Friday, September 28, 2012

The sanctity of the lunch break.

Hungry meets tired.
Desk equals banquet table.
Damn your noon meeting.
                                                -That Tad Guy-San

Here are the rules and they are immutable:
·      If you’ve made me work through four lunch breaks this week, I’m taking a long lunch on Friday
·      If you schedule a mandatory meeting over the lunch hour, at least have the courtesy to bring snacks
·      If there’s a meeting over lunch, it better have a point and a client
·      Scheduling meetings for either 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. still makes you a jerk, even if there’s a legitimate reason for it
·      If you’re going to cater lunch, order food you yourself would eat—not just the convenient option
·      Cafeterias and vending machines assuage the physical while ignoring the mental
·      It’s amazing how much the soul can be fed with just five minutes outside

Thursday, September 27, 2012

STL Public Library 2.0

Did you know you can get three free songs a week from the STL Public Library? It’s true. While the selection isn’t mammoth, you can still get pretty decent music, like Passion Pit’s Gossamer or Jack White’s Blunderbuss. Granted, it takes time and dedication, but isn’t a clear conscious worth a little effort once a week? There is also a smattering of videos available for free download and the ability to checkout digital books one week at a time.

Knowledge—get infected by it!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What do you do?

The first time I was laid off from my job—my first bona fide career job, not my pay the bills high school or college job—I was blindsided. What was I going to do now? How was I going to pay my bills? What was I if I was not an advertising copywriter?

I was an idiot.

I fell into the trap—like many young people do—of defining myself by my career. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a natural thing to do. You pick out what you want to “be”. You go to schools that teach you how to do that thing. You study hard. You interview. You get the job and become that “thing”.

The “thing” is what you tell people you do when you’re making small talk at parties. “What do you do?” It’s a classic. It’s also a trap.

You’re not just a thing that you do. You’re a person. And for me, it took losing my job to realize that I am a man, a human man, a brother, a cousin, a friend, a taxpayer, a U.S. Citizen, and a Person of Earth.

I ride bikes. I draw pictures. I eat like a starving goat. I alienate people with my cleverness. I lose patience with blowhards. I enjoy doing new things with old friends. I play music when I can’t sleep. I take a joke because you’re a fool if you can’t or you won’t. I smile awkwardly at strangers when I’m out shopping on my own. I write ads for a living. I know that it’s not who I am.

[NOTE: I've been getting messages all day asking if I've just been fired. I can see why that is (the first sentence). No, I'm still employed (as far as I know). I've just been laid off multiple times. It's just the nature of the biz.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review: the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, By Mark Haddon

The Premise:
An autistic 15-year old boy sets out to solve the mystery of his neighbor’s dog’s death.

The Good:
The book is written from the point of view of an autistic teenager, which can be both interesting and trying. Mr. Haddon clearly wants the reader to come away with a better understanding of how and why autistic persons are the way they are—how they talk, think, reason, etc. My own personal experience with autistic people is rather limited, but the story seems to come across as sympathetic rather than gimmicky. Most of the time the chapters work* and the story moves along with enough twists and turns to qualify as a passable mystery. The main character is interesting and the support characters gradually become fleshed out as the story plays out.

The Bad:
There are a few chapters where Mr. Haddon gets a bit showy. The aside chapters often worked and many were entertaining, but a few seem like they were just thrown in to shout, “See how clever I am”.

The Verdict:
Read it. And if you know an autistic person and have read it, I’d love to hear your perspective.

*Not to brag, but I figured out why the chapters are numbered the way they are before it’s revealed in the book. Okay, I’m bragging.

Monday, September 24, 2012

TV, you fickle mistress

This week is the official launch of the network television fall season. It’s the time of year when the weather starts to cool off and you* don’t feel bad about hunkering down in front of the old boob tube with bag of snack treats and an alcoholic beverage of some variety.

But if you came here looking for a roundup of the best new shows, you’re out of luck; I’m full up on my shows**. 

