Archive for popular culture

Opening Day Picks and Poetry

April’s still chilled air
Is the perfect medium
For a hanging curve

Opening Day of baseball season always inspires thoughts of happiness, warmth, and new beginnings. Anything is possible! The sun is shining! The closer is on the disabled list (gulp!)

My Phillies are looking a little less unstoppable than they were at the start of spring training. Brad Lidge — the aforementioned closer — is on the aforementioned DL. Both the veteran rock of the infield — Chase Utley — and the future phenon of the outfield — Dominic Brown — are also out indefinitely with injuries before the season even starts. Even so, the thought of a clean slate combined with the scent of popcorn and spring is enough to warm even a crappy, snowy, Rochester day.

I’m going out on a limb, but for the record, here are my picks for the how the season will end up. Check back in 162 games to see how wildly off-base I am.

AL EAST: NY Yankees
AL CENTRAL: Detroit Tigers
AL WEST: Texas Rangers
AL WILD CARD: Boston Red Sox

NL EAST: Phillies
NL CENTRAL: St. Louis Cardinals
NL WEST: San Diego Padres
NL WILD CARD: Cincinnati Reds



Sorry Google, I Still Love My Kindle

Google announced today that it is getting into the e-book retailing business, competing directly with the current leader in e-book sales, the Amazon Kindle.

The unique selling proposition of Google e-books i that they are stored “in the cloud,” and you can read them on any computer or device: any Web browser, the iPhone, any Android-powered smartphone, the iPad, the Barnes & Noble Nook, or the Sony E-Reader. Any device except the current leader in e-book sales, the Amazon Kindle.

The problem with this approach for me is that the only device on which I want to read a book is the Amazon Kindle. I’m not going to sit down and read my 900-page biography of George Washington on my laptop. I’m not going to read a Colin Dexter mystery on the office iPad. Like Google books, I can read my Kindle e-books on my laptop, on the iPad, on most smartphones  – except my Palm Pre, but that’s a post for another day. But unlike Google e-books, I can also read them on the Kindle, and that makes all the difference.

The Kindle — along with the other e-readers — is purpose-built for reading. It’s incredibly light, easy on the eyes, easy to take and find notes on. For me the Kindle’s main advantage over Barnes & Noble and Sony is the keyboard. (That’s also one of the things I love about my Palm Pre. I guess I just need my keyboards to have keys.)

The iPad is not an e-reader. It’s too heavy, it doesn’t fit neatly into your hands (not mine anyway) and it feels like I’m reading a screen rather than a reasonable approximation of paper. And I’m sorry, but the much-vaunted appeal of the page-turning gesture is lost on me.

I am glad that Google is getting into the e-book retail game. The more competitors in this market, the better I think for authors, publishers, and readers. But with all Google’s talk of the “cloud” notwithstanding, books are tangible, tactile, things. And as it turns out, so are e-books. I still want to hold them in my hands.

See my late-night ode to my Kindle on the Midnight Apple Pie blog.

I Helped. I Bought. I Had Fun: The Real Power of Social Media

Tonight I had a total hoot, spent 20 bucks, and helped a charity I believe in — all while sitting in my attic answering my work email.

How? Through the power of social media tools like Twitter and uStream, and the awesomeness of the people they connected me to, namely @Robin2go and her kitchen co-hosts on the live Web show, Chicken and Stars.

In the course of an hour-long uStream show filled with opinion and frivolity (DRINK!) I kept myself entertained by interacting with others in the audience and also bought a new skin for my Netbook from a company called Gelaskins – a company I had never heard of until folks in the audience started commenting on how cool @reginaldgolding’s laptop looked.

Even cooler than @reginaldgolding’s laptop is Help Attack, a fantastic tool that he mentioned during the course of the show that turns people’s Facebook and Twitter status updates into donations for their favorite causes. Now every time I tweet, Save the Music gets a nickel. How cool is that?

How did this happen? Why did I happily fork over real money to companies and apps I’d never heard of? It’s simple but oh so complicated: awesome people + tools to connect them + awesome products or ideas = me opening my wallet.

See, if I had gone to Gelaskins and their products sucked, I wouldn’t have bought one. And if Help Attack wasn’t a great idea and simple to use, I wouldn’t have signed up. But likewise, if I hadn’t heard about either of these worthy enterprises from @Robin2go, I would have been much less likely to click the “Order Now” button.

You see, Robin is — of course — a real person. About as real as they get. She is a real person who I’ve really met and who I really really like. That would be true with or without Twitter. But with Twitter, I can spend the evening with her (DRINK!) even though she is in central PA and I am in western NY.

I’m not really sure how traditional marketing works in this scenario. No amount of marketing can turn a crap product into an awesome one, and Robin isn’t a “message” or a “value proposition.” She’s a friend.


