Mélange

1. It’s September? It’s September. It’s September?!? It’s September! It’s September. It’s September. It’s September . . . (it’s September) . . .

2. I was sorry to hear of Glenn Cornick’s passing this week. He was the bass player on the first three Jethro Tull albums, as well as playing in a few precursor bands, and co-writing the group’s first single, “Aeroplane,” which was mistakenly credited to “Jethro Toe.” He was a fantastic musician, and it’s hard to imagine how such signature early Tull songs as “Living in the Past” or “Bouree” would have been so wonderful without his tasty chops holding them together. Click those two links in the prior sentence, and actually listen to the bass. Incredible stuff, truly. He also had a fine career post-Tull, ,too, that I wrote about in a post a few years back about Heavy Organ Music, and I highly recommend his work with Wild Turkey, Paris and Karthago, if you can find it. (Paris also featured the brilliant Bob Welch, who has also flown away from us, sadly, as I wrote about here). I was “friends” with Glenn Cornick on Facebook for a couple of years, back when I was more profligate in my social media practices, and his communications there were always fun, enthusiastic, engaging, and endearing. He seemed to be a lovely man who loved and was proud of his family, as well as a gifted musician who played an important role in an important band for me. Here’s wishing his friends and loved ones peace in the difficult days ahead.

John Smith, International Terrorist? Apparently so, until proven innocent.

Is this the passport photo of John Smith, International Terrorist? Apparently so, until proven innocent, again and again.

3. As noted in prior posts, Marcia and I had an amazing time in Europe last month, celebrating our 25th Anniversary. One of the things that we most appreciated was the excellent public transportation opportunities available to us, where we could effortlessly move between four sovereign nations via clean and timely trains, and could also move freely around our chosen cities in a variety of trams, buses, trains and autos. Our entire passport control experience on entering Europe was a pleasant, two-minute interview at Flughafen Frankfurt, Germany, while carrying our backpacks, and keeping our shoes, belts, jewelry and outer clothing on our bodies throughout the entire procedure. Compare and contrast this with our experience on arriving in Houston International Airport, where we waited in long lines, were yelled at more than once by airport security personnel, had to remove various items of clothing, and dismantle our traveling packs and — worst of all — where I was, once again, singled out, isolated, and treated as a security threat for no offense graver than being named “John Smith.” This is the fourth time this has happened to me when returning from abroad in the post 9/11 era, so while I’m used to it on one level, it never ceases to deeply offend and aggrieve me to have to be separated from my traveling companions and put into “supplemental screening” rooms after having my passport confiscated by airport security staff. In Houston, they would not let Marcia stay with me, and I was put under surveillance in a secure office immediately adjacent to the quarantine room where, presumably, anybody exhibiting Ebola symptoms would be held. I don’t want to be too much of a drama queen about this, but, you know what? I served my country, honorably, for a long time, and it feels really, really, really wrong for me to be treated this way when I return home after traveling abroad. It’s obviously some sort of profiling based on my very common name, but it seems that at one or more of these unfortunate stops, someone would look at the unique number on my passport and make a note in a computer somewhere that I’m really not that John Smith (whoever he might be), and that I should be able to enter the country where I was born and have lived and worked my entire life without causing security staff to put their hands on their pistols. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think it is.

4.  Another thing I enjoyed about our time in Europe: I had no cell phone coverage or connection, so I would check in via the hotel’s business center or our Netbook occasionally, but otherwise was fairly blissfully disconnected from the digital world for most of the day while we rambled about some of Europe’s great cities, seeing sites, taking pictures, drinking beer, and eating all of the things, all of them. It was effortless and delightful, and I’ve tried to eliminate a lot of online connections (e.g. sorry if I am not your Facebook friend anymore, nothing personal, really) since returning home to preserve that sense of living in the real world, without feeling obligated to monitor the virtual one. That being said, I hereby authorize anybody who reads anything I publish online to punch me in the head repeatedly if I ever succumb to writing within one of my least favorite internet memes: the highly-connected dooder or doodess who cuts him/herself off from all electronic toys for a day/week/month/whatever, and then blogs about it as though the experience were analogous to living in a Somali refugee camp for two years. It’s not that dramatic, people, honest. Most of our internet additions are nothing but habits, and if we make a little effort to break said habits (since most of them are bad, if we’re honest with ourselves, right?), and successfully do so, then . . . . well, then, nothing, because it’s not really a big deal. And if you ever liken losing your Smartphone’s social media apps to losing basic fundamental human requirements like food, water, and real face-to-face contact with peers and loved ones, then you’re probably kind of a schmuck, honestly, and there’s probably a reason why you don’t function very well in the real world. Just saying.

#applefail #cultstore #angryshopper #ipodyuck

We have five iPods for various purposes in our house, of differing ages and types — which means that we also have three different, non-compatible cords to connect the players to the master computer’s USB port. It’s an annoyance, but I’m used to it.

