs e-mail campaigns to have subscribers register protests against the employers of public figures they have singled out for action. I don’t know if such a notice went to Joel’s higher-ups, but a few days later he published an apology that has the most obsequious groveling since E. G. Marshall knelt before Zod:
…a single sentence has escaped the confines of the A-blog and gamboled across blogworld like a streaker at the Super Bowl. It was that rather ungentlemanly comment about Hillary at the debate. I won't bother with excuses and context: That one kind of got away from me. Shoulda hit the backspace the moment I typed it. [Was I channeling Mailer???] Regular readers here know that I am not a proponent of coarse, sexist, piggy, knuckle-dragging discourse, especially given my vulnerable personal situation as the lone male in a tribe of Amazons. I think anyone reading this blog also knows that I've praised Sen. Clinton repeatedly over the past year … for running an effective and disciplined campaign (to the point of being accused of being in the tank for her).
It is exactly that discipline that the Hillary campaign is exhibiting. Nobody, no matter how reliably liberal is allowed to go off-message. Achenbach’s 0ne-eighty was just a warm-up for the pressure Media Matters put on a bigger fish, Chris Matthews. Matthews is an Irish Catholic blowhard that revels in his candor and frankness. So of all the senseless off-the-cuff tirades he has made, what remark was the final straw in the minds of Media Matters?
"[T]he reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around."
This is not a unique opinion. In Are Men Necessary?, Maureen Dowd says:
Absent her husband’s strengths, Hillary never would have been First Lady. Absent her husband’s weaknesses, she never would have been the Senator from New York. She owes her election, in part, to Monica.
But by attacking Hillary, Matthews opens himself up for the full political colonoscopy. Media Matters took the Chris Matthews oeuvre and searched for every word and phrase with a feminine and/or derogatory implication and began a high-level campaign to silence him. On January 11th, the site ran seven articles related to Matthews and issued one of their e-mail alerts to have subscribers pressure MSNBC.

As I’ve demonstrated, a single Media Matters article is chum in the waters of the blogosphere. A dozen articles in a few days ignites a feeding frenzy. After a week of fanning the flames with updates, the next e-mail alert is aimed at Steve Capus, president of NBC News. In it, they threaten the spectre of Imus and like all good shakedown artists, only hint at the consequences of not complying:
Mr. Capus, during the controversy last spring surrounding Don Imus' racist and sexist remarks broadcast on MSNBC -- remarks first documented by Media Matters -- we commended your acknowledgement that NBC has a responsibility to protect the network's trusted reputation for fair and equal coverage and to "continue the dialogue about what is appropriate conduct and speech" on its air. In the case of Chris Matthews, I implore you to once again consider the gravity of that responsibility.
That night Matthews goes on his Hardball show and makes a five-minute apology of sorts. Even this pound of flesh does not assuage the group. In the e-mail after that mea culpa, they send out another message and warn:
Again, thank you for your continued support; we've only just begun to play "hardball."
And they mean it. The next day another e-mail rehashes every prior accusation and then lists the people that have expressed public support for Matthews including Joe Scarborough, David Shuster, and Tucker Carlson, trotting out allegedly misogynist and sexist remarks each of them have made. They even take to task Mika Brzezinski for suggesting that in some cases Matthews may have been quoted out of context.

By making Matthews kowtow, they have started a witch hunt. Or at least a hunt for people that have ever called Hillary a witch. They know that if they can’t win the war of ideas, they can silence their opponents with accusations of (age/sex/race)-ism in order to disgrace even the mildest critics of their sacred cows. And as history has proven again and again, once a reign of terror begins, no one is safe. This is watchdog group that needs a muzzle. Or a shock collar.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Were Achenbach or Matthews over the line, or is this a case of intimidation?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

FiOS Follies

For months we have had FiOS envy. All summer we watched the slow progress as teams of ditchdiggers laid cable all over our neighborhood. Right in our front yard we got a six square foot coverplate, reducing the mowable area by about 20%. Then we waited to get the e-mail that we signed up for telling us that FIOS was available in our neighborhood. Signed up several times. That never came. And then the FIOS countdown began.

