Saturday, May 30, 2009

Herding the Musical Flock

Let's get something straight here: the most impactful element of my life, the most important aspect of my life, the most defining part of my life... is music. I love music, in most formats (and I reserve judgment on what I consider to be, and not to be, music. This is not music. regardless of any awards). Jazz, blues, classical, and most definitely rock n roll! While I await the release of the new Chickenfoot album, coming in a little more than a week, I've decided to do a countdown of my own. It is far past time for me to make certain that you are listening to some great musicians that you just might not be listening to. People who have established some popularity, in certain areas, but not nearly enough global acclaim. Sure, you need to listen to the Stones and The Who, Led Zep and those might mop tops. Def Lep and Bon Jovi are givens, and Bruce is most definitely not. Yep, I said it, The Boss stinks. Get over it, state of New Jersey. Here, however, is someone that you need to check out:

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Kenny might be most famous for his song Blue on Black (this link just has the song playing in the background of his album cover... I'll throw an actual video down below). This fairly mellow track was not indicative, however, of a great deal of Kenny's blues rocking style. This actually reminds me of what happens to Nickelback a great deal, when songs like Gotta Be Somebody get the airplay, when songs like Animals and Side of a Bullet, both fairly heavy rock songs, are more their style.

Kenny Wayne, contrary to Blue on Black's more pop ballad sound is actually a stand out blue rock guitarist. The man is truly reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughn (who is probably, apologies to all of the others, the greatest guitarist of all time). Kenny mixes straight up blues and strongly upbeat rock, with elements of both Vaughn and Hendrix to truly move you. If you can't find a song within the Shepherd catalog that moves some piece of your soul, you either don't love music, or simply don't have a soul.

Born in '77 (like yours truly), he started at age seven by learning Muddy Waters, first brought on the big stage by Brian Lee at thirteen, with his first album - Ledbetter Heights - coming out in '95. Yep, I graduated high school and went off to Albany, Kenny put out an album and went on tour. He has played around the country and around the world, jamming along with the likes of Double Trouble, and appearing with B.B. King (and if you don't know B.B., then you don't know jack). Kenny has an amazing amount of soul for someone so young, and incredible ability for someone so human.

So, now, I want to share with you two of my all time favorite songs. First up is Deja Voodoo, which came from the Ledbetter Heights album, played live in '96 (he looks so damned young):

Here's a great live video of Kenny and Noah Hunt (his regular lead singer) doing almost a story tellers style of presentation of Losing Kind, off the Live On album.

Incidentally, my two all time favorite Kenny songs, neither of which I could dig up good videos of, are King's Highway (Trouble Is...) and his cover of Oh Well, by Peter Green (who actually originated Fleetwood Mac, before Stevie Nicks ruined it) which is power packed and fantastic (Live On). I highly recommend that, if you have a few extra bucks, to cruise on over to your local CD shop, or to go the iTunes route, and pick up as many of Kenny's albums that you can afford. It is truly worth the spend!

Friday, May 29, 2009

How's Your Economy?

Too many newscasts, too many articles, too many dissenting opinions, so I'm a bit more curious on how the economy is locally. About an hour and a half ago, I bumped into one of my clients on the street. He owns a restaurant, and eating out is something that a lot of people cut back on when they don't have money. I was curious, but kept my tone fairly even, so as not to be disrespectful.

"So," I asked after the pleasantries were out of the way, "how is business?"
"Oh wow, I'm really busy," he answered, "busy all the time."

Not quite what I expected to hear. Then again, I stopped in for lunch at another client's place yesterday while I was on the road. The main waitress knows my face by now, so I got a smile and an apology. "I'm really not sure where I can put you - we're packed today! I could seat you at the counter, if you want." Mind you, they aren't a diner, she was just trying to find any place to cram me. It was about ten past noon and every table in the dining room, which isn't at all small, was filled.

I walked into the grocery store the other night, and it was jammed... and a lot of the items weren't basic necessities stuff into the overflowing carts that nearly hit me as I wandered through the store. The bowling alley parking lot near my house has been overflowing as of late. The diner was packed last night at 9:30.

Listen, I'm not saying that the crisis has come to a complete halt, but I think that the time for doom and gloom has at least come to an end. People have had enough of fear, had enough of hiding, and have decided to get outside into the (sometimes) beautiful weather, go grab a bite to eat, a drink at the local bar, stock up on good for bbq-ing, and everything else that they usually do this time of year. No, houses aren't being bought at record rates, nor cars, but that's got a lot more to do with people not being able to get loans unless they have good credit. Novel concept.

Do yourself, and your economy, a favor. Go out this weekend and see a movie at a local theater (if you have one - I know Lowes and Hoyts are sadly overbearing). Go get a few friends together and have a cookout, and treat yourself to the good meat, or the good beer - or both. Go to a local watering hole where a band is playing, and pay the cover charge. Go out to eat. Buy a new book. Heck, buy a newspaper!

