Friday, December 31, 2010

Whose Crimes?

I’m guessing that ABC News means that Gov. Richardson cited the crimes of Billy the Kid and not any that the governor himself may have committed...but that’s not in fact what the blurb says:


Looks like your sixth-grade English teacher was right: Modifiers do matter.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

They Do Understand it's Just a Comic Book, Right?

Although I read Marvel Comics’ Thor comic book back in the day—the heyday, I should say, the late 1960s and early 1970s when it was being rendered with a good deal of over-the-top pseudo-mythological seriousness by the great team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the often-maligned Vince Coletta—I wasn’t that big a fan. (Big enough to note that the actual title of the book was The Mighty Thor, since in those days nearly all Marvel heroes had an official adjective: The Amazing Spider-Man; The Incredible Hulk; The Invincible Iron Man. And a big enough fan to note that, early on, the book was titled Journey into Mystery, and so by the time I came along the cover line was, confusingly, Journey into Mystery with The Mighty Thor. So maybe I was a biggish fan.)


Anyhow, I have noted with some interest the development of a Major Motion Picture based on Marvel’s Thor...including this interesting tidbit from from Right Wing Watch:


Well, of course. Who wouldn’t?

Naturally, having never heard of the Council of Conservative Citizens before, I hied on over to the right-wingnut organization’s website to see what it was that had them so worked up. And, well, who could blame them? It seems that Marvel Comics—my beloved Marvel Comics of old—has declared war on the gods of Asgard! By Odin’s beard!

From the Council’s website:


    Norse mythology gets a multi-cultural remake in the upcoming movie titled “Thor,” by Marvel studios. It’s not enough that Marvel attacks conservative values and promotes the left-wing, now mythological Gods must be re-invented with black skin.
    It seems that Marvel Studios believes that white people should have nothing that is unique to themselves. An upcoming movie, based on the comic book Thor, will give Norse mythology an insulting multi-cultural make-over. One of the Gods will be played by Hip Hop DJ Idris Elba.

Setting aside for the moment the interesting fact that the Council chooses to capitalize “God” in reference to mythological gods—a practice that I would expect Conservative Citizens to decry, leading me to conclude they must of course be anti-Christian Conservative Citizens, since they obviously uphold other gods besides the God of Abraham—I’m left with one single burning question:

Don’t they know that Thor is a movie based on a comic book?

Which is to say, it is not a movie about Norse mythology. The producers have not gone to ancient source materials for a rollicking retelling of the legends of Odin, Thor, Baldr, Heimdall, and the rest of that jolly crew. It’s a movie based on a comic book that pulls some characters, places, and themes from the mythos and recasts them in a superhero mold. (Indeed, in the early days Thor had a secret identity and everything—including an interesting slant on the old Clark Kent-Lois Lane-Superman triangle, in which Thor’s love interest thought that his human alter-ego, Donald Blake, was a dreamboat and didn’t really seem to give two hoots about Thor.)

Given that, the moronic objection to Heimdall being portrayed by a black actor obviously isn’t so much about protecting Norse mythology as it is complaining about the casting of an actor who is...well, not white.

Racist claptrap, in other words. These clowns are “insulted” because a movie studio cast a black man to play-act in a flick based on a comic book.

As my wife commented when I shared this, The Most Idiotic Thing I’ve Read all Week, with her: “Some people need to get jobs.”

Naturally, the wingnuts have begun a campaign to boycott the movie. I wasn’t too sure I’d bother to see Thor in a theatre—you know how it is: sometimes you just wait for the DVD to appear—but now I’m pretty sure I’ll spring for a ticket, just on principle.



Sunday, December 19, 2010

Should Have Consulted a Nerd

This from today's Salon.com e-mail:


One doesn't need to be much of a science fiction nerd to know that the character in question is Mister Spock, not Doctor Spock. I haven't heard him misidentified in that fashion since, probably, the early 1970s. Is it possible that my father has been reincarnated and is working at Salon.com?


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What to Get for the Man Who's always Offended?

This started out as a letter to the editor of my local rag, in response to a spectacularly idiotic letter published in the edition of 12/12/10. The letter went like this:

    “Happy holidays” is offensive 
    It’s “Merry Christmas” - not “Happy holidays” - and yes, it’s a religious holiday. 
    Some undoubtedly will argue that there are people who don’t celebrate Christmas, which is absolutely fine. Yet they take the holiday pay and the time off from work. 
    If you are that opposed to Christmas, then volunteer to work in place of those who do celebrate it and turn down the holiday pay universally associated with Christmas. 
    In a world of withering political correctness, “Happy holidays” is an offensive phrase to those of us who celebrate Christmas. 
    So “Merry Christmas” to all of you.

Usually such inanity merely makes me chuckle and/or shake my head in wonderment, not so much at people’s boundless bone-headedness but also at their willingness, nay, eagerness to put said bone-headedness on public display.

But this time around, rather than just move on to the next page, I found myself musing on the reason (if “reason” is the right word) someone would take offense at being greeted with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” And so it was that I drafted a quick letter to the editor...which turned out to be about twice as long as the paper claims to want them to be (although I note that they violate their guidelines pretty frequently), and which I decided not to cleave to the bone to satisfy somebody’s arbitrary word count. So here’s my take, in all its verbose glory:

    I had a nice little chuckle from the letter titled “‘Happy holidays’ is offensive” in Sunday’s Argus Leader. It’s always amusing at this time of year when people decide to be “offended” if they are not greeted the “right” way, or if they see “Xmas” instead of “Christmas” (ignorant, perhaps purposely, of the fact that since the earliest days of the church X—the Greek letter chi, from the Greek word for Christ—has been used to represent Jesus, and thus as an abbreviation is no more disrespectful than, say, WWJD), or when they see themselves as soldiers in the nonexistent “war on Christmas.” Oh, what fun it is to see people tie themselves into knots of indignation for no reason at all.
    But I find myself wondering why someone would be offended by receiving the “wrong” greeting. Seems to me that it’s nice to be greeted at all, and nice that the person doing the greeting seems to understand that there are many holidays at this time of year, not just Christmas, and that the real offense would be to presume that the person being greeted celebrates a particular one of them.
    So why take offense at what is obviously such an innocent greeting?
    The answer, I think, is simple: Selfishness. Sheer childish self-centeredness. If you don’t greet ME the “right” way, the way I want to be greeted, then I take offense! I am indignant! I instantly recognize you as someone who is “opposed to Christmas” (as the recent letter has it)—that is, you are my enemy, and you must be crushed!
    As a fan of irony, I enjoy how this “I am offended” mentality is so completely at odds with the message of Christmas—peace, goodwill, that sort of thing—and indeed so contrary to the teachings of him who the “offended” profess to follow—you know, the fellow who proposed people turn the other cheek, love their neighbor, forgive their brother “until seventy times seven,” etc. Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus admonish his followers to take up arms if our neighbor wishes us “Happy Holidays” or a local ad touts its “Xmas” sale.
    My advice to the “offended": Get over yourselves. We are told that this season all about Jesus (I refuse to repeat the gratingly idiotic rhyme that we see see all over the place at this time of year)—which is another way of saying that it’s not all about you! The coming of the Savior does not depend on other people greeting you with the exact phrase you wish to hear when you wish to hear it.
    Relax, for goodness’ sake. Enjoy the holidays a little!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Yes, By All Means, Be Specific!

