Saturday, December 31, 2005
I'm getting closer to providing that swift, hard kick.
It's been another ridiculously pressurized week; I'm handling work up to my eyeballs, I've got all sorts of clients calling me to address their January 1st tax bills, and I've got some end-of-year things to handle as well.
On the plus side, Kaia's in town until the middle of January, and we relocated to the W in midtown for a few days (until New Year's Day). This particular morning is a sort-of epiphany in a few ways; aside from the fact we woke up and saw snow flurries, which despite the fact it's winter still struck us as a bit weird, and there are so many other things which we need to handle and/or address together it almost feels like a work day. Plus there's the obligatory stopping by my place to get clothes and some other stuff together, and on top of that, there's a staggered blocking off of traffic, courtesy the NYPD, which will affect us and the people with whom we're celebrating tonight. It's a bit messy, but overall we'll all get to where we need to be; it's just a little more aggravation than we hoped for.
There are other things happening in the background as well as the foreground: my mother's getting a lot better as is my grandmother; Kaia and I are contemplating when we're going to be moving into an apartment together; and the clock ticking towards 2006 continues even louder.
Personally, I am sort of apathetic over celebrating the new year's arrival; I'm just happy that Kaia and I will do so together. Last year was the first time in a long time I wasn't forced into some miserable farce for New Year's, and it was an improvement; but although Kaia and I had been together for a few months by that point, she was on the West Coast and I was on the East Coast, so it didn't really count. So this year, tonight, marks something special, important and the promise of a good future for us both as individuals and together.
I really don't have any prophetic or important words to add here beyond what I've already included, suffice to say that I hope you and your family and your friends have a safe, happy, healthy new year and I hope that your celebration is as memorable and rewarding as the coming year is prosperous, safe and good. I'm personally not so focused on the former, but with regard to my family and those I hold dearly, I am praying for the latter.
Happy new year.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
"The test of any man lies in action."If the above is true, I think I passed the test awhile ago.
The first question, ie where I've been, is somewhere in a daze, quietly making rounds all over the city. Most of my time has been spent downtown, running around between the Department of Buildings and some other City agencies. The 15th was a deadline to submit paperwork to one department; however, we've been waiting -- for about six months -- for said agency to issue other paperwork, and since my clients have a closing that needs to take place prior to the end of the year -- and which closing requires said paperwork to be issued by said agency -- the term "fever pitch" is a mild understatement. Suffice to say that the word "pressure" is barely scratching the surface.
So, at least as far as work is concerned, that's where I've been -- locked in a battle between bureaucracy, paperwork, deadlines, clients and aggravation. I don't blame my clients, as they've been relatively patient -- but bouncing around from one city agency to another to another is taking its toll and leaves one feeling weary and spent.
That also pretty much answers the "what have I been doing" question.
As far as the Transit Strike, it wasn't quite as awful for those of us who live in Manhattan -- a bit pricey, perhaps, but not altogether awful. Essentially, since a lot of my work involves telephone calls, paperwork and communication, I was able to sideswipe the early-morning pain of trying to commute in what limited options there were by staying at home, contacting clients and city workers via telephone and/or e-mail. By 11AM each of the three days of the strike, cars began to move a bit more freely, so things opened up -- a tad. Overall, the city was marginally congested early in the morning, but during the day things got a lot more congested. Cabs were relatively easy to find -- because one cab was able to pick up three separate passengers going to three different places, it was a lot simpler hailing a cab and getting somewhere close than it was this past Monday. However, having said that, the city contingency plan dictated a series of zones (the boundaries were 96th to 60th, 60th to 23rd, 23rd to Water Street, and Water Street down to the Ferry entrance). Traveling by cab within any one of these zones cost $10 per ride; traveling from one of these zones to another, whether by three blocks or thirty -- added an additional $5 onto the ride. So in essence, whether I was going from 55th Street and 1st Ave. to 61st and 2nd, or 28th and 7th to 61st and 2nd, the price would have been the same $10. I spent time in DC, which implemented a zone system for its cabs well before I arrived there in 1988. Since I was doing a lot of traveling for the law firm for which I worked, I got very familiar with the cabs in that city; while the drivers didn't love the zone system, it was fairly simple and pretty efficient. If a driver wanted to make more money, he would be sure to get you to your location as quickly as possible -- he could only charge you a certain amount whether it took him 10 minutes or 30 minutes, so it was in his best interest to get you there sooner rather than later. The zone experiment in NYC wasn't especially gratifying to those of us who had to deal with it first-hand, but according to most of the drivers I spoke to about it, many cab drivers wound up making an extra $200 or so a day, although the cost of that extra money was that they had to be manage to get into Manhattan prior to 5AM, when the four-person-per-car rule was implemented -- either that, or wait until 11AM. Most chose the former, apparently, hence the huge numbers of available cabs.
So aside from the price-gauging, overcharging and simple misunderstandings, that part of it worked out well.
However, having said that, in answer to all three questions posed thus far, I also must mention that my mother had surgery this past Tuesday -- the first day of the strike -- and since the surgery was performed in Manhattan, that made traveling to see her in the hospital dicey at best and incredibly difficult at the worst. I alluded to her surgery earlier in these pages, but not until this morning -- when she was released and pronounced healthy and ready to return home to recuperate -- was I willing to mention it herein. Once we knew the surgery was over and she was fine and would be fine, I was able to breathe a big sigh of relief. However, coupled with the strike and the aforementioned work situation (which is still hanging over my head like an anvil anchored to the ceiling with dental floss), the pressure and the stress level has been boiling over in a seething cauldron.
If that sounds overly dramatic, let me just say that I think it's actually an understatement.
In the meantime, I'm heading to my office shortly to do some more work as well as perform an upgrade on our server, but since tomorrow is Christmas -- and tonight begins Chanukkah -- I wanted to make sure I wished everyone a happy holiday and a good weekend and a nice last week of 2005. While it had been ridiculously cold here over the first couple weeks of December, it's suddenly tailed off and become almost pleasant. It's due to be around 45 or so for the next few days, and that, of course, is a good thing; firstly, my mother was able to leave the hospital and not confront her first weather in four days by getting blasted by sub-zero temps. Second, Kaia will be arriving on the 29th and I didn't want her to have to leave a 60-degree climate and be smack-dab in the middle of a 25-degree climate. Third, and finally, I've been relegated to carrying a bag filled with files and paperwork that tips the scales at around 25-30 pounds; I've found it's a lot easier to handle a heavy bag of paperwork and files when I'm not weighed down with gloves, scarves, hats and ear-wraps as well as temperatures that make breathing a minute-to-minute chore. Perhaps it's just me, but it's just not the ideal.
As for this coming week, I plan on doing a lot of work, a lot of prepping (cleaning, laundry, identification of random objects) in my apartment, and getting all of Kaia's Chanukkah goodies in order. I've got a big bag filled with stuff for her, and I already advised her to make sure her suitcase has plenty of extra room for bringing said goodies back to San Fran. I've been accumulating goodies for her for the past month or two, so I am hoping her new suitcase can handle everything. And if not, it's a good excuse for her to stay indefinitely ;)
In either case, I want to wish you, the reader, a happy holiday, no matter which one you celebrate. If you're doing so with family, have fun; if you're doing so far from your family, keep them in your heart and in your mind. If doing so isn't a pleasant thing for you to do, than do something that keeps you smiling and gives you some time to reflect. Over the past week, if not over the past year or so, I've found that spending time with my family and friends and my other half is more precious to me than anything I could ever hold in my hand or achieve. Last night, as we all were getting my mother's stuff together for her hospital exit this morning, we were all just sitting around, bullshitting, talking, laughing and relaxing, and -- despite the location -- we were all happy and content with our lives. It's not the first time the four of us have been gathered in a hospital room and found ourselves relieved and comforted by our combined presence; but being in that environment -- now for the second time within a year -- is not something I relish. But being together with my family -- even despite Kaia's arrival being delayed until the 29th -- makes me happy for what I've got rather than lamenting what I don't.
And that, more than anything, is high on the list of ingredients for enjoying the holidays -- no matter which one is being celebrated, when, or where.
Monday, December 19, 2005
As I indicated above, it never really occurred to me -- not consciously, anyway -- to step away from the computer, bounce the HoB URL for a little, and just coast. I don't do things that way. Sure, I've got "material" in the can -- every writer does -- but my mind wouldn't let me post something about the recent election in Bolivia sometime in March. In other words, if I can't be timely and on topic -- whatever that topic might be -- I might as well pack up my shit and move to Ecuador. It might be damn hot and malaria's an issue, but they serve a bitchin' 4:00 siesta, and Cubans cost about 1/20th of what they do here.