When we went to Florida, I forgot to bring the cord that I needed to charge the iPod Shuffles that Marcia and I use for gym workouts. We happened to stop at a mall for a brief shopping trip, and there was an Apple Store there, so I popped in to pick up one of those cords, just to have a spare.

The customer service experience that followed was singularly annoying and unproductive, as the plethora of sales associates milling around the store seemed more interested in playing with gadgets than helping or directing walk-ins — to the point of literally making it hard for me to get to the self-service wall rack for small Apple items.

When I could not find the cord I wanted on the wall rack and eventually got a service associate’s attention, I was told that they don’t sell those particular cords on their own, so I would just have to buy a new Shuffle to get one.

I expressed incredulity at the shakedown element of this scenario, at which point the associate tried to sell me a more expensive iPod instead, because the connector cords for that iPod are (for now) more readily available in Apple Stores. I told him I did not want or need another iPod, so instead he offered to provide me with an iPad tablet demo, thinking maybe I’d want one of those instead.

His affect was smug throughout, treating me like I was stupid and slow, apparently because I was not willing to wait in line to play with the latest hot technology being offered in the Apple Store. No, I just wanted to buy a cheap little gadget related to what he clearly considered to be an out of date Apple appliance, which apparently rendered me worthy of scorn and pedantry.

But I needed neither of those things, so I left, and I posted a few annoyed notes on my Twitter feed soon thereafter. Here they are:

In Apple Store, trying to buy an iPod Shuffle-to-USB cord, experiencing the most self-indulgent, inefficient sales model EVER. #appleyuck

I do not wish to join your cult, Apple, but only to buy a small accessory that will allow me to keep using your product. Y U NO sell me one?

I do not wish to chit chat, nor take a seat, nor am I in the market for a tablet. How about listen to your customers as a model, Apple?

In summary: Apple Store = dismal retail failure, filled with smug, unhelpful Mac disciples, spouting propaganda. No thank you. #applefail

Note well that I did not tag any of these tweets with any of the official or common Apple-related hashtags. Within minutes, however, I had three separate people, all in Italy (where it was the middle of the night, mind you), none of whom have ever before followed or commented on anything at Indie Moines, ever, jump down my throat about how wrong I was and how good Apple’s customer service model is.

Hmmmm. You can also note well that I have fewer than 150 followers on Twitter, so it’s not like I’m a big cheese with a wide reach on such matters, especially not in late night Italy.

This almost instantaneous barrage of pro-Apple tweets reeked obviously of poorly-managed paid social media damage control and/or of the cult-like behavior that zealous Apple devotees often demonstrate. I’ve been online and using social media longer than probably 95% of the people on the Internet, and I’ve never seen anything quite as clumsy as this.

Has anybody else ever had similar experiences when criticizing Apple in a public forum? Could they really be that protective of their brand and consumer perceptions of it, but also that clumsy at managing it?

(Note: Please don’t answer if it’s the middle of the night in Italy, and you’re on the Apple payroll. Thank you).

The Ballad of Austin G

For most of the time that we lived in Latham, New York, we were hard-wired for both television and internet purposes to Time Warner Cable of Albany. They were not cheap, and we had occasional service problems, of course, but they were generally resolved quickly. Having entertainment being pumped to us over that fat, underground wire seemed a good system, and having actually worked for Time Warner Cable of Albany for several years, I was favorably disposed toward them, even when they weren’t performing at the top of their game.

When we moved to Des Moines, I assumed that we’d find a similar “all services on one wire” situation with whoever Central Iowa’s leading cable provider might be. I was wrong: cable service in our neighborhood is patchy, low quality and expensive, so we were forced to enter into split contracts with an internet provider who pipes our bytes in via a DSL telephone line, and a television provider whose signal comes into the house via an antenna on the roof. Since the prior owners of our house had used Dish Network, it was an easy transition for us to take that contract on ourselves.

There are some things we like about Dish, but their pay-per-view service is not one of them: they have limited offerings, and since our television is not connected to the internet, we have to order movies online in advance, then make sure that we are in the TV room at the right moment to tape or watch the movies in real time. The last time we tried to do this, we pre-ordered the very marginal The Rum Diaries, and when we went to watch it, almost 25% of the movie did not successfully load, due to some communications glitch.

While Marcia fumed in her recliner, I retired to the home office to contact Dish Network, hoping that we could salvage our movie night. I used their online technical assistance service, and was connected to a technician who identified himself as Austin G. Within the first few lines of online communication, it became very clear that Austin G was a chosen (or assigned?) name of convenience for an individual who (a) was not a native English speaker, and (b) had been trained to offer replies to customers culled from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

To his (her?) immense credit, Austin G did a great job resolving the customer support issue that I brought to him/her. But as the clearly canned responses that he/she was trained to offer crossed my computer screen, the creative writer in me decided that I needed to create a character myself, one just as eager to please, but language impaired, as Austin G him/herself.

