Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Like A Virgin

I've been doing a lot of traveling for business lately and flying out of Baltimore usually means Southwest or AirTran, neither of which is associated with luxury service. Southwest is literally a flying bus with cattle car boardings that have only improved slightly with the new numbered line system. Southwest gates no longer look like a middle-aged version of the line for a Phish show when everyone arrived two hours early to camp out for the coveted head of the A-line. AirTran's sole redeeming value is XM radio at every seat. Otherwise, it's just another generic flying aluminum tube.

So when I started hearing raves about Virgin America, I arranged my schedule to make flying out of Dulles practical. That meant a 4 am wake-up time to make the 7 am flight. Just barely.

The first thing you notice is the ambiance of the plane. The sides and aisles are lit up like a hipster lounge with trance music piped in. Then rather than the school cafeteria seatback tray, the hardshell glossy white cocoon looks like an overgrown iPod case. Some of the trays even have cup holders so you don't even have to pull out the full tray to spill cranapple juice on yourself.

But the real selling feature is the video touchscreen at every seat. It has over a dozen channels of satellite TV, with CNN being the most popular, but SciFi and Cartoon Network also available. If those shows bore you, they have video on demand. I gorged myself on free episodes of Entourage that caught me up with what I missed from last season. They also have plenty of pay choices available ranging from $.99 for network reruns to seven bucks for every movie in my NetFlix queue. But even that wears thin. By the end of the return flight, I was watching bad student films and obscure music videos just to sample everything free. If you forgot to download a three month old Diggnation podcast, Virgin is your airline.

The seat back is also how you order food and drinks. After the drink cart makes its first pass, you have to enter an order on the screen and the stewardess, er, flight attendant, uh, in-flight team member (yes, a new euphemism is born) brings it to you. Between orders, these Ian Shrager hotel doorman rejects hide in the back and referee the line to the two lavatories the folks in steerage are allowed to use.

I've given up ever being fed on a plane again, so I've developed a habit of smuggling sub sandwiches on board in my carry-on bag. Good thing too, because the onboard food prices made the airport concession choices look like bargains.

All-in-all, a cross-country flight on any airline in the middle seat when the husky guy with the window seat needs a Flomax prescription makes any Gitmo enhanced interrogation sound delightful. But you can't blame Virgin for trying to make it more bearable. If only the little remote controls for the video screen didn't dig into your elbow when you tried to actually use the armrest.

And they are having some great rookie season specials. Pick the right flights and a round trip to the coast would be less than three benjamins if the TSA didn't demand their cut. Which is a real bargain. The same flight on Southwest would have cost $450 with stops in your choice of Phoenix, Denver, Tahoe, or Vegas.

I'll be taking the wife along on the next trip and we booked Virgin because of a new travel rule I have instituted:

Never pay more for Southwest.

Even if it is only a break-even deal once the extra gas, parking, and travel time are included for the trek to Dulles. And at least Virgin made me feel shiny and new.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is your favorite airline?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sarah Palin - Miss Teen USA

We know that Sarah Palin was a beauty pageant contestant (not that there is anything wrong with that), but these two videos make it crystal clear that you can take the airhead off the runway, but you can't run the country with an airhead.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Which mash-up is funnier?

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Ces has been taking Sally Forth, that eighties throwback about a career woman in Corporate America, deep into Ice Storm territory as Ted Forth (my hero) makes a new friend at work. However, this friend has a vagina. And jazz hands. Here are some places this story line could go:
  • Re-enactment of the elevator scene from Disclosure
  • A really, really awkward Christmas Party with an embarrassing encounter at the meatloaf bar.
  • A seven letter Tammy Wynette song.
  • Door-slamming bedroom farce when Ted talks Sally into going with him to a pop culture convention and a certain new friend shows up as well.
  • Co-ed naked Rock-'Em Sock-'Em Robots.
  • Science fiction revelation where the new friend is revealed to be Ted from the future after his inevitable gender re-assignment surgery.
  • A heart-warming monogamy-affirming resolution where Ted learns the boundaries of workplace relationships.
  • A boiled pet bunny. 'Nuff said.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Just how far will Ted go?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Biking The Cape, Part II: The Solo Rides

In my last post, I told how while on vacation this summer I had a great bicycle ride with my son and tricked the other guys on the trip into a marathon long group ride. Having burned my bridges with the rest of the group, I knew I was on my own for the rest of the trip. Having done both the north end of the trail and the Chatham branch, the only part of the Cape Cod Rail Trail left was the section from Brewster to Dennis. I got up early and donned my geeky bikey gear and headed out. I wasn’t too far before I was distracted by the most picturesque general store on the Cape. I just had to stop for a pastry and a drink in a genuine family-run store.


This morning was a lot less lapine loaded than my first ride, but to fill out the Aesop fable, I did run across this turtle taking a leisurely stroll down the side of the trail.


Ten miles later I reached the western trailhead in Dennis and had to hang around for about ten minutes before I could harangue some passers-by into taking my picture to prove I had been at both ends of the trail.


From there I took the surface streets back to Brewster which included several miles of white knuckle riding along a crowded no-shoulder stretch of 6A. Definitely stick to the rail trail if you can.

