Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Talkin' 'bout my generation

Today my daughter was dancing to that song that stutters "Chaka Khan, Chaka Chaka, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan" throughout (called "I Feel for You"), and she was doing a great job (she finally has rhythm, which once worried the spouse and I since my wife couldn't catch a beat if she had the entire Marine Corps. at her disposal, poor dear), so I shouted, "Get down!"

In spectacular duck-and-cover fashion, she hit the deck immediately and looked up at me to see what the hell she was ducking for.

After I was able to stop laughing, I of course explained this was yet another figure of speech and it meant, "Dance!"

English - she is a funny language, no?

Monday, December 29, 2003

Romanticism is a four-letter word

Perched near the top of the best-seller lists for a while now is Mitch Albom's latest effort, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Of course, it's been roundly and creatively trashed by the (il)literati as it's unapologetically sentimental, and worse - romantic. As we pass through the death throws of post modernism, which of course many of our academics - bleeding edge minds that they are - haven't yet caught on to, and head into the next as-yet-unnamed age (Douglas Coupland should get first dibs, I think), Romanticism is making a comeback amongst the general populace of readers. I think this is a good thing, because it has as much to offer regarding the human condition as does self-conscious, detached irony dribbled onto 700 pages of no plot.

Let me leap aside here and explain what I mean by "Romanticism". I refer to the classic/standard definition, but I also mean a optimistic and sentimental outlook, no fear of all human emotions, including sentimentality, longing, serendipity, romance, and happy endings. I do not mean romantic in the sense of bodice rippers or harlequin romances where the heroine has to choose between the guy that's bad for her - the one she wants at first and boffs a couple times just to have had a go at it, and the one that's good for her - the one she wades into the sunset with at the end. Not that I'm putting those down (though I personally don't like them), but that is not what I'm talking about.

I think the continuing presence of romantic books at the top of the bestseller lists speaks of a sophisticated audience that's not acknowledged due to an assumption of low taste, grouped with readers of sci-fi or techno-thrillers. Am I trying to elevate these genres to pretensions of high-brow fiction? No, I'm not, because most of the stuff simply serves its purpose: To tell a good story and frame it the fantasy world the reader enjoys. But I will say that often classic, true high fiction, does emerge from these genres.

For example:
- Lord of the Rings (Fantasy)
- The Lovely Bones (Romance - as I've defined it here)
- The Robots of Dawn (Sci-fi)
- Dark Rivers of the Heart (Suspense)
- The Shining (Horror)

So, in this context, I'll go so far as to say The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a pretty good romantic novel. But I'll qualify my opinion in that you won't like this book if you don't like romantic or sentimental novels. In other words, this does not transcend the genre.

TLD: SPOILER ALERT. Though there was one ultra-clunky plot device. The protagonist dies while pushing a little girl out from underneath one of those tower of fear death-drop rides, and as my lovely wife pointed out, "What the hell was a little girl doing wandering around in the restricted area directly under a ride?" What the hell, indeed.

One romantic novel I think that does transcend the genre is Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember. The Notebook by him nearly transcends, and I'll venture to say that if Hemingway wrote romances (which he almost did) and understood women even a little (he was particularly clueless there, hence Men Without Women is his greatest achievement), he would have written something like The Notebook, with it's manly themes of loneliness and self-sufficiency. Another transcender you might recall is The Bridges of Madison County.

So, if you liked any of those, you will like The Five People You Meet in Heaven and any of the others I've listed here. If you dislike sentiment, then these books will make your eyes roll up inside your head whilst you have a mild toxic fiction shock seizure from which you can only recover by quickly reading a couple pages of post modern trash or watching an episode of David Letterman on one of his particularly snarky nights (pre-child Letterman, that is; kids naturally increase your sentimentality quotient and there's nothing you can do about it; so there).
Winged Migration

Winged Migration is a new documentary filmed over four years that follows many species of bird as they migrate across the planet. The distinctive visuals of this particular nature film arise from the way the birds were filmed. They were all raised by humans, taught to not fear engine noise (the light aircraft used during filming), and were purposely imprinted on specific people they would then follow anywhere. Thus, the shots are spectacular in that you, dear viewer, have the impression you are right in amongst the flock during migration because, well, you are. Like everyone (reviewers, pundits, and random street interviews) has said, it's great movie.

The extras on the DVD include a "making of" movie that's as long and as interesting as the flick itself, so you get two, two, TWO movies in one. Most of the narration is English floating in French accents so thick you can barely pick out the snails in the cream, as it were. (It was primarily a French production. Pundits will smile with ironic amusement when geese land on a French military vessel for a sleepover. Who knew they even existed?) However, it does kind of tickle those old Jacque Cousteau endorphins those of us of a certain age have. If only they'd had a couple throaty Marlin Perkins voice-overs explaining how he was going to send Jim up in the light aircraft to film the geese rather than put his own ass on the line, it would've felt complete.

It's fair to say, though, that aside from the stunning wing-to-wing aerial photography, this is a pretty standard nature film. This is not meant to detract from the achievement, btw.

The music is at times cloying and most other times simply annoying. It appears they tried to mate the incidental music to the region the birds are flying over - Russia, America, France and so on, but the only real effect is it keeps you wondering why the hell is the music so intrusive. Often it just degrades into groans and hyperkinetic tinkling reminiscent of Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi score. The incidental narration is so incidental and unnecessary, feel free to turn the sound way down if the music makes your teeth itch.

