Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Creep on the Christmas Ukulele

The more I think about the story behind the video at the end of this post, the longer it gets. I'll try to relate the shortened version here:

When I first joined Twitter, over 2,700 tweets ago, I, like practically everyone else, wasn't sure whom I wanted to follow. One of my favorite authors is Neil Gaiman, and he has been recognized numerous times as a mover and shaker on Twitter, and someone worth following. So I did.

It didn't take long, then, for me to discover his fiancée, Amanda Palmer, a quirky, eccentric performer who is as active on YouTube as she is on Twitter, which is a lot. While I was nosing around on YouTube, I found a video of her performing Radiohead's "Creep" on a ukulele. (There are actually quite a number of them out there, but this is one of the best.) I loved it. I love the song, and I loved the idea of covering it on ukulele.

Closer to home, my father took up luthiery as a hobby some time ago. At some point, I mentioned that I'd love to have a ukulele. Lo and behold, on Christmas Eve, we exchanged our gifts, and out of one box I pulled this ukulele, hand-made by my father:

It seems fitting, then, that the song that made me want to find a ukulele and learn how to play it ought to be the first song I learned. So here it is: My rendition of Radiohead's "Creep" (the PG version) on ukulele, a la Amanda Palmer:

Thanks, Dad.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Annual Festivus Airing of Grievances

Today is Festivus. Part of the joy of Festivus is the Airing of Grievances. I did my airing today one grievance at a time on Twitter, but it seemed like a good idea to record them here. Maybe next year I’ll be able to avoid some of these.

So here are the things that cause me or have caused me grief, as seen on Twitter:
  • People who will wait 10 minutes in the Taco Bell drive-through but complain about the cost of gas.
  • “Unnecessary” “quotation” “marks”
  • People who misuse comprise to try to sound smarter.
  • Tandem mountain bikes
  • I blame John McCain for Sarah Palin.
  • Movies made from 1980s TV shows
  • People who use SMS shorthand when they’re bloody speaking
  • No one recognizes my genius except my mother
  • Justin Bieber will make more money this year than I’ve made in the last 36.
  • People born into wealthy families who wrote books about how to become rich.
  • @BrnzBarbie wrote: People that think “conversate” is a real word annoy me. To which I added And “orientate.”
  • When people say “people that” instead of “people who”
  • It’s almost 2011! Weren’t we promised flying cars by now? Where are the flying cars?!
  • Still haven’t gotten my birthday presents from Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates.
  • Indiana went back to being a red state.
  • Stupid gravity made my grandma fall down.
  • Still haven’t finished my naNoWrimo novel.
  • That beautiful woman would rather stay married to her handsome, rich, stupid husband than go out with me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Loss of Passion -- a Followup

Back in December of 2006, I published this post about how I felt totally unmotivated and lacking in passion. Some anonymous commenter who is suffering the same problem asked me to post an update, hopefully with some advice on overcoming this lack of passion.

I wish I had some real advice to give. Most advice is so general and hypothetical that it's utterly useless. For example, this morning at work, a friend outlined a process to get out of a bout of negativity (she was talking about her own mother at the time). The process was simple: when you feel negative thoughts coming on, stop yourself and whatever you're doing and think of one little thing that makes you smile.

She said it worked for her in the past. More power to her, but I had to bite my tongue to keep from lashing sarcastic at this idea.

Negativity -- or depression, which is really what we're talking about here -- isn't like hiccups. It isn't like a bug bite. It isn't something that starts at a specific point and interrupts the "normal flow" of things. You can't hold your breath until it stops, or rub it until the pain subsides.

It isn't a feeling, it's a sense of being. It's like the fish that someone heated up in the office microwave: You can wave your hand in front of your face or even hold your nose so that you don't smell it, but the odor is still there, and now what you're doing to avoid that odor is getting in the way of what you really need to do.

Depression is also, I've found, like writing a novel. Everyone has to find his own way to get through it, to find the motivation to work away at it day after day. To some people, it's just a matter of setting aside some time to oneself to focus. Others really need a support group just to get started. Still others see it as an insurmountable task and never even try.

This is really a bad time for me to write this particular post. I'm in a hole right now. A couple of them. Right now, the clock reads 1:53 a.m. I can't sleep. My checking account is currently over $400 in the red, and I don't get paid for three more days. My food supply is dwindling, and what food I have doesn't lean toward the healthy side. Fresh fruits and veggies? Try Ramen noodles. Which I know isn't good for my already high cholesterol and my too high and getting higher weight, but what choices do I have? I have no clean pants, and no quarters to do a load of laundry. And little extra time to do it.