A screenshot from a survey I took awhile back. Still trying to figure out how I could not have been specific, given the instructions.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Advertising...What, Exactly?

The column "Q. and A. with Stuart Elliott" in the New York Times this week featured a question from a reader who wondered what the theme music from Magnum, P.I. was doing in a make-up commercial--specifically, a spot for Maybelline's oddly named Falsies mascara.

Elliott quotes a spokeswoman for Maybelline's ad agency saying that the spot features three "women on a mission" a la Charlie's Angels, but the theme from that show didn't "feel right with the flow of the spot," so they went with the Magnum, P.I. theme instead. (The column is online here.)

That's all well and good, I guess, but I know that back in my ad-agency days I'd have never taken such an idea to a client, and if the client came up with it on his own I'd've strongly argued against it. Why? Because iconic music such as the Magnum, P.I. theme or (even more inexplicably) the theme from The Andy Griffith Show, which has been used in a recent minivan commercial, or the theme from Bewitched, used in commercials for a brand of kitchen appliances, has the effect of distracting the viewer from the product being advertised and pulling his or her attention to the familiar music and the TV series with which it's associated. All of a sudden I'm thinking about Darrin and Samantha Stevens, Endora, Dr. Bombay, and the Kravitzes--notthe fabulous kitchen appliances I'm supposed to be thinking about.

No doubt advertising has changed a great deal these past 20-odd years (we were shocked back then when a rival agency put together a spot for a local video-store chain titled--on screen, no less!--"Video Junkies," since any reference to addiction in such contexts was considered taboo; now it's commonplace, to the point where the local cable company built a whole campaign around urging people to "Get Hooked"), but I can hardly believe that its central objective is no longer to sell product.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Seven Years On

Seven years ago this morning, my dad called me in a panic because he couldn’t wake Mom. We had had a similar episode a couple of months earlier (as if she was in a very deep slumber from which she could not be awoken, for reasons no one ever was able to explain), and I expected it to be a repeat. But by the time I alerted the kids to what was up (they were still abed, having no school that way) and got over to my folks’, it was all done. “She’s gone, Bill,” my father said, and that was that.

As I said to my wife this morning, in some ways it seems impossible that it’s already been seven years since Mom died, but in other ways it seems impossible that it’s been only seven years. That is, I guess, the nature of things.

Here’s a great snapshot that I scanned some time back. I suspect it’s from my parents’ dating days, putting it around 1953 or so.



Back row, from left: Mom’s brother, my uncle Tom Bosco; Mom’s father, Carmine Caliendo; Sarah Bosco, Tom’s wife; Mom’s sister, Joan Caliendo; my cousin Connie Bosco, Tom and Sarah’s daughter.

Front row, from left: My cousin Freddy Bosco, Tom and Sarah’s son; Mom and Dad; unknown (I think her name was Sharon); Mom’s brother, Martin Caliendo; Mom’s sister, my aunt Tina Bosco.





Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2003

It was on this date seven years ago that I saw my mother alive for the last time.


We had taken the kids trick-or-treating around our neighborhood and, as was our custom, then piled into the car to trick-or-treat at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Mom had had a rough summer and autumn: An aortic aneurysm (her second) had been detected in July, and she was flown to Mayo for emergency surgery; the surgery went well, but seemed to trigger respiratory problems that saw her in and out of the hospital for the rest of the summer, culminating with a month's stay at a nursing home for respiratory therapy that didn't seem to accomplish much. Still, she had been home for about a week when Halloween rolled around, and in fact was feeling, looking, and sounding much better. We would later say that we thought she had turned a corner, but didn't realize which corner; one week later she died.

Here is one of my favorite photos of my parents, from their dating days, which would make it around 1953. It always makes me smile.



Thursday, October 28, 2010

Just Open the Attachment!

It's been awhile since I've received any good spam. (Regular readers will know that I am always appreciative of well-done, thoughtful spamming, spoofing, or phishing, and disdainful of the slapdash, half-hearted efforts that seem to clog my inbox these days. Does no one take pride in his work anymore? See here and here for past expositions on the subject.)

What came today isn't especially good, spam-wise, but it earns points in the Chutzpah category, for coming right out and suggesting I download an attachment to the e-mail. ("Hey, you know all that stuff about never downloading anything from someone you don't know? Nevermind.")

Anyhow, here's the missive, carrying the provocative subject line "Your account was accesed by a third party" and purportedly coming from HSBC Bank plc. (alert@hsbc-online.co.uk) (one of my numerous European bank accounts, no doubt. So numerous that I lose track of them all the time):


    Dear Customer,

    We detected irregular activity on your HSBC
    Internet banking account on 26/10/2010.

    For your protection, you must verify this
    activity before you can continue using your
    account.

    Please download the document attached to this
    email to review your account activity.

    We will review the activity on your account
    with you and upon verification,

    and we will remove any restrictions placed on
    your account.


    If you choose to ignore our request, you leave us no choise
    but to temporaly suspend your account.

    We ask that you allow at least 72 hours for the case to be
    investigated and we strongly recommend to verefy (sic) your
    account in that time.

    Best Regards,
    Colette Nugent
    Head of Customer Communications

    © Copyright HSBC Holdings plc 2010 - All rights reserved


The attachment (which I somehow have not gotten around to downloading) is cleverly called "Verify.html." Seems a little odd to me that an alleged review of my account activity would be in an html document. But then it seems a little odd that they would e-mail me such a thing in the first place. Considering I'm not a customer or anything.

Another oddity: The (sic) in the above message, after the misspelled "verefy"? They put that there! I have no idea why. Nor do I know why they failed to add (sic) after the equally misspelled "choise."