November 17. We notice a brown line of disturbed dirt and fresh straw in our next door neighbor’s yard going from said giant box to his garage. He had gotten FIOS. I went out to rent the van for the epic trip to see Beowulf. I got home and my wife was on the phone ordering the service. She was twenty minutes into the insanely tedious script of the customer service representative. She handed me the phone and it went another fifteen minutes. Then the CSR said he had to transfer me to someone else to confirm that I really wanted to change long distance services. Since we were in danger of being late to the movie, I ask if I can do this later and I’m told I would have to start the order all over again. Oh, and since our local service was through AT&T instead of Verizon, we couldn’t keep our old phone number. Total length of phone call: 50 minutes.

November 19. Verizon starts a new deal where they throw in a free flat panel TV if you order FIOS service. Since I had ordered two days earlier I’m not eligible. They also jacked up the price ten bucks a month for a two year contract. Do the math on how free that TV is.

November 26. Mysterious flags and painted stripes on the lawn begin appearing. By the 30th there is a fresh trench with straw up to our garage door with a mysterious wire sticking out.

December 4. The original date for the install is the day of my Grandmother’s funeral. I call and reschedule for the 14th. I get an e-mail confirming this. My wife calls and reschedules for the 13th. On the 12th we get a call saying someone over the age of 18 has to be home all day the following day.

December 13. Since I had a meeting on that day, my wife calls in sick and keeps me updated on the progress by phone. We had ordered an additional cable jack for our upstairs guest bedroom. The cable guy wants to run it up the front of the house. I wanted him to snake it through the attic. Instead he runs it over the door frame of the closet, into the hallway, over the doorframe of the hall bath, into my son’s room (with a loop for a future splice), over the door frame of his door and into the guest room. I vow to use the 100 feet of spare co-ax cable sitting in my garage to snake it through the attic myself someday. My wife rolls her eyes. I now have to prove her wrong. Someday.

December 14. I call Verizon in one last attempt to get my free TV and the CSR also tells me that the sales rep lied when he said the $12 movie package included HBO, but I could get the full HBO package for another $16 a month. Instead I ask about the HomeDVR service. For an extra $10 a month I can have all my boxes networked to the DVR. Since I had them install two DVRs, one for the bedroom and one in the family room, and they cost ten bucks a month each, it’s a better situation. But I needed to trade one DVR for a standard set-top box. The CSR wanted to make an appointment for a service tech. I say I’ll go pick up the box like I used to do with Comcast. No can do. Instead they say they will ship me the boxes and I can send back the un-needed DVR. This should take 3-5 days. Total length of phone call: 30 minutes.

December 23. I fix the power from tripping out every time it rains.

January 2. I call about my set-top box order. No record of it exists. I get the phone tag runaround round trip from orders to tech support to billings and back to orders. They place a new order. It should take 3-5 days. Total length of phone call: 45 minutes.

January 17. Two big boxes arrive. One has a set-top box and one has yet another DVR. I power up the new set-top box and call tech support to activate it. Once the lights are flashing, it takes 10 minutes to activate. The CSR promises to call back and she does. A few more buttons to be pushed on her end and I’m up and running. Total length of both phone calls: 20 minutes.

In the run-up to the install, I’m telling my wife all the horror stories about Verizon installs gone bad that I have read on sites like Consumerist. She says all her friends that have it had no problems and love it. My verdict: Meh.

The phone service is indistinguishable. Our new number is actually easier to remember, so no big deal there. The channel line-up is enormous, including the deal closer, The Travel Channel, that you can’t get on Comcast with any package. I already have six episodes of No Reservations recorded for when I want to watch them.

The broadband service? Plenty speedy and I don’t notice any difference even though I used to have the Comcast 16Mbps upgrade. My son’s wifi connection? That is a tale for another day.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Top my tale with your own horror story. Since mine went fairly smoothly, that shouldn’t be hard to do.

Friday, January 18, 2008

NaJuReMoNoMo Badges

National Just Read More Novels Month has gone international. Book blogger gautami tripathy from India has been spreading the word far and wide and daily more participants stream in. One point of confusion seems to be the multiple levels of winners and how to use the badges.