I'm behind at work, too. I have enough to keep me busy for the next three weeks. Of course, three more weeks' worth of work will come in during that time, too. And I get little satisfaction from it anymore.

On top of it all, I've been feeling lonelier than usual. My ex took our two boys out of school for a week (which I admit isn't the greatest idea, but what can I really do about it?) to spend 10 days in Florida, hopping from one theme park to the next. I haven't seen them in almost a week, and I miss them more than I thought I would.

I honestly don't think I've been touched -- not so much as a handshake or even just someone brushing up against me -- since Friday, five days ago. That isn't good for the soul or the ego. Nothing seems to be going my way, and I see little change and few prospects in the near future.

I know I'm just feeling sorry for myself. It's very easy. (If you're reading this, please don't leave your own sob story in the comments, letting me know how much worse you've got it. I don't need to add guilt on top of everything else.)

There have been some brighter points, though. Of late, I've taken to writing sonnets in my spare time -- or in meetings at work. I do get a brief rush of satisfaction and pride when I click that Publish Post button the sends a new poem up to my other blog. As always, it's the act of creation that gives me a sense of self in this world. And there are always people to "talk to" on Twitter.

I did have a young lady over last Friday -- all afternoon and most of the evening -- to help me with the visual presentation I'm doing for the IWS concert this Saturday. After we hit a stopping point, she stayed and kept me company for a while. It was nice, but it really emphasized how lonely it was when I was by myself on Saturday. How's that for instant karma?

Still, it gave me some hope that I wasn't a total outcast. That someone out there actually knew I existed and thought I had some worth.

And I think that is the first breeze that will get you over these oppressive doldrums: Hope. If you have some hope, if you have something to look forward to, to strive for, it gives you focus. Hope isn't always easy to find, though. Sometimes it's downright difficult. Like now.

I'm done whining. I'm going to try to get some sleep now, knowing full well that I'll be dragging myself around all day tomorrow, zombified. Maybe next week I'll have something more helpful and more inspiring to write or write about. Baby steps.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

An Eventful Evening for the IWS

Or at least for me.

I had announced way back in February my plans to step down as the president of the Indiana Wind Symphony at the end of the season. The end of our regular season came and went with our May concert, and I didn't relinquish my post. The summer season started, and we made a big push to expand the size of the board, and I still remained at its head. The summer season ended, we had built the board up to 12 people (probably the largest it had ever been), and I still hadn't stepped down.

But last night, September 29, 2010, I made it official and abdicated my post.

I couldn't remember how long ago I had been voted in, so I looked back and found this post from September 20, 2006, noting the beginning of my term. Completely by accident, my tenure as president of the IWS had lasted just over the "presidential standard" of four years. It couldn't have worked out more mathematically.

I had decided to step down last February basically because I was getting tired. My responsibilities with the IWS have grown over the years -- creating the concert programs, building visual presentations for three or four concerts a season, running the board meetings, reporting to the band . . . oh, and playing. (It is, after all, a band.) It was getting to be too much. I was forgetting things, and not giving enough focus to any single project.

Most of those responsibilities involved a lot of creativity, which I love -- and didn't want to give up. After a little reflection, I realized that all the noncreative responsibilities were linked to my position as president. So the decision to give that up wasn't all that difficult. In theory.

But actually giving up the position didn't turn out to be so simple. We didn't really have anyone else on the board who was a strong leader and who I thought could be as dedicated to the position as I would want.

Or at least that's the excuse I told myself.

In truth, I had established a certain sense of comfort and regularity. I had just gotten used to my position. And I'm sure there was a certain sense of power there that was, well, addicting. Addicting like salt, not like meth. It does feel good to have people defer to you, to accept your opinion as an "official decision."

So I was essentially split: a part of me looked forward to surrendering those headaches and travails, and the other part didn't want to rock the boat that I had gotten so comfortable floating around in.

But some big changes are coming to the IWS this year. The biggest by far is that we're trying to hire a director of development -- the band's first paid position. That employee will report directly to the IWS president, adding a new managerial element to the position.

I have all of zero management experience. And I don't want any. We do have a few people on the board with managerial background, who can certainly do that part of the job better than I could. With the evolution of the president's position into areas I was uncomfortable with, and with an expanded board with new and useful skill sets, it became much easier for me to give up the post.

And so now I have.

And I miss it already. But I'll get over it.

And I'll still have plenty of things to do with and for the band -- but now I can focus on them better. Starting first with talking to a marketing rep from WIBC. Keep your ear on the radio and listen for us!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Voting for a New IWS Logo

This is for members of the Indiana Wind Symphony only — I'm using this blog because it's easily available...