The movie begins with a little intro that states there were no special effects used in the movie, which I think is just a little bit of bullshit. It's obvious that all the breathtaking in-flight stuff is real. But there are two transitional segments where the camera is looking down on some continents - a near space-level shot - and a small bird wings its way up, past the camera, and back down to earth, presumably heading towards another continent. Expecting us to believe that they had a camera in the exact place in the whole huge sky where a little bird would pass is asking for a suspension of disbelief that would hoist Alec Baldwin's ego. I'm sure they meant all the flying stuff is real and expected us to just know when we saw a shot that was impossible, it was conjured in a computer.

Still, definitely put this on your "must see" list, but put it off until it's a week or a dollar rental - or available at your local library. It's a great film for the whole clan and holds to it's "G" rating. My family unit laughed, went "awwww" at the babies, and had fun inventing dialogue for the various avian encounters throughout.
Why the Music Channels Play Anything But

The real reason music channels no longer show music videos is NOT because their reality shows, "Lifestyles of the Homeys and Ganstas" (aka "Cribs"), and softcore porn attract more viewers. No, not at all. It's because videos provide the perfect way to record the songs for free and make a mix CD, like I did....

VH1 has a show called "Insomniac Theater" that shows videos from about 2 to 4 in the morning (in my area). [Oooo, correction: HAD a show - it's gone now. They found me out!] One lovely night in early December, they showed nothing but fantastic song after fantastic song. No rap. Only one Britney Spears song. The rest was actual music!!!! Check out this list and listen to the samples:

- Amazing - Josh Kelley
- Are You Gonna Be My Girl - Jet
- Bigger than My Body - John Mayer
- Breathe - Michelle Branch
- Calling All Angels - Train
- Fallen - Sarah McLachlan
- Follow Through - Gavin Degraw
- Harder to Breathe - Maroon 5
- I Believe in a Thing Called Love - Darkness
- I Need More Love - Robert Randolph and the Family Band
- Keep Me in Your Heart - Warren Zevon
- Send Your Love - Sting
- Stacy's Mom - Fountains of Wayne
- Trouble - Pink
- Waiting for You - Seal
- White Flag - Dido
- You and I Both - Jason Mraz

Man. If there were a radio station that played these songs, I'd tune in. But, alas, there is no such animal in the monopoly that is American radio anymore. But, wouldn't it be nice? (Calling all entremanures - there's a market out there waiting to be tapped. You bring back radio like it was in the 70s where all the best songs out were played regardless of their intended micro-niche, and you kept the commercials to within a total 15 minutes an hour, you would own the airwaves.)

Sunday, December 28, 2003


I've been avoiding - in fact have never planned - a post about the child we lost back in June of 2002.

There are some events in life that you cannot put words to. Your first real love. Your first tragic disappointment. Your first real failure. Your first and other real triumphs (real success is often scarier than failure). Your first favorite song/album/movie/etc. Friends who leave or whom you leave. Your first sex. Your first death that matters. Your first encounter with evil. Your first encounter with true charity. Your first realization that you might be alone, that you might be the only one who feels this way, that you might never be understood. Your first realization that those fears are all false.

Then life really begins. That person really doesn't love you and never will. Your parents are flawed, scared people, just like you. The people you work for one day ask you to put your stuff in a box and leave - it's not personal, but for you it is.

And then you meet that person who does love you, and says s/he always will, and s/he means it. Then you have a baby. Maybe more babies. You experience a love that is not only beyond words, but often beyond your means to cope with it. But it is so wonderful. So wonderful.

Then friends divorce. Pets die. Friends die. Parents die. More jobs are lost to your neighbors, friends, loved ones, yourself.

Then maybe a child dies. You cry so hard that even a seasoned nurse backs into the wall and then runs from the room. You and your spouse dress the baby for the last time. Afterward, you talk about it. You talk about what to tell the child (or children) who expect a new brother or sister. You walk out of the hospital, past the nurses desk (maybe they hug you, maybe they are glad you are leaving), down the elevator out to the car. Home. You close the door of the nursery with the awful knowledge you will take down the crib sometime soon. The funeral is harder than you imagined.

You spend days telling everyone it's ok and that you're ok. This is the truth that is so finely mixed with a lie sometimes you laugh and cry at the same time and only you get it and, at the same time, you fiercely hope that you are the last person to understand that - because you don't ever want someone else to have this happen. You wonder how others have managed it. You find out they really haven't. Time just does what it does. Echoes diminish eventually.

It does keep coming back, though. You will be at the movies, or the mall, or home on the couch, or at a party, or at church, or at a restaurant and the tears will arrive like the rain. (Hemingway would like that.) And it's not just you. It's your spouse. Your other child/children. Children especially get hit with the aftershocks hard - and they don't really expect or understand it. So you have to relive it with them to help them through. Answer some questions again and again. This does not help you, however.

It eventually dawns on you that this is forever. Forever gone. Somehow that's a fresh wound. But that one heals quickly. But the other doesn't. A sunset, a sunrise, or Christmas lights, or a song, or a baby anywhere still brings you up short. Though you may not cry or tear up, you pause and gaze at the sky, or the horizon, or the water, or the baby, or the elderly man or woman simply trying to walk down the street, and ...

And then someone regains your attention. You smile and get back in the game.

And you hope. You hope that hope becomes easier again. And you know that hope is everything. And so is love.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

I, Robot

The ad campaign for the new Will Smith movie, I, Robot of Asimov's robot stories is way cool (opening July 16th). There has been no clue as to which of the stories it will include, though, which is a bummer. My theory is they are doing the Elijah Bailey stories/mysteries and not the actual I, Robot short stories because the main character of the I, Robot stories is Susan Calvin, a woman. To use Will Smith as Will Smith, they'd have to tap the Elijah stories, imo.