I recorded the text of the conversation and share at with you at this link:

Austin G Provides JES a Customer Service Championship Performance

I found the whole exchange very amusing, though I admit to feeling marginally guilty about it, seeing as how my amusement sort of came at someone’s expense, when they were just trying to do their job and bring home the bacon. Or the saag paneer, as appropriate. When all was said and done, Austin G took care of the problem I brought to him/her. That’s what customer service people are supposed to do, and Austin G did it well. So when I received an e-mail from Dish Network asking me about the quality of my customer support interaction, I was delighted to respond their request, even if I was not quite ready to give up the creative writing character I had embraced during my correspondence with Austin G. Here’s what I told them:

Austing G RatingI have no idea what Austin G’s real name is, nor what his or her future holds . . . but I sure hope that Austin G finds great personal and financial success in whatever city and country he or she resides in. Their assistantage was really great. And the gratitudinous was sincere. Thanks, Austin G!

I Do What I Do, Indeed I Do

I have been online for a long, long time. When the World Wide Web launched 20 years ago, I was one of the first people staking a claim to my own website there. I acquired jericsmith.com in 1999 and started blogging on September 7, 2000, before most people had any idea what “blog” meant. WordPress tells me that Indie Moines now contains 975 posts, incorporating articles written here, and at Indie Albany, and at jericsmith.com, and at Upstate Ether, and several of my earlier websites. I received a coveted Freshly Pressed nod in November 2010, and my 2004 “Worst Rock Band Ever” survey went viral in ways that most bloggers can only dream of. At bottom line, I’ve written an awful lot of words in the public domain, and had an incredible number of people read them. I’m pleased and grateful for that experience.

There are few things more boring than blogging about blogging, so I generally try to avoid doing so. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t spend a fair amount of time thinking about blogging, and what it accomplishes, and why I do it. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that my primary motivation for blogging is best summed up by one of my favorite Bonzo Dog Band songs, “What Do You Do?” Here’s that crucial cut, well worth listening to, with the lyrics transcribed below:

\

What do you do?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it every day

Why do you do it?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it anyway

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, every day
Indeed I do

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, every day
I do what I do, I am what I am
We are what we are, we do what we can

What do you do?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it everyday

Why do you do it?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it anyway

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, everyday
Indeed I do

At bottom line, in 2013, I blog because it’s what I do. Indeed I do. Why? I don’t know, but I do it (almost) every day. Is that enough? Today, I find myself answering “no.”

The most rewarding blog experience I had occured in 2004, when I set myself the task of writing and publishing a poem a day, for a full year. On December 31 of that year, I achieved my goal. Many of the poems I shared that year were, to be honest, marginal works, at best. But the discipline involved with producing them also resulted in occasional moments of brilliance, and I think some of the strongest writing I’ve ever done occurred that year, with a dozen or so of the poems I wrote going on to see publication in traditional print outlets.

After I finished the Poem A Day Project, I lost any sense of urgency for blogging, so I took a year-long blog sabbatical. When I returned, I found myself with a more engaged audience than I’d had when I retired my keyboard, so it seemed like absence actually made a lot of hearts grow fonder for my piffle and tripe. A phrase which, if you’re not a long-time reader, stemmed from a poem I once wrote, as follows:

“Piffle and tripe and balderdash!”
roared Lord MacCormack, his purple sash
rucked up beneath his ample chin,
as he pounded his desk again and again.
“Codswollop, blarney and twaddlerot!”
the good Lord raged, his temper hot,
his anger roused by news reports
of politics and sex and sports.
“Bosh, bunk, claptrap, bull and fudge!”
MacCormack the day’s events soundly judged,
while flinging his papers across the room,
and gesturing angrily into the gloom.
(His manservant, Roger, knew this was the cue
to roll in the cart, with the buns and the stew).

I have been thinking about tackling another project of the Poem A Day variety in 2014, to mark the 10th anniversary of that rewarding foray into sustained, public creative writing. But this time, I am thinking that I need the sabbatical before I start, not afterwards. So with a little bit of regret — but a larger amount of relief — I announce my intention to take an Indie Moines blog sabbatical until January 2014 to recharge the batteries, focus the thinking, and come up with a reason for blogging that’s more profound than “I do what I do, indeed I do.”

Does this mean that I’m going to quit writing? Of course not. I wish I could say that I write because I want to, but the reality is that I write because I need to. In my 2001 novel, Eponymous, protagonist Collie Hay (who I have always publicly denied is me, though everyone knows that is just diversion and posturing) is quoted as saying: “Writing is the only way that I can actually get facts and my thoughts about them in order, then do something about them and (more importantly) begin to believe that they actually happened. To me, no less. Because if I don’t (or can’t) write about something, then it’s generally not real to me — and I’ve reached a point where I want my life and my history to feel real.” That’s a true statement, made in a fictional context.