Besides the CCRT, the Cape has several shorter biking trails at various points. One that is part of the National Seashore is the Salt Pond Trail that goes from the National Park Service Visitors’ Center to the beach. I had thrown both bikes on the rack and we drove down there. I had planned to let my wife drive the chase car while my son and I rode.

And this is where we hit the teenage attitude. He said that he had no idea we would be bike riding that day. I guess the two bikes on the back of the car was too subtle a clue. He grumbled and complained all the way to the beach. The trail ends at an old Coast Guard house that was just gorgeous.


I wanted to head up the road to to find the Nauset Beach lighthouse. And that is where he rebelled. Instead of continuing on the two miles up the road, he decided he’d rather ride the three miles back to the car by himself. So be it.

Later that afternoon, after we were done touring Provincetown and the surrounding dunes, we went to Herring Cove Beach to let my son splash in the ocean and for me to ride some of the trails through the park. I rode out to Race Point Beach where I took two of my favorite pictures of the whole trip. This one is currently the wallpaper on my home computer.


And I just love the sight of my bicycle resting next to the dunes here:


While waiting for my wife to drag my kid off the beach, I went up to the top of the visitor center widow's walk and shot a bunch of pictures including several of a plane landing at Provincetown Airport.


I had a great time biking the cape. There were trails and paths for every ability and plenty of things to do along the way. The bike I rode on that trip was a hand-me down that had gone from my dad to my son and to me. Just before the trip I added some new much-needed handgrips and rack with bag just the right size for my camera equipment. Now I can indulge two of my favorite pastimes, bicycling and photography. And isn't that what a vacation should be all about?

To see more pictures from the trip, click on any picture in this post or the previous one or go through the whole set of my Cape Cod pictures.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Biking The Cape, Part I

I never quite got around to blogging everything about my summer vacation on Cape Cod. Sure we hunted some lighthouses and bought some books and visited Provincetown and even checked out Mianus, but the best part for me was taking my bicycle along. Normally our vacations are so wide-ranging or far-flung that taking a bicycle isn’t practical. But this trip, since we were renting a house, each of the three families brought along a few bikes.

According to the rental property description and the Google Map, our cottage was right near the Cape Cod Rail Trail. It didn’t say it was a good deal up a hill from the rail trail. That didn’t bug me, but some of the less active bikers in our group (which was everybody except me) found that hill rather challenging.

I was shocked when my son said he’d get up at 7 a.m. to go biking with me. I think he just wanted to get the obligatory father-son ride out of the way.


I had bought a new rack and bag for my bike just so I could take my camera along. That morning the trail was infested with rabbits out for morning silflay. We saw more rabbits than people for the first several miles.


A few miles down the trail we hit the bicycle rotary in Harwich. I had never seen one for bicycles before and it looked like a great place to stop for a short rest.


From the rotary we took a side trail that went towards Chatham. This branch was a little hillier than the main trail and for the last couple of miles it kept detouring onto residential streets for blocks at a time making it difficult to follow. The path abruptly ended at a ball park and my son and I were trying to read a bad map to figure out how to get to the beach when the other two dads happened to drive by. They had been dawn lighthouse hunting and were now in search of coffee. My son abandoned me and tossed his bike onto their rack and left me to do the last five miles to the lighthouse by myself. The dads caught up with me at Chatham Beach.


We had gotten there just a little too late to catch the sunrise yoga class, but they sure looked pretty out there on the sand doing their downward facing dogs.


We also took time to watch the Coast Guard officer raise the flag at the lighthouse. The Code of Married Guys Acting Macho forbids me from repeating anything that might have been said about the attractiveness of this young lady in uniform.


Our rental was also right near Nickerson State Park that boasts eight miles of biking trails. As a group activity, the five guys on the trip all rode down to the park, but the trails were so windy and steep there was a mutiny and we only ended up riding a few miles that day.

Two days later we all mustered again to tackle the north half of the CCRT. As the most experienced cyclist, I said that we could turn around at any point that they felt was right. I rode sweep at the end of the pack to make sure we didn’t lose anybody. A certain machismo kept everybody from calling it quits until we hit the end of the trail in Wellfleet 12 miles later.


My son tended to lead the pack but the other kid on the ride, who was only fourteen, wasn’t used to his big sister’s bike and it was apparent that he wasn’t going to survive the ride back. As luck would have it, right near the trailhead was a breakfast place. They sat the five of us at a table where our biking fragrance wouldn’t offend the other patrons. We called the wives who had just begun their day of antiquing. We told them to come rescue the kid or we were going to send him home with the college sophomore waitress who was about to go off duty.


An hour later we were back on the trail, but the return trip was slightly into the wind, but we made it back with only one stop for ice cream. In total we rode over twenty-five miles that morning. A good weekend ride for me, but a serious stretch for the other dads. They complained about sore seats and stiff muscles the rest of the vacation. They may have complained, but the ride was sheer heaven to me.

Tomorrow: More tales from the trail.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Twitter Twatter

I’m a joiner and a claim staker. Every time I hear about a new interactive social network, I register as ‘yellojkt” to make sure nobody else takes that identity (not that anyone ever does) and then do absolutely nothing. I find it hard enough to keep up with my old school Blogger blog without endlessly updating all those other sites that have vowel deficient names.

