Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Dark into The Light

Somewhere awhile back, I remember seeing a James Bond film -- I think it was "For Your Eyes Only" -- and a key sequence in that film was when Roger Moore, an aging but expertly-coiffed Bond, confronts the bad guy in some tunnel, the bad guy's car goes to the edge of a cliff, and then, as the car begins sliding off the cliff, Bond gives it one swift, final kick to send it into the abyss below.

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 Ride Continues

"The test of any man lies in action."
If the above is true, I think I passed the test awhile ago.

A lot of people have been checking with me over the last few days, wondering a) where I've been; b) what I've been doing; c) how I've been handling the quasi-resolved Transit Strike; and d) what I'm doing over the next week to ten days.

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

Fever Pitch On Ice

Where to begin? Probably my first order of business is to apologize; I hadn't really considered taking a break from these pages, it just sort of happened. As I alluded in the prior entry, which I posted one week ago today, I had a deadline on the horizon. The problem was that December 15th, my deadline, was not only a tumultuous one because of the huge amount of work I needed to complete by then, but there was and is lots surrounding my life these days that has really been an obstacle to getting here and getting the loose atoms swimming around my head down in some cognitive form. So again, I apologize for not having alerted the dedicated HoB faithful of my impending absence.

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 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

It Ain't The Hokey-Pokey

Another December 15th fast approaches as another long, cold year slowly grinds down to the final shopping-and-drinking-and-eating season.

Oh joy.

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'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'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

The Stuff Of Genius (Not)

I'd like to declare that my foray into homemade moviemaking yet again confirmed I am a genius, but I can’t elaborate. It’s not that I won’t or am unwilling; it’s that, when it comes to this particular endeavor, I don’t have the first clue and am therefore midly more gifted than a doorknob.

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

Another Record

The last few days have been a veritable goulash of excitement, activity, stress and temperature. Aside from the fact that I've been working at home and getting next-to-no sleep, I've been trying to assemble a plan for New Year's Eve for Kaia and I and some friends. We finally nailed down our plans, which is a plus, but since the temperature went from winter-bearable to winter-record low, I got sicker and sicker until I landed in bed this afternoon with a slight infection.

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

The Missing Rainbow aka Morning Decolletage

The air was crisp as I came out of the dream; the temp reading on the sound-soother was somewhere around 65 and I'm inclined to believe it. I jammed the window closed, returned to bed, and then, as morning arrived slowly, I slowly emerged from my cocoon.

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

The Goods, The Bads, The In-Betweens and The Singapore Sling

As if the fever pitch couldn't be wound any tighter, last night was a barrage of reminders of to-do items, errands, requirements, pitfalls and needs. Aside from Kaia, there was far too much shit hitting the fan, and since we were out of sync -- she with stuff on her end, me with stuff on mine -- it was a tough early part of the evening. The saving grace, of course, is that no matter when, where or why she and I speak, I always manage to smile. I'm not sure if it's seeing her picture on the caller ID on my cellphone, hearing her distinctive ring or knowing it's her as I'm moving through the darkness in my apartment; but whenever she and I connect, it's like putting flame to a pile of dried leaves, only without the weird, burnt smell.

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

Bittersweet: One Week, A Mirror, Three Hours and Reflection

I didn't know I'd been away from here until I noticed that Thursday was rapidly approaching. But nonetheless, it had been a week, and it went by extremely quickly on the one hand, and yet -- unfortunately -- excruciatingly slowly on the other. So I apologize for the much-needed delay; if it's not clear to you once you've concluded this post, please feel free to rant, posture and/or complain accordingly.

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.