Every novel you read in January makes you a winner all over again, so you can win as many times as you want. Some people are content just to display the single winner badge, but others like to show off a little. For them I have multiple winner badges. Also, photobucket, being a blatant self-promoting entity, links back to the page with the badge rather than the NaJuReMoNo site. If you got the badge from there you may want to tweak the href= portion of the link to point to the official NaJuReMoNoMo 2008 page which is

For your convenience, here are all the badges with cut and paste ready code. (Pardon the weird blank space, Blogger is inserting too many break tags and my skilz aren't 1337 enough to figure out why.)

Participant – Show your intent by using this badge.

<a href=""><img style="cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" width="100" src="" border="0" alt="NaJuReMoNoMo" /></a>
Winner – Any novel qualifies you to proudly display your achievement.

<a href=""><img style="cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" width="100" src="" border="0" alt="NaJuReMoNoMo" /></a>
Green Level (3x) – Three novels in January.

<a href=""><img style="cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" width="100" src="" border="0" lt="NaJuReMoNoMo" /></a>
Silver Level (5x) – Five novels in January.

<a href=""><img style="cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" width="100" src="" border="0" alt="NaJuReMoNoMo" /></a>
Gold Level (10x) – Ten novels in a January.

<a href=""><img style="cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" width="100" src="" border="0" alt="NaJuReMoNoMo" /></a>

If the exact number of novels you read doesn’t equal any even level, feel free to mix and match. Eight novels is a Silver and a Green. Twenty-three novels is two Golds and three Winners.

And if you are html savvy, or want the original image, you can still get the direct links to the badges at the Official NaJuReMoNoMo Prize Booth.

Have at it. I am so excited to see all these badges everywhere. Read with pride.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Seeing The Light

Every now and then I have to resort to home repairs. I am usually content to let things rot and decay provided they do so slowly enough that it doesn’t draw attention. But some things demand action. For several years the ground fault circuit interrupter on the electrical outlet in our bathroom would pop. This was a result of me actually installing a GFCI protector on that outlet. Up to that point, hair dryers and shavers and other small grooming gadgets kept mysteriously shorting out. When I realized that somehow, against all building and electrical codes, the bathroom receptacle had been installed without a GFCI I went and installed one.

That was when we noticed the pattern to the tripping. It always happened during or just after a rainstorm. Clearly the two things were related. I even went as far a getting an electrician in to try to track it down. He tried to blame a dustbuster plugged into the garage receptacle. I knew that was bullshit, but not wanting to throw good money after bad, I let it go.

When we had some kitchen cabinets installed, it required relocating a couple of outlets so I picked the brains of the handyman for theories. He suggested that something outside, perhaps a light, was getting just enough water in it to short out that circuit. I filed that idea away and didn’t pursue it any further. After all, the GFCI did its job of protecting the receptacle and it was only a minor inconvenience to reset the tripped circuit once a month or so.

Then I got FIOS (which is a tale for another day once that settles down) and they plugged the network MUX or TUX or whatever they call it into the receptacle in the garage that was on the same circuit as the GFCI. Now every time the circuit tripped it took down the phone, the cable TV, and most seriously, the broadband connection. This was now a problem. I can live without a shaver for an hour to two. I can’t make it through a day without the interteat.

I decided it was one of two things. The short was either in the weatherproof outdoor receptacle or the backdoor light. There was also a suspicious bowing of the wall by the switch for the backdoor light which was just over the outdoor receptacle. Some forensic circuit breaker tripping narrowed it down to the receptacle since it was on the GFCI circuit. Rather than take chances, I told my wife that I was going to replace both the receptacle and the backdoor light. Since my boss had given the company Christmas Eve off, I was going to brave the mobs at BigBoxOfLumber and get the supplies I needed.

Old Front Door LightNew Front Door Light
Old Back Door LightNew Back Door Light

My wife, catching me in a home improvement mood and not trusting my taste in fixture, insisted in accompanying me and to pick out a new light for the front door as well. It seems all the neighbors had replaced their front lights and we had to keep up. She picked out the duplicate to the one that our more ambitious, young, home-improvement minded, childless neighbors had bought. The best feature of the replacement lights is that the bulb is changed from underneath rather than from above, thus allowing my spouse to change the bulb at will without the aid of me or a stepladder.