I belong to Cre8Buzz whose logo is an ant (go figure), not to be confused with Cr8buzz, Multiply, and FSM knows what else. Unless I use them I quickly forget that I have even registered The other day I had kept hearing all sorts of jokes about Tumblr and went to join only to find out that I already had over a year ago. My next to last post was a picture of my dog who passed away last November. I was way ahead of the curve on that one.

While I joined Blog365 and have at least kept up with the spirit of it, my original goal was to cross-post a link there to all my other blogs. That resolution lasted shorter than most January gym memberships. I’ve long had MySpace and Facebook pages which sit fallow. I actually have two MySpace pages, one for yellojkt that all my imaginary internet friends are linked into and another whole separate one for my family and meat space acquaintances. Never shall the twain meet.
And that is why I’ve ignored a few invitations to join LinkedIn, some sort Facebook for people with real jobs. It requires way too much personally identifiable information for my comfort zones.

The one service that I have made a lot of use of is my frequently flogged Flickr account. I had a panic attack when my Pro membership expired and I thought I had loss access to thousands of my pictures. A quick online payment solved that problem.

On the other hand, I have never quite known what to do with Twitter despite it’s growing popularity. All the tech podcasts I listen yak about Twitter endlessly as if it is the next great thing. Twitter has evolved its own lexicon with “twitterers” and “tweats” and also sorts of coinages to avoid the one logical past perfect tense verb that can’t be used in polite company.

Some of my reluctance is snobbery. A diary is list of what you had for lunch. A journal is what your lunch means. I have a hard enough time keeping my blogposts drafts under two pages, let alone 140 characters.

Nonetheless, despite rarely twittering I have gathered 37 followers. About a half-dozen are loyal blog readers that have followed me along, most are complete strangers that seem to redefine the meaning of indiscriminate. So as not to disappoint, I have decided to make my Twitter account a more intimate look at my daily life, and I do mean intimate. Not as intimate as BedPost, a social network where you can track your sex life, but more than I put into my blog. Here will go my weekly weight weigh-ins, my exercise journal, TV shows and movies I’ve seen and the other detritus of my dull life that can’t even rise above the threshold of a “What Kind Of X Are You?” meme.

So feel free to follow me, but I can’t promise you the scintillating deeply intellectual fare you are used to here. And if I don’t recognize your Twitter identity, drop me a reminder of who you are and how I know you.

And even better, let me know if there are more social networks that I can join and ignore.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Are a joiner or a loner? What social networks do you belong to?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Weighty Issues

It’s no secret to me that I have been putting on a few pounds. It’s been pretty apparent in the mirror for a few years. About four years ago, my wife joined FamousWeightLossProgram (FWLP) and I followed along and lost nearly thirty pounds. Since then I have put back on forty. Not a good trend.

I’ve been avoiding my doctor because he is a runner and very fit and a bit of a nag. Nonetheless, since I have a history of prostate cancer in my family, I’m supposed to get my innards tickled every couple of years.

Sure enough, I nearly tipped the scale at two bills. My doctor gave me the eat less/exercise more lecture and said he would send on the cholesterol report from my blood test, but he wasn’t expecting good news since those numbers track weight.

In reality, despite my ballooning weight, I have never felt more fit. I recently added jogging to my exercise mix of bicycling and walking. I can now jog at least three-quarters of the one mile lap around the local pool. On the weekends I will often bicycle twenty miles (or more if the route includes a bagel shop).

And as best I can tell, the numbers from my blood test, while not great, were far from cataclysmic. My blood pressure is 116 over 72. Even when I was about as active as a sofa cushion my blood pressure has always made doctors think I was a triathlete. My cholesterol was a respectable 167. The only category I was out of tolerance on was the LDL/HDL ratio which was 4.5, just a smidgen lower than the 5.0 ratio recommended. I guess I need more fiber or something, but I’m not about to go on prescription meds over that.

It seems everybody I know is on Lipitor or some other statin-type medicine. I’m very suspicious of Big Pharma and the continued trend of defining risk down to the point that nobody is healthy. When diabetes meant a lifetime of precisely timed insulin injections, it was a diagnosis doctors made reluctantly. Now that there are oral medications available, everybody goes on the meds at the drop of a blood sugar hat.

This is not to take lightly the people out there with serious health issues or risks. In fact, it is the opposite. When everybody is at risk, it's easy for the people that really need help to get swept aside.

Nonetheless, I could drop a few pounds and be even healthier. Several of our friends joined FWLP and my wife bowed to peer pressure and went along with them. Now I’m back to being the walking SillyPoints™ calculator since I reverse engineered the formula a few years back. While the SillyPoints™ algorithm is some patented trade secret all I’m going to say is calories divided by fifty plus fat grams divided by twelve. You’re on your own for figuring out the fiber grams bonus.

I make it a point of pride to not pay somebody to put me on a scale, I did go out and buy a FWLP endorsed scale that measures down to the tenth of a point. It costs about the same as five weigh-ins at FWLP, so I have to hold out from joining for another two months to recoup my investment. My last scale only did one pound increments and was rather prone to going out of calibration. This new scale claims to be able measure body fat, body mass index, blood alcohol level, and IQ score. So far I’ve just watched my weight bounce around a couple of pounds based on time of day and proximity to my morning constitutional.