In essence, I had to deal with a lot over the past week or so; in fact, it's been over the past couple months, actually. My grandmother's health has been in question over that period of time; she's 83, and has been experiencing some signs of aging. While she is mostly doing well, she was prescribed a new medication that has really adversely affected her, so much so that both my mother and my sister -- on separate occasions -- had to head out to be with her while she was undergoing some situations. Considering that my family is about as high on the list as it gets, the whole situation has been pretty difficult to handle; we're like boats on a quiet lake -- when one heavy wave comes out of nowhere, the resultant and residual fall-out is felt by all. Things are quieting down some, but the fall-out has been and continues to be, unfortunately, significant.
Then there's some other health-related stuff; my dad is doing very well as we approach his 65th birthday, and it's been nearly a year -- as of New Year's Eve -- that he'll have been back with us and out of danger. My mother's doing well in addition, although she too is dealing with some stuff with which we could all do without. The rest of us -- ie my sister and I -- are handling all of this excitement with the expected reactions, meaning we're both straining but bearing the load of it all. As John Lennon once wrote, "No one told me there'd be days like these." And no one told me that they'd all come at once. Ah, such is life as an adult. At least now I know -- sort of -- what John Mayer means when he wishes his life would be more like 1983.
Meanwhile, back to more recitation: two days before the deadline on the 15th, our office phones cut out. By "cut out," I mean they simply stopped functioning. We have four lines plus a fax in our office, and we've used a company for the past 18 months that conveys our phone lines via VoIP (Voice over IP), which means that they essentially use the Internet to facilitate our voice and fax calls. However, the problem with VoIP is that it's newish (aka shitty) technology and it's failed frequently. Each time it's failed in the past, however, the company has managed to get us back online relatively quickly. This time, however, we've been without office phone service for four full business days. Later today (Monday), I am hoping Verizon is able to get to our office and solve the problem -- we've pretty much ruled out all the other issues (equipment, wiring, etc.) and if Verizon can't solve it, we'll likely end up finding a new phone company and a good lawyer.
The point, of course, is that two days before a major quarterly (and end-of-year) deadline is not the best time to have a workplace catastrophe like failing phone service. And because I wear the technology hat in and around the office, I had to address it. Since we have cell phones, we've been able to keep in touch with clients; we even arranged to have our office calls routed to one of our phones so people can find us if necessary. Even that forwarding, however, was a major chore, so every time we need to handle something with this inept company, it sucks up valuable time, which has been leaking like an alcoholic with a shrinking bladder. In short, we've lost a lot of time dealing with this, and as the problems relating to the phone mount, the lost time grows exponentially. Happy fucking Chanukah.
Not to be outdone, a good friend of mine opted to come to New York this past weekend; he travels frequently for business and spent the last few months in Singapore, so he wanted to visit NYC to get some things prior to the trip he and his wife are taking to Austria in a few days. Since his trip is only a few days away, he had to come in this weekend; the problem is that I was still in the middle of wrapping up, post-deadline, some office stuff (real work) plus I had to be on site in case Verizon showed up to solve the phone problems. And while it was great to see him -- he was only in for about 36 or so hours -- it threw a monkey wrench into what little semblance of control and sanity I had in connection with all that's been going on. As they say on the weather channel, when it rains it pours.
To top all THAT off, my father's birthday is fast approaching, and we've pretty much settled on his gift: he and my mom decided to upgrade their twenty-five year old television with a 50' plasma, so my sister and I are handling everything beyond the TV: we'll get them a new DVD player, a new remote control (that goes through cabinet doors and around walls) and a bunch of DVD's, including the reworking of the family movies (which we had converted to DVD awhile back). As I mentioned earlier in these pages, I've been working on getting them combined onto a couple of discs; once that's completed, I'll package 'em up and be ready for the holidays once they're here.
The remaining stuff -- ie the incredible variation and extreme temperatures in NYC plus the impending transit strike -- aren't even making the top page of my problem blotter these days. That should pretty much impart a sense of the degree and the quantity of bullshit I've been juggling recently.
Of course, the one bright spot on the horizon is Kaia's upcoming visit; she's going to be spending the Christmas holiday in San Fran with her parents, as her sister and their family are out of town. She would have come sooner than the 29th, which is the plan, but she wanted to make sure her parents weren't alone for the holiday. She'll stay here through New Year's, and probably make her way back home sometime a few weeks thereafter. We've both been really excited about spending our first new year's together; last year, with all the tumult happening (sensing a trend?), I had her stay in San Fran and party with her friends. So this year will be our first of many happy new years together.
However, to complete this hellish circle I've been spinning, we had originally planned on having a quiet dinner downtown and then spending a few hours alone either in a hotel downtown or in midtown or at my place. However, since our original plans -- me heading out there for New Year's -- changed to her being here, friends asked us if they could spend New Year's with us. So we agreed, thinking that it would be fun to be with a small group of friends until the ball dropped, and then we could retire to a corner, a couch or a bed somewhere and bring in the new year -- um, privately.
Little did I know, of course, that one couple turned into another couple plus a friend of their plus a few more people and then a few more people and then another couple of people we know. Basically, it went from 2 to 15 in a matter of three days. And it's bulging at the seams since: it went from Boogie and Kaia to Boogie's New Year's Party before I could even say "fuck it, we're goin' to IHOP." And with the change in status comes added responsibility: now I need to arrange changes in our reservations, allowing for some guy coming in from Cleveland and another friend from Toronto, and then two more people who might wanna show up afterwards...in short, while it's going to be fun -- it's a hassle I didn't need nor want. The people we've invited are great -- and I really dig hanging out with each and every one of them. It's just that our original plan -- the two of us, a quiet dinner, an anchor for the future, the first of many happy occasions -- sort of got perverted without our consent. It's great to have friends, and I don't really regret it; but at the same time, coupled with all the other aforementioned shit floating above me, it's just not where we wanted to head.
Speaking specifically about New Year's Eve, I do want to acknowledge again, as I did earlier, that December 31st will mark one year since my father was released from the rehab center. So certainly, while this holiday is a special one for many people, it will be especially important for my family and I. And while all the aggravation I've endured recently has been incredibly intense (not to mention poorly-timed), it does occur to me that things are getting better. So while there are lots of frenetic, frantic swirls of chaos, I'm trying to keep my personal and professional lives as stable as I can, and sometimes it feels like it's a losing battle. On the other side of the coin, however, I try -- sometimes unsuccessfully -- to keep in mind the things in life that make me smile, and even if my happiness is short-lived, I'm still able to crack one every now and then. So the year's not a total loss.
In either case, to paraphrase the ending credits of the James Bond movies, I am here for awhile. But I do apologize again for the delay leading to this entry, and I appreciate you, the HoB faithful (and even those of you tied up and forced to digest this drivel), managing to make it to the end of this long-winded entry. It's just that I think, on some level, everyone goes through peaks and valleys, and the trick is to keep your head whether you're riding a peak or smack-dab at the bottom of a valley. It's the friends, family and people we love in life that keep us sane -- or in my case, as close to sane as possible.
Thanks again for stopping by.
Monday, December 12, 2005
I'm not a scrooge and I'm definitely not anti-social; far from either. Actually, I'm just feeling the effects of an immense workload, the remnants of some personal/family medical issues, and the phone -- in connection with both of these -- rings off the hook. It's not a problem, really; it's just that either I'll develop an ulcer, a heart attack, or a great love of doing nothing.
Fortunately, I've mastered the art of the latter.
The problem is this past weekend should have been merely about football. It wasn't. It was about some football, the Heisman, Tookie Williams, pumpkin cheesecake and a shitload of work. And not in that order. I know it sounds far from exciting -- as well it should. It's boring. But the truth is, with all the work I'm shouldering, I'm not quite ready to jump out of a window quite yet. And even if I do decide to take that final way out, it's not that drastic a measure: I live on the first floor.
In either case, obviously, all the work is getting handled and finished, but statutory deadlines, pains in the ass calling regularly, and all the ancillary bullshit surrounding the holiday season -- parties, shopping, schedules, helping old ladies across the street -- feh (kidding about that 'old ladies across the street' part...I toss 'em on my back and run like the wind, it makes it almost like a game).
Anyway, so while my life resembles -- in many ways -- a tug-of-war between my business- and personal lives, I am of the mind to guess that most people have that dichotomy happening as well. We don't work because we want to -- we work because we have to. And our salaries pay for things like vacations, cars, mortgage payments and other non-business things. And as we get more and more goodies (and a taste therefore), we work harder to get more so we have more and can open doors that will lead us to more doors...it's a bit confusing. All I know is I have no problem banging my head against a wall, I am just looking forward to the day after, so I can mind to the throbbing and the voices and -- if so inclined -- hit the ground floor running :)
And no, I couldn't finish a post herein without mentioning the weather...it's so cold in New York that when the homeless people are urinating against the sides of buildings, the pee is freezing in mid-air.
That last part isn't true; but one day, if it does indeed happen, I think we will then be able to mention that New York is really, really, really, really a cold city.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
You see, armed with a relatively new PC, I opted to convert some of the family's home movies from years past (most home movies are in the “years past” vein) from their newly-spawned DVD’s to "combined" DVD’s. So, armed with a burner, lots of RAM and some free time (what’s that?), I decided to dabble a bit.