In the ads, it appears as though they're advertising actual robots for sale - clever. The design of the robot seems cool, too. Seems one of the ancillary benefits of DVDs is studios are willing to dump big money into ad campaigns since they can be preserved on the DVD for fanboys and girls to watch obsessively (and of course put butts into seats).

I can't freakin' wait!

Friday, December 26, 2003

Christmastime for Parents

This is what 32.74% of Christmas day has become for most parents:

"Heart of the City" is a pretty good comic, btw. Edgy and informed about being a 'rent. I think we got spoiled by "Bloom County", "The Far Side" and "Calvin and Hobbes" and maybe are a bit too haughty for our own good. Between "Rose is Rose" and "Heart of the City" we've got some good near Calvin and Milo/Binkley quality humor and observation. With "Ballard Street" we've got the so-far-left-of-center-it's-right-again viewpoint of "The Far Side", almost. And hey! Opus is back and funny as ever - and if I could find where he was on the web, I'd link to him, too.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas!

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
-- Luke 2:8-14

And that's what it's all about, Charlie Brown.
Not-so-cute incident

My wife and daughter like country music (I like the outlaws and Dwight Yoakam, but some of the more middle of the road stuff fills me with inertia), and so that's what's typically on the radio around the house. Yesterday, my daughter asked me why her favorite group, the Dixie Chicks, weren't played anymore. So, there I was, having to explain that the Dixie Chicks had said they didn't like the president, and since the owners of most of the radio station are of the same political party as the president, they won't let anyone play the Dixie Chicks anymore. (The wife and I have confirmed this with chats with the DJs and station personnel - not to mention the swath of articles that came out when it first happened.) I then told her that this usually doesn't happen in American, and when it does, it usually means something needs to be fixed. As you have to with kids, I reassured her I did think it was going to be fixed, and that we could still play their CDs around the house.

Still, I hope we can get back to the better American I remember. And I do have hope for that. Jackson Browne wrote this song back when Ronnie and the boys where doing much the same thing, and we recovered from that. (Emphasis mine.)

For America
by Jackson Browne

As if I really didn't understand
That I was just another part of their plan
I went off looking for the promise
Believing in the Motherland
And from the comfort of a dreamer's bed
And the safety of my own head
I went on speaking of the future
While other people fought and bled

The kid I was when I first left home
Was looking for his freedom and a life of his own
But the freedom that he found wasn't quite as sweet
When the truth was known
I have prayed for America
I was made for America
It's in my blood and in my bones
By the dawn's early light
By all I know is right
We're going to reap what we have sown

As if freedom was a question of might
As if loyalty was black and white
You hear people say it all the time-
My country wrong or right
I want to know what that's got to do
With what it takes to find out what's true
With everyone from the President on down
Trying to keep it from you

The thing I wonder about the Dads and Moms
Who send their sons to the Vietnams
Will they really think their way of life
Has been protected as the next war comes?
I have prayed for America
I was made for America
Her shining dream plays in my mind
By the rockets red glare
A generation's blank stare
We better wake her up this time

The kid I was when I first left home
Was looking for his freedom and a life of his own
But the freedom that he found wasn't quite a sweet
When the truth was known
I have prayed for America
I was made for America
I can't let go till she comes around
Until the land of the free
Is awake and can see
And until her conscience has been found

Friday, December 19, 2003

Cute incident

I was helping out with my daughter's first grade Christmas party at school, when during the clean-up one cute little moppet who had decided I was her favorite adult for some reason, declared brightly as she followed me around, "I go to the Mormon church! Our church speaks the true language of God!" I said something along the lines of, "That's nice, dear." But the little boy standing next to her frowned and blurted, with some irritation, "All churches are true!" And I thought, "Good for you, son!"

I'm not sure how I feel about first graders feeling the need to engage in theological debates, though.
Sometimes you just can't get past your irritation

Lisa Schwarzbaum, the only other professional movie critic I like and trust besides Roger Ebert, gave a great review to Mona Lisa Smile, Julia Roberts most recent chick flick. Rather than try and guide you into it with some pithy statements, I'll just drop you into it (since I can't link to it because EW thinks only AOL weenies should be able to access their site, the losers):

Mona Lisa Smile
Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum

Like a starlet in a Melrose Avenue boutique shopping for vintage fashions, Mona Lisa Smile wears the 1950s like a funky sweater twinset covering toned abs and a navel ring: The movie's a Vanity Fair cover shoot posing as a feminist lesson for postfeminist moviegoers who never understood the big whoop about keeping one's name after marriage. It's a gussied-up sorority-of-rising-stars project produced, I fantasize, by baby-boomer studio guys whose younger spouses articulately defend a woman's right to stay home and raise the kids.

Hoo boy, I'm just getting started. The setting is Wellesley College, Eisenhower era, when the goal of any normal girl was marriage. Period. Or so goes the simplistic premise of this addled, Bush-era moral tale, a reduction of big, vital '50s issues into a no-carb pudding of ideas by writers Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, directed (as if by a Martian landed at a Seven Sisters college) by Mike Newell. For Betty (Kirsten Dunst), the traditionalist alpha girl in a klatch of dormitory-mates who each represent a type rather than embody a person, marriage to a suitable society catch is all she and her monster mother dream of, never mind that incipient rat-finkdom flashes across the society fiancé's face.

The only thing that would make the horrid domesticity even rosier is if Betty could swap recipes with her best friend, Joan (Julia Stiles), as a wifey-in-arms; Joan is engaged to a swell, square fellow (Topher Grace), and all signs point to ''I do,'' except for Joan's small problem that she's brainy and harbors a flickering interest in law school. Connie (''Ed'''s Ginnifer Goodwin) believes that because she' s a gawky scholarship student who plays the cello, no man will ever love her. And Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) believes -- or rather, Konner and Rosenthal deduce, unsubtly -- that because she's Jewish on a campus of WASPs, and therefore sophisticated, self-destructive, alluring, and screwed-up, she's free to enjoy sex with older men. (Gyllenhaal has a great time playing the whore of Mensa.)