In general, however, this is a pretty average bit of flummery...no graphics, no seemingly legit links, nothing really of interest at all except the damn-the-torpedoes suggestion that I just go right ahead and click on that attachment right there. Hey, what's the worst that can happen, right?



Thursday, October 07, 2010

Making it Work

With a little surprise, I observe that it’s been nearly a month since my latest post. (Well, in fact, it’s been only a few minutes since my latest post, a little froth that I whipped up based on Yet Another Strange Internet Observation this morning. I mean it’s been several weeks since my last post before, er, my latest post.)

I shouldn’t be surprised, though. About five weeks ago I started a new job several months after being downsized from my previous employment of nearly a decade (“Gainful Employment”, September 10, 2010), and it’s been pretty hectic with learning new responsibilities, new personalities, new routines, a new corporate culture, and so on.

And of course at the same time a guy still has all “the usual” going on—you know, life and stuff. Even after only eight months I’d forgotten how much formal employment cuts into one’s day.

While this is going on in my little corner of the world, I have a couple of friends whose employment situations are less shiny. One probably won’t be in that situation much longer, thanks to various external forces; the other shouldn’t be, since the situation is completely untenable and intolerable, to the point of creating some pretty alarming health issues.

Pondering my friends’ cases and contrasting it with my own recent good fortune, I reflected again on the value of being valued in one’s employment—a feeling I had all but forgotten in the waning days of my previous employment. “You’re a real asset to the office, that’s why we’re throwing you under the wheels” strikes one as something of a discrepancy, and does little to foster a sense of worth or value to the undertaking. Add to that the fact that a sizable percentage of what I had dedicated myself to for the better part of a decade simply went away when I left, and one comes away with the nagging feeling that he’s wasted a considerable amount of time and energy for no lasting good. Having now come into a workplace where it seemed from the get-go, and still seems, that my contribution is welcomed and appreciated, I see how much I had missed that before. And how important it is to one’s well-being and self-esteem.

I’ve reflected too on how much employment is like a personal relationship. You have to put yourself out there, expose yourself, make yourself vulnerable, at least to an extent. Maybe you’ll be accepted, maybe you’ll be rejected. It’s a little like asking for a date. Then there’s that whole getting-o-know-you phase, during which time you start to see the cracks a little. And you don’t know—and probably won’t for awhile, and maybe not ever—how long it will last, how real it will be, how compatible you’ll prove to be, how much you or they will or will not change.

Just like real life.

As in a personal relationship, our relationship to our work, and our workplace, can be a source of affirmation, contentment, even joy. Or it can be a living hell. Or, I suppose, all of the above.

So far so good, for me. I like what I’m doing, I like the people I’m working with, I like the conditions and the culture. (Office gets a little hot in the afternoon, but I’ve decided to wait and see how it is in the dead of winter before I start to whine about it.) But I have to say that I feel bad for my aforementioned friends, and a couple of others, who aren’t experiencing that sort of contentment or affirmation in their work or work environment. It’s a real shame. It’s a real shame for everybody in that position. We spend so much time and invest so much of ourselves in our work; it should be worth more than just a paycheck. (Even though a paycheck is indeed what brought me to my current engagement. I’m not against paychecks, mind!) Certainly it should not be soul- and psyche-crushing.

I think of that every time I hear some deep thinker profess that “any job is a good job.” Naturally, they’re always talking about someone else when they say things like that.

And they’re wrong.

For must of us, employment is necessary. But it shouldn’t be a necessary evil.


How Mysterious the Internet Is

Okay, so I’m reading this article from this morning's USA Today...



...and somehow, based on that, USA Today or the great and powerful internet or, I don’t know, God himself concludes that I might be interested in these other articles as well:


But of course. One logically would conclude that anyone who’s interested in a topic such as, say, the nature of the God of All Creation, the Ground of All Being, the Omniscient Omnipotent Alpha and Omega will likewise be interest in “Celebrity Birthdays” or “Surprising Origins of Everyday Phrases.”

I mean, what else?


Sunday, September 12, 2010

But Can You Believe It?

As will surprise no one even noddingly acquainted with this little blog, I am a fan of quotations. Always have been. In high school I had a small black binder in which I compulsively jotted interesting quotations that I came upon. Today I’m more efficient though no less geeky: I find and share them via the internet, including this blog.


Lately I’ve been encountering and sharing a fair number of quotations via Twitter--in fact, it occurred to me not long ago that I need to quit following so many whose tweets consist only of quotations, since my Twitter page (@wjreynolds; see all my fun tweets over to the left there) is getting pretty clogged up with quotations, many of which are tweeted and retweeted and re-retweeted to a disturbing extent--by the original tweeter, I mean, which gets to be a little old.



One of the things I’ve noted about the quotations I see on Twitter is that the vast majority of them are intended to be “inspirational.” Which is fine. We can all use a little inspiration, a little motivation, a little boost to get us over life’s speed bumps.

What we don’t need, however, is to be lied to about life.

And I’m afraid there’s a subset of “inspirational” quotes that does precisely that.
    All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them—Walt Disney
Sorry, Walt, but that’s simply not true. All of our dreams? Nonsense. People die every day having had dreams that never came true. I hope they died having had dreams that did come true, too, of course, but the idea that every dream can come true if we work hard enough or never give up or, oddly, have sufficient “courage,” is, I’m afraid, only a dream. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue our dreams; definitely we should! But the notion that pursuit guarantees success is silly.
    Any person who contributes to prosperity must prosper in turn. —E. Nightingale
That’s a great sentiment and I endorse it wholeheartedly...except for the words “must” and “prosper.” Lots of people contribute to prosperity and get swindled--if we’re using “prosperity” in a concrete, dollars-and-cents way. If we’re talking about prospering spiritually or morally by contributing to the overall prosperity of our fellow human beings, then I have no issue with it. But if we mean monetarily, then no. Anyone who has been paying any attention to the war on the American middle class has to know that Mr. Nightingale’s comment is noble but untrue. Change “must” to “should,” though, and I’m on board!
    We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish. —Tony Robbins
Ooh--started off great there, Tony, and then botched it. It’s the Disney Fallacy again: You can (and should) pursue your dreams, but there is no guarantee--none, whatsoever, in any shape or form, ever--that so doing will make them happen. For instance, I would like to be six feet tall and have a full head of wavy black hair. But it is quite impossible. Doesn’t matter how hard I try, how positively I think, how many motivational quotations I memorize. Ain’t gonna happen. Ever.