So where am I going with all these words and typing and stuff?

I recently watched a show that I will describe like this: “a show with two strong female comedic leads and an ethnically diverse cast.” This description applies to both “Two Broke Girls” and “Best Friends Forever”. The difference is that only one of these shows is watchable and it’s not the one that’s still on TV.

Two Broke Girls is flat out terrible. It has easy jokes and too many of them are racist. It’s TV of the lowest common denominator: the equivalent of a 2-liter of off-brand soda. It does nothing to elevate the medium or the people watching it.

Best Friends Forever wasn’t a perfect show, but it was well written and, more importantly, funny. It had a diverse cast, but didn’t make race a point or a punch line. Unfortunately, it lasted only six episodes before some Harvard MBA replaced it with reruns of The Voice or something.

So, this fall, if you’re unsure of which shows are worthy of your time, ask yourself this one simple question:

Are you a slovenly, soda drinking racist or a lovable terrorist-hating American?

*I mean you literally. I don’t do those things. Maybe, y’know, get a hobby or something?
**HIMYM, New Girl, Modern Family, Community, Parks & Rec and Fringe—a little over two hours of TV via Hulu, which is still less than one full NFL football game

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Good Ad vs. Bad Ad


We are in the era of selling by not selling. And, like people, I appreciate it when brands just are who they are and leave it up to me to decide if it works for me or not.

Which is why I love this ad from Southern Comfort. On paper it doesn’t work: Fat guy wearing a Speedo and business shoes walks on the beach to get a drink while a song about “you gotta be me” plays throughout. That shouldn’t work. But it does because it’s all about being “comfortable” with whoever you are. The dude walks with purpose and he has a moustache that lets you know that he’s always like this.

And then there are the shoes. The shoes! What’s the story there? Is this an impromptu sojourn on the beach? Does he not believe in flip-flops? Are they $1200 shoes and he just doesn’t care?

The fact that there is no dialogue makes it all the more compelling—it’s a simple story that’s easy to understand. You understand it, even with the sound off.

And speaking of the sound off, there is this ad called “Hope and Change”. That Dad Guy sent it to me and suggested I watch it on mute. I did and it’s a pretty good Obama ad. Except that it’s by the GOP. Whoops. In this era of sports watching, where a lot of times you’ll see a commercial without sound, and DVRs, where you just see the images as you fly on by, it’s a big mistake for any brand to just show the competition. Also, when you do put the sound on, you get, “would you try creating jobs by creating debt”? Isn’t that what a business loan is—taking on debt to increase business? Weird.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Video Game Series Review: Mass Effect Trilogy on Xbox

The Premise:
Set roughly 200 years in the future, you are Commander Shepard, an exceptional Alliance soldier who is tasked with discovering the purpose is of a set of alien devices. As the mystery unfolds across the galaxy, you will forge alliances with various alien races, be forced to make impossible choices and uncover threats that could destroy all life as we know it.

The Good:
The story is epic and ambitious. The characters are varied and do develop over the course of the trilogy; you get the sense that this is a fully fleshed out world/galaxy/universe here. It’s also a game that rewards you for playing from the beginning as your character and their decisions carry over between each game. Top-notch graphics definitely don’t hurt the experience either (you can customize your character’s look) and the game play gets better as the series progresses. I like that the developers listened to fans in between releases and worked the bugs out. While some of the missions were a bit similar, the variety of characters, powers and weapons kept things fresh. And most of the time the missions were tough enough to be captivating, but not frustratingly impossible. Also, the multiplayer feature added to the third installment is really well done and a lot of fun.

The Bad:
The ending of the third one is botched beyond belief—what a wasted opportunity. But the controversial ending aside, it is still a satisfying, if somewhat flawed, game. The first one suffers from too many pointless rock-finding missions and too elaborate of a weapons customization system. The second has a similar element-finding mechanic that is, thankfully, less time intensive. The third finally gets the side missions right, but is disappointing in the variety of characters from which you can choose. Also, there are some “adult situations” that are more laughable than titillating.  