One of the features that makes FWLP the market leader in weight management is its focus on accountability and public humiliation when you pack the pounds back on. But that is what the internet is for. More details to come.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Is anybody ever happy with their body?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quiet: Genius At Work

As much as I love my iPods over the years, I despise iTunes. It has the Apple condescending “do things our way or not at all” attitude that makes iPhotos absolutely unusable. So when I heard that the new updates to the iPod line included a full version upgrade to iTunes, I gritted my teeth. But it had a new feature I wanted to try. Supposedly, the Genius button will take a song and then make a playlist with similar music from your songs. I call it the Pandora Effect. I gave it a try using two of my favorite and most iconic songs, “London Calling” by The Clash and “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen. Here are the results:
  1. “London Calling”, The Clash
  2. “Psycho Killer”, Talking Heads
  3. “Like a Rolling Stone”, Bob Dylan
  4. “Space Oddity”, David Bowie
  5. “Rock Lobster”, The B-52's
  6. “Gimme Shelter”, The Rolling Stones
  7. “Do You Want To”, Franz Ferdinand
  8. “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, The Clash
  9. “Hungry Like the Wolf”, Duran Duran
  10. “Lola”, The Kinks
  11. “I Ran (So Far Away) ”, A Flock of Seagulls
  12. “Pinball Wizard”, The Who
  13. “And She Was”, Talking Heads
  14. “Sultans of Swing”, Dire Straits
  15. “Knockin' on Heaven's Door”, Bob Dylan
  16. “Killer Queen”, Queen
  17. “Rebellion (Lies)”, The Arcade Fire
  18. “Boys Don't Cry”, The Cure
  19. “Piece of My Heart”, Janis Joplin
  20. “Runnin' With the Devil”, Van Halen
  21. “My Generation”, The Who
  22. “Sunshine of Your Love”, Cream
  23. “Heart of Glass”, Blondie
  24. “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, U2
  25. “Changes”, David Bowie
  1. “Born to Run”, Bruce Springsteen
  2. “Just What I Needed”, The Cars
  3. “Only the Good Die Young”, Billy Joel
  4. “Go Your Own Way”, Fleetwood Mac
  5. “Hot Blooded”, Foreigner
  6. “Crazy on You”, Heart
  7. “White Room”, Cream
  8. “The Sound of Silence”, Simon & Garfunkel
  9. “Walk This Way”, Aerosmith
  10. “Hungry Like the Wolf”, Duran Duran
  11. “Kodachrome”, Paul Simon
  12. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, Bruce Springsteen
  13. “We Didn't Start the Fire”, Billy Joel
  14. “Angie”, The Rolling Stones
  15. “Piece of My Heart”, Janis Joplin
  16. “Forever Young”, Rod Stewart
  17. “I Won't Back Down”, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  18. “Slow Ride”, Foghat
  19. “In a Big Country”, Big Country
  20. “Thunder Road”, Bruce Springsteen
  21. “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, U2
  22. “Like a Rolling Stone”, Bob Dylan
  23. “Won't Get Fooled Again”, The Who
  24. “Born to Be Wild”, Steppenwolf
  25. “Reelin' in the Years”, Steely Dan
For only having a single song to base the list off of, it seems to have done a pretty good job. U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" made both lists. On the other hand, so did "Hungry Like The Wolf" by Duran Duran. I'm not sure what these new-wave pretty boys have in common with either The Clash or Broooce.

But they did make one huge direct hit. Putting “Hot Blooded”, my YouTube hit, on the BTR alone justifies its algorithm. They nailed me dead to right.

But how would the geniuses do with more obscure selections? I have a lot of artists on my playlist that fall into the folky wimminy category. The one song that always brings a tear to my eye is “Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls. Let's see what gets picked to along with it:
  1. “Power Of Two”, Indigo Girls
  2. “As Cool as I Am”, Dar Williams
  3. “Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels) ”, Jim Croce
  4. “The Mummers' Dance [Edit] ”, Loreena McKennitt
  5. “Bleecker Street”, Simon & Garfunkel
  6. “Sensitive New Age Guys”, Christine Lavin
  7. “Ghost”, Indigo Girls
  8. “Falter”, Lori McKenna
  9. “Echoes”, Dar Williams
  10. “Evidence”, Tara Maclean
  11. “Love's Recovery”, Indigo Girls
  12. “Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter”, Phranc
  13. “Northern Sky”, Nick Drake
  14. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, Jim Croce
  15. “Distracted”, Ani DiFranco
  16. “What Do You Hear In These Sounds”, Dar Williams
  17. “Tom Dooley”, The Kingston Trio
  18. “I Ain't Marching Anymore”, Phil Ochs
  19. “Comfortably Numb [1979] ”, Ani DiFranco/Dar Williams
  20. “It's Not Happening”, The Be Good Tanyas
  21. “Get Out The Map”, Indigo Girls
  22. “Ride Me Like a Wave”, Janis Ian
  23. “New York's Not My Home”, Jim Croce
  24. “Overlap”, Ani DiFranco
  25. Zombie Jamboree”, The Kingston Trio
It also seemed to do a good job.The two additional Indigo Girl songs “Ghost” and “Get Out The Map” mix well with “Power of Two”. The geniuses definitely nail Ani DeFranco as an artist with appeal to an Indigo Girls fan. It also found my sole bootleg Phranc song, proving a little bit of depth to the Genius knowledge base. On the other hand, it seems to think that Jim Croce is in need of gender reassignment surgery, having picked two of his songs including the mega-cheesy “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, a real mood killer on this particular list.