Better I should concentrate on what can or may happen rather than delude myself into thinking that anything is achievable.
    Anything you really want, you can attain, if you really go after it. —Wayne Dyer
More of the same. I realize that I receive and then transmit these quotations out of whatever their original context might be. It’s possible that the speaker or writer went on to elucidate more clearly their meaning, and delineated the obvious stumbling blocks and outright barriers that stand in the way of their supposed “achieve everything” message. But I contend that the stock in trade of motivational speakers and writers is that “sound bite,” that pithy, telegraphic message that resonates with people, and sometimes falls under the heading of telling people what they want to hear. Dr. Dyer’s quotation above seems to fit that category. Truth is, you cannot attain anything you “really want” if you “really go after it.” You can attain some things, but not “anything.” Not everything in life is under our control, or bendable to our will. To believe that it is borders on delusion.

The escape clause in many of these quotations lies in the phrasing: Oh, when I said “you can achieve anything” I meant “can” in the sense of “it’s possible.” Ah. I guess “you might” or “you could” is less catchy than “you can.” I said you can attain things you really want if you really try. If you don’t attain them, you must not have wanted or tried enough. Oh, I assure you: I really want to be six feet tall and have a full head of wavy black hair. Won’t happen.

So it is that I prefer and find more inspiration in quotations that speak to what life is and what life may be, and how we should live our lives.
    The reality you experience is a reflection of what you believe is most possible. —Bashar
    A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed. —Henrik Ibsen
    Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together. —Carl Zwanzig
Okay, that last one was just for fun. I like those too.

And I especially like this one, which I think most accurately reflects reality:
    Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly. —Langston Hughes
Now that is inspirational!


Friday, September 10, 2010

Gainful Employment

This past week I started a new job, just a week shy of the eight-month anniversary of my having been "downsized" from my previous gig of nearly a decade.



The new job continues a pattern that runs through my entire employment history: Only once have I landed a job that I saw advertised and then pursued; the rest have all been the result of the phone ringing and my answering it.


It's not what you know, and, it turns out, it's not who you know, either. It's who knows you.


I am back on the religion beat, and back among my Lutheran chums. After being thrown down the stairs in my previous position, I commented that I would not be in too big a hurry to work for a religious organization again. It was true eight or nine months ago, and I'd be kidding if I didn't say I approached what is now my current position with some wariness. Once bitten, and so on.


But it was nice to be thought of, and the interview went very well (you can always tell they're going well when you get offered the job on the spot), and the old exchequer acted like it could use some positive cash flow again, so...


The week has been exhausting, as I always find the first couple of weeks in a new job to be. But the people I am working with all seem very nice--more to the point, genuinely nice, since "nice" is a pretty cheap commodity, I've discovered, and although the week was colossally hectic (everyone kept telling me it isn't usually like that; sure hope so), I never had the feeling that I was in the crosshairs, which was a pretty constant feeling in the old job.


There is, of course, a great satisfaction in gainful employment, especially in an area in which one is experiences, which one likes, and which one can do reasonably well (specifically, communication: Publications and website, mostly). But there is a deeper satisfaction, it develops, in being in a setting in which one's contribution seems to be valued, where one's co-workers appear to respect and appreciate whatever expertise and experience one may bring to the table--even though one is still a virtual stranger to them. I'm only four days into the job, yes, but I have gotten the feeling from every single one of my colleagues--the top guns as well as my fellow staffers--that they are glad to have me on board and appreciate my contribution.


I felt that occasionally, and from certain individuals, in my previous assignment, but for the most part I felt that my role was viewed as merely another interchangeable cog in the machine, just some quasi-anonymous someone pulling one of the oars. That feeling was driven home rather keenly when I was informed that my reward for nearly a decade of loyal service would be the privilege of being the first to be thrown overboard when revenue grew tight. Nothing personal, of course, but we've decided we can get along nicely without your invaluable contribution. This way to the plank...


So it is refreshing--and, I must say, surprising--to feel that my work actually counts for something, actually has value in the eyes of someone other than myself alone, and to have that sentiment expressed in attitudes and demeanor rather than in platitudes that ring hollow since they come while one is simultaneously being given the bum's rush.


Yes, I realize that I am still in that golden "honeymoon" phase. But that hardly diminishes the pleasantness of it all.


Work should be about more than just a paycheck. This feels like work that could be that. Time will tell.


In the meantime, I'm very glad that my phone rang. Glad I answered it. And glad that, despite my recent sour experience, I did not dismiss the current opportunity out of hand.



Monday, September 06, 2010

Email: A Love-Hate Relationship?

I just got through glancing at yet another article that purports to tell me how to Get More Stuff Done, and which, as seems to be de rigueur these days, includes the advice to check e-mail only once a day.


Without question, e-mail can be a huge time-sink, but I am surprised by the number of people who still treat it as some sort of outside influence, a thief whose only purpose is to steal time. One may also waste a great deal of time on the telephone—in fact, it’s my opinion that e-mail is a more efficient way of communicating that telephone, in most instances— but I have yet to see anyone advise that telephone messages should be returned only once per day. It would be bad advice indeed to say that one should begin his or her workday by returning any messages that may be found in voicemail and then unplug the phone for the duration of the day. Seems pretty unlikely that customers, clients, co-workers, or employers would appreciate much all of the time I’m “saving” by having only one set time during the day in which I “do” telephone.


Why would anyone think that e-mail is any different?


The beauty of e-mail, in my experience, is that I can e-mail you when it’s convenient for me and you can reply when it’s convenient for you. There’s no pas de deux in which we play telephone tag while trying, perhaps in vain, to connect in real time. Talk about time-wasters!


Naturally, there’s a lot of junk and distraction to be found in e-mail, but anyone with a lick of sense quickly learns how to filter that out as he or she scans the inbox list, deleting that which clearly is unworthy and leaving for later that which may be interesting or noteworthy, but not important at the moment.


And anyone without a lick of sense will find other distractions to waste time with.


The other efficiency that e-mail offers is to allow both the sender and recipient to get to the point! For instance, I returned to my home office the other week to a phone message from an acquaintance. His message basically told me who he was and that he wished to talk to me, and his office number. No idea what he wanted to talk about, so no way to prepare for the conversation, if preparation was indicated. I returned his call and left a message; he called back and we connected. We discussed the reason for his call, and set up a time to meet. All of which could have been handled in two e-mail messages.


But that requires that one monitors his or her e-mail just as one monitors his or her phone messages. I would never return from lunch, or a meeting, or any other adventure away from my desk without checking for messages; why would I not do the same with my e-mail messages? The idea is absurd to me.