Once back at the house, armed with a can of foaming insulation goop and a cordless screwdriver, I went at the back door devices. Sure enough, the receptacle was rusty on the inside and the cover was fitting none too well. I got a big can of foaming insulation and squirted fizzing goo all around the electrical box. I then replaced the cover and the foam that keeps it “watertight.”

Then came the light at the back door. We hardly ever turned it on since we rarely went out back and our next door neighbors always complained if it was on while they were using their hot tub late at night. This thing was so rusted out I was amazed it hadn’t fallen clean off the wall already. It too had a gaping hole behind it that I caulked within an inch of its life. After I got the new light solidly affixed to the vinyl siding I turned back on the circuits and everything worked fine. Exhausted I quit for the day and rested on my laurels.

A few days later, after a few polite questions from my wife about the timetable, it was time for the light up front. To change it I had to stand on my trusty painters ladder and lean out over edge of the front steps and not drop anything into the bushes below. This should have been a two person job, but with only one ladder, a helper would have only gotten in the way. I got it installed with a minimum of banging, pulling, and cursing. This new light has all sorts of cool features. A light sensor turns it on at dusk and a timer turns it off after either one, three, or six hours. It also has two levels of illumination so that when I pull into the driveway or when a neighbor walking his dog goes by, it brightens up.

So for less than a hundred bucks I gained some handyman cred and made my wife happy. I may even be off the hook for another few months unless something else breaks. And best of all, the internet has not blinked out in the rain since.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What home improvement projects have you been up to?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Traffic Patterns

Comments are not the only way to measure blog success. There are dozens of ways to track all sorts of traffic patterns. And a lot of ways to goose them. Every now and then when I have a comics-related post I will link to it in the Comics Curmudgeon comments and it will generate hundreds of pageviews, but rarely any comments. It's nice to have hit and run readers, but it's better if they can be made into regulars. There are all sorts of memes and link exchanges and places to pimp your blog, but if all you are doing is tricking people to your site, it won't create steady long term readership growth.

The blog traffic generated by cheap gimmicks or weird Google coincidences is pretty ephemeral. Sometimes for some reason a particlular post will become suddenly popular. Back when my traffic was in the low single digits daily, I called them a BlogStorm. I still get them and they can be more severe now that my GoogleAuthority (however that is figured) is much higher. Usually I can figure out what site is linking to me or what current event suddenly make an old post relevant again, but sometimes it remains a complete mystery.

Last week my traffic took an uptick with lots of searches for variations on "Walker/Browne wife". And this isn't the first time such an odd search creates a flurry and then disappears. Several other times I have been inundated with people trying to find "Hi Lois drunk neighbor". My only theory is that whenever there is some web trivia scavenger hunt that relates to the Walker/Browne comic strip oligarchic dynasty, I get the benefit of it since I am one of maybe three blogs that have ever discussed the relationship between Lois Flagstone and her brother Beetle Bailey, not to mention Hi's dipsomaniac neighbor Thirsty Thurston. There, you got your damn answers. Now leave my blog alone.

I used to be addicted to Sitemeter stats and would compulsively check them 50 or 60 times a day but got discouraged when I learned that most visitors to my site were hopelessly LostGooglers search for some occasionally very prurient things. When I was polishing my template (now that would make a great euphemism) as part of National Blog Posting Month, I consolidated my blog RSS feed to Feedburner and my documented subscibers went from 5 to 82 overnight. I had a much larger audience reading my blog on purpose then I realized. From a not wasting time point of view, Feedburner stats are much better than Sitemeter since they only update once a day. I briefly hit 102 subscribers the other day only to fall back down to 92. I have no idea what pissed off ten readers in 24 hours, but I guess 300 pixel high pictures of Charles Krauthammer's mug will have that effect on folk.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: How do you track your traffic? And are anywhere near as obsessive compulsive as I am?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Exposing Myself

Thursday was Deluker Day and I missed it by that much. For some reason it didn't make Harmonica Man's list of holidays for 2008. Delurker Day was the joint brainstorm of Rude Cactus with Greeblemonkey supplying the innuendo laden graphic. As a side note, the illustration bears a strong resemblance to a famous poster titled "Expose Yourself To Art". Back in college I had a boss that was a dead ringer for the guy in the poster. This boss had a mild reputation as a dirty old man. Nobody ever believed that he had hired the future Playboy "Girls Of The ACC" model in our office sight unseen. He had a framed copy of that poster in his office and was very proud of it. Life was so much more fun when you could have a sense of humor about sex in the office.