Clearly, these girls need an education in 2003 womanly options. That's where Julia Roberts comes in -- a Gen-X superstar bestowing smiles on her Gen-Y colleagues as Katherine Watson, a freethinking art history professor. Katherine is in her prime, like Miss Jean Brodie. She's a cookie-cutter original, one of those damn colorful teachers disliked by the rest of the faculty because she drinks at town bars. Katherine arrives, bringing little more than a box of slides that include -- gasp -- modern art. She leaves behind a great guy, played thanklessly by John Slattery, and picks up a faculty rake, played thanklessly by Dominic West. She causes trouble. She makes her students look at Jackson Pollock drip painting while Roberts assumes expressions of sensitivity to complement her fabulous wardrobe of bohemian jewelry.

Katherine doubtless wouldn't give her students a grade, preferring that they write their own pass-fail self-evaluation. At EW, though, we're old-school.

Ain't that a hoot?

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Shiny Happy People

(Yeeeeikes! This post is a monster! Sorry about the length, it just got away from me. My short attention span friends: skip down to "Finally, we talked about dreams" if you want to get to my eventual point.)

Had lunch with some buddy ex-coworkers, one employed, the other laid-off like me. What a grand time.

We are/were IT workers and one of the topics of conversation was the possibility that the second golden age of software development is now over, and IT jobs will be scarce for a while, if not from now on. Yes, there will be killer apps in the future, and wonderful new paradigms will arise, but essentially the train tracks have been laid; from here forward, development efforts will be on making the trains run better.

Think about it. Operating systems are now established; we will have some form of Windows, Macintosh and Linux/Unix for quite a while now. We've got great word processors, spread sheets, databases, graphic/picture apps, media apps, and content creation and display apps. The battle will be over controlling content - digital rights management they call it - and whichever platform allows users to do whatever the hell they want, will win. That will be the gauntlet.

The reason my previous company tanked is they are/were reinventing a wheel no one really wants or needs. A lot of recent development is like that. Things that will now succeed in the market are those that finally get past all of the user-vicious interface gotchas. I have dealt with them for so long, I instinctively move around them. Yet, when I see a kid or someone elderly try to use a complex application, it fucks with them to the point where they often give up, and it becomes obvious the next wave of development is going to be the correction of such stupidities.

But, for now, larger IT development looks like it will be at a much diminished pace compared to just a year ago.

And then there's the India problem. Sometime earlier this year, "60 Minutes" had a show that was for all practical purposes an infomercial for using cheaper India IT workers. The economy was already beginning its death-spin towards a terrain conflict, so that was a part of the reason why we (American) IT people were tossed out on our ears. (It's no secret that anymore corporations typically use layoffs as their first option for cutting expenses rather than their last.) But from the day of that broadcast, you could see hiring and layoffs follow this new trend of moving development to India or hiring (Eastern) Indians. Within two months, everyone in the cubies around me was from India. I had to learn to wait to say "good morning" to them because the first thing most Indians do when they arrive at work is pray to Shiva and genuflect and pat a kiss on the picture they have hanging in their cubes, which takes about three minutes.

The "60 Minutes" show's main theme (which they repeated at least three times so even the most simple CEO would grasp it) was that Indian technical schools create graduates that are better - more technical, better trained, etc. - than your average MIT graduate. Well, since we had quite a few MIT graduates at my company, I realized how faint that praise was, but I'm sure it sounded impressive to hapless suits in the same way that "Harvard Graduate" or "Yale Graduate" sounds. (Anyone with any experience with such graduates knows, however, that wealth, legacy admissions, and nepotism go a long way toward diluting the supposed greatness of the products of those institutions.) Especially in IT, sheepskins and honors mean JACK regarding whether or not someone can produce logical, clean, and useful code or applications. Some of the most talented developers are self-taught and some of the biggest buffoons have a wall full of expensive framed paper.

As for the India problem, I'm hoping it will take corporations only about a year to discover that it is not the panacea it seems to be. But it will probably be about two years before companies as a whole publicly acknowledge that the cost is the same and the result isn't as good as it is with American IT workers - this isn't about sewing a shirt or sneakers together, after all. Yes, up-front salary costs are lower, as these people come from an economy that's inferior to ours. However, these folks who think they're getting development on the cheap aren't considering the language barrier and the cultural differences between our nations, and the related costs. India still very much has a caste system, and their culture, like many Middle Eastern and Eastern cultures, has a very different take on what constitutes an ethical financial business transaction. For instance, bribery is a given in their culture. To keep phone lines up and working takes more than just paying the phone bill. No, it means paying off some phone company employees, and the folks who have access to the lines, local power lords, the techs, etc. etc.* Besides the caste system, India still practices arranged marriages. The men, both here in American and in India, will typically work 60 plus hours a week because they have no desire to go home to the wife that was chosen for them, or often the wife will be at the same company doing the same work for half the price. (This doesn't even touch on the women's equality issues, btw.) Once bribes are counted, the cost of mistakes and low quality often associated to communication barriers and cultural standards, and the weird mambo of marital relations are all taken into account, the cost differential is negligible and the cultural one is considerable. These American companies simply aren't looking at that part of the picture.