What and where will I write? First off, I have some bigger writing projects that keep getting back-burnered — since given the choice of doing a hard writing job or an easy blog post, the latter almost always wins. My primary writing objective for 2013 is to finish a theatrical adaptation of Eponymous that Marcia deftly framed, ideally creating a work that she and I can shop to local stages and actors to see if it has real-world audience appeal. I think it will, and I think Des Moines is a great place to launch it.

I have half-a-dozen short story ideas parked on my office whiteboard, so I look forward to having time to develop them fully, undistracted by self-imposed blog posting requirements. I also have many research pieces related to the Salisbury House library and collections that I will post to the blog I launched on behalf of my employer, here. I have worked as a volunteer “Art Blaster” on behalf of the Des Moines Art Center, so I intend to coordinate with volunteer and curatorial staff there to develop an outlet, somewhere, to help them interpret and share their extraordinary collections online, one way or another.

I also intend to continue communicating in the public domain via the Indie Moines Facebook and Twitter feeds, so I heartily encourage you to like or follow those pages, if you are not already doing so. I find lots of cool stuff in my forays online, and I look forward to sharing such things with you all via those social media outlets. If I place any work in traditional print outlets, I will announce it on those sites. When I travel or have other photographic adventures to report, I will post them at my Flickr account, so you might want to follow that as well.

For most of the past decade, I have done 95%+ of my pleasure reading on the elliptical at the gym or while sitting in my hot tub, so I also look forward to having more time to just sit in my own living room, reading. It will be refreshing to step away from the computer in the evening, since I’ve rarely done that for many, many years. And, finally, I am also looking forward to having our lovely daughter, Katelin, moving to Des Moines in May. It has been seven years since we’ve lived in the same city on a permanent basis, so I want to be available and accessible to her, without feeling like I have an online community that must be serviced as a priority.

All of this being said, I am humbled at the response that my writing has garnered in this and other, earlier spaces over the years, so I thank you all — my faithful readers — for your support, encouragement and interaction. I hope that you will return as active supporters in January 2014, when I launch the next phase of my blogging career, whatever it might entail. I think the break will do us all good.

I hope that you all agree!

Shotes

For a variety of reasons, both personal and professional, I’m re-engaging my social networking connections on Facebook and Twitter. If you aren’t following along, the Indie Moines Twitter feed is here, and the Facebook Group is here. I’ll wait for a minute while you go follow both of them. All set? Okay, great. Moving right along . . .

I was very active on Facebook from 2008 to 2011, but then The Destroyer blew up my account there, dropping all of my friends, likes and connections, leaving only the Indie Albany Group (which also blew up) and then the Indie Moines Group. When I decided to re-active my personal Facebook profile last week, it really bugged me when I went back in time and saw all of the dead links to old Indie Albany pages, as well as the live links to a certain Albany newspaper whose name shall not be mentioned here, because they keep my words in the public domain against my expressly stated desire that they delete them. So even though I know that virtually no one is going to go back in time to look at those updates, I felt that a full clean up was in order, because I am tidy and obsessive that way.

Thing is, though, that Facebook does not really want you to delete your back pages, so they do not provide any convenient way to batch edit that which has been posted before. So it took me about six hours to go back, post by post, through my entire Facebook account, to delete the things that I wanted deleted, leaving my profile and time line with only those links, notes and connections that I would want there if I had created the entire page in February 2013.

Since I was a prolific poster during my first foray in Facebook, this means that a whole lot of stuff went “poof” into the virtual ether as I vigorously slammed the “delete” button again and again and again. So in recognition of this corpus of lost work, I post my 50 favorite deleted status updates below, allowing you to experience in a pure, distilled version just how annoying-to-amusing it was to have been one of my 700+ Facebook friends back in the day. Proceed at your own risk . . .