Unfortunately, I need to do a lot more dabbling before I decide my career as a professional film editor can indeed be a reality. There's no Apex Tech waiting for this future mechanic to call in when it comes to video editing, I can assure you. Aside from my lack of patience in finding a millisecond in a haystack (comprising more than five hours of video), I wasn’t and am not currently satisfied with the software out there. It’s clunky, shaky and anything but intuitive. That last part isn’t a problem, actually; it “scares off any pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders” (thanks, Clemenza, I’ll take the connoli). But the problem isn’t that it’s difficult, the problem is it’s mystifying.
Make a long story short: I took a Simpsons video (a collection of four DVD’s comprising that show’s second season) and, using a nifty piece of unnamed software, “ripped” (electronically copied all of the data thereon) the second disc onto my hard drive. Then I fed it through another program – a “video frameserver” – and got that sucker ready for yet another program to clean it up, size it up and serve it up so I could put it yet elsewhere – on my Palm.
Yep, all this work for basically nothing. But – much like the little blue fizzy thing that undulates to the bottom of a flushing toilet, I’m getting closer to converting the family movies to full-on DVD status.
As I alluded yesterday, and as Damian Kulash suggested in the piece to which I linked yesterday, this copy protection stuff – in a word – stinks. First of all, it really makes watching/listening/enjoying the media you own, whether on DVD, CD or online – a pain in the ass. For those of you who don’t know, DVD’s sold in this country are – for the most part – region-coded. That means that if you drag your ass over to J&R Music World and buy Madagascar on DVD, it will likely work just fine in your Aunt Edna’s home theater DVD player. But take that disc on a trip overseas – to England, for example – and that disc is more worthless than an Ethiopian at a Sumo Wrestling tournament.
And before any of you smartasses respond with a “Yeah, but Boogie, that’s because England has a different type of TV setup over there – called PAL.” Yeah, and they also have an inferior comprehension of cosmetic dentistry. But the PAL/NTSC disparity has nothing to do with it. Discs to be used in England have a “Region 2” coding, which means if I buy Madagascar there and bring it here, it will be unplayable.
The reason why I have devoted bandwidth and time to this less-than-enticing slice of my life is simple: I wound up buying a DVD of a film released only in England, and it took me the better part of a couple years (and a couple of weeks’ at night and weekends) to convert the thing so I could painlessly watch this disc – that I legitimately own – at my leisure.
I understand the problems inherent with digital reproduction and file-sharing and profit and margin and the fact that one kid in Sweden who figured out how to crack DVD copy protection probably cost Sony and the other multi-media conglomerates $50 to $100 million a year. I understand that record companies are desperate to ebb the flow of pirated music floating around file-sharing networks all over the place. And I understand the fact that people, given the opportunity to do the right thing, find a way not to.
Having said all that, I think it boils down to the question of whether people will accept excessive prices for media – CD’s, movies, software – or if they will let record companies know they are willing to pay if the cost is reasonable. Google the stats on Apple’s iTunes store, which enables a user to pay $1.28 (incl. tax) to download a song. Instant gratification – no waiting for UPS, FedEx, DHL or Mike’s Courier and Pizza Service, to show up with a banged-up cardboard box containing a CD you’ll absolutely adore for about four minutes and seventeen seconds. I’ve tried iTunes – for the most part, I don’t find a need for it (I’ve got about 8,000 cd’s littered around my apartment in boxes, racks, shelves and drawers). But I did download a few tunes I’d been searching for – I even considered buying the albums on which said tunes were released. But who the hell would pay $12 for The Best of The Tubes when all I really wanted – don’t ask me why – is “She’s a Beauty?” Ditto for Weird Al Yankovic’s “Dare To Be Stupid” for the tune “Yoda.” Again, don’t ask me why – trust me, I’m well aware revealing these two degenerative musical choices don’t earn me cache in anyone’s book, save a 14-year-old acne-riddled pre-pubescent babysitter from Topeka (yeah, I know you’re reading).
Short and long: until we find a way to make digital media – DVD’s, CD’s, e-books and TV – relatively usable under some auspice of protection, it’s going to be difficult, painful and pricey to own and enjoy. I can understand why there is a legitimate need – and there is – to curb the flow of piracy of this stuff. But I also think that if it’s done poorly, or adds ridiculous hoops through which the average, legitimate buyer must pass through to get to his/her e-media, then the problems will remain.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to the best of Abba.
Yes, I’m kidding – and thank god for that.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Since I've got a deadline next week, I'm not planning on slowing down any time soon, but the less I'm outdoors the better. This kind of cold weather inspires people to forgo fashion sense and do whatever is necessary to avoid typical December weather; so I've got gloves, scarves, ear-wraps (replete with iPod connectors) and hats. The stuff of excitement it isn't, but on the plus side, since it's the first real awful weather we've had, it should kill off the novely thereof pretty soon, and I'll happily move onto more exciting topics :)
Speaking of which, close on the heels of Sony's embarassing (and short-lived) foray into including hidden anti-piracy software on its cd's (which led to all sorts of issues, including the installation of spyware and the opportunity to open the door for hackers to send out virii to the user), I did a search for some of the offending CD's on the list of infected/recalled CD's and I discovered that most of them were freely (and illegally) available online.
Since I first encountered freely-available music (in the form of mp3 files) through Napster and elsewhere, I usually downloaded stuff which was even mildly interesting, and then -- once I had the opportunity to listen to it -- I'd either go out and buy legit copies thereof or I'd dump the downloaded music and move on. I figured I'd done the "$13 for one CD for one good song" thing long enough, and since I rarely listen to the radio (I've got an iPod -- why would I?), checking what's new online is even better than having friends tell me "Dude, you NEED to check out this new album by The Weedyankers." And more importantly, even if I opted to check out the newest from The Weedyankers, if I decided it was crap -- which I usually do more often than not -- spending $13 for the privelege is far from what I consider an ideal musical endeavor. So I took a shareware approach to music: try before you buy has worked for software, for the PalmOS, and for every product stamped with the "As Seen On TV" logo.
Make a long story short: many, if not all of you, know that the RIAA and the MPAA has gone fast and furious after anyone sharing music. Kids, parents, grandparents and college students have all been targeted by these "e-raids," and while I won't even bother dipping a toe into the "who owns music" vs. copyright issues, I think there's a better, real-world explanation available via the New York Times; Damian Kulash Jr.'s article, "Buy, Play, Trade, Repeat" sums it up pretty damn nicely. You'll need to sign up at the Times, but it's worth it: and what kind of degenerate are you that you would read this space and not the New York Times?
In either case, getting back to the original problem of Sony's monumental fuck-up, it seems to me to be a bit ironic that those people who did the right thing -- ie, went out and purchased one or more of the CD's on the aforelinked list -- wound up getting screwed, whereas those of us who opted (initially, at least) to download before buying were safe. I gave Santana's "All That I Am" a listen, and while I respect Santana's musical talent and sensibilities, I find that by the fourth song on every album he's released in the last twenty years suffers from the same upper-fret malaise that take a decent song and make it boring. So I deleted it.
Conversely, those among us who plunked down $15 of their hard-earned dollars are now still trying to fight through ad-ware, spyware, crapware and the occasional back-door Sony's copy protection installed on their PC's. Can you imagine if you bought a CD, brought it to your office to listen at work, only to find you compromised your office network -- all because Sony wants to protect its profit margin? The very thought of that possibility must send shivers up and down the spines of network admins from Miami to Vancouver. And yet, somehow, somewhere, there are kids in basements, huddled over keyboards in dimly-lit rooms chuckling over that very possibility.
Needless to say, caveat emptor, which once applied to anything you download from unknown sources, should, and will hereafter, apply to anything you purchase and stick into your CD-Rom drive. It's nice to see that the MPAA and the RIAA, yet again, have shown us how high their standards are, and what happens to people whose principles get in the way of profit.
Honor among thieves? Are we talking about people downloading the music, or those -- in utter futility -- trying to prevent them from doing so?
Ed. Note: I've gotten a bunch of e-mails asking about those iPod-compatible ear-wraps: they aren't the prettiest but they are great -- and available here.
Monday, December 05, 2005
Waking up early -- at 5:45AM, for example -- on a weekend morning is a dicey proposition. If it's for something concrete -- say, a fishing trip or for a vacation flight or for a hockey practice/game, fine. But if it's a mass de-programming from a hard, stressful, long, frustrating week -- well, waking up that early for no good reason doesn't go very far in alleviating any of those symptoms in the first place.
I decided early on that I wouldn't be doing much this weekend; I was already halfway to being sick -- lots of friends have been fighting colds that have lasted weeks -- so between that, the snow that fell in NYC late Friday night, and the wind chill that reminded me of February of this past year, I had no problem spending time in front of the PC, the TV, and on the phone with my other half.