However, I am also a leading internet authority on cheesy music. Perhaps the cheesiest song in my collection is “Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook. Let’s see if the ‘Geniuses” at Apple can discern quality and the lack thereof.
  1. “Sylvia's Mother”, Dr. Hook
  2. “Mother and Child Reunion”, Paul Simon
  3. “Leader Of The Pack”, The Shangri-las
  4. “Rag Doll”, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons
  5. “Sloop John B”, The Beach Boys
  6. “Angie”, The Rolling Stones
  7. “Colour My World”, Chicago
  8. “Promises”, Eric Clapton
  9. “So Far Away”, Dire Straits
  10. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”, Paul Simon
  11. “Dancing in the Street”, David Bowie/Mick Jagger
  12. “Bungle in the Jungle”, Jethro Tull
  13. “Only Sixteen”, Dr. Hook
  14. “I Love The Nightlife”, Alicia Bridges
  15. “Just Like a Woman”, Bob Dylan
  16. “The Last Time”, The Rolling Stones
  17. “My Little Town”, Simon & Garfunkel
  18. “Hooked on a Feeling”, B.J. Thomas
  19. “My Hometown”, Bruce Springsteen
  20. “Sky Pilot”, Eric Burdon & the Animals
  21. “Rikki Don't Lose That Number”, Steely Dan
  22. “Long, Long Time”, Linda Ronstadt
  23. “Loves Me Like a Rock”, Paul Simon
  24. “Two Out of Three Ain't Bad”, Meat Loaf
  25. “Mr. Tambourine Man”, The Byrds
Cheesy is in the eye of the beholder and most of these songs, while definitely able to induce lactose intolerence, are of higher quality that the collected works of the good Doctor Hook. The only clear bullseye hit is the inclusion of the sap-tastic classic “Hooked On A Feeling”.

Overall, I think these geniuses need to hit the books just a little longer.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What song would make a good GeniusList?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Car Jack City

Tuesday morning I could have prevented a carjacking. Well, maybe. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My bike had been in the shop for over a week and I was eager to go out for a ride. So eager I was willing to take it out in the pre-dawn hours before I had to shower for work. I have a front light, rear reflector light, and reflective vest, so I thought I was pretty well prepared. But the biggest scare of the morning was before I even started the ride.

Normally, I open the garage, set my bike in the driveway and take my water bottle in to be filled. This morning when the garage door opened I saw three people wandering up the street. This was just a little before six in the morning. The looked to be teenagers and were wearing the universal thug uniform of baggy white tee shirts. The high school bus comes around right about seven, so these kids were way early for that. I had no idea if they were local to the neighborhood since I exercise before the bus comes and leave for work long after it has come by.

Instead of putting my bike in the driveway, I closed the garage door and took the water bottle to the kitchen. When I opened the garage door again, the kids were now across the street leaning against my neighbor’s car and looking my why. Remembering that I didn’t have my phone on me, which I usually take with me on rides, I closed the garage door again and went back up to the kitchen to get it.

Since it was still pitch dark outside, I had to turn off the kitchen light to see if the kids were still there. They were. I had my phone in my hands ready to dial 9-1-1 when the wandered off to the next circle. I shook it off and went for my ride. A half hour later (still way early for the bus) one of the kids had been joined by a girl in a black shirt and they were lounging in the grass across from where the bus comes. The other two guys were up the street just loping along.

I told my wife about and told her to stay aware of anything suspicious. She asked if I had taken their picture. I kind of chuckled that off and said that it would have been too dark for that, but that sure was a good idea.

Then when we both left for work, we say sirens and police cars racing up and down the street. In the circle on the other side of the main road, we saw a guy talking to a cop. We went over to see what was happening. The guy was taking his two daughters to school when the kids came up to him and asked him for directions to the mall (which is a good seven miles away). Then they started swearing at him and told him to get out of the car. Fearing for his daughters he did that and they stole his car.

They didn’t get very far. The car was abandoned in the middle of the road one block away. Some other neighbor said they saw some kids run towards the woods. I told the cop at the stolen car that I had seen some suspicious kids early that morning. He told me to call in ANYTHING suspicious. He said he gets called by parents when their kids don’t want to go to school. It seems Howard County residents have a very low threshold for what qualifies as an emergency.

No one got hurt and the car got recovered. My wife assured the guy that this sort of crime is not common in our neighborhood. I’m convinced that had I taken my bike out of the garage with them still around, it would have been stolen or worse. Blog-buddy Claude had his bike stolen out of his garage earlier this summer. Another imaginary friend from the internet had a bicycle stolen from her car. While she was in it. They came up to her car with her and her kid in it and cut the straps of the bike rack and stole the bike.

If I had called the cops when I first saw these thugs loitering threateningly, that guy would not have been carjacked and he would still think Ellicott City was a safe place to raise a family. I try not to be paranoid but now when I see kids hanging out when or where they shouldn't be, I’m going to be far more careful and won’t hesitate to trust my gut instinct about what just isn’t right.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What would you have done?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sidewalk Sex Party

When I walk in my neighborhood, I notice lots of things strewn on the grass or in the street. Usually it's normal stuff like broken bottles or empty fast food bags. My dog used to be particularly good at finding out if there were any chicken bones or rolls left over.