Anyways, Delurker Day was clearly a great success, at least for Rude Cactus. He got 190 comments on that post as opposed to 41 the post before and 51 for the following post. And of course he got lots of links from other bloggers playing along with his silly game, including one or two on my blog roll. I suspect that Mr. Cactus has a fairly successful blog. It seems witty and clever enough and clearly way more popular than mine. Besides who among us is not above a few cheap traffic boosting ploys.

I assume Delurker Day has no connection with Mofo Delurker Day which I ridiculed when it rolled around back in October. Once people figure out how easy phony events are to create, we will see more of these silly semi-scams. And browbeating your readers to leave comments because of a day on the calender is pretty played out. Years ago, I declared my Lurkers Welcome Policy. I love comments. I like leaving them and I like getting them. But some people prefer to consume rather than participate. Without readers there would be no writers. Nobody should have to do what they don't want to do.

Once again, I find myself not very convincingly saying to stop worrying about what other people are doing and just do on your blog what makes you happy. If that results in thousands of readers or just a select audience of fifteen, so be it.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: The meta-ironic hypocrisy in even trying makes my head explode.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pundits on Parade

A few days ago I laid into Bill Kristol pretty bad. I accused him of being a partisan untalented hack, which tends to be the general opinion of blogosphere pontificators not employed by The Weakly Standard. On the other hand, I wear my admiration for the Red Head of the Grey Lady on my sleeve. But in between these two extremes, there are a lot of pundits out there grinding out a lot of good work week after week even when there is nothing to say and nothing to say about it.

Let’s look at some of the syndicated newspaper and magazine columnists I love to read. This past week was a target rich environment for the talking class, so I’ve included sample quotes about Hillary Clinton to compare the styles and perspectives.

Michael Kinsley

Kinsley is the only columnist I would cross hot coals to read. And I have had to. His career has zig-zagged everywhere. Like many writers I admire, he did a long stint at The New Republic before he got sucked into being Bill Gate's lackey at Slate. His tenure at the LA Times was rocked with conflict and he briefly parked at The Washington Post before landing at Time for the time being. He always brings a fresh perspective to the table and tells something new. And rather than delve into the trees, he is always finding the forest.
But being the president's spouse has to be very helpful for a future president. It's like an eight-year "Take Your Daughter to Work Day."

IF it’s a question of “experience” versus “change,” change will win every time. Hillary Clinton, of all people, should have known that. Doesn’t she remember 1992? That was when her husband made “change” his mantra and chanted it all the way to the White House.
"Stirred, Not Shaken", January 6, 2008

George Will

George is a little past his prime, but at one point he was the face of conservativism that dared to be intellectual, a style that like his bowties is long out of fashion. Over the years he has had some controversies like commenting on debates he coached, relying too heavily on assistants for research, and mis-explicating rock lyrics. He is now the elder spokesman of the sane Republicans. He also remains defiantly independent and steers clear of the groupthink that has plagued the latest generation of right-wing wordsmiths.
Sixteen years ago, the Clintons advertised themselves as generational archetypes. How right they were.

Led Zeppelin's recent reunion concert in London exemplified a tiresome phenomenon — geezer rock groups catering to baby boomer nostalgia. Speaking of the boomers' inexhaustible fascination with themselves, Bill Clinton has transformed his wife's campaign into his narcissism tour.
"Start of a Marathon", January 10, 2008

Ellen Goodman

After Jules Witcover was cruelly put out to pasture, Ellen Goodman was the only columnist carried by the Baltimore Sun I missed. She looks more Erma Bombeck than Maureen Dowd, but she has a clever wit and a down to earth perspective. Her annual Equal Rites Awards column is one of the best of the year.
How many women had a change of, well, heart? How many women-of-a-certain-age who've lived through vast social change remembered being told they could lead or be liked? How many had their wrinkles and cleavage and cackles and feelings dissected at every move? For that matter, do any of them still work with men like the one in Salem who yelled at Hillary: "Iron my shirt!"