Yet I am aware of some people’s love-hate relationship with e-mail. Sometimes it has to do with a greater technophobia, but just as often it seems rooted in that attitude I referred to above, in which e-mail— perhaps the computer itself— is still viewed as some kind of “outsider” in the workplace. These people, I find, tend to put off “doing” e-mail for as long as possible, which only means that it is a bigger and more daunting chore when finally they undertake it.


Which is another reason I think the once-per-day “rule” is bad advice: It only means that the inbox will be teeming with messages the next time you check it. To visit it periodically throughout the day and weed out the debris is much more efficient.


Some time back I worked with a woman who, well, hated e-mail. It was a chore, a burden, a distraction. She viewed it as something that took her away from her work rather than a communication medium that was as much a part of her work as the telephone or a written letter. She tended to avoid “doing” e-mail, with the result indicated above: When she forced herself to look at it, she had literally hundreds of messages! Worse, many of the were messages that required action— yet another reason the once-per-day advocates are steering you wrong. Which made the process an even bigger chore, which meant she avoided it all the more, and on and on. The snowball effect.


I recall one day in which she complained— partly in jest, but of course partly in seriousness— that she had spent the entire morning “doing” e-mail. She had replied to one particular message, and then moved down the list...until she got a reply from the person she had just replied to! And she was a little put out by that. “Don’t people have anything better to do than e-mail all day?” she railed— again, only partly in jest.


To me, that attitude was and is bizarre. Would she have felt the same about a telephone exchange? Let’s say she came in to work and had voicemail from a person. She returns the call, gets his voicemail, and leaves a reply. Two minutes later the guy calls her back with a follow-up question or comment. Would she complain that people have nothing better to do than telephone all day? Seems unlikely.


It occurs to me as well that “wasting” time is largely in the eye of the beholder. What you may view as my waste of time may be to me a legitimate undertaking— indeed, even a time-saving undertaking, since we all know that there are many instances in which an investment in time is required now in the hope of streamlining a process later.


Almost everyone agrees that the best way to tackle a large chore is to break it down into smaller pieces than can be handled one at a time. Why, then, would anyone advise one to let e-mail pile up until it becomes a large and onerous chore? I suggest it’s because the would-be adviser has issues with e-mail; and my advice would be to ignore that advice!



Let It Be Said

I see that it's been a good while since I last pieced together a selection of the quotations I like to collect, which is kind of a bad thing in that I've been collecting even more than before since I've been following (and am being followed by) a bunch of folks on Twitter who are into quotations as well. So here's a small batch from my file, amassed from a variety of sources and covering a variety of subjects:


“The gov’t of the US is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. The United States of America should have a foundation free from the influence of clergy.” —George Washington

“The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.” –George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)
“I am neither bitter nor cynical but I do wish there was less immaturity in political thinking.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt

“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.” —Albert Einstein

“The public will believe anything, so long as it is not founded on truth.” —Edith Sitwell (1887–1964)

“Literature is the language of society, as speech is the language of man.” —Louis de Bonald, philosopher and politician (1754-1840)

“Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.” —Mark Twain

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” —Bertrand Russell

“I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.” —John Stuart Mill

“A conservative believes nothing should be done for the first time.” —Lynwood L. Giacomini

“The yearning to be heard is a yearning to escape our isolation and bridge the space that separates us.” —Michael P. Nichols

“An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.” —Arnold Glasow

“If cash comes with fame, come fame; if cash comes without fame, come cash.” —Jack London

“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” —Jack London

“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” —Mark Twain

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” –Blaise Pascal

“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.” —Oscar Wilde


Friday, August 27, 2010

Still Waiting for the "Smart" Part

Having had my BlackBerry Tour crash this afternoon, and then reboot with, oh, pretty much everything gone (last backup two months ago. Note to self: Do better at that), I am in the process of re-installing and re-creating the device. This requires me to input a certain amount of data, including ZIP Codes a couple of times and phone number at least once.

My "smart" phone doesn't seem to be smart enough to automatically insert numerals in fields that ask me for numeric information.

So I'm asked for my ZIP Code, which emerges as dzw0d. Actually not my ZIP Code, as it happens.

I know that apps can make that intuitive leap without my having to depress the alt key repeatedly, because I've seen 'em do it. So why don't all apps? I know there must be a reason, and I suspect they come down to time (lack of), energy (lack of), and interest (lack of).

A minor nuisance, but a nuisance nonetheless--and I've had quite enough nuisance the past couple-three days, thanks very much.



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

So Everybody Else Can Just Hang it Up for the Next 79 Years

Caught this review headline at the online edition of The Guardian:

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: the novel of the century

From the review itself, and other buzz, it sounds like Freedom will indeed be something to read.

But “novel of the century”?

Aren’t we still a bit early in the century for anyone to be pronouncing anything as the (fill in the blank) of the century? Not wanting to get into any heavy discussion of when a century actually begins and ends (but, for the record, the current century began January 1, 2001), is it not safe to say that we have something in the neighborhood of, I dunno, three-quarters of it left to go?

And if the “novel of the century” has already been written, well, crap, what are the rest of us supposed to do? Are there any runner-up positions? Is there a literary equivalent of Miss Congeniality? Is there a bronze medal? Pewter? Shiny plastic?

Perhaps I might content myself with writing the novel of the week. Top of the bestseller list among my family and friends. (Reynolds’s Maxim: You find out who your real friends are when they’re called upon to shell out twenty-five bucks for your latest book.)


Monday, August 23, 2010

One Product, One Vendor, Two Puzzling Ads

One of the disadvantages of having as many e-mail addresses as I have is that you tend to get a lot of duplicate mail, especially advertising.

But that can sometimes make for an interesting experience.

Witness ye this ad from Smith Micro Software, which arrived in one of my inboxes this past Friday, August 20:



Yes, I can purchase Roxio Easy VHS to DVD for just $49.99, ten dollars off the "regular" price of $59.99. In fact, I had contemplated purchasing that very product.

Now I'm not so sure.

Direct your attention, if you will, to this ad, which came to another of my multiple accounts this very afternoon:



Yes, if I respond to this offer, I can purchase Roxio Easy VHS to DVD for a mere twenty dollars more than in the other ad: $69.99...which Smith Micro still would have me believe is, yep, ten dollars off the "regular" price, which they now say is $79.99.

I have a couple-three mailboxes that I haven't checked today. If one or more of them contains a Smith Micro ad for Roxio Easy VHS to DVD, is it your guess that the "regular" price will be higher than the two "regular" prices indicated in these ads, or lower?