Now I live in a nice suburban development. One time there was a dead deer in the road. Another time I found a crack pipe. I assume it belonged to the moving crew that was working that day and not one of the neighbors. Another time, while riding my bike past a local cemetery, there was a bra in the road.

But Sunday morning, I found a pile of things that just baffled me. It just didn't seem like the stuff people would leave between the sidewalk and the curb.

You can click on the picture for a bigger version, but here is the list of what I saw:

A roll of clothesline
The wrapper for a garden hose (hose missing)
Several latex gloves
A roll of clear wrapping tape
Bottle of rubbing alcohol
Length of black nylon strap
DSW Shoe bag (not pictured)
Wooden paint stirrer
Tube of Astroglide
Buttplug (or dog chew toy, but hopefully not both)
Two unopened condoms

I am just at a loss to put these items in any sort of narrative that makes sense to my not-so-sheltered mind. I mean, I know what you can do with these things, but why were they where they were. It had rained the day before and nothing looked weather-soaked. I stumbled past this about 8 am, well into the morning jogging/dog-walking hours, so plenty of other people had already walked right past it. And for the record, none of those items were mine. And they were all gone when I went by later that evening.

Help me out and tell me what I stumbled across. A BDSM lawn party? A roadside gay orgy? A disrupted fraternity hazing? A post-Republican National Convention celebration? What? All suggestions, bizarre or innocuous, are welcome.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sarah's Book Club

Yet another hoax directed at Sarah Palin is making the rounds. It's been widely reported that she asked about how to get books removed from the public library in Wasilla going so far as firing the local librarian only to have to rehire her after public outrage. That hasn't kept the internets from circulating the list that nobody knows even exists or not. According to Wonkette, it is just the standard list of books that have been banned anywhere anytime.

But that doesn't mean it isn't suitable for a perfectly good meme. Like most reading list memes, the rules are to bold books you have read and italicize books you want to read. If you are really ambitious, give a count at the end. Here goes:

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Blubber by Judy Blume
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Canterbury Tales by Chaucer (well, all the smutty ones)
Carrie by Stephen King
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Christine by Stephen King
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Cujo by Stephen King
Curses, Hexes, and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Decameron by Boccaccio
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fallen Angels by Walter Myers
Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Forever by Judy Blume
Grendel by John Champlin Gardner
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Have to Go by Robert Munsch
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell - one of my childhood favorites
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Impressions edited by Jack Booth
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
It’s Okay if You Don’t Love Me by Norma Klein
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Lord of the Flies by William Golding - I just can't get past where Piggy's glasses get broken.
Love is One of the Choices by Norma Klein
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
More Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
My House by Nikki Giovanni
My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara
Night Chills by Dean Koontz
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women’s Health Collective
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl
Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Separate Peace by John Knowles
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. - It wouldn't be a banned books list without Kurt.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Bastard by John Jakes
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Devil’s Alternative by Frederick Forsyth
The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Snyder - Another childhood favorite
The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks
The Living Bible by William C. Bower
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The New Teenage Body Book by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
The Seduction of Peter S. by Lawrence Sanders
The Shining by Stephen King
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Snyder
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster Editorial Staff
Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols by Edna Barth

That puts me at twenty-two which isn't too bad.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Which of these books would you ban?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Plethora of Palin Parodies

The announcement of Sarah Palin’s selection as John McCain’s running mate set off a Klondike Gold Rush level stampede to carve out territory in the blogosphere. The spot for the definitive viral YouTube impersonation has been taken by comedian Sara Benincasa and her spot-on take on the Alaskan Governor. The no-“h” Sara is the girlfriend of Francesco Marciuliano, the unseemly object of my long-standing man-crush. When I saw the first video it had been viewed 6000 times. It’s now gone viral with over 100,000 views and been picked up by the mainstream media. I wish these hard-working comedians lots of success. Let them ride that pony until it collapses like Eight Belles. And I also hope that “Bristol, go breastfeed your brother.” becomes the comedy catchphrase of the campaign.

The trouble with parody and satire is that they can be too subtle or people just prefer to be blinded by their own prejudices and preconceptions. As a person that dabbles in the under-recognized art form of putting politicians heads on silly pictures, I’m pretty suspicious of pictures that are too good to be true. The star-spangled bikini picture of Sarah Palin at a pool party just couldn’t be. It was quickly noted as a paste-job by those in the know, but that didn’t prevent it from going viral among the more gullible schadenfreudistas.