So -- in essence -- I have very little, if anything, to report. I'm still hovering between sickness and full-on 100% ready-to-go, and where exactly I'm at is a question whose answer changes from hour to hour. At the moment, I'm listening to Jack Johnson's "Brushfire Fairytales" rather than Popa Chubby's "Booty And The Beast," so if you know me and/or know both of those albums, you'll have a pretty good idea where I'm at. If not, know that I'd much rather be in bed rather than contemplating facing a Monday morning.
I think it's officially Winter.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Around 10 last night my phone rang, and, assuming it was Kaia, without plying my eyes from the spreadsheet on my screen, I grabbed it. It actually turned out to be a friend of mine from Georgia-cum-DC-cum-Singapore; he's from a town outside Atlanta, but when he got married he and his wife picked DC to live; however, since he works for Habitat for Humanity, he's been on the road, and the last few months, that road has led to Singapore.
I'm not sure if he has a calling card or if he was calling me from his office (odds are the latter, as he's 13 hours ahead) but we wound up talking for thirty or forty minutes; essentially, I gave him a run-down of the last six weeks in my world, and he gave me a quick run down of the last six weeks in his. I also, genuinely, told him I felt badly not speaking to him over Thanksgiving or giving him more detail sooner, but it's hard to share personal stuff as impersonally as in e-mail, and I'm the last person that sends a "Call me" e-mail -- especially to people halfway around the world, no matter how dear the friend.
So in short, we caught up a bit and it was good; Once again, amid the business and personal hailstorms I find myself in, it's always good to check in with friends that have served as anchors over the years. I hope it's reciprocal, but these days I am going out of my way not to seek out help or assistance or anyone on whom to lean; it just happens that they manage to show up every now and again and remind it's okay if I wanna.
Like I've said elsewhere herein, every day is Thanksgiving.
Recently I had a conversation with my grandmother, who has said to me on a number of occasions that she feels badly if she's being a burden. I tell her not to worry and that she's not a burden and that things could be a lot worse.
It occurred to me I should take my own advice.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
First, I hope any- and everyone reading this had a good Thanksgiving; meaning, one way or the other, that in fifty-one weeks from now, you will recall this past Thanksgiving with fond memories. Perhaps the turkey tasted like the rear bumper of a 1974 Chevelle; maybe the mashed potatoes smelled like Aunt Edna's mildewy closet; and maybe, just maybe, Uncle Dave decided to get drunk and flash the neighbors -- again. The bottom line: if you went home (and/or to sleep that night) with a smile, it was Good.
To (perhaps excessively) expound on this theme, people generally refer to Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday. In many ways, I think this is accurate; it's non-denominational, it glorifies the excesses that we as a country espouse, and it's the one day that "More! More! More!" is not merely an unofficial slogan but also an official one.
I spent the day with my immediate family; my grandmother was home and didn't make the trip, as she'd been feeling under the weather. We did some cooking and some food prep, but for the most part, the food -- as if by magic -- appeared, care of my mom, so we spent much of the day itself noshing on a variety of stuff. I'd picked up some champagne pate, a triple baguette from Eli's, a variety of dips and cheeses (Brie with herbs and garlic -- holy shit) and some other miscellaneous treats. On top of that, we had some goodies in the form of stuffed mushrooms, an Italian bread stuffed with mozzarella and spinach, more cheese/veggie platters, homemade sweet potato fries and a holiday cranberry jello mold. And while the food -- and these were just the day-nosh -- was great, this was the second consecutive Thanksgiving that had some somber overtones, especially with my grandmother not with us. But inasmuch as that and other things weighed on us, I actually came out of this Thanksgiving realizing what it's all really about.
It's not about being thankful for anything specifically, at least necessarily; meaning, it's nice to be thankful for those great tennis shoes your Aunt Petunia brought you back from Nova Scotia, but it's more about being thankful for the people in your life, and who've been in your life, over the past year, and, perhaps, over the coming one as well. On some level, it's absolutely acceptable to extoll the virtues of the thermal long-john underwear you received from Ned at the auto-parts store; but it's more about Ned, or whomever, than it is for any material thing. I think that the overindulging excess of the holiday, whether by design or not, actually signifies the concept that Thanksgiving is a day on which you should not want for anything, whether it's food, family, friends or happiness. This year especially, I can affirm that, aside from my grandmother's absence, the day lived up to its mission.
Well, that's not entirely true; Kaia being on the West Coast also left me wanting, but until we're spending every day together, that will continue to be true. But having her in my life makes me happy, so even if she wasn't in my presence, she was and will always be in my heart.
Meanwhile, with last year's events firmly entrenched in our minds, the celebration was somewhat subdued. So the notion of potential loss heightened, at least for me, the experience of being so thankful for the people and things I have in my life. It's not merely being thankful they're there, it's knowing that one day they won't be, and savoring and enjoying these days now, while we're all together.
Coupled with these bittersweet icons and emotions, I spent the last week trying to wrap up this year's Thanksgiving; we as a family had a great time and spent it together. My dad sat in the kitchen with my mother while my sister floated around the oven juggling containers of potatoes, stuffing, green beans almondine and the aforementioned sweet potato fries. I dutifully carved the turkey methodically (as mandated by the Food Network turkey-carving instructions), all the while avoiding Ozzie underfoot and not severing any digits (mine or anyone else's). And that is as much a part of this year's Thanksgiving memory as any for me. The food was wonderful, but I didn't eat much; the football was okay, though I didn't watch much. The company was great, and I had my fill, and would go back for seconds in a heartbeat.
Hope yours was everything you wanted it to be.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Since he's got 24 hours to live, the balance of the episode shows Homer making a list of those things that are most important to him, and he tries getting everything on his list done before he dies. His last action to this end is to sit and review the bible (via Books on Tape) and he falls asleep in his recliner. The next morning, Marge finds him and believes he's gone, but it turns out the drool on his lips is warm and he is alive to everyone's glee. As the credits roll, the viewer seea Homer on a couch, chomping a bag of potato chips and swilling a Duff's beer. The message, clearly, is that we shouldn't wait until the end -- or the prospect thereof -- of our lives to do whatever it is that makes us happy. Whether it's sucking down cheap beer and potato chips on a couch, spending time (being 'intamit') with a significant other, or spending time with family, friends and loved ones, there's no better time than today to enjoy life than right now.
I'm writing this at my parents' house in NJ, snugly secure on a couch near a fireplace with lots of activity happening nearby. As much as I like doing nothing and putzing around my own place in my own space, there's something to be said for being with those people you love and for whom you're thankful.
Hope you all have a happy, safe and wonderful Thanksgiving!
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Feeling so tired, can’t understand it
Just had a fortnight’s sleep
I’m feeling so tired, I’m so distracted
Ain’t touched a thing all week.
The Rolling Stones
Doesn't change the fact that I feel like I'm in a boxing ring with 12 different opponents taking turns hitting me, despite this omnipresent, unrelenting daze.
Okay, before I sound like one of those people we all know who constantly bemoan life whether it's good or bad, I'll stop what sounds like self-pity in its tracks. I'm far from depressed, and even without Thanksgiving two ticks on the calendar away from being here, it's still a monumental collection of stuff I've been handling. Aside from the personal/family stuff -- which is really far better than it could be -- I'm also buried with work, and there just aren't enough hours in a day. I've used that expression before, but never before have I meant it more or understood what others meant when they used same.
It's almost like being an insomniac in a hotel room in suburban Lincoln, Nebraska, with only Popeil Informercials on TV for entertainment.
Speaking of insomnia, for the most part, what I've noticed during this expanse is that I haven't been able to sleep for more than four or five hours a night. I'm not complaining -- I've got plenty of shit to keep me occupied 24-7. My apartment, as Kaia once opined, is like Mission Control -- so between the PC, a home theater system with 800 DVD's, 9,000 CD's and a cavalcade of other time-wasting choices, all I really want is to have everything go back to where it was. The question is, where was it? How far back can I go?
If I could, I'd go back to about four years ago and erase everything. That would mean I could have avoided an example of dysfunction and human pathos and never had to deal with any of those whackos. My dad would not have spent five months in a hospital and we could have spent the last Thanksgiving enjoying life, not merely being thankful for it. My mom would not have had to endure everything she did, and neither my sister nor I would have had to come face-to-face, personally or work-wise, with everything we did.
However -- and there's always that major caveat -- life happens. Shit happens. And there's no "Undo" button in real life. Things move forward, despite our desire to keep them static. So in this situation, we each had to face what was happening -- whether it was on our schedule or not -- and there's not much we could do about that. In truth, things could have been lots worse -- although looking back on it, I'm not sure how much worse. And the bright spot is that I extricated myself from a lifetime of misery and wound up with someone who makes me smile on a regular basis. So I'm not really complaining.
I guess, especially given the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, that I've learned on some level that life is absolutely chronological; you can't be here unless you've been there. And like that Jim Carrey movie, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, things happen in sequence. So does learning. I could have erased all the pain and misery, then and now, and I'd lose the ability to appreciate and be as thankful as I am for my family, my friends, Kaia, and what I have.