  1. I shaved my head again today. Because life is so much easier when shampoo and soap are the same thing, and you don’t need to own a hair brush.
  2. Theory: Hardcore is Ayn Rand for boys who don’t like to read. Discuss.
  3. Did the Times Union win “Best Times Union” in the Times Union‘s “Best Of” poll again this year?
  4. After the rapture, all your breakfast are belong to us.
  5. 18 holes at Winding Brook Country Club today . . . . Slicey Lostballs rides again!
  6. OMFG!!! SUPERMOON CAUSES BIG EAST TEAMS TO FORGET HOW TO PLAY BASKETBALL!!!! OMFG!!!! SRSLY!!!!
  7. The Cowboys are 1-4 and the Yankees are done for the season. The Universe is a good place to live in tonight.
  8. I have no idea who these Jon and Kate people are, nor why I see them every time I log onto any major news/public website. As best I can figure, all they did was have a litter of puppies and cheat on each other. Why is this news?
  9. In the 44 Stanley Cup finals since 1968, 19 titles have gone to Original Six teams, 15 titles have gone to the eleven franchises added in the ’68-’75 expansion, eight titles have gone to the four World Hockey Association (WHA) franchises that were merged into the NHL, while only two titles have gone to the nine franchises added in ’92-’01. Can we just move the WHA franchises back to their original markets, and write off that ’92-’01 expansion as an expensive mistake?
  10. Why does Albany’s Hipsteroisie care more about chickens in backyards than they do about education, transportation, public health, absentee landlords, and street safety? Is it because hens are generally cuter than cops and teachers and bus drivers?
  11. I was sitting in IHOP eating all-wheat pancakes when the Talking Heads song “(Nothing But) Flowers” came on the stereo, and I found myself thinking: “This may well be the worst song ever written, arranged, recorded and released.”
  12. Oxymorons: jumbo shrimp, minor crisis, old news, instant classic, conspicuous absence, Academy Award Winner Sandra Bullock.
  13. I think the world would be a much, much, much better place if Jane’s Addiction would just GO away, and STAY away. Thank you.
  14. Mean grows The Bumble, Oh.
  15. Eric: “Why am I a crank??” Marcia: “Because you have strong opinions about too many topics.”
  16. I am awe-inspired afresh every quarter when my new issue of “The Journal of The International Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning Association” arrives. Riveting reading. Great graphic design. Aces.
  17. Dear FOX Sports TV, Please, please, please retire the stupid football robot. And also Jimmy Johnson. Signed, Grateful Football Watcher.
  18. I lost my harmonica, Albert.
  19. I just finished watching Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” What a stupid, artless, pointless, needless piece of marketeer-driven codswollop, one of the worst movies I’ve ever sat through. I’m not sure I can forgive Tim Burton for this one. I know that Lewis Carroll can’t, since they even botched and truncated the magnificent “Jabberwocky” poem.
  20. I am making Turkey Tetrazzini out of leftover Thanksgiving white meat, but I know that THE BROOD is going to be gnawing the dark meat off the bones tonight, regardless.
  21. Accounting is a science. Budgeting is an art.
  22. Taking a benadryl at 9 AM on a work morning = BAD IDEA.
  23. JES lives in a capital I. In the middle of the desert. In the center of the sky.
  24. We ate at Reykjavik’s finest traditional Icelandic restaurant last night. Minke whale, puffin and foal (horse veal) were on the menu, though (alas) fermented ammonia shark was not.
  25. My father and I both went through our 20s being told we looked like Tommy Smothers. I’m reading a bio of the Smothers Brothers now, and learn that their dad was from the Winston-Salem, NC area . . . the same area that my dad’s dad was from. I wonder if we’re cousins?
  26. I can now plug an iPod into the car stereo. This is the official death knell of the CD collection accordingly.
  27. Uh oh . . . Capitals take a 3-1 series lead over the Rangers. For a lifelong Caps fan, there are few more terrifying situations than a 3-1 lead in the first round of the playoffs . . .
  28. I always liked Goofy Grape better than Choo Choo Cherry, although Rootin Tootin Raspberry wasn’t bad either.
  29. Okay, I declare spring in Albany to be a bust. Again.
  30. Fragment from an old music review: “There are only three contemporary vocalists more annoying than Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, and all of them are members of the Beastie Boys.”
  31. Revive the dying vine, restore the ruling line, then contemplate the whims of fate, until the next decline.
  32. I have put 197 songs by COIL, Throbbing Gristle and Butthole Surfers on his iPod Shuffle. There will be many dramatic commutes over the next couple of weeks as a result.
  33. I am trying to catch up with the spirit of the age.
  34. My inner monologue sounds uncannily like Nathan Explosion.
  35. I am trying to figure out how to get Marcia to like Napalm Death, so I can put them on the family iPod play list . . . . . hmmmmm . . . . . .
  36. I can’t decide how I feel about one of my student board members greeting me with “Hey, dog” as we passed in the hallway.
  37. I just listening to Alice Donut’s cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind,” which replaces Black Francis’ vocals with a trombone solo. It’s the best Pixies cover ever, for people like me, who don’t actually like the Pixies.
  38. I am having a Uriah Heepathon tonight. Because . . . . well, just because.
  39. I get mad at people who think the walrus says “koo koo ka-choo”. It’s “goo goo g’joob,” dammit!!!
  40. I am off to Binghamton. I hope the mud is in blossom!
  41. I practice conservation of friends: when new friends are created, old friends must be destroyed.
  42. Be careful what you ask for, because I just might make a spreadsheet.
  43. I am raising intellectual self-indulgence to an art form.
  44. The most convincing proof of institutional racism in the NFL is the fact that Norv Turner has been hired to coach three teams in the league.
  45. I have been listening to a lot of grindcore and jazz lately. When you put them in the same iTunes playlist, magic happens . . . they totally go together like peanut butter and bearing grease . . .
  46. The female-to-male ratio on the dance floor tonight was about 8 to 1 when “Don’tcha” by the Pussycat Dolls played. I really felt let down by the local chapter of Team Testosterone.
  47. I had to turn off Napalm Death tonight, because the child said “It makes my insides hurt.”
  48. I wonder when people stopped understanding which music you mosh to, and which music you don’t.
  49. I think “fantod” is a magnificent word.
  50. I am cooking up a pot of Allen’s White Hominy. Please . . . try to contain your jealousy.