With all the self-proclaimed photoshop experts out there all too willing to vouch for its authenticity, it didn’t take much sleuthing with my mad googling skilz to find the original pictures on Flickr. The bikini picture was taken by one Doctor Casino in August of 2006. The picture itself was taken tongue in cheek and the good doctor is mildly amused by the attention and is philosophical about his unwitting role in a viral phenomenon. Here is his take. Be sure to read all the comments on the picture page and the photoshopped version. They are very interesting:
To anyone else reading - I still have misgivings about all this. The tropes being attached to Sarah Palin here - of being unserious and also of being a sexual body rather than a professional intellect - are, not coincidentally, sexist tropes about womanhood generally. The image is funny to the extent that it plays on something specific to Palin: she is a goofball and more specifically a gun nut who makes lipservice to patriotism (a la American Flag Bikini) while harboring dubious views on fundamental American principles ("Can you tell me how to go about banning a book?"). But to the extent that it's a lightweight's first resort against a female political candidate, it's odious. The proliferation of lizard-brain responses to/uses of the image is particularly telling.
When the more conspiratorial minded are confronted with the source picture, they knee-jerk respond that maybe the “first” picture is a photoshopped cover for the REAL picture. That would be plausible if it weren’t for the fact the Palin head cut into the picture is also on Flickr. It was also taken in 2006, at a Fourth of July event. Note that the face has been mirrored to fit the image. There is also a Flickr post of a screen capture by a person alleging to be the original photoshopper. On it he says:
What I choose to do in my free time is no concern of yours. If I want to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon Photoshopping Sarah Palin's mug on a bunch of bikini-clad gunslingers, then so be it.
Who am I to judge indeed? If this guy is the real deal, there was never any intent to pass this picture off as a legitimate photo as so many mailing list forwarders did.

I think what makes this image so compelling is the ‘truthiness’ of the portrayal of Palin as a redneck gun-toting bimbo. Much of the humor directed at Palin plays up the snow-billy aspect of Alaskan culture that makes Wasilla look like Yoknapatawpha County with moose. And the photoshops that aren't nearly as funny rely on just the shock value of Palin's face on a nude or embarrassing picture. These just aren't funny and will lead to a backlash eventually. It takes a certain panache to make a photoshop that hits on an underlying vein of humor. And most don't.

Taking another track is this geek humor site that stretches the conceit that John McCain and Sarah Palin resemble Battlestar Galactica characters Saul Tigh and Laura Roslyn. This one-joke gimmick seems to be doing quite well with regular posts and a discussion forum. Who knew that geekitude and politics could be a hit on the internet.

And of course there are fake Sarah Palin blogs and Twitter accounts of varying humor level. It's all part of being in the public eye. But something tells me Palin will be giving internet humorists a lot of material for a long time.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is fair game in parodying politicians?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Checking Out The Motels

One of my favorite places to see musical acts is the Ramshead OnStage in Annapolis (not to be confused with the much bigger Ramshead Live in Baltimore, which I have never been too). Over the years, I’ve seen acts ranging in age from Nellie McKay to Crystal Gayle.

On a whim, my wife got us tickets to The Motels, a two-hit new wave wonder from the 80s. After about a decade of inactivity, lead singer and songwriter Martha Davis has been hitting the studio with a vengeance. In the past year she has put out three albums. One is re-recordings of classic Motels hits and two are new material. Since I have a format to follow, lets hit it.

The Motels
Blurry Overexposed Cell Phone Picture

Martha Davis, a New Wave icon is still touring and rocking.
Opening Act

None. If you make reservations at the restaurant, you get 10% off your bill before the show.
Stage Presence

The 21st century incarnation of this band is basically lead singer Martha Davis and whatever musicians she can find for the evening. I kid, but I’m not far off. While she has a core band of sidemen that are completely different from her band in the 80s, they often have to go out on tour with bigger bands to pay the bills. Nonetheless, the group that formed the Motels that night were talented and knew the tunes.
Stage Show

She got into quite a few conversations with the audience as well as her band members. She came onstage with a wine glass in hand and sipped from it between songs. She teased that if the keyboardist got drunk enough that he would take off his shirt. The audience soon littered the stage with drinks they had sent up. This led into a story about Martha forgetting her purse in his motel room and him answering the door in the nude. The whole show was just a loose raucous hoot as she told stories and cut up with the band.
Amusing Anecdote

She wasn’t wearing her glasses, so between songs she kept squinting and looking at the setlist. Some guy sitting by the stage pointed out that she was skipping around. She checked the list and recoiled in horror saying “I’ve skipped ‘Suddenly Last Summer’, you guys wouldn’t like that would you?" After gasps from the audience, she went into a note-perfect no-dry-eye rendition.

After the show Martha Davis came out and signed stuff and chatted with the fans for over an hour. It was a real trip listening to her talk about the old times. She’s fifty-seven years old and quite upfront about it. Her fans were aghast at her suggestion that maybe it was time for some plastic surgery.
Show Length
90 minutes from start to finish.
Audience Demeanor

The best part of the Ramshead experience is that the audience loves the music and is respectful of it. One guy was lip-syncing along to every tune. The lady next to me took meticulous set list notes on a cocktail napkin all night and then went to the bathroom during show closer “Only The Lonely”. Go figure.
Noticeable Omissions
None that I’m aware of, but then my one Motels cassette hasn’t seen daylight in about two decades. The set was a mix of about equal measures original versions of older songs, new arrangements of older songs, and new material. After one of the songs that Martha would announce as a “remix”, a guy in the back loudly yelled “Brilliant, but how about the original version?” Wasn’t going to happen.
Other Reviews

Here's one from a gig in LA earlier this year.

It's great to see the rockers of my youth still going strong twenty-five years later. Martha Davis may be older but she still has the haunting pipes that made her such an influence for later female singers.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fly Like An Eagle

What military aircraft are you?

F-15 Eagle

You are an F-15. Your record in combat is spotless; you've never been defeated. You possess good looks, but are not flashy about it. You prefer to let your reputation do the talking. You are fast, agile, and loud, but reaching the end of your stardom.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by YouThink.com quizzes and personality tests.