Essentially, I think it boils down to this: even when I feel like I don't wanna get out of bed, and when it all seems like it's just too much, I know how good it really is, even when it's not great. That reminds me of an album I saw the other day -- not sure by whom -- called "Even The Bad Times Were Pretty Good." And as much as I know these days are difficult, long and sometimes grueling, exhausting and exasperating, I also can't rightfully bring myself to describe these days as bad. I think, for the most part, that whether I'm naive or just too damn optimistic, I have it pretty good, and even when each day is a collection of long, painful phone calls involving situations over which I have no control, I know -- somehow -- that tomorrow will be as good, if not better, than today.
And that feels pretty good.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
About two weeks ago a wave of less-than-stellar news came my way. Most of it was health-related involving my family, and while I could go into more detail herein, I won't. Suffice to say it's been a difficult couple weeks. Since I am not willing to go into specifics herein, I haven't been stopping by the HoB because I've been handcuffed -- if I can't be completely open here, then I'm not entirely able to let it all hang out. In other words, it's a Catch-22. Either I spill it all or I don't spill it at all.
Needless to say, my absence has been somewhat self-inflicted.
The news is far from all bad -- even though there has been some darkness in the near-past, the clouds are dissipating and the news is far better. So I am hopeful and optimistic. And irritated that I wasn't able to be more open about it herein. Suffice to say everything will be back to normal -- whatever and wherever normal shall be -- and I won't have to be hamstrung by cryptic, measured after-the-fact posts like these.
In the meantime, Kaia and I have both gotten Logitech webcams so that has kept us pretty occupied as well. We have been spending time chatting via cam instead of simply on the phone, and while no one needs nor wants, I am sure, to hear any sordid details, there really are none -- which is what is so funny. Only a few months ago, if someone asked me if I had a webcam, my first response would be "No, I'm not a pervert!" Whether or not that's true is irrelevant... But the fact is I typically associated people with cams as extroverts who enjoyed doing inappropriate things for whoever wanted to watch. However, instead of us performing lewd acts for one another, the cams have enabled us to see each other and while it, on one level, has made being far away a bit more easy to handle, it's also reminded us how much we miss being with each other, sharing glances, touches and whispers. So while I could have provided details of sordid, inappropriate behavior, it strikes me as funny that the end result is that we miss each other more rather than less.
Aside from us being able to see one another, what we also discovered is that installing and setting up the webcam is simple, so much so that we are not worried that once she becomes a full-fledged New Yorker, we'll be able to set up cams for her parents and her sister so that everyone can keep in touch. I think it's given her another measure of reassurance that moving here won't completely cut her off from her family and friends, even though on some level we both know that it will be difficult. But barring weekly trips to San Fran, the cams will at least enable her to see everyone and keep them nearby. While there are people who assert that Shower CD Players from The Sharper Image might constitute better living through technology, I can't think of anything more useful than a cross-country webcam.
There are other examples of how webcams have saved lives -- look here or here for more info -- but in our case, it has just whetted our already voracious appetites to being together.
And inasmuch as I know this entry's been a tease, I can both apologize and promise that this site won't degenerate into anything inappropriate -- for better or worse. I just found it interesting that something we hoped would help bring us closer has reminded us just how geographically far away we are. And reinforced that when we're together, there's nothing better. Funny how things work.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
The world is not getting smarter, if today's news courtesy of CNN is proof. Based on the article found here, Sylvia Johnson, 41, of Golden, Colorado, wanted to be a "cool mom" so she began throwing parties -- replete with drugs and alcohol -- for her high-school-age son and his friends. Unfortunately, Ms. Johnson forgot she was the mother in this equation and began having sex with her son's friends -- five of them, actually. All told, she had sex with five different boys aged 15 to 17, and admitted in the arrest affidavit that she provided tequila, methamphetamines and marijuana at these parties (in addition, presumably, to sex). So she was indicted for contributing to the deliquency of a minor (several charges) as well as child endangerment, sexual assault and -- get this -- more counts of contributing to the deliquency of a minor when she let her daughter -- a 14-year-old -- drive her and her son (and a 15-year-old friend, natch) of his to the arraignment.
The truth, indeed, is stranger than fiction. And I think it's pretty clear that we're all going to hell.
The other thing is this: while it'd be cool to have a 41-year-old mom be hookin' me up with drugs, alcohol, sex and pizza while I was in high school, it wouldn't be great if she looked like Ms. Johnson (here's her mugshot). If she looked like this, I'd be begging for her to contribute to my deliquency, and to assault me sexually -- in fact, I'd probably drop out of school to facilitate said assaults. But assuming Ms. Johnson even remotely resembles her mugshot, then I would suggest that this story be shared throughout the land to warn against the ills brought about by alcohol -- after all, the story is set in the land of Coors -- Golden, Colorado.
Moral Of The Story:
Stay sober, and stay outta the news. Or you too might have illicit, mind-scarring sex with a heinous-milf in cheap beer country.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Incidentally, I'm not referring to artificial hearts, new plastics, breast implants or better living through chemistry (take that last one as you want). I mean things like PDA's/Palms, iPods, cell-phones and the other assorted goodies that pervade my person on a semi-regular basis.
To wit: on my desk, at any given time, there is a cordless phone with a desktop charger/dock; a Palm LifeDrive PDA with a desktop charger/dock; an iPod Video 60GB with a desktop charger/dock; and a Nikon Coolpix S1 with a desktop charger/dock. Sensing a theme?
I think technology is a great thing; and if I haven't already expounded on this topic herein before, it seems to me that many PC innovations come as a result of companies striving to improve their machines in order to make games play better. Now before you take pause and think I'm losing my mind, consider the topic of graphics cards. Years ago, there were a few of these on the market; now there are over 500 choices, all of which feature different resolutions, amounts of built-in memory, and ancillary benefits (like the option of receiving television, capturing live video and/or piping output to a TV). As computers become more powerful, game designers (like those at Electronic Arts and Rockstar Games) pushed the envelope. The result -- PC's that become obsolete a lot quicker, but better software -- and not just games. Microsoft Office -- the ubiquitous collection of Word, Excel and a variety of other add-ons -- has continuously gotten more sophisticated (or more bloated, depending on your perspective) with each annual update.
If buying cars was like buying PC's, we'd each go through three cars a decade. Consider this: if the highways, roads and drive-through burger joints of this nation continually evolved like software did, we would be forced to upgrade/replace our cars as frequently as we do PC's.
The cycle goes like this: buy a PC and plug that bad boy into the wall and to other stuff -- printers, monitors, speakers, etc. That PC is, that first day (unless you bought a piece of shit like an E-Machine) is great.
However, next year, when Dell comes out with a new, faster version of the newest Pentium processor, game manufacturers will take note and tweak their games (both current ones and those in production) to run better on that new processor. So you'll be able to steal more cars or shoot more civilians in "Grand Theft Auto: Dover, Delaware" with even more realistic blood and gore. And once Dell revamps that brand-spankin' new Pentium 4 and makes it even faster, game manufacturers will follow suit and improve their output to run even better on that new processor. Re-read the prior sentence and take note that faster and better are generally regarded as synonymous in the world of PC's.
As these PC innovations continue to take hold, everyone else -- ie non-game-manufacturers -- follow suit. Whether these innovations are actual improvements -- being able to do more simultaneously, like work on a term paper, do research online and chat instantly with a friend in Venezuela -- or mere 'upgrades' -- being able to hear your friend as you chat live with him/her instead of simply talking to him/her on the telephone -- is subjective. But the short and long is that as computers become faster, more powerful and more advanced, software appears to take advantage of the increased capacity and/or horsepower.
Why is this a problem? It isn't, if you can afford to replace your PC every six months. But the truth is that the innovations are happening so quickly and so uniformly that by the time you actually decide to upgrade, whatever you've purchased is not only going to be obsolete within six months, it will be a tenth of the price and will be replaced by something that is more efficient and more capable of doing whatever it is you hoped to accomplish with that little conglomeration of metal, glass and/or plastic.
So on my desk, I see a 5.8 gigahertz cordless phone, which has already become semi-obsolete by new models which use less energy and charge faster; a Palm that is going to be replaced within six months by a newer model that has three times the capacity and very few, if any, bugs. The iPod, which is almost brand new, will be replaced in Apple's lineup with a device that uses much less energy, sounds better, and has increased capacity. My cellphone will be useless unless it runs on the newest version of a wireless interactive protocol known as Bluetooth; and since the cellphone that replaces mine in Motorola's lineup will get better reception and have fewer emissions, that should go in the trash as well.
The Nikon, while a nice product, is a five-megapixel camera; for the same money, I can now purchase the same model with more features and a better battery as an eight-megapixel version, which provides roughly 30% better resolution. And I haven't even mentioned the Logitech webcam that is perched stealthily above my monitor.