Three Haisku: The Amazon Pedophile Scandal

After hundreds of complaints were posted to Facebook and Twitter, quietly removed from its Kindle store a guide to pedophilia called “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct.”

At first Amazon stood buy its decision to allow the self-published book to appear in its store, saying they “support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.” But now today, the book is gone. With no further word of explanation from Amazon.

What I’d like to know and haven’t been able to find out is whether Amazon has also deleted the book from the Kindles of the thousands of people who bought it. That’s one they did with an unlicensed electronic edition of, ironically, George Orwell’s 1984 last year. I love my Kindle, but it is one of scarier possibilities lurking behind this model of electronic publishing: that one company can decide that I am no longer allowed to read the book a purchased from them.

Writing a haiku
Containing the word “pedophile”
Is no easy feat.

A guide to child love?!
What did they hope to kindle
But the mob’s torches?

C’mon Amazon!
What would a real bookstore do?
Not carry the book.

Three Haisku: Cooks Source

So apparently the editor of Cooks Source, a New England regional — and until yesterday obscure — cooking magazine, thinks that “the Internet is public domain” and that writers should be thrilled to have their work lifted wholesale and without permission or compensation. This led to a very entertaining day on the Twitters yesterday, as writers and bloggers pounced and the social channels exploded — if only briefly.

Read the backstory and some analysis from Robin2go.

Anger a writer?
If a writer’s in the right,
A writer will write.

What was that you said?
“The Web is public domain?”
Oh, hell to the no.

Cooks Source to #crooksource
All in less than twelve hours?
Respect the hashtag.


On Daylight Saving Time

I despise Daylight Saving Time. To paraphrase Ford Prefect, time is an illusionDaylight Saving Time doubly so.

This outdated construct, which ends this Sunday, was supposedly intended to increase the amount of sunlight that industrial workers experience by essentially tricking them into waking up earlier. It was also an attempt at saving energy during World War I by reducing the amount of time people relied on artificial light. Today all it really does, in my view, is screw with our natural rhythms so that people will shop more.

Every year, Daylight Saving Time kinda sneaks up on me, and every year it freaks me the heck out. When there is still sun in the sky at 9pm in western New York, that is just freaky.

I admit that part of this aversion to DST comes from the fact that I love night time. I love the dark. Night is exciting and fun. Ever since I was a kid, I could not wait for the sun to go down so I could go outside and play. Lighting bugs, shadow monsters, epic games of kick the can — all are much more fun in the dark.

The website, has an interesting take on the issue. “If we are saving energy let’s go year round with Daylight Saving Time. If we are not saving energy let’s drop Daylight Saving Time!” Seems reasonable to me.

So on Monday, when I leave work and step out into the real, dark, night, I will probably be alone amongst my colleagues in celebrating the darkness. I just wish this happy state of affairs was not interrupted once a year with reminders to move our clocks ahead and check our smoke alarms.

Balloon Boy Has the Media Chasing Squirrels

balloon boys balloon
I was away from my desk at a couple of back-to-back meetings this afternoon (just for a change) and returned to find all the Twitterverse abuzz with news about some boy trapped in a balloon. Wait, what?

I managed to piece things together from the tweets that crossed my deck, but it wasn’t until I got home that I got a visual of the story that you have no doubt heard all about by now: A six-year-old boy (named Falcon, no less) was reported to be flying across the Colorado skies on some kind of platform attached to a large helium balloon. Hours later, it was discovered that young Falcon was not in mortal danger but was in fact hiding in a box in the attic. He is, I hope, severely grounded — in more than one sense of the word.

And just like that, “balloonboy” was a trending topic on Twitter, Falcon T-shirts were available for purchase, and Balloon Boy Halloween costumes were in the works.

The 24-hour news networks of course lost their collective minds over this story, cutting away live for hours of balloon boy action. Why? What were they hoping to catch? Live footage of a young boy crashing to his death? And if they weren’t sure of the facts of the story — which they obviously weren’t, given its anti-climactic end — why go live in the first place?

The media are like those dogs in the similarly balloon-themed movie Up, easily distracted by whatever shiny new — SQUIRREL!! — crosses their path. I should be more annoyed at the mainstream media about this than I am. After all, Balloon Boy spawned a great deal of social media silliness that I admit I’ve gotten more than one chuckle out of.

Still, does everything have to be given over to instant gratification silliness now? With newspapers folding — for good, not just in half — and television news turning toward entertainment and personality pundits, where do we go for serious, well-reported journalism? Do we all have to start reading The Economist?

And just to round off the Up parallels, #flyingsquirells was also a trending topic on Twitter at the same time as #balloonboy. I have no idea why. Perhaps a flying squirrel was trapped in a balloon somewhere. Now that’s a story!