I'll comment on GM and the Detroit issues later. For now, forget those three companies that did themselves in, and start enjoying life again. Your enjoyment, after all, is the key to fixing the economy - and I'm talking to you, my European readers, as well!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

We Know Drama

TNT knows drama. How do I know this? Last year it was all that they could talk about, on any and every single television commercial for the station. A new show? It's a drama, because we know drama. The network itself? All drama, because we known drama. The NBA playoffs, even! You see, that right there is what caught me up. What brought it all to mind is this year's set of NBA playoffs. You see, this year, we have seen a lot of games come down to the wire, an overtime game last night, and a lot of stunning, well, I'll say it - drama! Last year's playoffs, however, was really nothing of the sort. I know, the first game of the first round between Phoenix and San Antonio was amazing, but a lot of the playoffs was somewhat predictable, generic, and the games were over before they were over. TNT, however, didn't pay that much attention, and swore to us that they know drama. Over and over. And over. And again.

This year, we have lots of drama. What in the heck happened to those commercials? Granted, they were annoying as all get out, but at least this year they would make some sense.

And while I'm complaining about the Turner television stations, has anyone else noticed issues with TBS lately? Shows jumping to commercial when they are a good ten to twenty seconds away from the end point of the segment. Commercials cutting off a few seconds in and jumping to another commercial. Blips and gleeps showing up in and around shows. Is someone just asleep at the switch there? In this economy, with so many quality people currently out of work, you honestly can't find someone to make the transition to the advertising more smoothly? Jon, if you're reading this, do you know how to make those transitions happen? Could we possibly get you a job down in Atlanta so that I can find out what the heck Chandler said last night??

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Super Cool

Do you watch the Simpsons? Have you ever seen an episode featuring Comic Book Guy? He has that absolutely biting sarcastic attitude, a strange sense of humor that is more cruel than funny, and gets pleasure from the misery of others. This absolute jerk is supposed to be emblematic of "every comic book story owner" according to TV Guide article. The funny thing is that the character is so far from the truth, and yet the real life comic shop guy genuinely has this impression in the minds of most of America.

Me, I just got back into reading comic books again lately. That's right, I play rock n roll, I shoot hoops when the back is right, I hit the gym, and yes, I read comic books. Mostly, I'm a fan of the DC Universe, growing up as a Superman addict (right down to the watch that my parents got me for my 29th birthday). These days, I've been catching up on Batman (imagine this - he's dead. Spoiler alert, don't read the previous sentence if you haven't been keeping up on Batman), and the little "family" of his characters, like Nightwing and the new Robin, Tim Drake. What I'm reading, however, is a lot less important than where I've gotten my goods. For the most part, I'm buying from Heroes World in Milford, PA, but every so often I pick some stuff up at Main Street Comics in Middletown, NY. In both stores you find owners who are very kind, very eager to help out, and happy to answer any questions that you have, or go that extra mile for you if they can. These are genuinely nice, wonderful people - and I know for a fact that at least one of the shop owners is married, because Joel's wife runs the shop during the week in Milford (so that ruins that portion of the stereotype).

Alright, I know fully well that the Simpsons is just a television show, that they make fun of everything and everyone that they can get hold of, but this is just something that came to mind today. Hey, I grew up a dork, I'm currently a dork, and I always will be a dork, no matter how many camping trips I go on, mountains I climb up, rebounds I collect, miles I manage to tread, or any other accomplishments... and I'm proud of who I am. Heck, my best friend read Wolverine and the Punisher for years, spent time in the Marines (you don't get more man than that), and while it might have seemed silly while we were growing up, Wolverine is one of the hottest things going now. Everyone seems to want to get into that world, or the world of Batman thanks to Christian Bale... or many other worlds that all spawn from the pages of DC and Marvel (or even Dark Horse). You could have been paying all kinds of attention to these interesting stories for years, of course... and all it takes is a quick trip to the comic store, and the awesome guy that is your local Comic Book Guy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sitcom Evolution

I was just sitting and watching a re-run of Two and a Half Men. Charlie Sheen was a womanizer and a drinker... just like he is now... and the episode was about four years ago. The show hasn't shown a great deal of evolution, as it was pointed out to me. At one point, Alan (the father, Sheen's brother) had a steady girlfriend who turned into a wife, and then a new divorce. It was an extended story arc that provided a slight amount of evolution to the show, but for the most part, everything remains predictable... and I actually enjoy that. King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, Cheers, these were great shows that had very little change during their run, and they continued to be funny. Sometimes they were smart, sometimes they were mindless, but they were always funny. I like that. It's nice to have a little predictability.

Listen, every episode of Family Ties, Growing Pains and Different Strokes ended in half an hour, no bleed over unless you used a "To Be Continued" - which was fairly rare - you could tune in at any particular week and not need massive back story, and just about anything could be fixed with a hug or a dad talk. Hey, I still think that level of predictability is great, and a non-evolving set of characters is just fine with me.

I mention this, because, before prior to watching Two and a Half Men, I saw an episode of Friends. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out at what point in the show I was watching. Friends, you see, was never an actual Sit-Com, it was an ever evolving soap opera staged as a comedy. Hey, I liked it - quite honestly did, and still can generally enjoy an episode. I just don't pretend to have any clue as to what generally has happened up to the point of the episode that I'm watching, and I sometimes I don't like the characters, because they were different depending on the period of time (I intensely dislike the neurotic Monica towards the end of the show's run). Hey, it's a good show... but sometimes, if you're just looking for some good comedy without needing to remember everything, it's not the way to go - especially if you aren't a television addict.

At the end of the day, I see a fantastic reason for why shows like Two and a Half Men continue to be popular, and hope that a few more crop up. It's that, or we're just doomed to more reality shows. That, of course, would be a tragedy!