* One company where I worked over a decade ago tried the India thing and ran into many of these problems. The most hilarious incident involved the bean counters as they had a real hard time working into the budget all the bribe money because 1) it obviously wasn't a fixed cost, 2) they couldn't figure out a category for it, and 3) since bribery is considered unethical here, they were worried about audits and such. Being a bean counter during our India experiment was probably an exercise in taking years off of one's life. Of course, once the big boys and girls added up the cost of doing business in India, and the rework caused by their shoddy work, they abandoned it entirely. They ended up having to write off all of the equipment, some of it very cutting edge and expensive satellite communication stuff, not to mention hundreds of PCs. I think the expense was greater than it would have been to have just hired Americans all that time due to the equipment hit alone.

Oh, and another thing: We would have to send someone to India about every quarter to fix things up and get them back on track (a necessity), and they would optimistically view it as a free vacation in India but come back with a much different story. For instance, due to the age and culture of India, most of the major cities do not really have sanitary waste disposal systems for sewage and such, so it flows freely through troughs in the street. Because of the heat and other weather phenomenon, this stuff dries out and ends up coating everything. To be specific, a fine layer of fecal matter coats everything you come in contact with, particularly in the restaurants and other establishments in the center of the cities. Nearly everyone who went, despite the massive about of boosters and other injections they were required to get (which took about a month to complete), would get thunderously ill from encountering SHIT in their food, their water, their air, their fingernails, their mouth, their nose, their clothes, their bedding, their toothbrushes... Sometimes it would take them a month or more back home to stop vomiting regularly and having the trots from exposure to the fecal bacteria.

Another situation the corporations are ignoring is they are allowing access to many of their coding and business secrets, not taking into account that India is much like Asia in terms of their view of "borrowing" and selling software. Many sad companies will end up closing their doors because their cats were let out of their respective bags down in a country where it's not really considered wrong to sell CDs of the latest, hottest apps to anyone that will ply them with cash. And do they think the Indian legal system is going to help them with intellectual property concerns? On the bright side, corporations that worry about corporate espionage will no longer have that worry as the problem will be moot. Open-source will look like brilliant distribution device in comparison to the eventual morass that "The Pirates of the Indian Ocean" will be. Another bright side is we consumers might be able to get a copy of Photoshop for $10 in a couple years.

So, we concluded that by the time corporate American goes through this tragic India cycle (which will create a lot of entrenchment of Indian workers so we will never truly get away from this miscalculation) and the brain drain of American techies who have valuable experience but have found some other way to make money, it will probably be a while before American IT makes a recovery, if it ever does. (Think "Steel Tariffs".)

On a final note, if folks thought that servers named "Gandalf" and "Xena" were annoying, wait till they have to type, let alone attempt to pronounce, the Indian/Hindu names of their email servers in the future.

(By the way, I can see where the PC/Identity Politics crowd might try to misconstrue these observations as racist. Listen, I hold no ill will against anyone from India. But we are dealing with very different cultures, and these are just the facts. I would also point out this is about nationalities, not races. If you can admit that there are countries on the planet that have very different views of morality and ethics than we do, you can then admit you might prefer our view to theirs. And if so, there's nothing wrong with that.)

We then talked politics for a while, but since we all mostly agreed on things, and I've sworn off gratuitous political posting (which I might retract for a couple months near election time, I dunno), I won't belabor that part of the conversation here. One interesting point one of them made, though, I just have to share. He said that George Bush, unlike Richard Nixon, can not be shamed out of office for his scandals and failures. It's not a part of his "character". Had Georgie Boy gone through Watergate, he wouldn't have resigned. He would've called Murdock and had him spin it on Fox, and that's all there would have been to it. Interesting, that.

Finally, we talked about hopes and dreams. This is when I noticed something.

The other guy who had been laid off all this time (he got it around last Christmas; I got it in July) had always seemed edgy, miffed, and stressed at work - but now he was relaxed, happy and generally nice. I mean, he was nice at work, but he had this undercurrent of snark that you realized could be unleashed with correct provocation. Now that was gone. I myself noticed that in daily interaction, I'm a lot less aggressive and less likely to get angry or upset over something. I've never been a mean person - I am a Midwestern boy after all, and we are nothing if not polite and pleasant, usually. (Which, conversely, makes us much more aghast when we encounter treachery and unpleasantness; see my egregious political posts.) But these days, I just don't have that glinting, metal edge you develop in corporate America in order to keep from being squashed at work (especially in competitive fields like IT). It seems that since we no longer have to have our Corporate Teflon Transformer Professional Attitude Armor, we are a lot more human, or perhaps humane. We smile faster, laugh longer and harder, and tend not to be second-guessing if that extended hand is palming a knife destined for our backs.

The woman who still has a job does have that edge, still. She's a total sweetie, but it is mitigated by this shield, which I hadn't seen when I had to have it, too. Her face looks a tad haggard, which breaks my heart. The other guy and I, as I noticed via the reflection in the elevator on the way out, have clear skin and bright eyes, with no dark circles under them anymore. We often have a slight smile on our lips. We may be stressed about money and keeping our houses and providing for the kids (though I am the only one who has a kid in this group - they admitted they were too afraid to have them mostly because of the financial responsibility and the way corporate trends keep skewing less child-friendly), but because of that stress, I hadn't noticed the obvious until now:

We are shiny, happy people. And it's nice. I would much rather live like this than like a corporate fuckover machine. Time to start some serious planning, evidently. After all, we are pretty rich, already, considering. Will Wilkinson has a great post on this, so I'll just refer to his words.

I wonder what I'm going to do next...?

For once, that question seems full of possibility rather than an implicit threat.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Best of 2003, According to Me.

(I just want to state that I had planned this before Michael Blowhard suggested it. Nyah Nyah.)


(Oh, and apologies for not linking to everything I mention here, it just would've taken a day and a half. I have linked to the stuff you couldn't easily find yourself at All Music.com.)