Doesn't exactly make a fellow want to whip out his credit card, does it?


Thursday, August 19, 2010

The One Thing Your Blog Must Do

I see a lot of postings, linked from Twitter and elsewhere, about the Five Things Your Blog Must Do or the Twelve Things Your Blog Must Contain or the Ninety-Eight-Point-Six Things that Every Blog Must Have. The ones I’ve read are not bad advice per se, but I find that every single one of them misses what I consider to be the sine qua non, the raison d’être, the single absolute imperative that simply must be reflected in your blog and in every post you make to it:

It’s Gotta
Make You Happy
.

That’s it. That’s the single thing that your blog must do.

It may do other things, too—inform, entertain, infuriate, I don’t care. But, again, whatever other things it might do all point back to the prime directive: It has to please you.

Everything I read on the subject of blogging is geared toward maximizing the number of readers—or, more correctly, hits. It’s all about traffic; it’s all about counting beans, or eyeballs. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that—and let’s not kid ourselves: visits to this little blog of mine typically number in the double digits, every so often in the low triples, and I’ve never made a dime from it, so if a big fan base and/or money is your blogging goal, we may well be talking past each other here. But I have always maintained, in the books and stories I have written as well as my various fledgling online excursions, that, well, it’s all about me. If I like what I’m doing, there’s a better than even chance that someone else will, too.

But if I don’t like what I’m doing—if I’m writing for The Market or The Demographic or The Least Common Denominator—I’m convinced that that always shows through and that the reader will pick up on the cynicism of it, sooner or later (probably sooner), at which point he or she will prove to have exactly the same low level of interest in the undertaking as you have, and move along.

The great John D. MacDonald once said, “My purpose is to entertain myself first and other people secondly.” In my previous house, I had that quotation pinned over my writing desk. I consider it the single most important piece of writing advice I’ve ever encountered.

I would rather be read by a smaller number of people who enjoy what I’m doing (for the most part: they can’t all be gems) because they know that I enjoy it.

But of course that’s just me, and I have never claimed to march to any well-known drum beat.

I recommend you find your own beat and march to that. Some will follow, some not. But I think you’ll find the march more enriching.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Credit Is Due. In More Ways than One.

Since I seldom hesitate to complain about the various slings and arrows that life shoves at us (actually, that's not true: I hesitate quite a bit. But then I usually plunge on), I try also to give equal time to praise-singing. The former, I find, comes pretty easily; the latter requires more volition.

(Aside: When I was in the advertising game 20-some years ago, we used to share with clients an important bit of information: The ordinary citizen, if pleased with goods, services, or experiences, will share that news with two people, on average. If displeased, he or she will share the news with an average of eleven people. Here endeth the aside.)

Last month, before the kids jetted off to Europe, we spent upwards of an hour at a local Verizon store trying to arrange things so that the kids could call us via our son's Blackberry, which has international capabilities or whatever they called it. So the people at Verizon, after a certain amount of confabbing among themselves as to the best way to make our wishes come true, decided that we needed to sign up for some Global Something-or-Other (which required the extraction of the SIM card from our son's phone--no easy feat) and give Verizon money, and then get set up with a Skype account, and give them money. The kids then would be able to call back here via Skype, which would be cheaper per minute.

I am here reminded of the line from Disney's adaptation of The Wind in the Willows: "There was only one thing wrong with Rat's plan: It didn't work."

Every time the kids tried the Skype trick, they were informed that international calls could not be placed with Skype on the Verizon network.

So yesterday I sent e-mail to Skype's customer service informing them that, like Rat's plan, Verizon's didn't work, and inquiring about getting a refund on the Skype Credits I'd purchased.

To my surprise, I had a nice reply yesterday evening already--Sunday, mind you--apologizing for my troubles and requesting some additional information. I sent off the info this morning and--again to my surprise--received in short order another nice note from someone at Skype, again apologizing for the inconvenience and informing me that my credit card would be credited the full amount.

I imagine it says something about the state of customer "service" these days that I find it remarkable that a company
    1. Does the right thing
    2. Does it right away
    3. Does it without having to be cajoled, threatened, or blackmailed
    4. Does it in a polite, even friendly fashion
but that's precisely my experience with Skype. In a word: Wow.

Not that I wouldn't have liked it better had the Skype trick worked. I've had a peek at the next cellphone bill. Not pretty. But worth it to be able to stay in touch with the travelers.

Perhaps needless to say, I'd be more than willing to give the Skype thing another go next time I want to be in touch with someone traveling abroad, or if I find myself in that situation. Certainly I'd recommend Skype. 

Indeed, it seems I just have.

Famous? Writers?

Via Twitter this morning I came upon a link--at Online University Reviews, which strikes me as an odd home for it--to "100 Famous Writers You Can Follow on Twitter." For some reason I was expecting a list of, you know, famous writers that I could follow on Twitter. Guys like Neil Gaiman, for instance, whom I have followed for some little time. Instead I got a list of more or less "famous" people, some of whom can legitimately be said to be writers, others who... Well, some of them aren't even people. Here's one:
    16. Threadless: "This a community of t-shirt designers who often write odd, yet inspiring messages on clothing. Follow them to read the latest shirts or find out how to add your own."
Hmm. Call me a snob, but Threadless hardly meets my definition of "famous writer." Likewise (snobbishly, maybe), I am perplexed that the section of "Famous Book Writers You Can Follow on Twitter" comes sixth on the list, after "Famous Political Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," "Famous Inspirational Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," "Famous Actor/Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," and "Famous Music Writers You Can Follow on Twitter." We're up to #48 on the list of "writers" before we get to book authors!

At least book authors manage to get in there ahead of "Famous Internet Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," "Famous Screenwriters You Can Follow on Twitter," "Famous Comic Book Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," and "Famous Gossip Writers You Can Follow on Twitter," to say nothing of the oddball category "Best Collection Of Writers To Follow On Twitter" (sorry, but neither "Fox News" nor "CNN" qualifies as "a writer").

To be fair, some of the other categories feature individuals who can properly be said to be book authors--Barack Obama, Al Gore, John McCain and others who appear in the "Political Writers" list, for instance. None of those three, by the way, strikes me as a "political writer," but the point probably is open to debate.

The list is especially shaky--and sketchy--when it comes to the "Actor/Writers" and "Music Writers" sections. For instance,
    27. David Henrie: This young actor is best known for his role on “The Wizards of Waverly Place.” He often responds to his fans tweets and lets them know what is going on with him.
Well, he sounds like a nice young man. The reason he appears on a list of famous writers, though, eludes me.