Sham Journalism

I was just going through a few of my back issues of TechCrunch (hey, I get bogged down a bit, need to catch up now and again) and I found an interesting article from last week regarding the world's oldest Tweeter from the UK. It seems that she's on Twitter, at 104 years old, to talk about her 104 year old life, not the history of her 104 years in the UK, or anything more interesting. The rub, of course, is that she isn't talking about anything. At all. She signed up for Twitter. She sent two tweets. She stopped. Her first tweet was apparently, "I'm enjoying Twitter for the first time and having my photo taken" (credit the TechCrunch article). That's it, though. She hasn't really used it... she just mentioned that she was using it and getting her picture taken. That is, of course, because that's all there was to it. Apparently, the rumors say, the UK media convinced innocent Ivy Bean to sign up for Twitter in order to put out a story.

Now, I won't dive into the concept that Twitter is so hot these days that people will do anything to capitalize on the concept. No need to mention Mr. Ashton Kutcher and his publicity race against CNN for the most Twitter followers. Also, I could mention that I, personally, am attempting to at least get double digit subscribers to my blog, so if you wouldn't mind going and doing that... (shameless, I yes, I know).

The problem has less to do with the topic of the story than it does that sham of the story itself. There isn't a story. At all. And this story was fabricated for the sake of telling a story and selling papers. One of the papers, The Sun, was so poor that they even screwed up a simple fact - the headline lists her as 103 instead of 104. They got the age wrong. Honestly? You can't even get that simple fact right, when it's the core of the fictitious story?

This is what bugs me. There is an article that I desperately want to find that I read about three weeks ago. It comes from an interview with something of an expert in the news industry, and when asked how many of the newspapers should be saved, he replies that there are a handful of solid journalists who need to be saved, but most of the newspapers can go. The above sham Twitter article is proof of this particular issue. Journalism is dying. People want the quick fix, the quick hit, and then to move on to the next story, without doing any of the in depth work to make true news breaks. That's fine for CNN, where you just get the headlines, and fantastic for news radio... but is that all we are anymore? A series of bullet points?

Listen, I work for a newspaper company. The company has been around for over a hundred years, and still prints papers, and still does a solid job of digging up news in the respective communities. We have articles that research stories, and go into depth. Sometimes, when a story has a lot more information to it, a lot more meat, we continue covering the story, researching and reporting for multiple weeks. Imagine that - we are a newspaper that actually practices true journalism! Me, I'm the web director, and it is my job to help this company make its way forward in the digital world. Funny thing is, I never talk about newspapers dying, the extinction of print, or anything of that nature. My father's position on newspapers explains it all - when he wants to know the immediate headlines, he flips on the radio while driving to work, checks out online news bullets after reading his email, or checks out the TV news. When he wants to actually understand a story, however, he moves to a newspaper. This, of course, is the key - and whether you do it in an online or a print setting, it is the core of what newspapers are, and should continue to be - investigative journalism. Reporting. Digging. Telling the whole story. And this is what most news organizations don't do anymore, at all. Yet, we as a society clearly have some interest if we continue to listen to the new details regarding the Major League Baseball steroid scandals, the political machinations of Middle Eastern countries, or any myriad other items that get perpetual coverage.

So, the question remains, what ever happened to real journalists? They must be out there somewhere. I know that I have read a few newspapers and websites here and there that have a few true journalists. It's the sad amount of increased sensationalism that clouds the picture. If we could elevate the percentage of true journalists within our newspaper organizations, world wide, it would save the industry that is print, very easily. You see, these days, content is king, and the better the content, the more in depth the reading, the higher the circulation. As I have been told before, it's all about a numbers game. Well, if you provide a quality product, the numbers will come. There is evidence of that in all walks of life. And if you stage articles regarding the next hot thing... well, then just maybe you deserve to go under after all.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

So So Super

I am anxiously awaiting the release of the new album from Chickenfoot. Oh yes, absolutely, Chickenfoot is the new super group, with a great video montage and music sample on their website. Joe Satriani, Sammy Hagar Michael Anthony and Chad Smith. That would be the former lead singer and bassist of Van Halen, the former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer, and one of the most amazing guitarists in history - one of the few true guitar heroes alive.

I'll even throw you an interview with front man Sammy Hagar:

It got me to thinking about so called super groups, and what some of the more recent to come into existence did. Velvet Revolver had a lot of hype when they first came out, but had a lead singer who couldn't keep his nose clean (just like his issues with Stone Temple Pilots). Coverdale-Page was something of a super duo. Mr. Big was supposed to be super, but despite the hype, never quite made the huge mark that was thought.

As huge of a music geek that I am, I always find it interesting to think about the super group concept. Picking out the best of all time is fairly easy - Cream is clearly the greatest musician mashup ever conceived. Eric Clapton's smooth riffs, Jack Bruce's moving bass and dulcet tones, and the sheer power of Ginger Baker on the drums. Without any argument, Cream was the tops.