Oh, and the title of this post? I meant to type “Shorts” as a place holder, but my typographical error seemed somehow more fitting. I don’t know why.

How Dare I Be So Beautiful?

1. This morning we got up early so I could drive Marcia downtown to run in a 5K race that was staged alongside the Des Moines marathon. It was a chilly, early way to start the day, but I was happy to hang out near the finish line, so I could watch the results shown in the strip above (click it to enlarge): she won her division (based on age and gender), finished 26th out of 682 women running the race, and 135th out of 1,123 finishers overall, including all the men. I was exhausted just watching her sprint across the finish line, well ahead of the main pack of runners. Imagine how all the dudes that she smoked on the course felt.

2. It’s probably not surprising, given how many words I pump out on various keyboards every week, that I am a very accomplished typist. I would readily put my words-per-minute and accuracy rates up against pretty much anybody, and I know that I can hold my own against a lot of really speedy administrative professionals when it comes to moving words from brain to screen. What might surprise people, though, is how I manage to type extremely quickly and accurately without ever having learned the “proper” way to work a keyboard. I do not use all of my fingers when I type, and the ones that I do use don’t ever sit on their home keys the way they are supposed to. I was sitting in a meeting a couple of weeks ago, recording the proceedings in my role as secretary of the corporation, and I found myself actively watching my fingers as they worked, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before. So here’s a synopsis of how hideously I type, by finger, recorded while watching myself pound the keyboard in real time:

Left hand, pinky: Shift key.

Left Hand, ring finger: Not used.

Left hand, middle finger: Q, A, Z, W, S, X, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 keys.

Left hand, pointer finger: E, D, C, R, F, V, T, G, B keys.

Left hand, thumb: Not used.

Right hand, thumb: Space bar.

Right hand, pointer finger: Y, H, N, U, J, M, I, K O, L, P, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, colon, quotation, comma and period keys.

Right hand, middle finger: Backspace.

Right hand, ring finger: Not used.

Right hand, pinky finger: Not used.

I have had several surgeries on my right hand, and I think that the fact that I don’t use most of that hand is probably a function of the fact that it was often wrapped in casts and splints when I started typing regularly in college. I had not realized how much distance on the keyboard I covered with my right pointer finger, though. And I don’t know why my left ring finger never strikes the keyboard. That just seems weird. But I guess it doesn’t matter, in the end, since I manage to do something in a completely inept and unconventional way, but yet manage to achieve above satisfactory results while doing so. I think there’s probably a lesson in here, somewhere. Do you know what it might be?

3. As I’ve noted here before, I don’t watch a lot of television, so when I do, I probably pay more attention to commercials than most people do, since I don’t watch many of them. One of the major themes that I have noted in commercials sponsoring the shows I watch is that apparently having the very latest and greatest in computer and phone technology is a very, very important thing to a lot of people. Personally, I don’t even have any idea what “3-G” or “4-G” or “5-G” means when it comes to my phone, but this seems to be something of deep import to the sorts of folks who camp out overnight to get new tech toys, or who walk around with phone things sticking out of their ears, talking into the air, looking like idiots. I guess I am something of an iconoclast in this regard, as I do everything I can to make my electronic devices last as long as they can. Case in point: I have owned only three computers since 1993, all of them PCs, and all of which I’ve expanded, adapted or adjusted over time to maximize their life expectancies. So I only update my main tech toy every six to seven years, and when I do, it’s usually because something has broken beyond my ability to repair it, not because I am dazzled by its replacement. I guess I am not the target audience for most of those “gotta have the new thing” commercials, huh?

4. Music is an obviously effective communication tool, which is why many artists use their musical talents to make political statements, especially in election years. Here are three of my favorite 2012 tunes that touch on important socio-political themes underpinning this year’s election:

Subprime Lenders by Crudbump (language warning)

All Hail the Corporation by Andy Prieboy

Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro by Devo

Come, Let Us Gaze at our Navels Together! (Blogging on Blogging)

As I’ve written here and elsewhere many times before, I’ve been longtime online . . . and the odds are very, very, very good that I’ve had a personal website and a blog for a lot longer than anybody else reading this post today.