The Verdict:
If you’re only going to play one of the games, then Mass Effect 2 is the perfect blend of story, character and game play. If you have the time (30+ hours for each), then this trilogy is definitely a series worth checking out.   

Monday, September 17, 2012

Corporate Impositions

I recently joined some friends to watch a couple of NFL* games. Last year the second batch of Sunday games started a little after the hour, but this year I discovered that the games would be starting a half hour later after that. Uh … okay. Four hours later I was done. Done with watching football live. Forget it. Too many breaks, commercials, stupid delays, annoyances and impositions on my time and patience.

Apple just rolled out the iPhone 5. It’s most dramatic feature: a new plug hole*. Fine. The smart play would be to give consumers the adapter for free—acknowledge that it’s an inconvenience. But, of course, Apple is charging, yes charging, it’s customers $29 for the pleasure. It’s like Apple is the hot, young Hollywood starlet high on cocaine*** who thinks she can run over a person**** in a crosswalk without consequences. Something to consider the next time you upgrade.

Along the same lines: Want access to your favorite websites or phone apps? Better agree to the whole user agreement. Not that you have the choice of striking out any parts (how is this a contract?). Take Facebook, for example. When it rolled out its Timeline feature, it served it up as a choice: “Hey, bro, check out this new Timeline feature. All of your friends are using it, but you don’t have to if you don’t wanna.*****” So I didn’t. And then, recently, I got Timelined******. My point: Roll it out or don’t, but don’t pretend I have a choice (other than closing my account). 

What’s my solution? It’s easy; just stop. Stop watching football until they stop with the stupid commercial timeout after the kickoff. Stop buying the latest Apple product as soon as it comes out. Stop clicking the “like” button and giving Facebook tons of valuable data for free.

It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s a start.

*NFL = Not For Long
**Or iPlugHole, if you prefer
***Cocaine = Stock Price
****Person = American consumer and/or Asian assembly line worker
*****Not an exact quote
*****Like getting clothes-lined, but online

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

People often ask me about my road bike. “Where’d you get it?” “Do you like it?” “Is that a girl’s bike?” And so forth.

As you can tell by the title of this post, I ordered my bike from I did so because a knowledgeable friend recommended it and I found the prices to be competitive, especially since the price included shipping.

The bike arrived earlier than expected, didn’t need much tuning up after assembly and has performed admirably ever since.

One problem: The wheel rims.

Every single ride, I would get a flat. And, one time, a tire popped when I wasn’t even on the bike—just standing next to it—and after changing the tire, it immediately popped again. Granted, a few of the flats were due to my riding style—I once hit a road grate and took some train tracks too hard—however, it got to the point where I hated riding the bike.

So I took it to a shop and got some recommendations. I wrapped each rim in black electrical tape. It helped, but didn’t solve it. I sanded the hole for the valve. Results inconclusive. Finally, I invested in some cloth rim tape and it seems to have taken care of the problem for the most part. Sure, I still get flats on occasion and pack extra tubes, just in case, but I no longer dread riding for fear of flat tires.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

USA 2.0

Acrylic on Art Board.
I painted this way back in the mid 1990s. Not a lot has changed since then. Especially my art skillz. I will part with it for $140,116.00--the approximate current debt per taxpayer in the United States today. Freedom, and my painting, ain't free.

Monday, September 10, 2012

3rd and Longshot

Dear NFL teams:

If you want to defeat the Seattle Seahawks, just get them into a third and long situation and then wait for the draw play. Don't worry, you won't have to wait very long; they usually just pause for a second, as if that's going to fool anyone. And in case you're thinking I'm just putting this out as part of an elaborate rouse ... I'm not. I've just seen them do it over and over and over again, the exact same way, without variation, for decades. It's gotten to the point of absurdity, "There's no way they go with the draw play?! I mean, no one is THAT predictable???" Wrong.