Here are the finalists for a new logo base on the feedback I've received for the two dozen or so logos I posted on Flickr. Please vote for the one you like best below.

Logo 1 -- Indiana Flag Theme


Logo 2 -- Phoenix Sans font


Logo 3 -- Cygnet Round font


Don't change the logo

[Update 7/29/2010: I'm going to call the voting now because we need to get the season brochure to the printer. The vote is evenly split between the Indiana Flag theme (#1) and the Phoenix Sans logo (#2). The third logo is a lot like the second, so I think it's safe to assume that, if we had a runoff between the first two, the majority of those who voted for #3 would vote for #2. I'm going to use that as a tie-breaker and call the Phoenix Sans logo the winner -- and the new logo of the Indiana Wind Symphony! Andy]

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Mammoth Vacation, Day 2

On Tuesday, we were up with the sun. We were visited in the morning by three young deer out getting their breakfast in the morning mist. Simply idyllic.

After a late hearty breakfast at the old traveler's standby — The Cracker Barrel — we went to a place called Guntown Mountain. The brochures called Guntown Mountain an Old West–themed amusement park set on the top of a hill; you reach it by chairlift.

I'm not going to include a link to their Web site (which hasn't been updated in a while anyway) because I don't want to encourage anyone to go there. It might once have been an amusement park, but it isn't anymore. I learned later from a conversation with the lady, womanning...the camp store that Guntown Mountan used to have some carnival rides, but they're gone now.
What they are now is a troupe of about two dozen employees putting on a series of Old West–style shows.

The chairlift ride was pleasant and relaxing — the best part of the park, in fact. When we got to the top, we found a ghost town. In one sense, it was a fake ghost town, but in another it was real: the place looked deserted. Apart from the bitter man who helped us off the chairlift and the gap-toothed man in the information booth, we seemed to have the place to ourselves.

We walked to the end of the street (about 100 yards) and found their "Animal Farm" — goats, piglets, peacocks, roosters, a fuzzy black bunny, and a pony that, judging from the warning signs and the electrified fence, had no problem biting the hand that fed it. Or that didn't. We took a look at them all, got a picture with a ram, and then headed back.

We wandered into the "saloon" and discovered where all the people were. There was a can-can show, with some stilted comedy acts in between, on a small stage in front of maybe three dozen people sitting on iron seats around iron parlor tables. The boys were already whining that there wasn't anything fun. I couldn't blame them, but I wanted to do my best to get my money's worth, so we stayed (in the air conditioning, I might add) to watch the end of the act.

After the can-can show, they announced that the country music show would be starting in about 20 minutes in the "Opera House" across the street. To pass the time, we peeked in the "shops" along the street: a bank, a sheriff's office (where you could spend a minute in jail for $1), a general store, and a trader's shop (where an old Indian sat with his oxygen tank peddling dream catchers made from cheap, brightly colored plastic beads and fishing line). By that time, all the other guests had filed out of the saloon. A couple of kids were feeding the piglets from baby bottles (for only 50 cents for about two ounces of liquid), but most people were sitting in the shade of the overhanging roof of the saloon, waiting for the next show to begin.

And that's what Guntown Mountain really is. It isn't an amusement park, it's a series of shows. The people who pay to get in go to one show and then sit around while the same dozen performers change clothes and locations and put on the next show. And they weren't even good shows — I suppose they were about what you'd expect from a non-animatronic amusement park show. The country music show sang five or six covers, including an ironic country-western version of "Old-Time Rock 'n' Roll." My boys were not happy, and the "Opera House" smelled funny.

According to the schedule, a "live-action gunfight" was coming up next. When the country show ended, the customers once again gathered in the shade of the eaves and waited for the next thing to happen. The boys were still whining, but I wasn't going to leave this supposed Old West experience without seeing a gunfight.

Which was ridiculous. Unbelieveably so. They played a recording of a Johnny Cash-sounding narrator who explained what was going on in the street over the sounds of movie-western background music. And the CD skipped.

This is a prime example of ridiculosity of this place. They couldn't get (or simply didn't think to get) a live person to read a script into a microphone against some background music. Instead, they used a CD recording of a narrator that skipped. And the "gunfight" itself wasn't an OK Corral–type fight between a group of lawmen and a band of black hats; it was the story of two brothers who robbed a bank, and one got away. The one who got away returned the day his brother was to be hanged, but they both ended up being killed. It was about a 10-minute show with 10 second worth of gunplay.

The only thing more ridiculous than this sorry, rundown tourist trap is that I paid money to get into it.

We left after the gunfight.