That being the case, I don’t make these statements today with any authority or arrogance in my (written) voice, since I’m not really sure whether my internet longevity as a (mostly) unpaid “content provider” is something that I should revel in or be punished for at this point. I’m kind of thinking more the latter lately, truth be told, as it becomes increasingly clear to me that the whole concept of blogging probably jumped the shark quite some time ago, and I continue to engage in it more as an act of inertia than an act of exploration.

When I sit down at the computer these days, I generally feel the same way that I do when I sit in front of a television with cable service: I have thousands of channels to choose from, but I can never find anything that I really want to watch or read, 99% of the time. (The online “one percenters” for me are, for the most part, linked on one or the other of my blogs, so if you see a link to someone on any site I administer, you can be sure that I consider it to be a highly valuable internet commodity). I just keep clicking and clicking and clicking, and maybe I’ll find something that amuses me for 10 minutes or so, but I rarely stumble upon anything that truly rocks my world anymore, the way the internet, websites and blogs did when I first discovered them. Why is that?

I think in large part it is because most of the large and busy blog portals these days are built upon a model where profit-earning corporations squeeze dollars from the sweat equity pumped in by unpaid bloggers eager to earn “exposure,” even though most of them would never, ever be able to earn a paid print byline based on the quality of their contributions. But in a world where anonymous cranks and sockpuppets can generate massive advertising revenue in the comments section of an amateurishly provocative blog (much to the finance department’s great and glowing satisfaction), where are the quality filters?

Frankly, I am just as tired of having to trawl through the growing mass of words tossed online by unrealistically enthusiastic amateurs as I am of untrained film-makers thinking that they are artistes because they shoot scenes in shaky-cam mode on their phones and can’t be bothered with scripts. I want some editing these days, dammit. And quality control. And good lighting and cinematography. And stories, not just opinions, or reactions. Whatever happened to those things, oh, my droogs? Lamentations!!!

I’ve been a regular, steady, forward-looking adapter throughout my time online, and when things have gotten stale for me, I have always been able to find something new and exciting to represent the next phase. But I’ve not (yet) figured out what comes after blogging at this point, since the alternatives all seem feeble by comparison.

The way I see it, a blog is a modern-day equivalent of a thoughtfully-composed diary or a journal, except that it gets shared with whoever wants to read it, rather than getting stuffed between the mattress and the box-spring of the bed. There’s a lot of potential there, even if the execution is often lacking.

Facebook, on the other hand, is nothing more than a high school yearbook that you try to get all the cool people in school to sign. Twitter is a note you pass around class with a funny picture of your Spanish teacher on it. Pinterest is a cork bulletin board above your headboard, most of it filled with things (and people) that you covet, but will never own. LinkedIn is a sterile speed-dating service, where you swap business cards instead of saliva. None of those are even vaguely viable replacements for blogs/journals/diaries, in my eyes . . . and it’s disturbing to me that I don’t really see anything else that is.

I’m really pretty good at walking away from things when the time comes to do so. Good case in point: I don’t miss social media of the Facebook variety at all, having turned my back on it well more than a year ago now. Sure, it was fun to accumulate 700 “friends” and to try to find amusing bullet points and pictures to share with them all on a daily basis, but the reality is that ones I really care about (and who really care about me) have always been able to find me online: I mean, if you know how I write my name, then I’m the number one reply on Google for “J. Eric Smith,” and I make my e-mail address public, so how much simpler could connecting with me be? And on the flipside: how much do I really want to know about what 700 people ate for breakfast, or what their children did in the bathroom last night, or where they are having coffee this afternoon? (A: Not much, sorry.)

What inspired this round of bloggy navel-gazing? I received a “your domain is about to expire” notice on Indie Albany this week, and I had to decide whether I wanted to spend the money and time required to renew the domain, and the private registration, and the no-advertising premium payment, as well as the emotional/psychological/time commitment needed to provide quality control and promotion for the site at a level commensurate with what I have provided since I launched it a couple of years ago.

I decided to renew it all for one more year, mainly because I really love all of the writers who write there, and I can’t think of another place where I will be able to read what they have to share if I shut that platform down. I’m hoping for a bit more clarity in the months ahead, and perhaps the emergence of a more obvious next step before July 2013, when I will have to make this decision again.

At bottom line, though . . . I am interested in why you blog, and why I (and the other writers on the websites I administer) should continue to do so, especially if our online neighborhood becomes increasingly polluted and/or pedestrian, which seems to be the case. Care to share?