Essentially, where this all brings us is a choice: are we to run this unwinnable, eternal race to have the newest, most capable gadgets, toys and life-acoutrement available, or are we going to take an honest, realistic approach to all these myriad devices and decide what we need versus what we want? In years past, I'd scoop up goodies as they hit the market, tossing aside the old crap without giving same much of a thought, never considering that today's hot new item and the object of my techno-lust will be on the scrap-heap along with the device I'm tossing aside this minute. But now I'm more inclined to hold off and decide what is necessary against what is simply luxury. The iPod isn't a luxury per se, but given the amount of time I spend on subways, trains and my feet in and around the City, it's a worthwhile purchase. I use my Palm to keep my schedule and information handy: the fact that I can take pages of data (in Word and Excel format) with me anywhere is, if not necessary, at the least very useful.
I could toss the Nikon and get a new one: they now have weather-resistant cameras so you can actually photograph up to 20 feet below the water. Do I really need that capability? Not really. Do I need to be able to have a phone that can take pictures, send text messages, or calculate a tip if I'm unable to do so? Not particularly.
I think it comes down to the question of need vs. want, as many things in our daily lives evolve from what we think we need to those things we could really use and/or enjoy. Necessity doesn't merely equate to sunshine, food, water and love, either: but it seems that the more that we want, the less we truly need, and as more is out there to captivate our attention and our gadget-lust, the less we intrinsically need to make us happy. The more computers and technology attempt to make our lives better and to enable us to communicate more efficiently, the more I value seeing someone's eyes when I speak with him/her, and the more avenues of electronic communication available to me, the less connected I feel.
I don't decry technology -- you can be sure I'll still lust after the next Palm and the next version of the Motorola Razr that hit the market -- but inasmuch as these things add something to our lives, I like to remind myself that our lives our a balance of things, and when these things add something, they also tend to take something away.
At the very least, something to think about the next time you're waiting for your cell-phone to charge or you're on hold with Dell technical support.
Friday, November 11, 2005
I'd spent the better part of the last 36 hours -- work and sleep and meals aside (which leaves approximately one hour and forty-eight minutes) coming up with good ideas for this space: and then the bombings in Jordan happened, and here I am. I'm referring, of course, to the multiple hotel bombings that claimed at least 57.
Normally, these types of attacks -- which are relatively frequent throughout the Middle East, thanks to al Qaeda -- are not worthy of mention herein above and beyond the fact that loss of human life, however extensive, is not something I want to focus on in these pages. However, the fallout from the attacks -- on the streets of Amman -- was far too interesting to ignore.
First of all, if you've been in a cave or merely stopping by here and not reading, hearing, viewing or otherwise ingesting the news vis-a-vis the bombings, here's a link. This link details not only what happened -- a multitude of al-Qaeda bombings which ripped through 3 Western-frequented hotels (The Radisson, Grand Hyatt and Days Inn) and killed 60, including the three animals responsible for carrying out the actual attacks -- but of the protests in Amman, which is what I intend to focus on here, at least for the moment.
Why this incident is significant -- and make no mistake, it is extremely significant -- is that the angry, inflamed protests by young Jordanian males screaming for blood in the streets of Amman are protesting al-Qaeda, not Israel, not America, and not the myriad Western targets which usually are the focus of Arab bile. No, the anger is self-directed -- and while al-Qaeda referred to their choice of targets, Amman, as a backyard for the enemies of [Islam] (referring to Israel and America), the bottom line is that the majority of the 150 either injured or killed by these attacks are Muslim.
In the above-cited link, al-Qaeda's statement included these words in describing their planning of the attacks:
"A group of martyrdom-seekers carried out the planning and implementation. They comprised three men and a woman who decided to accompany her husband on the path to martyrdom," the statement said.
"It was agreed to use suicide belts for precision and to cause maximum damage."
This type of statement, while not unusual and typically chilling for al-Qaeda, is unique in that this was the first time this type of anti-Muslim edict was openly discussed by the group. Their assertion that this attack was an indictment of Jordan as a Western and Israeli ally will not carry much weight for those Arab youths chanting "Burn in hell,Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!" Al-Zarqawi is the senior member of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Yesterday, while discussing this with Kaia, I told her -- point-blank -- that despite the horrific nature of these attacks (especially detonating an explosive belt in the middle of a wedding celebration), the one positive result of this incident -- if one can even use the term "positive" in the same sentence as this incident -- is that by crossing this line and attacking their fellow Muslims, al-Qaeda has become reviled by both non-Muslims and Muslims alike. During the years of heavy IRA activity between Belfast and No. 10 Downing Street, the IRA always targeted the British; if the IRA began arbitrarily killing Irishmen -- politics be damned -- they would have been sold out to the British without hesitation. Now that al-Qaeda has begun attacking fellow Muslims -- other than merely bombing mosques of other Islamic sects -- I hope that the Muslim, Arab world begins to see these monsters as have Westerners and non-Muslims have. And reacts accordingly.
There is no doubt that a large part of why al-Qaeda has survived this long is because many Arabs who publicly condemn suicide bombings and attacks on civilians, whether they are Israeli, American or Arab, privately don't mind these types of attacks. Many Arabs -- from heads of state on down to the poorest members of Arab societies -- have no fondness for Jews or America, as they have been inundated over the past five decades to believe that Jews and America are evil and want to drink their blood. That inundation, in part, is how fervent, radical, maniacal suicide bombers are bred. However, now that the curtain of religious piety has been lifted, and the entire Muslim world can see what these non-humans are doing -- in the name of Islam -- to their fellow Muslims -- I wonder how long it will be before the Arab world begins not only to cease its support for them, but even join the West in targeting and eliminating them.
According to the above-linked article, Jordan's Queen Noor predicted the terrorists would lose ground because of the anger over the assaults.
"I personally think they've made a significant tactical error here, because they have attacked innocent civilians, primarily Muslims," she told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday night. "It is a sin against Islam what they have done."
The U.S.-born queen said a good friend of hers was wounded and is in intensive care, and his daughter was killed. Most Jordanians know someone -- or someone who knows someone -- hurt by the bombings, she said.
"I think those who comprise many of the either disaffected, or those searching for the best way for their grievances and frustrations and anger to be resolved or represented, will look at this in horror, and I think they (attackers) will lose support as a result for what they have done."
What is so troubling is that there still remains a question whether al-Qaeda, after killing or injuring 100 of their own people, will begin to lose support. While one can only hope that this continued violence perpetrated by al-Qaeda abates, it seems far more likely to me that, assuming it does not, that their attacks on their fellow Muslims continue and the Arab world sees -- once and for all -- why Israeli and Western interests regard the Arab world the way they do.
At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols.
- Aldous Huxley
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
My father, who has a hard time grasping the entire concept of the Internet to begin with, asked me "Why do you bother with your blog? What's the point?"
At first, I told him that I enjoy writing and it gives me a space to "stretch out," so to speak -- no editors, no formats, no number-of-words or -column limitations and no boring statistical derivations to which I needed to adhere. In other words: I'm my own pilot -- where my fingers and the screen take me is where I go.
He didn't understand that at first, but he did ask a good follow-up question: "So why does it need to be online for any- and everyone to see?"
Like I said, a good question. I knew the answer, but I kept it to myself, for good reason.
Later, I went back to the original post, the first real contribution I made here, and re-read it, and it's been a year. To the day, it's been a year since he's been -- unofficially or otherwise -- out of harm's way.
In the back of my mind, I knew this day was approaching. It's hard to believe that the second of the three major anniversary dates have come and gone. The first was the date we discovered he'd had a heart attack; the second, as indicated above (in the link), was the day he was released from Lenox Hill; and the third is New Year's Eve, which is the day, in 2004, he finally went home.
In context with both this date being a special one and his asking me why I maintain this space, again, is a good question. And in addition to my original answer, which was that I enjoyed writing without any constraints, I think part of why I continue to do so -- a year after I began -- is not for experimental, creative writing. Nor is it so I can simply foment ideas and throw a bunch of shit on the wall and see what sticks -- both in my personal review and others' interpretation thereof. On some level, I write only for me -- so if others see it and/or enjoy it -- and even if they don't -- it's not my concern.
The point here -- as far as why I do what I do, and how I do what I do -- is akin to Tom Clancy and Miles Davis. Tom Clancy, as an example, needs to write according to the current trends of modern international diplomacy and politics; he could write, I am sure, a wonderful, superb story about Cuba and the Soviet Union secretly stockpiling nuclear weapons and firing same into the United States; but since a) Cuba long has been without nuclear missiles; and b) the Soviet Union no longer exists, it'd be a pretty tough sell. So he's got to -- on some level -- give the people what they want. Tell us a story about terrorists attacking a boat transporting nukes in the South China Sea, or a plot uncovered near the Bering Strait that reveals far more pernicious plots afoot. Or tell us about how Fidel Castro has authorized bin Laden and his bunch to use Castro's personal swimming pool for growing Gremlins. But give us something.
Miles Davis, on the other hand, played his horn night-in, night-out. He played from the heart and put everything he was into every note that he emitted. And he turned his back on his audience with regularity.