And yet, in the same way that I have sat around trying to fantasy cast certain movies (from comic book inspired films to novels that I have read - we cast Brave New World as an English class when I was in 9th grade), I contemplate my own personal super group mash up. I like to think it would look something like this:

Lead Guitar - Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Bass - Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Lead Vocals - Chad Kroeger (Nickelback)
Drums - Tre Cool (Green Day)

That right there is a full motion, power packed, fast paced, full bodied sound that would actually produce an interesting record. Never going to happen, granted, but hey, a fella can wish! Leave me a comment, tell me who you would mix up as your super group... or just what bands you actually think are fairly super these days! Perhaps tying the lead singer of Wolfmother (brand new song on their website, incidentally) in with the living members of Led Zep, along with Jason Bonham in for his dad? Might make for an interesting mix there, as well...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Disingenuous Compliment

One of my favorite television networks is the Food Network, and one of my favorite shows is Throwdown With Bobby Flay. The concept of the show, if you have never seen it (and I'm certain that you could find some back episodes - I'll throw a YouTube for you down at the bottom) is that Bobby Flay, professional Chef for twenty years, has to learn how to make a dish that someone else in the nation is an expert at. Some examples are combating Buffalo, NY's Wing King in a buffalo wing contest, various bbq entree masters at their particular dishes, or even a former chef at one of his NYC restaurants, and current owner of Taim Falafel & Smoothie Bar in a falafel making contest. During the throwdown, both competitors make their recipes right there on the spot, send out plates of samples for all of the live audience to taste, and then submit to a blind taste test to supposedly qualified judges. Generally, judging is done by a chef or critic, although the donuts throwdown that I watched just prior to the episode I'm watching now, was judged by two retired New York City police officers. Yep, NYPD to judge donuts. They laughed, too.

So, here is the part that bugs me. They explain to you, in every single episode, that the chosen combatant has no idea that they are scheduled for a throwdown. The person, or team, has been told that they will be starring in a Food Network featured profile, but that they are, in fact, being set up for the Throwdown. The current episode, a cake designer, was told that she would be doing the final portion of the profile (where the throwdown always occurs), at Tavern On The Green, with the opportunity to try and pick up some new clients. This is, of course, a bold faced lie. This is the part that bugs me.

Listen, I get it, Bobby takes a week to learn the dish, shows up, competes, and sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. Why not just tell the person, "hey, we're going to have a competitive cook-off between you and Bobby Flay next Saturday afternoon," or even schedule four or five of them ahead of time (or the entire danged season) so that said combatant can promote it, maybe even sell some tickets, and capitalize on the event? Why lie to them and tell them that they will be featured? Those features never air. That never happens. Why lie? That just isn't right. Come on... this is a fantastic show, why add an element of dishonesty to it?

Oh well, time to sit back and watch Mr. Flay lose... badly... very badly... he just has to. After all, who would make a heavily shredded-coconut encrusted wedding cake??

And, in the even that you haven't seen it, and can't find it yet, here is part one of the Fish and Chips episode (while it lasts):

Friday, May 22, 2009

Seriously Thanks

Memorial Day is upon us here in the United States (I need to specify because I now have readers in seven countries). Most of us are conditioned to think that this means a day off from work on Monday, meat roasted over a grill and the opening of pool season. We are actually supposed to honor our fallen heroes during this holiday, but I also like to think that it isn't a bad time to say thank you to those who are still around. The men (and, lately, women) who have gone off to fight battles so that we don't have to. The men and women who have had to leave their homes so that we can be safe here in our beds. Now, for those who are interested, the site that I found and linked to above has a page full of information to adopt a POW if you are so inclined. While this is not something that I have done, I know people who have, and think it's a pretty solid thing to do.

Hopefully everyone knows someone out there that they can celebrate. My thank you, however, shouts out to three men in particular. My grandfather fought in World War II while his younger brother is a veteran of The Korean War. These men are members of what is commonly referred to as America's Greatest Generation, and I am a lucky kid to have grown up with them, and still have them around into my early 30s. Here's to hoping that modern medicine continues a great run.

Another slot needs to be carved out to say thank you, especially, for my best friend who is a veteran of the Kosovo War. Far too many people have glossed over this one, forgotten about it as if it were a weekend on a beach front, instead of the need to prevent genocide.

Go out and find someone to thank this weekend. Drop by a local VFW if nothing else, but say your thank you, publicly or privately. After all, if it wasn't them, there is a darn good chance that it would be you.

Still Threatened

It isn't over. Quite honestly, it may never be over. No doubt you have already heard about the plan to blown up a New York synagogue by a group of angry Muslim men. Yes, I flat out said that they were Muslims, and no, there is no shame in my voice when I say it. Muslims targeting Jews for explosive devices is, sadly, nothing new. Unfortunately, it is a common theme in Israel, and has been for some time. Attacks on America, sadly, are a little more new, but we are beginning to get used to that too, aren't we? England is no stranger to explosions in the transit system, either, again incited by Muslims who were protesting the Iraq war. Most people, when protesting, hold up signs, march around, and shout obscenities... some people sign petitions... occasionally a brave soul stands in front of a tank. What reasonable humans do not do, however, is murder innocents, and then claim that no one is innocent.