Automobiles, Architecture, Artistry and Awe

One of the biggest events we do each year here at my place of work is the Salisbury Concours d’Elegance, an exhibition of exquisite classic automobiles which will be held on Sunday, September 9, 2012. This event is a good fit for our organization on a variety of planes, first and foremost because we have three exceptional automobiles of our own in the House collection — two Packards (1929 and 1933) and a Cadillac (1932) — and it’s nice for them to have classy company and eager visitors on occasion.

But I think there’s also a deeper resonance between the aesthetics of classic car design and the artistic and architectural presence here at Salisbury House. To explore this theme further, I wrote a piece for the Concours d’Elegance Planning Committee’s newsletter about how we fit and work together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. You can read it by clicking on the image of our ’33 Packard below, parked in front of our cottage. It includes some other awesome shots of art, architecture and automobiles, all taken where I go to work each day, at Salisbury House and Gardens.

Just When You Thought that the Interwebs Couldn’t Get Any Stupider

In a recent e-mail exchange, a friend ended a conversation by noting “Just when you thought that the interwebs couldn’t get any stupider . . . “

But, of course, we both know that the interwebs will invariably generate something even stupider at some point, and we will invariably spend way too much time looking at it and laughing. I know this for a fact, because having been online since the early ’90s, I’ve watched a lot of entertaining internet stupidity over the years.

My friend’s comment got me to pondering some of my favorites from way back when, before instant indexing and social media and simple blogging software and organized web portals made it relatively easy for things to go viral and gain large, instant audiences. Once upon a time, you had to look to find the stupid online, and it was totally worth it when you found it, since you’d really earned the right to giggle like an idiot.

So here are a dozen of my favorite classic time-wasters, in various flavors and shades of stupid or sublime, from those earlier days of the world wide web:

zombo.com: (Sound required). From around 1999, and still possibly the greatest website ever, because you can do anything there!

Alkulukuja Paskova Karhu : (Sound required, mild language warning). Is there’s a better way to teach kids about this particular aspect of mathematics? I do not believe that there is.

snarg: (Sound required). This goes back to about 1995 or 1996, and it is one of the first things I saw online that made me thing that the internet could actually serve as a platform for creating legitimate art. Click around and explore: there’s a synthesizer so you can adjust the music, lots of cool popups and pretty images, and a hidden message board so you can let folks know you were there.

Frog in a Blender: (Sound required). I’m guessing this is among the most well-known items in my list, since it was one of the first interactive Flash animations that was widely shared online at the time, and it launched the Joe Cartoon brand. Still funny. Still wrong.

Annoy the Little Man: (Sound required). This originally appeared on futile.com, which was an amazing portal of time-wasting internet stupidity back in the day, where the Little Man was joined by other pointless gems, like Squish the Bug. I should probably be embarrassed to admit how many times I annoyed the Little Man and squished the bug. Heh heh. Heh. Heh heh heh.

The Stinky Meat Project : Answers the immortal question: “What happens if I leave some hot dogs, a steak, and some hamburger in my neighbor’s back yard for a couple of weeks?”

hell.com : The original website is no longer online or available, so I’ve linked to the Wikipedia article about it instead. What happened at hell.com? Absolutely nothing, for years and years and years. But there was just enough interactivity, and just enough text about membership and secret stuff, that it made you feel like if only you could find the right combination of clicks, you’d enter some amazing Internet Kingdom of the Damned. But you couldn’t, and it didn’t, though you kept on trying . . . for years and years and years . . .

Superbad : One of the first sites that specialized in massive cross-linking of seemingly unrelated images and texts, creating something of an art statement that was greater than the sum of its parts. I kept trying to get to the end of it, and am not sure I ever did.

Applied Solipsism Campaign : Website banners were a hot thing online for a few years. These were the only ones that I flew on my websites, much to my own amusement.

Flame Warriors : I watched the database of Flame Warriors being compiled in real time, one warrior at a time, many of them suggested by readers. The concept was originally themed around online message boards and forums, but it applies just as well to today’s unmoderated blog comment pages.

Tolkien Sarcasm Page : If you understand why this is hilarious, then you are a dork. Welcome to the club.

We Like the Moon: (Sound required). The Spongmonkeys are terrifying and cute in equal measure, and their little song about some of their favorite things is a weird masterpiece.

JES Live: The Digital Tourist

I mentioned here a while back about having spoken at the State of Now Conference in Des Moines, on the topic of what I called digital tourism, which probably doesn’t mean quite what you might think it means. I was pleased to learn this morning that a high quality recording of my ten-minute remarks is now available online, so even if you weren’t there, you can learn what my secretarial position in the government of Cyber-Yugolslavia was. Seriously. So if you’ve only experienced my piffle and tripe in written format to date, here’s what it looks and sounds like when I deliver it live and in person . . . complete with a screen-capture that makes it look like I am about to attempt to fly, or deliver an interpretive dance . . .

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