Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It's a Clock. It's Cool.

I found this today on John Gushue's blog. It's called a timeline clock. Moving from right to left, it shows the movement of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, get the idea. I guess you could use this as a screensaver if you wanted to, but I'd probably just sit there staring at it all day, getting nothing done.

Not that that's a bad thing, mind you.

Quote of the Day:

"I'm not going to vacuum 'til Sears makes one you can ride on."

--Rosanne Barr

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

1927 Blog-a-Thon: I'm In

As the years go by, I become more and more interested in learning about America during the 1920s. It seems that so many things I enjoy, or at least am intrigued by, either started or flowered during that time -- early jazz from artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, silent comedies featuring Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, commercial radio broadcasts, Babe Ruth...the list goes on and on.

That's why I was pleased, then, when I was browsing a great new blog I've found called The Sheila Variations and learned about something called the 1927 Blog-a-Thon. It's being hosted by a blog movie critic and old movie afficionado named "Goatdog" at his blog. Here, he explains the simple rules for the Blog-a-Thon:

You're invited to take part in a blogathonic celebration of the year that changed Hollywood: 1927 saw, among other things, the beginning of sync sound, the last great silents, and the birth of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Over the weekend of March 23-25, 2007, post something pertaining to film in 1927: a film released that year, a great performance, something historical—whatever strikes your fancy, as long as you can connect it to both film and 1927. All bloggers or writers are welcome, even if you don't normally write about film. During the blessed weekend, email me a link to your post, and I'll link to all of the entries as they come in.

My mind is already buzzing with possible 1927 film topics that I can research and write about. It should be fun.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Random Observations and Trivial Events

Blue Hawaii

If you think you’ve got it bad paying your rent or writing the mortgage check, it would be worse if you lived in Hawaii. I just read an article in the January 11 Wall Street Journal which says that median rents in Hawaii are the highest in the nation. How high? Well, the going monthly rate for a two-bedroom apartment is about $1,901. That means you’d be paying $22,812 a year for rent on what’s probably a little crackerbox apartment.

Considering that the average wage for Hawaiian workers is just $36,355 a year (before taxes), then you can see why more and more people in Hawaii are becoming homeless, despite the fact that they hold down full-time jobs. The article says that many of them are setting up tents on public beaches and living there, which sort of takes something away from the postcard pretty image of Hawaii most people have.

One big reason rents – and housing prices in general – are so high in Hawaii, of course, is that land is quite scarce, and very rich types from the U.S., Japan and elsewhere have been driving prices up by buying vacation homes, or buying normal apartment complexes and transforming them into super-pricey condos.

To a slightly lesser extent, I’ve heard this same sort of problem exists in high-rent parts of California, where land prices and rents are so dear that regular workers – even people like professors, who don’t make chump change – can’t even live in the cities they work in, and have to drive in many miles each day because they have to go all the way out into Hicksville to be able to find affordable housing.

Thank goodness that housing prices in Central Texas are still a very affordable bargain compared to the rest of the U.S.

Did These Guys Get Hit By a Pitch Too Often?

I wasn’t too surprised this week when the news came out that former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire was soundly rejected by the baseball writers who voted for the newest inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. McGwire’s name was included on just 128 of the 545 ballots cast, a 23.5 percent showing that wasn’t even close to the 75 percent needed to get him into the Hall.

I wasn’t surprised McGwire got left out, despite the fact that he broke Roger Maris’s season home run total of 61, because of all the doubts about whether he took steroids. What did surprise me – no, make that what did astound me – was what I read on the chart the papers printed of the baseball players with the all-time highest percentages of approving votes for the Hall of Fame.

What I couldn’t believe was not the names of the players who got the highest percentage of votes. I mean, they’re baseball legends - guys like Nolan Ryan and Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron. What is amazing to me is that none of these greats were voted in unanimously.