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by the Flaming Lips still holds up after all this time (it was released early in the year). Everyone I've gotten to listen to it has become addicted and plays it constantly for the first month. Then, they find it makes it back into the player at least every couple weeks. (I played it twice yesterday.) I'm about to say the most music-snobby thing I ever have, but: I think "Yoshimi" is for music lovers and not dabblers. It's rich, and it's funny. I've noted that true lovers of any art form tend to enjoy - and even understand in the first place or "get" - a humorous addition to the pantheon of classics. Classical music lovers love Mozart's sense of humor in his music. The 2Blowhards are good at pointing out humor in the visual arts that I might have simply chalked up to a mistake on the artist's part. Blah de blah. "Yoshimi" is funny as hell if you really give it a listen. It would seem merely kitschy to a dabbler who gave it a surface listen. But the fact is, the Lips are in on the joke, and there is another layer of jokes to be had if you know that. Even so, nothing else ever recorded (even by the Flaming Lips) sounds quite like "Yoshimi" and nothing probably ever will. It sounds great on a boom box or in the car, but if you can get it on a good stereo in a quiet room (and then crank it!), it blossoms - much like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon or the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Oh, and they have just released a DVD 5.1 surround version, if that kinda thing frosts your doughnut. (I'm still undecided whether I like the mucking around they do with the mixes on 5.1 releases, and the fact that most surround speakers don't have the dynamic range of the main two speakers, rendering some parts of the mix tinny or irrelevant.)

For outright straight-ahead rock, no one has made a better rock album than the Foo Fighters' One by One this year. And I still think it's about Anne Rice's vampires.

If you were ever a fan of Chicago, Rhino (now owned by Warner Bros.) has released remastered and expanded versions of their nearly all-classics catalogue. They sound great. Chicago was another of those bands that was wholly unique in its sound - a hard-rocking combo teamed with a bitchin horn section. Like the Beatles, they had the benefit of many excellent songwriters and lead vocalists so one album of theirs is eclectic and varied due to the sheer dint of talent. And, of course, they rocked. (Until their synthesizer period. But hey, I've never felt an artist's misfire somehow mitigated their triumphs.) In case you didn't know this, Chicago is America's most successful band ever, in terms of sales. They rival the Bee Gees and the Beatles in that arena, but since they were never very popular with the critics, and they never got overplayed, you wouldn't know that unless you check out the stats.

The other nice news in music this year is some of the greatest hits CDs put out. If you are an Eagles fan, the new double CD remastered hits package is nearly perfect. No Doubt has a nice solid set, one of those like Tom Petty's or Bob Seger's hit compilations where you can put it on and just push play and everyone will groove along. If you're a fan, Dolly Parton finally put out a decent compilation of her career. She's as guilty as the Rolling Stones for kicking out half-formed collections of her best - probably because music execs didn't think her fans were as eclectic in their tastes as Dolly is in her songs. Oh, and speaking of the Stones, their 40 Licks anthology is decent, though it's missing "Bitch" and "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" in lieu of lesser, newly recorded songs. (The remastering is ace, though. Some of the early Stones remasters were kinda shrill. "40 Licks" sounds fab) Gordon Lightfoot, REM, and The Cure have all put out worthy anthologies as well. Though, if you are a Cure fan, you should get both Staring at the Ocean and Galore, as you will have a more complete set.

TLD: I have always felt Staring at the Ocean's title and imagery came directly from a Dan Hill's 70s chestnut, "All I See Is Your Face". Here're the lyrics:

There's an old man on the corner,
Just staring at the sea,
I want to hold him like a broken doll,
And ask him if he's lonely like me

Which is rich since The Cure were all new wave and edgy, whilst this song is about as 70s maudlin as you can find, right up there with "Wildfire" and " Mac Arthur Park". I find it funny that these guys would take the risk of any Cure fan catching this reference and abandoning the band like a used condom (unless, of course, they are music sluts like me).

Naturally, if the music industry hadn't imploded, lost their collective hive minds, and become nothing but greedheads with no love for music, there would have been many many more on this list. But, music is in the doldrums, so there you have it. (Though there might be cause for hope. I recently discovered they actually show videos on VH1 in the wee hours of the morning. I heard 5 good songs in a row!)


This has been a lackluster year for movies. Nothing really stands out as an enduring classic, and usually there's at least ONE in a year that fits that slot. It will probably be the final installment of The Lord of the Rings since the other two have been splendiferous. The "Matrix" films should have been great, but they were merely good, but not good enough for repeated watchings. However, oh well, anyway, these were ones we (wife, MPC) liked (though "Pirates" was too scary for MPC, so we didn't let her see it):

- Elf - We still hiss "You are on a throne of lies!" to one another around the house with little situational prompting.
- Bruce Almighty - Sweet and funny. Kinda like Oh, God! but different. Bruce instead of John, and Morgan instead of George. Also, it was more self-centered than Oh, God! was, but that's probably just the times. Jennifer Aniston keeps surprising me how she can make characters that don't remind you of Rachel. When she's heartbroken here, it just kills you.
- School of Rock - Ok, maybe I was wrong about the classic thing. This one's a classic. I'll get it on DVD for sure. But then, Linklater is my favorite director these days, so I might be biased.
- Pirates of the Caribbean - This movie would have been pedestrian if Johnny Depp hadn't done that great Keith Richards riff as Pirate Jack Sparrow. And it's overlong by about 20 minutes. It's also nearly got that costume epic funk, but gets around it with Johnny the great, a fantastic feisty heroine, and cute corset jokes.