UPDATE: The media coverage has now shifted to covering … the media coverage of the story. Hands off, mainstream media! That’s the bloggers’ job.

50 Bands That I Have Seen …

Taking my cue from a Facebook meme that’s going around, here’s a list of 50 bands I’ve seen live. If you’d like to play along, here are the rules:

1.) List the first band you ever saw live first.

2.) After that, list bands you’ve seen live in the order in which you’ve seen them.

3.) Opening acts and bands seen at festivals count.

And here are my bands:

1.) Power Station (Duran Duran splinter group, The Spectrum, 1985)
2.) Duran Duran (x4)
3.) The Monkees (x2)
4.) Gerry and the Pacemakers
5.) Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (I went through a retro phase in high school)
5.) Def Leppard (x2, once in high school — awesome. Once much later — not so much)
6.) Howard Jones
7.) The Who (first concert without adult supervision)
8.) Paul McCartney
9.) Grateful Dead
10.) Sting

11.) The Police (x2)
12.) Rairoad Earth (x2)
13.) The White Stripes
14.) Franz Ferdinand
15.) Fountains of Wayne
16.) Tool
17.) The Decemberists (x2)
18.) Michael Doughty
19.) MC Lars (x2)
20.) Dropkick Murphys

21.) Flogging Molly
22.) Strange Montgomery (friend’s band)
23.) Froth (another friend’s band)
24.) Oasis (show ended early when fan attacked band on stage)
25.) Foo Fighters
26.) Dave Matthews Band (x4)
27.) Stereophonics
28.) Constantines
29.) Paul Weller
30.) Flaming Lips

31.) Midnight Oil
32.) Elvis Costello
33.) Hothouse Flowers
34.) Ziggy Marley
35.) Barenaked Ladies
36.) Lily Allen
37.) Mute Math
38.) Paolo Nutini
39.) Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark
40.) Del Amitri

41.) The National
42.) Wolfmother
43.) The Midway State
44.) Herman and the Hermits
45.) Loch Lomond
46.) The Walkmen
47.) Live (took my sister Amy to her first concert)
48.) Shooglenifty
49.) The Chieftains
50.) Sam Roberts


Five Harry Potter Films, One Saturday

I’ve already finished my traditional re-reading of all the Harry Potter books, so on this rainy Saturday I thought I’d get myself in the proper frame of mind for this week’s premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by watching all five Harry Potter films in a 12-hour Potter-thon.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Story
Harry learns he’s a wizard and leaves his miserable life with the Dursley’s behind for the wonders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  He makes friends (Ron and Hermione) and enemies (Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape), and learns about his connection to Lord Voldemort, a wizard who “went as bad as you can go.”

While Voldemort may be gone, he’s not dead. Harry and his friends learn of the presence within Hogwarts of the Sorcerer’s Stone, a substance that grants eternal life. Voldemort — lacking a body of his own — possesses poor Professor Quirrel and plans to outwit the many magical obstacles guarding the stone.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione beat him to it, and in the end Harry Potter defeats Voldemort once more.

The Best Bit
Ron Weasley screws up an 11-year-old’s courage and sacrifices himself during an epic chess match so Harry can retrieve the Sorcerer’s Stone.

My Take
Director Chris Columbus sets the appropriate tone of child-like wonder in this first film. The look of the Harry Potter universe that he establishes — Hogwarts Castle, Diagon Alley — is fantastic fun, though it is marred a bit by some spectacularly bad special effects (the troll battle, the Quidditch match). The three stars are *sooo* ickle, and all very good.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The Story
A visit from Dobby the House Elf makes life with the Dursley’s even more miserable, but no sooner does Harry finally make it back to Hogwarts then odd and scary things start happening. Harry hears threatening voices in the walls, ominous messages about the mysterious Chamber of Secrets appear written in blood, and students start turning up petrified.

Harry finds the diary of Tom Riddle, a former student who was at Hogwarts the last time the Chamber was opened.  When Ron’s sister Ginny is abducted, Harry and Ron go in search of the Chamber, where Harry confronts the memory of Tom Riddle, the boy who became Lord Voldemort. Riddle has been using Ginny to do his bidding; as Ginny grows weaker, Voldemort grows stronger. Harry defeats the monster in the Chamber, destroys the diary, saves Ginny, and again thwarts Voldemort’s attempts to return to his full strength.

The Best Bit
Harry takes on the basilisk with the sword of Griffyndor and is saved by Fawkes the phoenix after being pierced by the snake’s poisonous fangs.