Status quo? Same old, same old? I don't think so.

Hillary said she found her voice in New Hampshire. But she also found that very narrow line that women still have to walk. Hillary got her groove back.
"Hillary's Fine Line, January 11, 2008

Charles Krauthammer

Another New Republic alumnus, Chuckie K used to be fresh and contrarian. Lately he is just the loudest and most off-key of the neo-con chorus. Only slightly less strident in his defense of war in Iraq than bandleader Bill Kristol, the Krautmeister still occasionally says something smart and fresh, but he has long dry spells. His column often comes out the day after Will's and frequently bears suspicious similarities. Check out his boomer "solipsism" with Will's "narcissism" above. Eyes on your own paper, Chuck.
Was it the tears in the New Hampshire coffee shop? Whenever there is a political upset, everyone looks for the unscripted incident, the I-paid-for-this-microphone moment that can account for it. Hillary Clinton's improbable victory in New Hampshire is being widely attributed to her rare display of emotion when asked how she was holding up.

The baby boomers in their endless solipsism now think they invented left and right -- the post-Enlightenment contest of ideologies that dates back to the seating arrangements of the Estates-General in 1789.

Robert Novak

Another guilty pleasure, The Prince of Darkness is frequently infuriating but never boring. Not content to report news, he often makes it. His role in Plamegate is particularly fiendish. He starts the fire and then gets to report on the flames. He is an old school investigative columnist that has connections everywhere. You may not agree with him but he what he says reveal more about who he knows and what message they are trying to spin than anyone else in Washington.
With that background, Sen. Clinton's lachrymose complaint in New Hampshire on Monday that "this is very personal for me" was widely compared to Muskie's crying jag in Manchester 36 years ago, which began his downfall. But whereas Muskie's tears were involuntary, only the naive can believe Clinton was not artfully playing for sympathy from her sisters. It worked.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.

The Washington Post has a whole stable of suitably liberal standard bearers, but they all tend to be far less interesting than the conservatives. David Broder is considered the pinnacle of punditry and his Clinton hatred is second to none, but I prefer the milder E. J. Dionne who seems to be a fun guy with a reassuring tone. If only he would loosen up and show more personality.
Perhaps Hillary played the same trick on her critics that her husband, Bill, did in his epic State of the Union addresses that went on and on about one specific policy after another. Those speeches often got bad reviews but good poll ratings. At one campaign stop last week, as Hillary Clinton droned on learnedly about health care, family and medical leave, and global warming, a colleague in the press section leaned over to dismiss her for offering nothing but "a laundry list of wonkery."
"A Shocker, in Hindsight", January 9, 2008
This list is heavily WaPo weighted because it’s my daily driveway litter, so I tend not to see other voices unless someone on the web makes a big deal of something. I hope I have proven that I am open minded and enjoy a wide range of opinions no matter how wrong they are.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Who is your favorite print pundit?

NaJuReMoNoMo Winners And Supporters

If you pay any attention to my sidebar you will see that I have declared myself a 2008 National Just Read More Novels Month winner. I finished Nick Hornby's Slam earlier this week and I thank him for writing a short youth-oriented (but by no means juvenile) novel for me to cut my teeth on. We are barely a third of the way into January and we already have some other NaJuReMoNoMo winners. Lets give some accolades to the early finishers here.

LabCat is a threepeat (sorry, I refuse to pay Pat Riley royalties for his trademarked phrase) participant who polished off The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath earlier this week. Kudos for tackling a more famous work and surviving the residual depression.

Achenblog Boodlers have jumped in the game and Sue, aka mosltlylurking, a great knitter has already declared herself a winner.