And, dammit, that's it. Memo to Hollywood and Indie filmmakers: Get on it!

(I haven't seen this Christmas crop, yet, obviously. And I didn't see Kill Bill because I've always been iffy on Tarantino's supposed gifts, nor have I seen Master and Commander as nearly all costume epics bore me beyond endurance and I'm lacking the gender requirements to dig Crowe, so I've relegated them both to DVD rentals.)


- Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This is the book that should replace that dreaded outdated novel that each high school senior has to read in his/her senior English class. Charming, sprawling, shocking, and fun. Plus it has nifty self-referential structural allusions, jokes, and stuff that can be utilized to explain all that kinda stuff to newbie lit students. Outside of all that, it's a great read.
- Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken. I've picked up other books of Franken's before at the bookstore and read a couple pages. He's a funny guy and I was amused, but not amused enough to spend the money or time on what I'd seen so far. In "Lies" he hits his stride; he's hilarious, and I think even wingnuts would laugh out loud at some of the pieces in spite of themselves. It loses lift in a couple places near the end, but if you find your interest in a chapter flagging, just skip to the next one, because there are gems all the way until the end (make sure you don't miss "Supply Side Jesus"). The best section deals with the Clinton administration's evidence and warnings to the Bush administration that a terrorist attack on American soil was imminent - even that Al Queda was behind it - and how it was all ignored. I don't know if the attacks could have been prevented had Bush and the boys pulled their head out of their Jr. High asses and listened, but the evidence seems to point pretty clearly to that possibility. Oh, and unlike a lot of wingnut books, this one not only shows all the references and the research for the facts, it delineates exactly how the facts are stretched in the wingnut books he's critiquing.
- Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland. I've belabored this in previous posts, so I won't again, here. Just, wow.

Most of the other stuff I really liked this year are established authors I've just discovered and reading the back catalogues of ones I've always liked. My new personal discovery Peter Abrahams should be on the bestseller lists with King, Koontz, Nora Roberts, and Grisham, and I have no explanation for why he's not. Douglas Coupland joins Robertson Davies as a Canadian national treasure in literature.

What I did not like is any of the science fiction books I've picked up this year. I sloughed through a recent anthology of "great modern sci-fi" that provided in the intro notes to each story the interesting slant of how it fits in the current overly-political pantheon of current sci-fi writer opinion. Evidently there's this ongoing war of ideas bobbing beneath the surface (like turds in a septic tank) of sci-fi, and it's believed that you have to have the right politics underneath your story to be considered valid by some of more hard-core scribes. (See Orwell's theories on language - or, heck, compare and contrast Fox News to BBC News and so on.)

Well, hell. No wonder most of it sucks. Guys and gals of science fiction: Get over this. No one but you cares about genderless dystopias (or worse, multi-gender dystopias where you may never know the true gender of what you are fucking); perfect Darwinian historical expressions and/or genetically-futzed-with human/animals; science gone so wrong we all wear shapeless gray and tan clothes, shave our heads, have rotten teeth, and have been reduced back to a barter system economy. Aren't you as tired of writing this dreck as we are of reading it? Consider this: Maybe something good will happen in the future. Maybe people LIKE being boys and girls - not to mention human. Maybe there will be neat gadgets, new ideas, great adventures and such in the future rather than a big nanotechnology biomass meltdown. (Nanotechnology will never work anyway. You just watch. If something is so small we can't build a detection system to accurately monitor it, then we can't build it.) Finally, religion is not your enemy. The sooner you grasp that, the better your stories will be.

Oh, and despite Friedrich's nice attempts at explaining Nietzsche (and they were great posts), Nietzsche was still an asshole who simply didn't understand anything about the reality of the human psyche (other than perhaps outlandish wish fulfillment), so anything based on his thinking will fall into the heap of rotting (syphilitic) feces it is. There are many better minds that had much much better ideas.
Like: If we treat others nice, most of them will treat us nice.
And: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
And: I have a dream.

Update: Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King is amazing. But, like Sya, I think I will wait for the release of the ultra-deluxe expanded edition DVD set of all three movies before I plant the posterior for a penultimate perusing again. I don't think I've seen a movie so full of detail and nuance, yet paced appropriately, in all my days of movie-going. There has never been a movie trilogy as cohesive and consistent in execution and quality, to my knowledge. We have witnessed the creation of a movie classic for the ages. Ain't it cool?

Friday, December 05, 2003

Heard these?

Three guys walking home from the bar the week before Christmas and got turned into sidewalk pâté when a young, inebriated heiress on the lamb from a reality show plowed into the trio with her Hummer. St. Peter met them at the pearly gates. "In honor of the season," St. Peter said, "you must each possess something that symbolizes this time of year." The first guy fumbled through his pockets, pulled out a lighter and flicked it on. He said it represented a candle and St. Peter let him in. The second guy pulled out a pair of keys, jingled them and said they represented bells. He too was let in. The third man searched desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's panties. St. Peter looked at the guy with raised eyebrows and asked, "And just what do those symbolize?" The guy replied, "They're Carol's."

A recent study at a prestigious university shows that fully 80% of women are now against marriage. In the past, it was the male of the species who proclaimed, "Why buy a cow when the milk is free?" But that has changed. Over a thousand women responded to the questionnaire with a question of their own: "Why buy the whole pig for 5 ounces of sausage?"

Thank You! Thank you very much! Remember to tip your waitresses!

(These were stolen from a great local rag, "The Wasted Woody Gazette".)