The list of "Music Writers" is especially off-point. Where one might expect a list of people who write about music, one instead gets a list of musicians and even bands. Not even writers of music, based on some of the descriptions:
    40. Ashlee Simpson Wentz: Married to the above and a recent mother, Ashlee is best known for her hit “Pieces of Me” and her controversial performance on “Saturday Night Live.” Get baby pics, love notes to her husband, and random thoughts.
I have plenty of random thoughts of my own, thanks. For instance: What makes Ashlee Simpson Wentz a "famous writer"? Singer, sure; actress, okay; celebrity, yep. But "famous writer"? Nope.

Let's be clear: I am not commenting on the legitimacy of different kinds of writing. Well, except to say that tweeting, which I have done a certain amount of, is not "writing." I don't view screenwriters or comic-book writers as better or worse than book authors. Alan Moore, who is on the list, is indeed a famous writer; his work just happens to be in the comic book/graphic novel medium. No, what I'm commenting on is the validity of the list, which is pretty low.

I'd rather see a list of famous writers who are in fact writers--not just celebrities on Twitter.

Shoot, I'd be equally happy with a list of non-famous writers.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Google News Has No Idea Where South Dakota Is

Which, granted, puts them in plentiful if not good company, but still:


Believe me, I am used to people assuming that South Dakota is in the south, but I have yet to encounter this strange assumption that it is in Africa...and northeastern Africa at that!

As a public service, I present this handy map that shows the location of South Dakota in relation to Sudan. However, I pulled the illustration from Google Maps, so who knows how much we can trust it.



HuffPo Goes Provocative

I'm no prude--shoot, my CV includes a novel called The Naked Eye--but I find deliberately suggestive come-ons such as this from the Huffington Post to be a little disingenuous:

Obviously, the "teaser" could have read Teri Hatcher Without Makeup just as easily...but that would have been less of a tease.

Nor am I entertaining in the least the notion that the line break after PICS: Teri Hatcher Naked is at all coincidental.

Interestingly, the item itself carries the far less innuendo-laden headline
Teri Hatcher Goes Makeup Free To Prove No Botox & No Surgery
.

Still, more than a little tacky.


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Boycott and Me

Here's a nice drawing of Charles Cunningham Boycott, which, Wikipedia assures me, is in the public domain:

I am in mind of Captain Boycott these days since his name is much in the news. Well, not so much his name as the activity that his name has come to represent: the boycott, of course, the idea of which gets flung up with astonishing regularity whenever someone is unhappy with someone or something.

Most recently, of course, it's Target that we're being called upon to boycott. A few weeks ago it was BP. And Arizona. Walmart is pretty well ensconced on the boycott list. I'm sure there are dozens of others at the moment that I'm unaware of.

Well, I've signed a couple of petitions calling on Target to quit supporting the right-wing Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposes gay marriage. I think corporations should stay out of elections, and I particularly think that corporations who don't--now that the Supreme Court has granted corporations "personhood" and allowed them to make unlimited contributions to buy elections--should be made to realize that some people are paying attention, and that we will make our decisions as consumers based in part on their decisions as corporations.

Certainly, news of the $150,000 Target contribution to Emmer's campaign has made me unenthusiastic about spending money at Target, which once was one of my favorite retailers. But boycott? Hmm.

In my youth, I was quick to boycott anything and anyone. Poor service? Boycott 'em! Lousy product? Boycott 'em! Odious social or political position? You guessed it.

Truth to tell, I never quite understood the difference between my self-righteous boycotts and simply no longer frequenting a restaurant or otherwise doing business with a given entity, but boycott sounds pretty damn impressive, I guess.

Now the problem I have with boycotts is trying to figure out who's really going to get hurt.

And I conclude that it's almost never the people whom I intend to hurt.

Let's take Target. It would be very easy for me to quit spending money there; in fact, my household's visits to Target had declined to practically nil until the corporation opened a store on "our" side of town a few months back. We've been frequenting it fairly often since then, but it would be pretty easy to drop back. They have nothing that we can't get elsewhere, and for probably about the same price.

Obviously no one at Target will notice one way or the other if I cut them off. Which is why we're all supposed to boycott them. And, to be sure, they would notice if significant numbers of Target shoppers stayed away in droves.

But what would be the most immediate effect? Upon noting a decline in sales, would the board of directors resign? Would the CEO be replaced? Would there be massive layoffs in the executive suite at Target Corp.?

Seems unlikely. Seems more likely that a bunch of minimum-wage clerks at various Target stores would be canned. Or, worst case, stores would be closed and they'd all get canned.

Not quite sure how my getting some high-school kid working part-time at Target thrown overboard translates into my bold and noble stand against the faceless corporation.

Ditto with BP. Early on, the call went up to boycott BP. Certainly my sentiments were in that direction, but there was the practical consideration: How the hell do I do that? In my environs, BP is represented by a local convenience store with a handful of locations around town. Easy enough to boycott them--not that they'd notice, since I seldom gas up there anyhow. But, again, the question is who's getting hurt? BP? Not much. The local store owner? Yeah, a little. What's his reaction apt to be? Dissociate from BP? Probably not. More likely that he will, yes, throw some part-time employee over the edge.

But I am still left with the fact that I am severely disappointed in Target, sorely ticked off at BP, and just generally leery of Walmart. What do I do?

As in every corner of existence, it's a question of balance. As is my wont with Walmart (I counted awhile back, and discovered that I have shopped at Walmart a grand total of five times in my life), I will think twice about parting with money at Target--and most of the time I imagine I will find an alternate route. But I don't know that "never" will be a big part of the vocabulary.

I would prefer that the bad publicity about their support of a candidate who expressly opposes fundamental rights for gay people will cause someone at Target HQ to wise up. It could happen--even if experience indicates that the more likely response is to dig in heels and weather the storm.

And then of course you always have the chip-on-shoulder contingent, which always can be counted on to say something bright like, "I don't like gays so I'm gonna shop at Target all the time now." Those people I'd like to find a way to boycott.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Back to the Bat Cave!


Looking back, I see that it's just over a year since my last encounter with Myotis lucifugus, aka the little brown bat, which, Wikipedia assures me, is "one of the most common bats of North America." Certainly it's getting to be pretty common around our house. This is our third confirmed encounter with M. lucifugus; we likely had a member of the species in the attic a few years ago, but left the attic door closed in the hope--apparently realized--that whatever was up there would find his way back out again. (See last year's adventure, "Waking with the...Bats?")