At the base of the entrance to Guntown Mountain (and, I hope, unaffiliated with it), is a junk/antique store. This place had a few antiques and a lot of junk. an amazing amount of junk that people could find one reason or another to buy. It was practically a museum itself. Here, you could find old Japanese slot machines, rusty manual farm equipment, pocket knives of all shapes and sizes, homemade bird houses, Coca-Cola memorabilia, and Navajo blankets. It was like wandering through a museum.

That afternoon, we went on the Historic Tour of Mammoth Cave. I won't bother you with the history that we learned along the way; you can get that from their Web site. Suffice it to say that this was a pleasant, cool, 2½-hour walk with entirely too many people on it. The sheer numbers of people didn't inhibit enjoyment of the aactual hike (it was a more like hiking than spelunking), but those few times we did stop to hear about some of the history, we had to wait for five to ten minutes for the people at the back of the pack to catch up, which gave the boys time to complain.

The Historic Tour was great; I'd recommend it for people who like to hike. It was a little jarring, though, when at about two-thirds of the way through, we passed lighted, fully functional restrooms that had been carved out of the rock. For that moment, the whole thing seemed as fake as Guntown Mountain.

We were pretty tired by then, so we returned to the campsite and got a good fire going so we could roast hot dogs for dinner and then play a few board games. The deer came back around sunset, too, to see what was going on.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Mammoth Vacation, Day 1

I got to spend last week with my boys, just the three of us. This year, we went on a camping excursion to Mammoth Cave National Park.

It wouldn't be a vacation with me if I didn't forget something. This year, it was my camera. I'm not a huge shutterbug, but I do like to snap a few shots every now and then to mark the occasion. I was forced to purchase a single-use camera at the camp store. A single use film camera. I hadn't realized it had been so long since I'd used a film camera, and I had forgotten the joy and, for some reason, anxiety that comes along with spinning that little clicking knob after taking a shot. I missed my digitial camera.

As I said, I'm not a huge shutterbug, so I didn't get many pictures — not enough to fill the camera. Eventually, I'll fill the camera, get some digital prints, and post some of them here. But for now, this'll be mostly unillustrated.

So anyway, we left Monday morning after breakfast. We lunched in Seymour and had a quick rest stop just south of Louisville. As we journeyed deeper into Kentucky, we combed over the handful of tourist brochures I had snagged at the rest stop. The Mammoth Cave schedule said that there was something called a "River Styx Tour" at 3:30. Both the boys have been reading Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, so Greek mythology is at the forefront of their minds. It looked like the gods of time might be with us, and we could make it there just in time to get on the tour.

We pulled into a parking spot just a few minutes after 3:30 and rushed into the visitors' center, where two things happened in quick succession. First, we learned that Kentucky is on Central Time, so it was actually just after 2:30 there. A whole hour before the tour started! (Time zones have never made a great deal of sense to me, and this makes it even worse.) Second, a quick trip through the ticket line revealed that the River Styx Tour was completely sold out.

Through Sunday.

So let this be a lesson if you're planning a visit to Mammoth Cave during peak vacation season: Buy your tickets early online. I, for one, am not a big planner when it comes to vacations, but I do hear that there are some people who schedule every waking second of a vacation. I assume that the River Styx tour that we missed included quite a few of this latter type of vacationer.

But no matter. I got us three tickets to the Discovery tour, the only self-guided cave tour. We checked in with the ranger, got ourselves a camp site, and set up the tent before returning to the mouth of the cave.

A snapshot of our camp site will eventually go here.

The neatest thing about Mammoth Cave in the summer — and caving in general — is the natural air conditioning underground. It was in the mid-nineties above ground, a steady mid-fifties below. A wonderful summer respite.

The Discovery Tour doesn't go very deeply into the cave, sticking to wider areas of the caverns. What's more, it's the starting and ending points of some of the longer, guided tours. The moral: Don't buy tickets for the Discovery Tour if you're going to buy tickets to one of the other tours that goes through there.

For my younger son, this was a first experience with caves. He was rather nervous, as I probably was the first time I went into a cave. My elder son, though, is now a Boy Scout. He's been dirty-kneed, head-lamped spelunking a couple times before, so this cool, dark, open space was a little tame for him. I was just happy to be out of the heat and finally having some vacation-time fun with my boys.

One of the other things that we found in our brochures was Lost River Cave. I had gone to Mammoth Cave on a family trip when I was younger. I remember that Mammoth Cave Nat'l Park had offered underground boat tours, but at the time, the water level was too high and the boat tour was closed.

Mammoth Cave doesn't offer boat tours anymore, so we hopped in the vacation-mobile and shot down to nearby Bowling Green, where we just managed to get tickets to the final boat tour of the day.