I'm not turning my back on the audience; but on some level, I'm simply focused and into what I'm doing more than any reaction thereto. And I'm not foolish enough to think this space, somehow, makes the world a better place, or solves problems, or does anything positive for anyone. Except for me.
I tried putting that into words, but instead I just looked over at him, smiled, and we continued on our journey. The conversation tailed off, but I'm sure -- or at least I hope -- we'll one day get a chance to finish it.
Monday, November 07, 2005
I felt a pit rise and fall below my ribcage as my shoulders sagged just a bit. "It'll be okay," she followed, noting my body language and the sideward glance of my eyes before they reached the floor and then the wall.
I wondered where this all stems from, why it all happens, and I can't -- not for the life of me -- discern if it is an ugly, repulsive vampire I invited inside before she revealed her true self. I felt the clock change from across the room, and it was time for me to find answers.
Silently, between glances, I grabbed and tied a scarf around me, carelessly rolling my pen between my left fingers absently. She cocked her head to one side, in a downward diagonal perch, and before I could muster the courage to go to her, I was buttoning a coat, sensing my keys in my left pocket, weighing on my leg, and feeling the cold air rush across my ears and my forehead and my knees and the empty pavement.
I walked for three blocks before I wondered where I was going. The sky, a rainbow of indigo, black, blue and emptiness, featured few stars and was largely obscured by the dried, wilting leaves dancing in the breeze precariously before their final journey downward.
Somewhere I heard sirens and I instinctively turned to see the flashing lights that accompanied them through the cold, nearly abandoned street. Suddenly, as I felt the phone vibrating in my outside pocket, I remembered that this journey of mine had a beginning, a middle and an end, and I realized that I wasn't alone. I pulled the phone from my pocket and knew before I looked who it was. I turned and walked back and wordlessly let go, knowing she would be there no matter what, and we met in the middle and stayed there for what seemed like hours.
As we got ready to get into bed, I noticed the windows were open. A few steps and intention and they closed, keeping the winter at bay for as long as possible. We both breathed quietly before we finally fell asleep, her on my shoulder, my head aching, and the air -- dancing shadows, the smell of fresh linen -- teasing me as I finally surrendered.
However, I did manage to get in another viewing of "Shaun of The Dead," a spoof of the 'Living Dead' zombie movies which have either plagued or entertained us for the past 20 or so years. I originally saw it with Kaia about 10 days ago, and since we both really enjoyed it, I wound up watching it again more in remembrance of her being her recently and less as a cinematic experience. However, having said all that, I actually found some interesting things in the movie with a solo, secondary viewing.
First off, if you need specifics on who made the movie, who starred in it, or anything else -- like what year (2004) it was made, how long it was, or who played "Zombie #3," check the
IMDB listing for more info. This is the internet -- all that info's a click or two away, even if you are so extraordinarily lazy that you wouldn't have gone to the IMDB if the link wasn't there for you on a shiny silver html platter.
Now, several things which I found to be quite creative -- and while this might constitute a spoiler, if you've read this far, you either have no knowledge and no interest in seeing the movie, or you already have and are interested in my opinion thereon, or you don't know how you arrived here, clicked in via some aardvark-donkey web-search and don't understand english and are simply entranced by the captivating font which I've chosen in which to convey my lunatic writing. In short, Shaun of The Dead is, as previously indicated, a spoof of the zombie horror movies which involve zombies walking the Earth: Night of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, etc.
There's a copious amount of humor to be derived from this particular genre -- the teen horror genre was successfully (and thoroughly) spoofed already by the Scream and "Another Teen Horror Movie" franchises -- and since many of the zombie-tinged movies seem particularly stupid and self-effancing, doing a proper spoof would need to employ some creativity. I'm happy to report that Edgar Wright, the writer/director of the film, did a wonderful job.
There is one main theme which seemingly runs through the entire film -- essentially, the star of the film, "Shaun" (Simon Pegg) is almost 30; he is lazy, insensitive, unambitious, and, basically, going through the motions in life. So after his girlfriend finally dumps him -- for forgetting to remember an anniversary -- he and his lazy, couch-potato friend, Ed, head to a local pub for a night of heavy drinking. The next morning, Shaun makes his way through his neighborhood to the local store and fails to notice that all hell has broken loose.
Personally, watching Shaun's journey from his house to the store and back is among the more funny scenes I've seen on film in some time. Having the foreknowledge that this movie is about an invasion of brain-eating zombies, the film ironically twists on its ear -- and ours, in a more subtle fashion -- that the zombies in this movie appear to be less shiftless and more focused and more driven then are the non-zombies. Shaun ambles through his neighborhood and fails to notice the destruction -- garbage strewn through the streets, cars with windshields bashed in, bathrobe-clad, bloodied corpses lying in front yards of houses, pools and stains of blood in his direct path -- and when he finally encounters a zombie, he mistakes him for a begger looking for spare change. It's comical in its simplicity, and the message is clear -- and powerful.
There are other striking, entertaining scenes; Shaun and his roommate Ed confronting a girl in the garden who they believe is drunk, until they have to fight her off by shoving her onto an exposed metal pole. And when she rises, exposing a hole in her torso that allows them to see -- literally -- through her -- Ed's first reaction is to take a photograph. Once they get the jist of what's happening -- all over London, according to the TV newscasts -- they finally work together to formulate a plan.
While the movie is far from highbrow, it's very entertaining, whether or not you've seen any of the zombie movies. Overall, it's the goofy stepchild of 28 Days Later, which was on many levels as disturbing as this movie is humorous. The splatter and gore aren't too over-the-top, and the script is very sharp. The message of the film, certainly, is that Shaun has lived his entire life as a zombie, and now that real-life zombies are here to (literally) devour him, he has finally risen from the couch and changed his life, by getting back together with his girlfriend, finally introducing her to his mother and his stepfather, and taking an active rather than a reactive approach to life. But even in the absence of that message, the film is light, entertaining, memorable and really creative.
And more importantly, you'll never listen to the Queen song "Don't Stop Me Now" the same way again.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Most people have a routine. They wake up, shower, brush their teeth, drink their coffee, kiss their wives/husbands/significant others and go off to work. All at the same time, for the most part, each day.
These day-in, day-out routines are how hit men make their bread and butter, incidentally.
This morning, as per usual, my day was thrown off course by a phone call from a City inspector advising me he wanted to confirm the number of windows at a property we handle. Since the property is close to my apartment -- within ten blocks -- I agreed to meet him on my way to work. Once he did what he needed to do, he split and I opted for the bus, which was right there, in favor of a cab.
I settled into a seat and fired up the iPod, and opted for some people-watching. A host of people got on at the next stop, and the weirdest thing happened; an older woman, probably 65 or 70, slowly climbed the stairs and stepped through and took a seat. Why weird? I watched her, and it felt like I could see the young person that she used to be, and it freaked me out.
Before you, dear reader, suggest I take a vacation at a local sanitarium, I didn't have an episode or anything bizarre; it just hit me, like Bender describing fat girls named Claire in The Breakfast Club, that I could see her in her younger years and how age had slowed her and changed her appearance, but otherwise I could envision how this woman looked in her younger years.
I'm not sure if that means I'm weird, or if I'm suddenly into oooooolder women; likely none of those things applies here. But it did hit me as strange as I reached this conclusion. Just a very odd experience.
I apologize if reading about it is as boring and disinteresting as it was weird for me to see it live; but it was something I wanted to chronicle. Why, I'm not sure; I think it somehow either suggests I'm getting older, or maybe she reminded me of someone I once knew, or perhaps I was really, really, really bored this morning. What I think, in retrospect, was that she was a nice-looking woman who reminded me of my grandmother, and somehow it triggered some neuron in my brain (one of seven remaining) and that's where all this came from.
I also could have just opted to not include it here, but I'm rarely one to shy away from brutal honesty, and I'm not planning on scoping out the babes at the Shady Pines Retirement Center; then again, the night is young and it IS Bingo night...
If I'm not back by midnight, don't wait up... :)
Monday, October 31, 2005
Other than the two aforementioned exciting environmental changes, I had an interesting weekend: fantasy football, catching up on work on as well as with the PC, and some cleaning. Nothing exciting, nothing worthwhile, nothing to report. I got out a little to enjoy the weather and to get some errands done, but otherwise, I pretty much laid low and celebrated Daylight Savings by watching it happen, one minute at a time :)
On top of that, Kaia had a friend in town over the weekend and wound up running into friends on Saturday night; so she and I were, for the most part, running on two completely different schedules, which left me a bit bewildered. A week prior we were spending all waking and non-waking hours, and only a week later she was out and about and I was chained to a PC. Eh, such is life. It was a little disjointed -- which is less-than-ideal -- but with a 3,000 mile gap, this is the way it is.
As I concluded the above paragraph, what comes across my speakers but Styx's "Too Much Time On My Hands."