Leah finished The Game by Laurie King. Leah runs her own reading challenge for people that want some tougher year-round action if you already have NaJuReMoNoMo polished off. In the 888 challenge you read eight books in eight categories of your own choosing (or invention) for a total of 56 in one year. Yeah, I don’t get the math either, but I think you are allowed to overlap.

I also want to shout out to the many readers either new to me or hitherto lurkers that have helped spread the word. It’s embarrassing when you aren’t even the number one Google hit on your own invention. That honor belongs to Charlottesville Words which was good, game, and giving for my blatant self-promotion.

Among the CW readers that jumped in were Melissa Wiley of Here In The Bonnie Glen and Clifford Garstang of Perpetual Folly.

I don't know how DShep of ~ shep nachas ~ found me but I'm glad he did. The Deb-Log is another in-depth litblog that was nice enough to pass on a link.

Other people that have chimed in that I’m look forward to include lostcherrio aka The Harpoonist who is a writer herself. Maybe one day we'll get to read her novel.

And I would be nowhere without the support of my regular readers like Sue Trowbridge of The Conical Glass and HRH Courtney Queen of the Universe of the MSGAA (I link to her so much my wife may be getting suspicious).

Be sure to pick up your prize badges and keep reading as many novels as you can this month. This is clearly shaping up to be the best NaJuReMoNoMo ever!

BlatantForgivenessBegging™: If I haven't linked to you and you have done anything at all for me, leave a comment and I will get an update out.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Pregnant Pause

I noticed an alarming trend in my choices of entertainment lately. I seem to be drawn to works involving unplanned pregnancies. A week or so ago, we rented Waitress with Keri Russell playing the titular small town diner waitress that gets knocked up by her abusive husband. Then, based on critical acclaim, we went to see Juno, which is also about an unplanned pregnancy, this time to a smart-mouthed tom-boyish high school kid. And just the other night I finished Nick Hornby’s foray into Young Adult fiction, Slam, which is also about teenage out-of-wedlock pregnancy, this time from the point of view of the unlucky dad.

Of the three, as the parent of a seventeen-year-old, I found Waitress the least distressing because at least Keri Russell was playing a married woman as opposed to real life where she married the father of her kid a scant four months before the due date. The other two works feature characters my son’s age or younger and that is more frightening than Saw IV followed by a power outage.

Kids have been having sex in books since at least 1975 when Judy Blume published the forever-banned Forever. And teenage sexual exploits on the silver screen were old hat when I saw Porky’s back in my own teen years. These newer works are different in that they deal with the consequences of all that hormonally charged activity. And they confront the issues in a non-hysterical un-“Afterschool Special”-ish way.

Some of the concerns these kids having kids face are an inability to express emotions, trouble dealing with parents, and difficulty navigating social scenes. In other words, being knocked-up is just like regular high school except in maternity clothes. Also, in a contemporary twist, both works have the girl being the initiator of the ultimately unwise act. I think that is a smart narrative angle because it peels away the guy-bashing that would otherwise over shadow the other points of the story. Also, the actual procreative act is dealt with perfunctorily and with a minimum of prurient appeal. Neither of these is going to appeal to the Girls Gone Wild fans out there.

What they do emphasize is the absolute and total embarrassment this condition results in. In Slam, Sam and his preggers ex-girlfriend go to a birthing class only to run into one of his teachers. Similarly, Juno has to awkwardly cross an abortion clinic picket line that consists of one of her classmates. The take-away message is that having a baby is an incredibly humiliating hassle. Juno refers to her inflated self as a “cautionary whale.”

And cautionary tales these are. Depending on how you read the stats, teen pregnancy rates were actually much high a half century ago. But back then they gave out wedding rings instead of condoms. Not to throw out any spoilers, but there aren’t any wedding marches in either of these stories. That is another modern touch. Nowadays, having a kid doesn’t always lead to a matrimonial union. Some of the strongest marriages I know were conducted with moonlight glinting off a shotgun barrel, but times have changed for the most part.

And from a parent’s perspective, these stories have a strong “but for the grace of God go I” ring to them. Until my son is out of college and established in a career, I have to whistle past the maternity ward. One thing both Slam and Juno make clear is that even the dorky kids get laid. And that anyone can make a baby, but not everyone is cut out to be a parent.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Shotgun weddings – a terrible idea we are glad to be rid of? Or another fine forgotten American tradition?