I would rather have been an F-4 Phantom II since that is what my dad used to fly, but an F-15 is nearly as cool.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Dam Panorama

Not far from my house is Patapsco State Park which is considered to have some of the best mountain biking in the region. On my regular biking route I often see mountain bikers parked on the side of Landing Road as they go into the park. Just about two years ago they extended the trail all the way out to Ilchester Road and put in another swinging bridge across the river. Now there is away for hikers, bicycle riders, and dog walkers to get into the park without going through then entrance and paying a fee. The very small bit of frugalness I inherited from my father likes that.


Within the park is the ruins of an old, old hydroelectric dam called Bloede’s Dam, after the guy that invented it. Floods have torn away some of it, but most of the dam remains. Since Labor Day was a beautiful sunny day, I decided to load my camera onto my bike and take some pictures. I stop on the side of the trail and walk down the water’s edge. And the dam is just too big. I can’t get the whole dam thing into the view finder. So I take a bunch of pictures and photostitch them together. I end up with a pretty dam picture that is 8687 pixels by 2278 pixels which makes it nearly twenty mega pixels in size and over twelve megabytes of disc space. And as hard as I look I can't find the seams between the images. That is one big dam picture.

Since I have unlimited bandwidth on Flickr, I upload it there as well as other pictures from that day, so if you want the big version, here it is. But if you download it make sure you have a dam fast connection.

Monday, September 01, 2008

BooksFirst - August 2008

Books Bought

Soft Touch by John D. MacDonald (Dell First Edition K116)
Cry Hard, Cry Fast by John D. MacDonald ( Popular Giant G271)
Wine of The Dreamers by John D. MacDonald (Fawcett Gold Medal R1994)
If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler
Eight Little Piggies by Stephen Jay Gould
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

Books Read

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
by John Perkins
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan


You will notice that I put edition numbers on the John D. MacDonald books. I thought they might be first editions but they turned out to be reprints. Still, they are worth having for a completist like me. Vintage paperbacks like these are hard to find, but a stop in Charlottesville, Virginia proved to be a gold mine of old paperbacks. College towns just have the best bookstores.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man has a certain notoriety in the business press. I have heard it touted by John C. Dvorak as a scandalous book full of revelations. John Perkins was an economist employed by a major international consulting firm. Despite having very minor academic credentials, his job was to economically justify large infrastructure projects in developing nations. These reports were optimistic to the point that rosy glasses wouldn’t keep you from being blinded. Perkins claims that this was done to insure that the countries would never be able to afford the massive development loans and would end up beholden to the World Bank and similar groups.

Such accusations are an article of faith among leftist anti-trade groups, so the revelation here is that it is supported by someone on the inside. Perkins claims he was explicitly tutored on why and how to maximize the benefit to banking interests. If it weren’t for the interesting insider revelations, the book would be nearly unreadable. The prose is hyperbolic and self-aggrandizing in the extreme. Perkins has no self-esteem issues and it shows. He over-inflates his role in events and tends to exaggerate incidents that could have far less dramatic interpretations as well.

What is interesting is the way he ties in his personal experiences with other global events, particularly those in the Middle East and South and Central America where the United States has been running roughshod over local leaders for generations. The real value of the book is that it provides a framework for evaluating world events. Like any good conspiracy theory, his assertions are improvable. But they are also tough to refute.

Michael Pollan has become some sort of food guru, having written several books on the topic. The Omnivore’s Dilemma has a very broad scope in that it tries to look at the entire modern industrial food machine as well as its alternatives. The book is subtitled “A Natural History of Four Meals”. The conceit here is a little contrived. He takes four different meals and traces the ingredients that go into them.

He does some stunt journalism as well. Stunt journalism is what I call it when a writer does something solely because it then provides him with something to write about. For example, Pollan buys a feed steer and them traces the steps that go on between its birth and its slaughter. He really didn’t need to buy any cattle to tell that story, but it serves to hang a narrative on. His prose is the exact opposite of Perkins's. Where EHM is direct and blunt, Dilemma is florid to the point of pretentious. No rhetorical trick is beyond the pale. Sometimes it's tough to remember he is just writing about food.

The most famous part of the book is where he details just how dependent the United States food system is on corn and the petrochemical fertilizers they require. His history of the rise of corn is just a bit fervid with snippets of conspiracy theory that John Perkins would be at home with. It is eye-opening and you will question every trip to the grocery store from now on.

Much more interesting to me was the section of the post-organic farm he works on for a week (more stunt journalism) that is on the cutting edge of sustainable (a term so fluid that nobody I know knows what it means) farming. As horrifying as the corn-fed beef chapters are, these are inspiring if just a little utopian. And while I found the wild pig hunting sections overwrought with philosophical noodling, the following chapter on mushroom hunting was pithy and hilarious.

It’s unusual for me to read two non-fiction books like this back-to-back, but both were fascinating in their own ways. They take assumptions that approach conventional wisdom (“The world is run by New York bankers.” and “Processed food is bad for you.”) and run with them by weaving complex histories and theories. Both books have prose that bookend the extremes of the quality spectrum and some of their conclusions need to be taken with a grain of salt. But both provide plenty of food for thought.