Important point to make - not all Muslims are suicide bombers. You can't make this generalization any more than you can say all Christians burn crosses and murder blacks, or all Jews are ruthless millionaires who control the media for their own gain. No, we are talking about Muslim Extremists, and they are no different from the KKK or the White Supremacists who believe that death to a people, just because they are a people, is acceptable. They are the dark underbelly, but they must most definitely be recognized. Granted, there are Muslims who don't pray three times a day, Jews who struggle to pay bills but love their bacon and Christians who think of Sundays as a day for football and nothing else, while having not read a bible since they were children. I have met people from all three categories, and they do not seem to be in the minority. And yet, we are paralyzed at the idea of uttering the phrase "Muslim Extremist" - but not at denouncing the White Supremacist. Why is that? Have we in America, in the world, become so petrified that we might invite violent retaliation, that we guard our tongues and placate these evil beings in the hopes that they might begin to like us? That they might hurt us? Have we honestly put them in control?

Congratulations, America, you have allowed the terrorists to win. Honestly and truly, this is no propaganda from the office of one Dick Cheney. The duty of a terrorist is not to murder, but to establish terror - fear. We are afraid. It is our sense of "political correctness" - nothing more than a fear of offending each and every individual group and sub-group in a vain attempt to stave off a law suit - has advanced to a stage of true paralysis. Profiling is deemed "wrong" and keeping an eye on any particular group is seen as insensitive. Hopefully, when we are brought to our knees, when we are destroyed, the victors will laud how emotionally secure they feel, and how they are in a happy place thanks mostly to our generous treatment and guarding of their feelings.

Rome fell. The sun finally set on the British Empire. I simply am surprised that the end of our greatness had to come in my life time.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Night Worthy

This morning, I needed to look something up, so as I generally do, I wandered over to to take a look. Now, I generally do this, not just because I spent a number of years working for Ask Jeeves (in the office that owned and, then bought by IAC and finally being renamed Mindspark, somewhat recently). You see, a dirty little secret that I figured out, mostly because the company brought to mind (better than the marketing campaigns) is that actually is a little easier to use to find thing than Google. Now, it's very true that Google has a far larger database, so there are times that I honestly can't find something in Ask that I can find in Google; when I worked there we all discovered that Google was far better for doing code searches (I was a web programmer), but I have noticed lately that Ask has picked up the slack. What Ask does do, however, without the larger database, and thus extraneous garbage, is make it a lot easier to find specifics, answer questions and not have to wade through pages of wrong answers to get there. I respect that, and I think that the programmers do a fantastic job. Today, however, I noticed that the sales department is apparently getting a little more say in what happens... the front page is a monstrously large montage to the new Night at the Museum movie.

Let's start by saying that I have no problem, at all, with this scene. During the end of my tenure with IAC, I helped to place home page takeovers on for two shows from GSN and one for A&E, not to mention a Macy's takeover, and a couple of others. If you have a strong art department, it can look really fantastic, so I am a definite fan. I don't even take issue with using the Night at the Museum sequel. Despite sequels generally being a drop off, I'm willing to bet that this one will still be a fairly strong movie, funny enough, and possibly even deserving of a night time viewing.

That last comment, you need to understand, is a segment of my movie-viewing scale. Three years ago, or so, with the glut of over-hyped movies that were not worth watching, I developed my own scale of watchability. Thanks to Jon Dunn and Troy Burnett, I was able to add one more level, which will be mentioned in a moment.

The highest compliment I can give is that a movie is Night Worthy. You see, with movie prices on a night - any night - ranging from $9 to $12 in these parts, you have to consider carefully. Is this movie worth dropping anywhere to $9 to over $20 (if I'm taking a date) AND my time to sit in an uncomfortable chair for two to three hours? My time is precious, my money is precious, and you need to earn it. Thus far, only Iron Man and Dark Knight have hit this mark in the past few years.

My next level is called Day Worthy, which is much like it sounds - I am willing to take in this show on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon matinee, but willing to watch it in the theaters. Matinee prices around here cost about $5 to $6, and a decent movie can give me something to do on a rainy day that won't make me leave the house. Michael Bay's Transformers fits this bill - not quite good enough for a night time movie, but it was entertaining enough to sit and watch, and I enjoyed it. You need to be able to justify those uncomfortable seats, after all, because not every movie will keep you on the edge.

Level three takes us out of the theaters. I call this my On Demand category. If a movie winds up in the On Demand section of your TV, sometimes it's worth springing for the $4 or so to bring it up on the TV, spend an afternoon or evening on the couch watching it, and have no qualms. I saw Accepted this way, laughed pretty hard, and didn't even mind when it came on TBS a year later, because I watched it again happily. We used to call this the "Rental" level, but that sadly doesn't happen anymore, even if it's the way that I saw Taladega Nights.

On level four, we thank Jon and Troy for introducing me. Thanks to Netflix (and Blockbuster, too, if that's your preference), you can get all manner of movies, after they come out, for that one low monthly price. If you can watch enough movies in a month, it really has tremendous value. I realize that I haven't been watching enough movies, but I aim to get back into that. This works for movies that you might not be willing to watch On Demand, but if you can get a few of them together, it makes for some quality entertainment value.

The final level belongs to television. Generally you can catch a lot of movies on TBS, TNT, FX and occasionally, regular network television. The cable movies take longer to watch and are commercial ridden, but you can get other things done while watching them. Case in point, I did laundry, ironed work shirts, cleaned my living room and kitchen, and re-strung my guitar the first time that I watched Robin Williams' RV. I honestly didn't mind if I missed any bits, because it was more something for background than anything else.