Today's encounter was strange, and mysterious. As befits bats, I suppose. My wife came upstairs as I was working late this afternoon to inform me that she had done a load of laundry and that as the water drained from the laundry sink (it's an old house, 90-some years old, and the basement floor drain is too small to handle the output of a draining washing machine, so we have the washing machine drain into a laundry sink whence gravity takes it away at a pace that prevents backing up into the laundry room) she could see "someone" in the water--someone small, with round little ears, who may or may not still be among the living.

I investigated, and found a waterlogged little bat in the corner of the near-empty sink.

As previously expressed, I actually find the critters kind of cute. Outside. After all, that's where they best can do their insect-devouring thing, which I appreciate. So I scooped this little guy up into a small box that my wife provided, the better to take him out to a shady corner of the yard, where he either would recover from his ordeal or, you know, not. He did scrabble around a bit in the box as I headed outside, so he had some life in him at least. And he nudged himself around a little when I tipped him out under some leafy bushes, so perhaps all is not lost for the little guy. I did my Francis of Assisi bit; the rest is up to him.

Having left my Blackberry on the desk upstairs, I was unable to grab a picture of the small intruder. So I'll recycle the one I found online when I last wrote about the critters:




We are left with the small mystery of what the little bloke was doing in the basement. Previous episodes saw them gaining entry through the attic, which is logical. Last year's encounter, in our first-floor bedroom, seemed likely to have been facilitated by an ill-fitting window screen. But the basement. To be sure, the little brown bat is pretty darn little and can slip through an impossibly tiny-looking crack, so maybe this adventurous fellow wormed into the basement and couldn't find his way back out again. Or maybe he came in via the chimney. Or the furnace exhaust pipe. It's possible that he made his way from the attic to the basement, but I suspect we--the human beings who occupy the house, or the felines--would have been aware of his travels in that case.

And yet, who knows? All kinds of stuff can go on in your own house while you're sound asleep.

However  he may have ended up there, I suspect that he was in the sink and not in the washing machine. For one thing, if he had somehow managed to get into the washing machine, I imagine the various wash-rinse-spin cycles would probably have done him in. And, tiny as he is, I think he might still have been too big for the drain outlet. So I'm guessing he either was in the sink and got caught in the deluge or, since my wife did not notice him there as she was loading the machine, he might have climbed up into the curved pipe that carries water from the washing machine to the sink, in which case he'd've been rudely flushed out of the pipe as soon as the machine started to drain, and obviously unable to fly or climb away.

Poor guy. I hope he lives. Mostly so he can tell his fellow bats to stay the heck out of the house!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Limits of Good Advice

Readers of these virtual pages know that I am fond of quotations. I collect same, and share them with others (see here and here for proof); lately I observe that many of the tweets I receive on Twitter are quotations, too. (Sometimes the same ones, posted over and over again by the same people. Come on, guys. Just because there are tools to automate your tweets doesn't mean you have to use them.)

To be sure, not every quotation is worth sharing. I get an awful lot of them that seem to me more suited to a greeting card than anything else. And I get an awful lot that don't quite hang together. Here, for instance, is one that I grabbed off of Twitter a few minutes ago:

    Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. —Harold R. McAlindon

A little research indicates that this quotation also has been attributed to Emerson, among others.

Regardless of its ownership, it strikes me as a quotation that sounds better than it really is. I mean, yes, of course, the blaze-your-own-trail angle is much beloved by quotation-crafters, and with good reason. And yet, if you look at the McAlindon quotation closely, you see where it unravels: Quite simply, if everyone followed the advice, it wouldn't matter how many trails you left because no one would be following any established trails.

The moral of the story, if there is one: The world needs followers, too.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bringing Grandpa Back to Life

Ha-ha, not really, of course. I mean, I'm good, but there are limits. I think.

Some weeks ago I came upon an old (circa 1954) snapshot of my paternal grandfather, Paul B. Reynolds. Since it was in an envelope with a letter he had sent to my dad stationed in Japan just after the Korean conflict, and since said letter reposed with scores of others in a box beneath Dad's workbench, where it probably had resided for the past 40 or 50 years, I was surprised at how faded and yellowed the snapshot was:



Clear enough for me to make out that it's the old gent, gone now nearly 23 years, and I know that it was taken at the gas station he owned on Saddle Creek Road in Omaha, Nebraska (Paul's "66" Service, which he subsequently sold, opening a small-engine shop on Center Street in the early 1960s), but not a very satisfying family relic. It may be that Dad had had it on display in a sunny location at Camp Eta Jima before putting it back in its envelope. Or it may just be that the chemicals are breaking down after half a century, without any help from the sun. In any event, I wished it could be better, and I wanted to share it with my brother. So I scanned it and slung it into Photoshop, and after a little bit of digital jiggery-poke here's what I walked away with:


A bit improved, I think, and far less likely to disintegrate before my eyes. Not a lot of detail, especially in the face, but despite what you see on the various crime and spy shows on TV, you really can't conjure up details that aren't in the original.

In my memory, my grandfather is always wearing either dark-green tweed work clothes like those he wears in this photo, or similar beige work duds. But never a cap like the one he's holding. Just the beat up old pith helmet he used to wear when he was working in his yard, but that's another story for another day.

I Write Like...

Well, this was eye-opening.

In a roundabout fashion (from Twitter to the LA Times and then to the site in question) I came upon the website I Write Like, which invites one to enter a few paragraphs of writing, which then are analyzed and from which a proclamation is made.

I pasted in the first three paragraphs of my sixth novel, Drive-By, and was rewarded with this:



I write like
Stephen King
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


Interesting, since I've read very little of King's work. I don't dislike him, I've just never gotten into him much. I picked up The Shining ages ago when it was all the rage, and never finished it. It just didn't grab me.

Hope that doesn't mean I'm not interested in my own work...

Just for kicks, I copied four paragraphs from the beginning of a later chapter in Drive-By (chapter 31, if you must know), ran them through I Write Like, and got this bit of information:



I write like
Dan Brown
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


Also very intriguing, since I have read less of Brown's stuff than I have of King's! Evidently I write like writers I've never really read, which should defuse any potential plagiarism suits.

Just for kicks (as if the exercise had any other point) I grabbed another selection from the midpoint of the same book (chapter 22) and ran it through the grinder. Dan Brown again.

I might have to start reading this guy.

Maybe I can figure out why his stuff sells in the bazillions while mine sells in the thousands.