Also, the green outline on the numbers isn't working for me--they appear as if there's something wrong, like some ghosting on the TV screen. That's not really a way to defeat them; I just don't like it.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the officiating. A friend watching the game was pretty upset and said about the replacement refs, "This is by far the worst officiating of a game I've ever seen in my life."

To which I replied, "So you never saw Super Bowl XL where the refs totally handed Pittsburgh a championship (seriously, who calls "low block" on the QB) as a fare-thee-well to Jerome Bettis?"

But that's not really "defeating" the Seahawks. That's just using the officials to screw them over. So I guess what I'm saying is these replacement refs are ahead of schedule.


That Tad Guy

Friday, September 7, 2012

A screenplay and movie experiment

Like all writers, I dream of one day writing a screenplay. And, like most writers, I probably never will. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from the process. So I set about to read a screenplay. However, I didn’t want to be influenced by a movie I had already seen—I wanted the movie to come alive in my mind first, and then wanted to see how it actually came alive on the screen, with final actors and finalized directorial choices.

I knew I wanted a comedy because it’s the genre that most appeals to me as an auteur.
I knew it needed to be a movie no one had or would talk about.
It needed to be a movie that I would also like to watch eventually.

The movie: Cedar Rapids.

This quiet comedy had languished in my movie queue for months … okay, years. But other than knowing that Ed Helms was the lead, I knew nothing about it. So I did a quick Internet search and found as close to the original screen play as I could find.

As a screenplay, it moved along well, kept the scenes and jokes tight and each of the characters were distinctive enough that I didn’t need to keep checking to see who said what. All in all, I liked it and could see why it was optioned as a movie.

As a movie, some scenes are altered, a subplot that seemed funny on the page is abandoned entirely, and the ending feels rushed. But the casting is better than I imagined. John C. Reilly takes a boorish character on the page and makes him a realistic bombast with enough pathos to make him seem authentic and vulnerable. Anne Heche is not an actress I’m familiar with, but she was surprisingly good as the love interest. And the rest of the cast elevates their material as well.

Overall, the experience was much like “reading the book first”. Because I had read the screenplay, I knew what was coming. But the actors did such a great job that familiar jokes were still delivered in surprisingly novel ways.

Next up: watching a movie first and reading the screenplay afterwards.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Notables from expeditious vacation

I recently vacationed in the Pacific Northwest and will now share with you some of the more memorable high points and low, which I will leave for you to sort out.
1.     The woman sitting next to me who spent the whole trip from Dallas to Seattle puking into a bag held tenuously over her boyfriend’s lap.
2.     The quaint, little Ferris wheel that now adorns the Seattle skyline.
3.     Family, of course.
4.     Concerts in the park on a crisp, bright summer’s eve.
5.     Failed and successful time-lapse movies created with my fancy-schmancy new-ish camera.
6.     A surfeit of supplies from my Mother’s cupboard.
7.     Not having enough time to see more than one friend and publicly stating that I will rectify any slights, explicit or implied, soon.
8.     The Richard Sharpe series of books—quite possibly the best and most consistently entertaining airplane books ever (Series review forthcoming)
9.     Playing hide-and-go-seek with my friend’s two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, whereupon she hid in the exact same place three times running, and, who upon waking the following morning asked, “Are we going to [That Tad Guy’s] house?” Adorable. And no.
10. Returning home, immediately jumping into an online fantasy football draft and subsequently drafting two rookie QBs—failure, thy name is jet lag.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Free awe

View of Mount Rainier from a plane, obviously.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I have three homes.

It always surprises me how well I know the places where I've lived. Cabbies be warned--I'm gunning for you. Each place is like coat I slip on and off. Sure, the patterns and designs may change, but each has its own comforting familiarity. Their own long forgotten smells. As though each one is a set of keys unlocking a different set of memories--youth, formative, adulthood. I drive assuredly. Walk assertively. Wander aimlessly and yet always with a niggling sense of direction in the back of my mind. Like a bird flying south for the winter. The branches of the tree might change, but still a tree it be.