There you have it, my Five Levels of Watchability. Incidentally, some movies just don't belong on any level. The Spirit is the first movie that I have ever stood up and walked out of the theater with a large portion of the movie to go. I'm curious, now. Leave me a comment and let me know some of your movies that fall into the various stages, and if there are any films that you would absolutely avoid no matter what.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

For Now, I'm Out

I was just reading this article on Tech Crunch about 15 things to do while Twitter is down and realized that I've been spending too much time on Facebook and Twitter lately. No, I'm not about to go and quit writing my blog, quit Facebook or anything else of that matter. Thing is, I've got this back injury, and it's been wickedly flaring up the past week and a half. I've spent a lot of time inside on my back with my laptop, in the recliner, or in other laid back positions trying to ease the ache (not much of a fan of pills). Thing is, doc told me today that, while that's alright to do to get you through a rough spot, he actually wants me to get out and do as much walking around as I can stomach. And, you know, it really has been beautiful out the last few days, and here I am, sitting in the house, gritting my teeth, and playing on Facebook. Well, gosh darn it, I am going to throw on a pair of sneakers (tennis shoes to those of you who... say it wrong) and drag my sorry carcass around outside for a few minutes.

Why am I telling you this? Honestly, I want you to try it too. It's crazy, but if you'll recall, we all spent hours and hours outside as kids, every chance that we could get... and yet, I'm willing to bet that, what with a job and some television shows that you might be addicted to, the outside time takes a back seat. So, join me and wander around outside for about 10 minutes or so, maybe more if you can stomach it! I'll be that guy limping awkwardly around the little park in my complex.

Time Served

Michael Vick is no longer allowed to vote thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment, which actually allows states to deny convicted felons the right to vote. What Michael can do, however, is become, once again, gainfully employed. In a short while, Vick will have his opportunity, as he has been released from prison today. Controversial as it sounds, I actually have no problem with Michael Vick going back to work, even as a football player, if he can find a job.

Yes, you read that correctly. I understand that Vick hurt animals, and that this is largely unacceptable, whether or not you are a fan of dogs specifically. Every single person who has served time and paid their debt to society is granted the right to find work again. The same would go for you or I, were we to make a stupid mistake. Of course, we would probably have a difficult time finding acceptance at first, but I'm willing to bet that things are going to be a lot worse for Vick than he realizes.

Keep in mind that Mister Vick has almost no money left. His contract was terminated with the Atlanta Falcons and all of his endorsement contracts were ended. Essentially, that ends all future income. He also had hefty legal bills to pay, and the cupboard has largely gone dry for Michael. He has to work, somewhere, but the question is... even if he finds work, how well will that go for him? Let's imagine, for fun, that an NFL team has the courage to bring Michael Vick into camp, and even to sign him for the season. Maybe the Raiders, who have little left to lose. That team is going to face a likely decline in ticket sales, loss of sponsorship money, and backlash for the team in general. Vick will be lambasted across the nation via television, radio, the internet, the water cooler, and anywhere else that anyone interested in the NFL might talk. He will be booed during every game, for every move he makes. He will be shadowed by the same hordes that have tracked down Alex Rodriguez, begging for a slip up, and exploiting it - and damaging his private life - from here on out.

That, dear readers, is why I say that I have no issue with Michael Vick re-entering the NFL. Everyone deserves a second chance. Michael Vick might just discover that he honestly doesn't want it.

Rewarding the Wrong

Do you pay your credit card bills on time? Maybe you don't pay them in full, but you always make certain that, if nothing else, the minimum payment shows up when it's supposed to. I do to. The same goes for my mortgage. In fact, I do this for all of my bills. It's a habit that I developed, because I never wanted to lose my car or house - or anything else for that matter. Now, however, there is new legislation in place to safeguard those who did screw up their finances from having to pay the penalties. Listen, I understand that people need a break, and that the economy is in rough shape. The problem is the reason that the economy is in such rough shape is because of carelessness combined with a lack of consequence. How many college freshmen signed up for, and received, credit cards on the first day of school? At the University at Albany, I saw at least two card vendors setting up shop right inside my quad. Now, at 18 years old, I had no business with a credit card, but that didn't stop someone from giving it to me.

Now, let's back up for a moment, because it might sound like I'm taking both sides at once. An 18 year old kid suckered into debt should have a shot at fixing things, you're thinking... except, this is one of life's hard lessons that needed to be learned by yours truly, and should be learned by everyone else. If you don't pay your bills, and you get behind, then your rates should be jacked up. If you miss a few payments, you should have penalty fees. If you don't, what is there to prevent you from doing it again and again? Responsibility, folks, is something that has gone out of style in America, and it's about time we start taking it back a little. Speaking of which...

The banks brought all of this on themselves. Read that one more time. The mess that the banks are in, it isn't the fault of the people who put themselves in debt, it was the fault of the banks, driven by greed, under the false banner of a fictitious American Dream. I'm hear to announce a very harsh stance, ladies and gentlemen, and this is that you do not have a right to own your own home. Honestly, it's that simple. If you decided against even attending community college, took a retail or food service job and just hang there on the level that you are at, never working any harder than you have to in order to get by... then, you are missing a core part of living the American Dream. You see, the Dream is that anyone can achieve anything through hard work - there isn't a clause about having it handed to you for breathing. My grandfather went to night classes and didn't just earn a degree but a master's. He worked himself up. As a youngster out of high school, before joining the army, he would go to school one semester and work the next in order to pay for the following semester. No credit cards, straight cash.