Ah, the irony.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Gene, who served in Vietnam as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, realized what was going on and, essentially, tore the guy apart. Without going into too much detail herein, he described what he did and it sounds to me like, by the time Gene was done with him, most of the guy's bones were either broken or bruised. Listening to him describe the entire incident and the fallout thereafter, including visiting the girl in the hospital the next day, he was obviously shaken -- not because he's emotional, but because -- as I said to him -- he's got a daughter as well. He was going through the events and actually said out loud that had he decided to take the elevator rather than the stairs he doesn't know what the guy would have done after he was finished. Apparently, he has two prior pedophile/rape-related convictions as well as a few other assorted items on his sheet, and he had just been released from prison less than 48 hours prior to that night. So who knows.
I wouldn't have mentioned it herein except that it reminded me, on some level, of a night about nine years ago when I was with a girlfriend and another couple -- friends of hers -- at the South Street Seaport. It was late -- about 11:00 or 11:30 -- when we were lazily strolling down by Fulton Street when we heard a woman shout. Before we knew what was happening, we saw a guy running towards us clutching a white leather purse. As he came nearer, I think on some level I heard the same woman scream something about her bag, and before I could even think, as the guy was coming upon us by the mall entrance, I moved to my left, dropped my shoulder and basically threw a body-check, driving him square into the brick wall by the entryway. He went down and, from the sound of him hitting the wall and the ground, I'd say he had a concussion. In the meantime, a woman ran up to us -- I'd say she was about 50-55 -- and thanked us in a sharp southern accent. I didn't ask where she was from, but I was at least glad to be able to give her back her purse. My then-girlfriend, in front of her friends, chastised me and told me that I shouldn't have gotten involved and that the guy with the purse might have had a gun or a knife. She told me that I was crazy for risking my life -- and hers, and her friends' -- for some stranger's purse. And she told me that what I did was stupid.
Needless to say, that night I dropped her off with her friends and wished her a pleasant life.
I think the combination of serendipity and responsibility is interesting. Obviously, I am not comparing a woman having her purse stolen with a young girl being attacked. But the notion of fate -- that things are predestined or predetermined -- isn't necessarily something I believe in anymore, just as I think that no matter how hard we pray and hope for things, we have to take action to achieve goals and results. I think fate is only halfway there: we're given opportunities to act. Whether we shine or shrink from those opportunities is on us alone. And inasmuch as it would have been much easier for Gene to keep walking and for me to pretend I didn't see that asshole running away with the purse, I know I personally would never have been able to forget how I could have done something and didn't. In Gene's case, he would not have been able to look at his daughter the same way again, let alone himself in the mirror.
It reminded me of a William James quote a teammate once had posted in his locker next to mine.
Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.It does.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Since October 13th, I've spent all my waking, non-office hours (for the most part) with my other half. She ostensibly came in for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, but the truth is we've found a way to dot the calendar with time spent together, and it just worked out that she was here during the holiday.
For the most part, there's nothing better than seeing her for the first time after we've gone awhile without being together. And consequently, there's nothing more difficult than putting her in a cab and watching as the taillights vanish into the traffic as she makes her way back to JFK for a flight away from here.
Today was a strange day. We both had a load of stuff to do -- me in my office and at the NYC Department of Buildings, she on her laptop and around the City. For my part, I got a bunch of stuff done in the office before I headed downtown to get a couple of key matters resolved; I was successful in one but not in another. She got everything on her end done, including all her work and a picking up a couple of little things to bring back to her nephews from NYC. So once I wrapped my business up at the DoB around 5 -- I immediately grabbed a train and headed back uptown to spend an hour or so with her before she left.
What I've discovered, aside from the obvious, is that long-distance relationships are obscenely unfair. Essentially, life is hard enough in general without having to say goodbye to the one you love after only a week or two or three together; and since both of our schedules are hectic and far from flexible -- deadlines (both statutory and suddenly-appearing), birthdays and events, family situations, etc. -- it's even more difficult to say goodbye to one another without having planned the next visit. We have a few ideas as to when we'll next see each other -- mid-November looks promising -- but it could also be as far away as December. We haven't made much in the way of New Year's plans, which is fine -- as long as we're together, we'll have fun -- but whereas most people are thinking about where they'll be on New Year's Eve, we're trying to figure out in which City we'll celebrate it. It's a little daunting in its scope, and if it wasn't worth it we'd have found that out by now.
So why do we? Well, we're trying to iron out the details of when she'll eventually move here, what that will mean vis-a-vis her company and her job with same, and whether we'll move in together right away, or whether she'll rent a place for herself before we finally pick a place and a time to make it all official.
But I think what we realized over the past ten days is all of those things are just items on a checklist. They'll all happen -- it's just a question of when and how soon. We work too well together and are too happy around and within each other's lives to even acknowledge any other solution to this geographic problem. It amazes me that we'll spend days together and yet neither of us wants to spend time away from the other. And what amazes me even more is that it's so comfortable, no matter what we're doing, where we're headed or where we're at. And whether or not it makes any sense, I'm not only not expecting the other shoe to drop, I don't even think there's another shoe in this mix.
Still doesn't change the fact that I am dreading sleeping in an empty, cold bed without her tonight. And it doesn't change the fact that it won't feel right until I see her again.
Today when we were walking, our hands instinctively found one another's on our way back from the store. Trying to avoid the topic of her imminent departure, we laughed about the fact that the weather was awful when she arrived and awful yet again as she was leaving.
I don't quite remember the day she arrived, but I remember how cold it felt watching her cab pull away.
I'm hoping for a warm winter.
Monday, October 24, 2005
That afternoon, the sun, though still shining, seemed to suddenly fall out of the sky. It wasn't so much an ethereal moment; it just snuck up on us and quickly reminded us that winter was happening: if not now, it would be soon.
Between the two of us, we've been getting only a modicum of sleep, in part because of work pressure, but mostly, I think, as a result of the weather. Kaia's been here since the 13th, and during that period of time, the average high/low temps dropped from the high 60's to the high 40's (as of this morning). So it's a given that less sleep and colder weather has affected both of us.
In either case, Friday night was our sushi night with friends; despite the coolness, we headed to Monster Sushi on 23rd. I've been to at least 20 or more sushi restaurants in the city, but none of them have the combination of price/quality as do the Monster restaurants (there's also one in midtown). The main problem, of course, is that neither is very close to my place, so I tend to only go if it's convenient to a group of people or if I'm near and on my way from or to somewhere else.
Essentially, we had a small but relaxed group, which was the whole idea. Ostensibly, we were going to get a bunch of people together before a friend of ours headed to a wedding out of town (to Pennsylvania) before flying back to California this morning. It turned out to be about eight or so people just kicking back and relaxing, and since the restaurant went from packed to relatively quiet about an hour after all of us arrived, it wasn't rushed and we could soak in the sake, the ichiban, the tuna tataki and platter after platter of sumo-sized rolls featuring an assortment of fish, avocado, vegetables and even soft-shelled crab (the spider-roll). If you're a sushi fan, don't even hesitate. It's not the high-brow, in-your-face experience of either Nobu, but it will also cost about a tenth thereof. In either case, we all had a nice, laid-back evening.
We woke up overtired and drained from a long, tiring week. I actually felt crappy, so I wound up falling back asleep while Kaia did some stuff around my apartment and checked on me every so often...we had wanted to head downtown, but since the weather was less-than-stellar, I decided to stay in and send her out for some shopping, but since she wanted to look after me and make sure I was okay (her way of saying she didn't want to go running in the rain :) she ended up staying with me and we just relaxed and talked. It's actually interesting; we spend at least an hour or two on the phone a day, but the majority of that time is spent on the miscellaneous bullshit we each encounter on a daily basis. In person, seeing each other's eyes, being there in bed or on the couch or in similarly close proximity, allows a directness and an honesty that cannot be achieved through any electronic or reproductive medium. It's one thing talking to one's parents or friends -- but being next to her is something that I have tried, unsuccessfully, to duplicate. The original can't be copied -- which is the way it should be.
The weekend wound down slowly, until Sunday. She headed to meet some friends while I got some work done at home, and soon thereafter I met her and her friends and we all went down for a little hang-time. I managed to stop into the Apple Store in Soho and got a glimpse (and some hands-on time) with the new Apple Video iPod. Two words: Holyfuckingshit. The first time you have one of these puppies in your hands, you'll know you're holding a piece of pop-culture royalty. The new iPod plays audio, video, slideshows of photographs and even can handle your schedule, your address book and portable radio broadcasts (called 'Podcasts'). And the fact that it's so damn cool doesn't hurt, either.
I'm counting the days they get more of 'em in stock; in the meantime, I'm trying to convince Kaia to get one (actually, for her to allow me to buy her one) and she keeps resisting. But as soon as Louis Vuitton releases a case for the new iPod, she'll be all over it, so I'm just biding my time ;)
In the meantime, she's leaving tomorrow evening; I'm sure we'll spend as much time together as possible between now and then, and I'm actually scanning my schedule in my head to figure out when our next visit might be. And each time I settle on a 10- or 14-day period, I keep thinking that it's too far away and too short a visit.
One of these days I'll need to do something about that.