My Take
This second installment — much like the three young stars — feels a little stuck between the child-like innocence of the first film and the darker themes and look of the later films.  Rupert Grint’s Ron starts to slide into hammy mugging, but Kenneth Branaugh as the inept and vain Professor Lockhart is inspired.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The Story
When Harry blows up his Aunt Marge and storms out of the Dursley’s house, his runaway routine alarms his friends, as there’s a dangerous murderer on the loose. The dementors of Azkaban are searching everywhere for the escaped Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather and the man who betrayed his parents to Lord Voldemort.

After comforting Hagrid over the death of his hippogriff Buckbeak, Ron’s rat Scabbers escapes and Ron is attacked by a large dog and dragged under the Womping Willow. Harry and Hermione follow and discover that the dog is not a dog, but Sirius Black. What’s more, Ron’s rat is not a rat, but Peter Pettigrew, a friend of James Potter and Sirius Black who is soon revealed to be the true betrayer of Harry’s parents. With the help of new professor Remus Lupin, the group nearly succeed in clearing Black’s name, but Lupin turns into a werewolf and the dementors capture Black. It is up to Harry and Hermione to turn back time and save both Sirius and Buckbeak from a terrible fate.

The Best Bit
The whole mind-bending scene in the Shrieking Shack. Honorable mentions to the stormy Quidditch match … the encounter with the dementors on the Hogwarts Express …  the moment Harry first learns of Sirius Black’s betrayal.

My Take
The look is darker, less colorful. The actors are taller. The story much more mature and complicated. I was annoyed at the movie when I first saw it because the protagonists suddenly looked, well, cool. Chunky haircuts, hoodies: what the hell?! Turns out this is a minor quibble in what is otherwise an excellent bit of storytelling.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The Story
This year, Hogwarts is playing host to the Triwizard Tournament, an event that selects one Champion from each of three schools to compete in a series of magical contests. Though no one under the age of 17 is allowed to enter, Harry’s name is mysteriously called by the Goblet of Fire as the fourth Champion.

Harry makes it past the dragons and the merpeople, and enters the final task — a magical maze — tied for the lead. Cedric Diggory and Harry overcome many obstacles, grab the Twizard Cup together, and are whisked to a mysterious graveyard where Cedric is killed by Peter Pettigrew and Lord Voldemort returns to his full form.  Harry and Voldemort do battle, their wands linked together, until — aided by the remnants of his parents — Harry escapes back to Hogwarts.

The Best Bit
The return of Lord Voldemort and the battle in the graveyard. Honorable mention to the bit when Harry and a jealous Ron make up. The best special effect award goes to the scence where the dragon crawls across the castle roof.

My Take
Mike Newell of Four Wedings and a Funeral fame does a wonderful job mixing the first stirrings of young love with the darkest of tales. This is the movie that turns a corner — the first good character is killed and things will only get darker from here.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The Story
When dementors show up in Little Winging, Harry saves his cousin Dudley from their clutches and is then whisked away from the Dursleys by members of the Order of the Phoenix who are organizing to fight Lord Voldemort. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Magic does not believe that Voldemort has returned. Even worse, they’ve planted the evil Professor Umbridge at Hogwarts. Since Umbridge refuses to teach them to defend themselves, Harry and his friends take matters into their own hands, forming “Dumbledore’s Army” with Harry as their leader and teacher.

Harry’s visions into the mind of Voldemort grow stronger until he sees Sirius being tortured by Voldemort in the Department of Mysteries. Members of Dumbledore’s Army deal with Professor Umbridge and escape to the Ministry, where they find the prophecy linking Harry to Lord Voldemort. But it’s a trap; Sirius isn’t there, but the Death Eaters are. The Order of the Phoenix turns up, and Siruis is killed. Dumbledore and Voldemort do battle, and the Ministry is finally forced to admit that Voldemort is back.

The Best Bit
When the prophecies in their glass spheres crash to the ground in the Department of Mysteries.

My Take
My favorite of the films so far, I love the 1930s modernist look of the Ministry of Magic and the moody, adolescent tone.

Whew! OK, now I think I’m ready. Bring onHalf-Blood Prince!


Just Beat It

The year is 1982. I am 11 years old. I own a cheap, knock-off zipper jacket. I own Thriller on LP. I listen to it a lot.

Mind you — I was 11 years old. I think there may have been a law back then. “All citizens under the age of 14 must purchase a copy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller — or tape it off their friend — and spend at least two hours a day in a ridiculous and ultimately futile attempt to learn the Moonwalk.”

Yes, he was a messed-up freak, but who made him so? Besides, “Wanna Be Starting Something” is pretty amazing,

PS — this is like the 10th time in the last few weeks that I’ve found out about breaking news on Twitter before anywhere else. Farrah Fawcett’s death, Ed McMahon’s death, the whole crazy South-Carolina-governor-cheats-on-his-wife-and-goes-missing-in-Argentina thing, even the severe thunderstorm we had earlier today.

Don’t quite know what to make of that yet, but it feels interesting.