Plain as day, the banks should never have awarded credit cards to everyone and anyone. Simple as anything, the banks should not have provided mortgages for $500,000 houses to people with a combined family income of $50,000. No, you do not get to keep your house. You honestly should never have bought that house to begin with. You knew it, the banks knew it, but no one thought any of this would catch up to us. Now, however, it has. And now the banks are raising the rates for those of us who actually have paid our credit card bills, to try and recoup their losses. Banks make it harder to refinance for those of us who have never ever missed a mortgage payment (and those of us who have even paid more towards principle). It's a mess. And it's everyone's fault. Yes, even mine. And it is honestly time for us to take a little responsibility for it. Pay your blasted bills.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Honestly, Who Cares About A-Rod?

According to The Daily Beast, who I read religiously because of their generally quality reporting regarding things that matter, New York Yankees baseball player Alex Rodriguez is dating Kate Hudson now. I skimmed the article. Actually, I rolled past it (thankfully, and to their credit, it was the 13th item on their cheat sheet today), but then doubled back. While my initial thought was, "well, damn, who cares about that anymore," I figured, if they had it up, there must be something to it. Nah. Nothing important at all. The story on Bill Clinton being named as envoy to Haiti was sixteenth on the list. What the heck? Bill is news... Alex Rodriguez is not news. I'm sorry, but in the scheme of important things, Alex Rodriguez honestly is not news. Alex Rodriguez and Kate Hudson? Far less important news. And here, here was Alex Rodriguez, mixed up in the "real news" yet again.

I just experimented and jumped over to Page6 and the top story is A-Rod Batters Up With Kate Hudson. Remind me how something that lands in the Page6 site belongs anywhere near the top news??

One more experiment, browsing over to the MLB section - no mention of Alex Rodriguez and Kate Hudson. Why? It isn't news! These guys are the czars of all sports. More people trust ESPN than Major League Baseball itself, and they couldn't care less about who Alex Rodriguez is dating. Why? It has nothing to do with how he swings his bat, how he has recovered from surgery, and how his fielding is shaping up for the season.

I am going to make a plea, now: leave Alex Rodriguez alone! If you don't cover sports, don't cover Alex Rodriguez. If you aren't talking balls and strikes, don't talk about Alex Rodriguez. If you do, then you might as well tell us who Justin Morneau is dating. Morneau, the 2006 American League MVP, is apparently dating Krista Martin. I looked up who Albert Pujols is dating, but couldn't find it. What does Pujols have to do with anything? Well, like Morneau and Rodriguez, Pujols is a corner infielder (first baseman) who won the MVP (2008 National League). His dating life holds as much bearing on your life as does that of Alex Rodriguez.

So, look, go and watch the Yankees play. Alex Rodriguez happens to be a very good player, and happens to be doing nicely in the last few days. He has a teammate that is heating up named Mark Texiera who is considered fairly good looking, from what I understand. There is this guy named Joba Chamberlain who even looks like he's constantly doing Frank Caliendo's impression of George W. Bush (caution - YouTube video with sound, if you are watching at work). What these guys look like, though, and who they date means nothing in terms of sports, means nothing in terms of the real world... genuinely means nothing at all. Let it go. Please. I don't want to have to talk about this again. I should be talking about GM selling off to a new American company instead. Talking about Clinton and Haiti. Talking about the other Clinton and Palin. This one just annoyed me quite enough. Leave Alex Rodriguez alone.

Until October.

Pomp and Happenstance

My sincerest congratulations go out to this spring's group of college graduates. As was explained to me when I graduated in December of 2000, I won't wish you luck, because it probably won't help. You see, the economy is currently, as it was then, in something of a slide. Granted, my degree in Information Science locked me deeper into the dotcom bust (yes, children, things were much different in the world of the Internet nine years ago), but the concept is much the same. The economy is on a downturn, there are many (read: many, many, many, many) people currently unemployed, currently applying for the same jobs that you are, and far more qualified for them than you. Some will be discounted because of over-qualification, others ignored based purely on age (which, incidentally, is illegal), but for every posting on Monster, Careerbuilder, Dice or even Hudson Valley Help Wanted, there are hundreds if not thousands of applicants. Having a snazzy resume really only gets you in the door - if, of course, lady luck is on your side.

Communication. Presentation. Speakability (hey, if Bud can use a stupid word, I can too). In short, you need to know how to speak - one on one, to an interviewer, as well as to groups in presentation. It should not matter one iota who you are speaking to, you should have learned a comfort level while in college, while taking at least one communications course. Didn't take a communications course? Well, then, at least one of your classes must have forced you to stand up in front of the class and present, right? No? You avoided those types of classes because they were too hard or too scary? If you have any interest in an income that doesn't include the words, "please drive around," I might recommend signing up for summer school. If, however, you are done with school, there are a few things that you can do to bolster your resolve (and your resume).

One recommendation is to take a sales job of some sort. Whether it's cold calling on the phone, or the even more difficult cold calling in person, few things can prepare you for facing rejection like actually facing rejection. After a while, you develop the age old philosophy of "every no is closer to the next yes" that many sales folks subscribe to. A bit after that, you actually learn how to speak in ways that turns some of those no's into maybe's. Keep in mind that everything in life is sales, like it or not (and, honestly, I don't know if I do... but it is what it is). Job interview? That's selling yourself. Corporate presentation? Selling your ideas. Everything is sales in some respect or another.