Vacationers: If you're looking for a souvenir or gift to take back with you, the gift shop at the Lost River Cave is a great place to go. They do have some kitschy stuff, but they also have some really wonderful keepsakes at prices you don't usually see in a gift shop. I was tempted to spend a lot of money here.

The boat tour itself was pretty cool, and at least one of my boys thought it was the best part of the vacation. For an adult, the history behind the cave is as interesting as the tour itself. You can find out more on their Web site, but the really interesting part doesn't start until the "Gibraltar of the Confederacy" section.

While we were on this tour, we found out why Mammoth Cave doesn't offer boat tours anymore. It seems that a rare species of blind cave shrimp was discovered in those caves. To protect the species, boat tours were discontinued. All of Mammoth Cave's boats were then sold to the Lost River Cave people, who now use them.

After that, it was a late dinner at The Olive Garden (love their new dishes, hate their new prices), firebuilding at the campsite, s'mores, and sleep. Well-earned sleep.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Dangers of Theocracy

Warning: The following post is of a political and religious nature. The only talk about cute ducklings, my genius sons, the joy of music, and my love of language occur here in this warning, and are therefore already past.

Last week, I read from a few sources about Sarah Palin calling for a "return" to a government based on the ten commandments, which are of course just gateway rules to full-on theocracy based on someone's interpretation of the words of the Bible. So many Christians and ultra-conservatives (which are not mutually exclusive groups) believe that such a shift in government can be only a good thing, because Christians are holy and just and all those good things. What could go wrong?

A story I found this morning from Mail Online gives us some hint about what a theocracy can be like. According to the story, a 23-year-old woman asked for a ride from a man. That man, instead of taking her where she needed to go, took her to another house, where she was gang raped by that guy and four others. That rape was followed by an unwanted pregnancy. The woman tried to get an abortion but wasn't allowed.

When authorities eventually heard the whole story, what was the result? The woman was convicted of adultery (even though she wasn't married) and sentenced to a year in prison. After her rape baby is born, she will receive 100 lashes — and I ain't talkin' about no Revlon lashes here. The fate of the five rapists? Apparently, no one really cares about them.

This case comes from Saudi Arabia, which adheres to what Mail Online refers to as "a strict form of medieval law," which is based on the tenets of Islam.

But there can be no connection between this Saudi corruption of justice and a Christian USA, right? Perhaps, but it really depends on whose interpretation of Christian dogma and scripture holds in the White House, the Supreme Court, and Congress. There are certainly some hard-liners who oppose abortion in any cases, even in a case of rape, so, in a Christian America, this woman could face the judge for attempting an abortion.

If a Defense lawyer — or worse, the judge — wants to adhere to the writings of the Old Testament, the results could be much worse:
If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her. Deut. 22:28–29
A strict interpretation of this passage would result not in a rapist put behind bars, but in a woman being forced to marry (and never be able to divorce) one of the men who raped her. Still, it could be worse:
If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. Deut. 22:23–24
So, unmarried rape victims must marry their rapists and never get divorced. Married rape victims are put to death. That's some good ole godly justice for ya.

But, you say, these are taken from the Old Testament, and Christianity is all about the New Testament. True, but does that mean that Christians ignore the Old Testament? Of course not. Creationists wallow in the words of Genesis. Women look to Old Testament scripture for guidance from strong Biblical women — because there aren't many in the New Testament. Christians find their morality lessons in the Old Testament stories of Job, of Lot, and of Noah. And don't forget, Mrs. Palin called for a return to the ten commandments, which are found in Exodus, the second book of the Old Testament.

So how would a Christian theocratic government choose which parts of the Old and New Testaments from which to draw legislation and legal decisions? Would we just leave it to our elected, Christian officials (and their ministers/pastors/priests) to make that decision? Would you feel safe with that? Would you feel that justice has a fair hand in that? Would you vote for that?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Yummy Mother's Day Meals

Saturday afternoon, I headed down to my parents' place for Mother's Day weekend. When we got there, my mom wanted to go down to Bloomington and check out the Bloomingfoods co-op. So we hopped in the car and headed south.

The result was two wonderful meals. For dinner on Saturday, we had this nice sampler spread. (I apologize for the quality of the photo.)
Here you have spinach gnocchi with (a bit too much) basil pesto, banana peppers stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto (the whole think was harder than I expected), and marinated sweet red peppers stuffed with goat cheese and spices (these are absolutely delicious!). On the second plate were three cheeses: A locally produced Gouda, a soft and nutty St. Jerome cheese, and the most amazing cheese ever: cocoa-rubbed goat cheese. I couldn't really taste the chocolate while eating the cheese, but it left a mocha-y aftertaste. Deeeeeeelicious.