Thursday, December 04, 2003

That Girl

One of the footnotes to my "Mormon for Dating Purposes" story is the very worst crush (and boy that is the most appropriate word for it) on a girl that I've experienced, and probably will experience, in my life. (I count love as different than a crush, so my wife doesn't count.) The object of this crush - let's call her Madge Fogelstein - approached me at a party, a good couple years afterwards when I was dating the Mormon girl, and said, more or less, "hey sailor, drop your girlfriend off and come one back for a good time." That woman was nothing but a frustration for me. (And, in case you're wondering, I didn't.)

But years before, when I first saw her in the hallway at school, it was like in the movies. She walked in glossy, soft-filter, Technicolor slow-motion. Little cartoon animals flitted about her head and feet. She was the personification of female beauty. Those lips. Those eyes. That hair. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't walk. I was glad I had one of my large science texts with me.

I sat through the next class trying not to fall over or droll on my desk. Time flies when you're kinda dumb. It was even worse in my next class because SHE WAS IN IT! She sat up and to my right, directly in my sight-line. I practically vibrated for the full hour of that class every day for about a month.

It had been a couple weeks since my best buddy and I had gone out cruisin', what most bored teenagers with a driver's license do in small Midwestern towns. As soon as we set out, I was going to wax rhapsodic about my new wonderful agony. My buddy was typically not the talkative type right off the bat, but this time he said, "Have I got a story for you."

I said, "Oh. Well. Let's hear it," kinda bummed because I was ready to burst with my news.

"Yeah, well, have you been wondering where I've been these last couple weeks?"

"Yeah, I expected that you'd met a girl or something."

"Yeah, geez." [We grew up by Minnesota/Fargoland, so we talked like they do in the movie.] "I tell ya what. This chick has been taking me out and banging my brains out every damn night. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm actually tired of fucking! She even wanted to go out tonight! Thank God you called. I don't know what to do. I'm really tired of it."

"That must be a terrible situation, dude," I said, with all appropriate jealousy and utter lack of sympathy. "What's her name?"

"Madge Fogelstein. Know her?"

Long pause worthy of many adjectives and adverbs.

"Yeah. I've heard of her."

It always seemed, to me at least, that most crushes end in an experience much like pulling the silverware drawer out too far so it all lands on the feet: messy and painful in several unexpected ways.


uh, that was meant to be funny. Because, in retrospect, it was. I can see where we might have some tone problems, though. I'll work on it....

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

What I Want for Christmas

An Ann "right-of-Attila shock shrew" Coulter talking doll!!!!

No, really!

I hope Santa doesn't refuse to even load it onto his sleigh over general principals.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Alright, alright, I apologize. I'm really, really sorry. I apologize unreservedly. I offer a complete and utter retraction. The imputation was totally without basis in fact and was in no way fair comment and was motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused you or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat any such slander at any time in the future.
Douglas Coupland booster club, meeting four

Just finished Microserfs by Douglas Coupland, and I have to immediately retract my complaint in this post where I state: "The primary problem with Coupland's fiction is that there is never a single happy, uplifting, unalloyed moment." Hence I invoke the above apology from A Fish Called Wanda. I mean it all sincerely, except for the "malice" part, because I've never experienced anything like malice or even its distant cousins towards Coupland and his writing. He is one of my new literary heroes. Douglas, meet John, Steve, David, and Issac.

Microserfs jaunts to the upper regions of my favorite books of all time list. I couldn't put it down. I was moved to tears of joy. I laughed out loud. And not just "ha ha ha", but one of those 15 minute bouts where you taper off with a sort of exasperated sigh, and then five minutes later you recall it and laugh again. I even chuckled a couple times later while going through my obligatory "day review" before falling asleep. (This is not a conscious effort. Since early memory, I have been gifted/cursed with this thing where my mind shoots through a recollection of the highlights and lowlights of the day. It's weird, I know.)

Most of Coupland's fiction is timeless, which is one of the earmarks of great lit-chure. I did not expect Microserfs to be because it's about a specific place and time in the computer industry on the west coast. Yet, he managed to do it. I finally had to check when the thing was published because it seemed so up-to-date (1993). Even when we are far past the cultural squall that this book captures, those portions that are specifically stuck in that time will just gain prominence as an accurate historical capture, and the rest of the work will just never age.

It's also the first time I've encountered so-called "experimental writing" that worked. David Foster Wallace's efforts contain near hits and lots of misses, but the stuff in Microserfs really complement the piece as a whole, giving it a thematic richness.

Therefore, if you are going to read only one Coupland novel, Microserfs is the one to read. Heck, if you're going to read only a couple this year, put this on your list. If you happen to like Coupland enough to explore further, then also read Generation X and Hey Nostradamus! (And, hey! Christmas is coming up! Here's an idea for that bookwork of yours.)

I think it goes without saying that all computer geeks need to read Microserfs as it belongs in the geek canon alongside Star Trek, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and Asimov's robot stories.

Now I have to wait for him to write a new one, dammit.
Sometimes it's the little things

Not to dwell on it (and not that I'm complaining as we are doing fine), but I'm still unemployed, and the unemployment that we get disqualifies us for food stamps because it's more than you're allowed to earn and still get food stamps. To be frugal, we are living on a college diet of ramen, pasta, rice, bargain bin meat, and fast food dollar menus. (It's been rather nostalgic, actually.) Every penny counts.

So yesterday we discover that someone had unwrapped our Sunday paper and stolen all of the coupons out of it. Coupons can add up to about $10 savings a shopping trip if you use them right and don't get stuff you don't need. (We were able to get a turkey for $4, and stuffing is just a loaf of bread, 69 cents, so Thanksgiving was nice.)

I imagine it was a relatively benign theft. There must have been some coupon for something cool, like free admission to a movie or something. Or perhaps someone's favorite cookie.

But still. Sometimes it's the little things that baffle you and just cramp your nougat.