Alright, you're not going door to door for commissions. Heck, you actually landed a job that you don't mind so much, but you're far at the bottom, and not certain how to move up. Got a friend with a band? When I used to do booking for my own band, I had to make presentations, establish a press kit, and made a LOT of phone calls... and then maintained everything with an excel spreadsheet. It wasn't a business, but it certainly was something of a skill that I developed that helped me figure out how to pitch things, how to sell myself, and how to get the right mind set towards easing my apprehension. These days, I can talk to just about anyone (and most friends will swear that I do, at length). Old or young, gorgeous or ugly, rich or poor, it doesn't really matter because I don't tend to have fear of too many people out there these days... I've talked to so many. So, the next time I'm faced with a job interview or a review or a presentation, I'm not too worried about it, and my odds of success are fairly strong. How are yours? That's what I thought. Hang on, I have the course catalog for University at Albany's summer session around here somewhere...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Service Me

Today I was in the land of the West Milford Messenger and I found myself a fairly solid reason to smile. I stopped for lunch in between appointments at the West Milford Diner, a fairly simple and straight forward diner. Plenty of tables, the normal menu, but most importantly, really fantastic service. Honestly, I like the little things when I go out to eat. Something like a person coming over and bringing another glass of water when they see that my glass is empty, instead of coming over and asking if I want more water when they see it... those are nice. Noticing that the napkin that came with the place setting isn't even close to doing the job, and bringing over a few more along with the water, honestly, it's the little things. I could wax poetic about all of the other small touches that made lunch a bright spot today, but I gather you understand my point by now.

Let me back up for just one moment. I like, dare I say love food. And it's not just food, but good food, food done right. Not even, necessarily, culinary masterpieces, but just good tasting, satisfying grub. It's the reason that I frequent places like Waterwheel, Lucky's Deli and Olympic so often. If a restaurant doesn't have good tasting food, the game is over before it's begun; no amount of wonderful service can salvage a horrible meal. When it's good - and even in a diner, it can most definitely be good - this is what brings people back again and again.

Listen, customer service is something that a lot of people pay lip service to. I've worked for Toys R Us and Caldor during high school and college. I've heard it preached at Applebee's and Friday's and any number of other institutions... heck, even Wal-Mart at one time or another. The funny thing is that corporate policy doesn't seem to quite make it through to the front lines. Try getting help, absolute top-notch customer service, from most of the aforementioned chain stores, and you will quickly understand my irritation. Next, find yourself a neighborhood store who has stood the test of time for a number of years, or better yet, decades. The odds are strong that their customer service is strong as well.

Like the rest of you, I would like to hope, I work hard for my money (and simply complain and preach in blog format on my own time). Like the rest of you, I would like to hope, if I am going to be parted with my hard earned dollars, my preference is to feel like it was worth it. Quality of food in a restaurant is a given, but quality of service is a must. Acting as if it is an honor for me to eat the food that you have prepared for me, an honor to be presenting so little payment in return due to its far superior value, is one of the fastest ways to drive me out your door, never to return. Times are tough and people are stressed. I understand that. Treat customers right anyway. Go the extra mile. You'd be surprised how often one of us will return, and how many family members or friends will be in tow. My father once taught me that the greatest thing he has ever earned was his reputation. When he needed to close his bakery years ago, and finally went looking for a new job, a great many of his former customers sprang up, offering him references and helping him make connections. A good name does such a thing. A poor name shutters your doors with no sympathy.

Me, I'll be back at the West Milford Diner, next chance I get.

Bye American?

I read an interesting article at The Daily Beast today that mentioned provisions for American businesses getting bail outs, and how badly the "Buy American" concept is actually capable of hurting American businesses (read article here. The problem, of course, is that it's easy to toss out slogans and feel-good campaigns, and it's easy for politicians to think up what concepts will get them the most credit for "trying hard" in order to get elected. It's much harder to spend time thinking and researching and being intelligent... so they just don't bother a lot of the time. We all suffer from it every once in a while. We're all fools for it.

So, what's the key? Buy local.

Honestly, if you want the economy to pick up, you need to buy locally. Granted, if you're willing to go out and spend some cash, period, it makes a difference, but the local area shopping is what will make the difference. If Subway charges you five dollars for a foot long, and the local deli charges you $6.50, you are actually doing more damage to your local economy by saving the buck and a half (not to mention that your local deli will have better supplies, it will taste better, and you'll get far better service). Consider this: the local deli employs local people, and the more money that they make, the more money can be used to hire more local people. Local delis buy at least some of their supplies from local merchants - farms, bakeries and so forth; even larger distributors are more likely to be within an hour or two, as opposed to Chicago to New York.

The more money and business that a local business can make, the more local employees they can hire, the more local money that there is to spend on other local vendors - and even the big boys - which also leads to excess funds to be used for movies, plays, vacations, new cars and so forth. Spending local helps. I'm not going to cry that Wal-Mart of Home Depot are evil. They are far from it, in fact. If you live in a small town, however, consider how much savings you actually have by going off to a big box store that is a few miles away, or buying local.

Try spending local. Try helping out the neighborhood. Try helping to lift the economy. Besides, it's kind of neat to become a regular. Nothing like everybody knowing your name.