For Sunday lunch, we sculpted this masterpiece:
Carrots, broccoli, onions, chicken, a little mayo, and dill weed wrapped in crescent roll dough and topped with an egg glaze and slivered almonds. It was a delicious cross between chicken pot pie and a calzone, and we ate it with fresh polenta and pesto-marinated mozzarella balls.

I haven't eaten this well in a long time. And it was otherwise a wonderful Mother's Day weekend.

And, seriously, those marinated sweet red peppers stuffed with goat cheese and spices were absolutely divine!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Free Reward! An Infinity of Hoops!

Thank you, Taco Bell, Dr. Pepper, and EA Games for wasting a good twenty minutes of my evening with your ridiculous offer of free stuff. Grrrrrrr.

It started innocently enough. I had lunch at Taco Bell on Friday and got one of their ecologically unfriendly plastic fountain drink cups. On that cup was a 12-character code that, according to the cup, I could enter at to get some "exclusive in-game content for [a handful of] EA Games and more!"

One of the games is Spore, one of my favorites. So I went to As expected, I had to create a user account there. After I did that, I had to answer four simple questions about my drink choice, and then I entered my code. Simple enough, and totally expected.

Clicking the button to continue took me to a page at, where I expected to download my freebie stuff. I was faced with a login page, and so I entered the user account info that I had just given at That was the wrong info.

I was at a new site. And I was expected to open a new user account at I rolled my eyes, but I am a big fan of Spore. So I took a couple minutes to enter my information and create a new password. After that, I was asked THE SAME FOUR QUESTIONS THAT I WAS ASKED BY TACO BELL.

Weird, yes, but not all too time-consuming. I forged ahead, entering my 12-digit code AGAIN at I was notified that I have a "reward" that I could redeem, and the only thing I had to do was LOG IN TO THE EA GAMES WEB SITE to retrieve it. And I didn't have a user account at EA Games.

I managed to hold back the deluge of four-letter words that were threatening to shoot from my mouth -- my two young sons are here, after all -- and I was ready to give up. I had already spent too much time and received nothing but the promise of more spam e-mail.

But my elder son is even more of a Spore fan than I am. And he has some adorable puppy-dog eyes.

So I created a new account at EA Games. I wasn't asked any questions about my drinking habits, and I didn't have to enter the 12-character code again, so I hoped I was actually getting somewhere.

Once I was logged into EA Games, I had to choose one of the games that offered some in-game content. I clicked on Spore, and I was getting a little excited -- the "prize" was a set of cybernetic body parts that I could use to build characters in my game. Totally Star Trek cool.

When I chose Spore, I was magically transported to the Spore Web site where -- guess what?! -- I was supposed to log in yet again. This time, though, I already had an account there, and I even remembered my password.

So I logged into the Spore Web site and got to the page with the longed-for link to the free awesome download. The link was right there! But the other text got in the way -- specifically, the text warned me of a known issue with a file path, followed by these instructions for working around that problem:

To fix this issue, please complete the following steps:
  1. Uninstall Spore and Spore Galactic Adventures
  2. Re-install Spore
  3. Re-install Spore Galactic Adventures
  4. Return to this page to install the Spore Bot Parts Pack.
So I jumped through the user account hoop. I jumped through the user account hoop. I even jumped through the user account hoop. The user account was a much easier hoop, so I just stepped through that one. And now I am expected to spend the next hour uninstalling and reinstalling two programs on my computer before installing my "exclusive in-game content."

I like Spore, and I would really like to have this Bot Parts Pack. But I like my time better. I can make much better use of my time than un- and re-installing software. Sitting here typing away about this travesty of a marketing campaign is a better way to spend my time than that.

I wish I could say that I was denying the perpetrators of this crap what they wanted, but unfortunately, the marketers at Taco Bell, Dr. Pepper, and EA Games have already gotten their rewards.

If any marketers are reading this, take this as a great example of how to piss off the very people you're trying to turn into customers. I will undergo this Sisyphean effort for nothing less than a new car. And it better not be a Daewoo.

And to the people at QDoba: You're now my favorite Mexican fast food restaurant. See you Monday.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Signs of Spring

Earlier this week, I found this undeniable sign that spring has arrived . . . on my patio.

I was a little worried that the duck that laid these eggs had abandoned them. But then, when I came home from work today, I found this:

So, good news. And Spring is definitely here. (I wish someone would tell the Canadian geese.)

I hope the heat stays away for a while, though, because it looks like I won't be running the air conditioner until the ducklings arrive.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ten Reasons I Hate People (7)

You can find a lot of people worth hating at (The Customer Is) Not Always Right.