Update: Ellen Goodman saw Juno too and bothered to look up facts and shit.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Kristol Klear

Little Billy Kristol is getting a part-time job at the New York Times and there is a lot of teeth gnashing in the blogosphere. I say part-time because he will be writing only once a week instead of twice like most Times columnists (Frank Rich only appears on Sunday, but his drivel is super-sized). He also gets to keep his day job editing The Weakly Standard which he cofounded because existing conservative opinion mags, including The American Spectator, were insufficiently rabid.

He will be taking the empty William Safire Endowed Chair For Conservative Folly. This will be a fiasco and an embarrassment for the Times, as if the Kristol-inspired WMD reporting wasn’t humiliating enough. And I predict this not out of any liberal sense of schadenfreude because I don’t view myself as particularly partisan. I like good writing from any position. My fear is that Kristol who has never been right (as opposed to right-wing) about anything in the past decade is determined to turn the Grey Lady into a bully pulpit for his petty politics.

If Poppy Bush was born on third base thinking he hit a triple, then Billy Boy was born in the owner’s box and thinks he should be batting clean-up. He is the son of Irving Kristol who pioneered the philosophy of lying to the public for their own good. Kristol the Younger is clearly a smart guy: prestigious prep school, Harvard magna cum laude, UPenn professor, yadda, yadda, yadda. One of his first forays into public service was as chief of staff first to noted moralist and blackjack loser Bill Bennett and then Vice President Quayle. It was while working for VP Potatoe that he earned the sobriquet “Quayle’s Brain”, a notably low bar for distinction. He has since then bounced around various think tanks and neo-con welfare positions. He was a principle architect of the theory that invading Iraq would bring never-ending peace and stability to the Middle East. We see how well that is going.

I first ran into Kristol when he was a frequent fill-in during the waning days of David Brinkley’s tenure on ABC's This Week. Streaming a river of flop sweat, he made Albert Brooks in Broadcast News seem as cool and collected as Peter Jennings. Since then Kristol has bounced around the Sunday morning screamer circuit until finding a home on Fox News Sunday where he can pass as a moderate somewhere between Brit Hume and Juan Williams.

Party apparatchiks like Kristol love to ridicule the Liberal Mainstream Media until it’s time to find a safe harbor when the rats start deserting the sinking ships of state. Karl Rove is taking his brand of crazy to Newsweek. Look for other disgraced conservative mouthpieces, lackeys, and fellow travelers to find refuge in the print media, the only industry falling faster than the Dubya Administration approval ratings. According to Radar Magazine, Kristol’s sweetheart deal was negotiated by fellow neocon scion Andy Rosenthal.

My point, and I do have one, is that Bill Kristol has never uttered a word that wasn’t complete horseshit in service of a political talking point. He has no legitimate journalistic experience and the concept of unbiased assessment is completely foreign to him. I’m sure he goes to bed every night with his smarmy grin, chuckling over the coup of infiltrating the paper of record as a Bilderberger fifth columnist. For at least the next fifty-two weeks you can judge for yourself whether he is still a front man for the “we will be welcomed with roses” crowd or whether he will eventually develop a spine or an independent thought.

His laconic and lazy first article is online and it is tepid material indeed. He mostly damns Mike Huckabee with faint praise. Here is pretty much the thesis:
Now it’s true that many conservatives have serious doubts about Huckabee’s positions, especially on foreign policy, and his record, particularly on taxes. [That pretty much sums up what usually concerns conservatives. - yellojkt] The conservative establishment is strikingly hostile to Huckabee — for both good and bad reasons. But voters seem to be enjoying making up their own minds this year. And Huckabee is a talented politician.
As a card carrying member of the conservative establishment, it’s hard to tell if his praise is genuine or if he is polishing apples for when he can influence policy again instead of just policing it from the sidelines.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Do you like your pundits fair and balanced, or from Fox News?

Update: For the Maureen Dowd/Bill Kristol connection, read this post by Mo MoDo.