This is a collection of all-too-believable interactions that employees have had with customers. Many of them are, as the banner advertises, stupid and funny. But buried (not too deeply) among the hilarity and stupidity are some of the core psychological problems that just scrape my scabs. It won't take you long to find interactions with people who believe that the world should fit itself to them; that anything that inconveniences them in any way is stupid and unnecessary at best and, at worst, is a violation of their rights.

I wish the sense of entitlement among some of these people (which I will now refer to as "self-centered douchebags") was unbelievable, but we see it every day — in TEA party rallies, in Congressional debates, in international politics, at stoplights, where people walk dogs, in the 12 items or less lane. They're everywhere.

Along with the sense of entitlement, these self-centered douchebags never seem to recognize the possibility, no matter how minute, that they could be wrong. And that's sometimes worse. These are the douchebags who rear-end you and then insist that you stopped too suddenly; the douchebags who buy a vacuum cleaner, use it for a month, and then return it for a full refund because it completely lost suction because they never cleaned the filters; the douchebags who "buy" a ginormous, flat-screen HDTV the day before the Super Bowl and then try to return it the day after and see nothing wrong with that.




Ten Reasons I Hate People (8)

Ten Reasons I Hate People (9)

Ten Reasons I Hate People (10)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sarah Palin, Language Victim

Sarah Palin has been victimized be language again.

The perpetrator is Rahm Emanuel, Obama's Chief of Staff. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, in a private weekly strategy meeting "featuring liberal groups and White House aides," some expressed their intention "to air ads attacking conservative Democrats who were balking at Mr. Obama's health-care overhaul."

Emanuel's response: "Fucking retarded." (It's unclear from the reporting whether he was speaking about the ideas or the people who had the ideas.)

Mrs. Palin has gone to Facebook to show her outrage that a public figure would use such a derogatory term, saying that retarded is a "slur on all God's children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them...," comparing it to a more well-known and more universally hated derogatory epithet: the dreaded "N-word."

What does Mrs. Palin want? "I would ask the president to show decency in this [internal discussion] process by eliminating one member of that inner circle, Mr. Rahm Emanuel, and not allow Rahm's continued indecent tactics to cloud efforts." Leaving the Chief of Staff out of discussions by the White House staff? Is Mrs. Palin expected Rahm to be fired?

Once again, Mrs. Palin overreacts to a situation she doesn't like, which leads me to the following gripes:

Gripe One: Who Called Whom What?

In her Facebook reaction to Rahm Emanuel's horrible misdeed, Mrs. Palin once again put her son Trig — who suffers from Down's Syndrome — on public display. She argues that Trig, and the thousands of people with cognitive and developmental disabilities, were denigrated by Mr. Emanuel's scornful soubriquet.

Rahm was speaking to and about some of the people in the meeting. Mrs. Palin, Rahm Emanuel did not call Trig retarded; you did. Why are you so vehement on turning your son into a victim?

Gripe Two: Sarah Palin Plays the Race Card?

Mrs. Palin compare's Mr. Emanuel's use of retarded to "the N-word." This is an unfair comparison. Retarded has a long history of legitimate use outside of the medical (and name-calling) field, and it is still used as such. Numerous situations exist in which I — or Rahm Emanuel — could use the word retarded and no one would bat an eye. Hell, the word retard is part of the California Health and Safety Code (Section 9636)!

On the other hand, situations in which the word nigger is acceptable are few and far between (such as in a discussion of derogatory terms). Nigger has no history outside of racial disparagement.

Yes, in recent decades the word has been claimed and owned by some African Americans and defused so that it is acceptable within their groups — in the same way that the homosexual community has claimed ownership of fag and dyke. But that's the opposite of what Mrs. Palin is apparently doing with retarded. Instead of defusing a term that can and has been used derogatorily, she has suffused it with more power.

I grew up with a cousin who was born with mental retardation. At the time, we used the phrase mentally retarded to describe his disability. In our family, he was retarded, and there was nothing derogatory about it. That was way back during the 1980s. If calling my cousin retarded was acceptable in the Christian family I grew up in, then comparing retarded to nigger is totally too far. At worst, retarded is comparable to person of color. Or Afro-American. Or homeboy.

And anyway, who dealt Mrs. Palin a race card?

Gripe Three: A Tribute to Eric Clapton

The knee-jerk reaction of right-wingers to any faux pas, simple error, or moment of temporary stupidity from a Democrat is to call for a resignation or termination.

As Eric Clapton sang, "Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself." Right-wingers' lack of "outrage" to the (sometimes extreme) shortcomings of fellow right-wingers is a clear sign that it isn't about Right or fairness or "protecting the children"; it's all about politics. Consider:

  • Pat Robertson claimed that the entire population of Haiti suffered from a horrible cataclysm because they made a deal with the devil. Yet the outrage that Mrs. Palin most assuredly felt at such unconscionable claims apparently didn't merit the public response that Rahm's gaff did.
  • When South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer compared people on government assistance programs — including children on reduced-price lunches and the hundreds of thousands of people who suddenly found themselves on unemployment comp in the last few years — to stray animals, Mrs. Palin did not feel compelled to call for him to withdraw from the race for South Carolina's governorship. Why not?
  • But the greatest example of hypocrisy — and the most ironic considering Mrs. Palin's attempt to play the race card — is that the GOP and southern conservatives (and yes, I recognize that Alaska isn't part of the South) are the ones who kept segregationist Strom Thurmond in Congress until he died of old age! Calling an African American a "nigger" is one thing; trying to keep African Americans out of the good schools, restaurants, theaters, etc. is something entirely different.

Gripe Four: What a Rush

I feel dirty that I fall on the same side of this controversy as Rush Limbaugh. Filthy. Ick!

Gripe Five: V for Victim

Sarah Palin didn't get a fair shake because of sexism. She was treated unfairly because she had an accent. She was unfairly mocked because her teenage daughter got pregnant out of wedlock. She was made fun of because someone overspent on her wardrobe.

At every turn, Sarah Palin is a victim of some new liberal attack. You might say she's made a career out of being a victim. And now she is steering her children toward a lifetime of being victims. Her younger daughter was a victim of David Letterman's unacceptable and unfunny "jokes." And now her poor son Trig is a victim of the potty-mouthed Chief of Staff of ultra-liberal, un-American President Obama.

It's time someone in that family reconsidered what it means to be strong and stopped being the victim.

Gripe Six: Members Only?

Who told? The real douchebag in all this isn't Sarah Palin or Rahm Emanuel, but the person who attended that private meeting and took it to the press. If the President needs to eliminate someone from these closed-door strategy meetings, is the one who opens those doors to let the press in.

How She Should Have Reacted

The reaction I would have loved to hear, which would have finally put a point on Mrs. Palin's "Sarah vs. The Liberals" scoreboard, would go something like this: "Rahm Emanuel's the one who's fucking retarded. My son Trig has enough of a sense of decency not to talk to people like that." But that would have been out of character, unfortunately. Too much for me to ask for.

So besides that, Mrs. Palin's response should have been to demand an apology from Mr. Emanuel.

But wait. He did apologize. Twice. First, in a private phone call to Tim Shriver, head of the Special Olympics. And then again to a group of disabilities advocates. (To be fair, the apologies probably started after Mrs. Palin's Facebook reaction.) I would hope that this would be enough, but the story is still growing like a foot fungus.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Worst Part of Fatherhood

During the last weekend of 2009, Gremlin the Younger, who had just turned seven, was complaining about a toothache. I peeked in that gaping maw and saw that his gums were a little red area, but not much else. When the next day rolled round, he wasn't complaining about pain anymore. After a while, we just sort of forgot about it.

This evening, I got a call from the Mom, and apparently the toothache is back. She took a gander in his gob and found some sort of red, infected-looking growth on his gums. We're going to try to get him into the dentist tomorrow, but in the meantime I've got the fatherhood flutters, imagining all sorts of horrible worst-case scenarios, from oral cancer to herpes, that result in the most horrid medical procedures: pulling a tooth, slicing out a growth and sewing his gums back together, chemotherapy, removal of his entire lower jaw. Sometimes it doesn't pay to have an active imagination.

This isn't nearly as bad as the time he literally cracked his skull and spent a night in the hospital after a playground stumble, but the worrying is definitely the worst part of being a father.

And I'd like to take this moment to apologize to my parents for every time I put them through this. Especially the time, that one summer, that I gave Beth a ride home after band practice — with a little half-hour unplanned 'diversion' on the way. Don't ask.

[Update Tuesday morning: Got the little guy to the dentist after lunch this morning. The X-ray showed that he had tooth decay between two teeth, and it had eaten down to the root of both. This decay had caused an abscess in his gums. (Imagine cutting the eraser off a pencil and shoving it up under your gums, on the outside. That's what it looked like, plus it was red and bleeding a little. Yuck!)
Anyway, the best course of action was pulling the two teeth, which isn't a big deal because they're both baby teeth. When I left him there with his mother, he had made it through the syringe-to-the-gums stage (the worst part), and they were waiting for the Novocain to kick in.
All in all, not even close to the worst that could have happened. Stomach flutters are flittering away.]