For example, take Babe Ruth, who arguably was the most famous American baseball player, if not the best player ever. When it came time for Ruth to be considered for the Hall of Fame, he was named on 215 of the 226 ballots, a 95.13 percentage. This means that there were 11 baseball writers (from Mars? Uranus?) who didn’t think Babe Ruth was worthy of being chosen for the Hall of Fame on his first eligibility. What sports writer, might I ask, could have been unconvinced that Babe Ruth deserved the Hall of Fame?

Ruth isn’t the only legend that’s been snubbed this way. Sixteen writers didn’t think Johnny Bench had the stuff for the Hall of Fame. Five writers snubbed Tom Seaver, six vetoed Nolan Ryan, four said no to Ty Cobb. Even Hank Aaron –– still the all-time career home run champion – was deemed unworthy of the Hall of Fame by nine professional sports writers.

I mean, what kind of nutcases are these guys? And what publications did they write for? Mad magazine?

Quote of the Day:

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

--James Goldsmith

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My Checkout Lane Fantasies

I might have mentioned on this blog before that I do most of the grocery shopping for the Muley family. I know this is somewhat unusual for a married guy to admit, but since I like to cook, and I like to experiment with new recipes, and most of the time I really enjoy grocery shopping (or at least don't hate it as much as most guys do), I try to pull my weight and help Mrs Muley with the chores by offering to buy the groceries.

I tell you all this only as an introduction. During my frequent trips to buy groceries, at both a huge "Mart-type" store as well as a huge chain grocery store, I have noticed that all of the checkers ask each customer the same thing at the beginning of the checkout process: "Did you find everything that you need?"

Every single time, even when I have been unable to locate a number of items, either because they don't carry that brand, or are just temporarily out, I invariably smile (and lie) by responding, "Yes." And I have never heard another customer ever do anything else except say "Yes," too, when that question was asked.

I am sure that all of these checkers are not asking this same question by random chance. Undoubtedly, they have been instructed by the management to ask this of every poor sap who wheels his cart up to the line. But lately I have begun to wonder: WHY are these checkers told to ask this? What is the purpose?

I mean, let's say a customer approaches the checkout line, begins unloading groceries, is asked, "Did you find everything that you need?," and answers, "No, in fact, I was looking for the Porky Pie Farms 32-ounce jar of pickled pig's feet, and you're all out"? What would happen next?

My guess is that the sullen 18-year-old checker girl with the tattoos and the lip piercings would then just stare at the customer silently for a few seconds before replying, "Oh...bummer," before resuming dragging the food across the scanner. Or maybe she would ask one of the 18-year-old stockboys with the permanently attached blaring iPod to go look for the missing item, after which he would report back on its absence, followed by the checker replying,"Oh...bummer."

That's probably what would happen, but that's boring. My imagination has come up with some wonderful things that could happen when I said items were missing (if this were a perfect world):

1. A rotating light on the checkstand begins flashing, like the ones on Las Vegas slot machines, and the store manager comes up to me, gives me a crisp $100 bill, and explains it is the company's "Thanks For Telling the Truth" gift. He then takes my name and enters me in a drawing to win a dream home, a Hawaiian vacation and a guest starring role on "CSI."

2. The manager comes up, apologizes profusely for not having the item in stock, then pulls up his shirt and says, "Okay, look, hit me as hard as you want. I deserve it. No, come on, I can take it. Hit me a good one, right in the ol' gut."

3. The store manager comes out, apologizes profusely for not having the item, then offers me psychological counseling free of charge to help me deal with any feelings of distress or loss I might be experiencing. If I agree, I am guided to a small, plush room in back of the management offices, where a smiling psychologist has me lie on a couch while asking me to "share my pain" and "express my anger without fear of communal reprisal." If I seem to tear up a bit, I am offered my choice of day-old bakery items free of charge.

4. When the manager determines what department of the store the missing item is in, the supervisor of that department is quickly summoned to the front, and an announcement is made over the loudspeaker that "a punishment session will take place in five minutes next to the green vegetables." All the customers rush to where a portable stage has quickly been assembled. If this is the supervisor's first or second offense, he or she is let off with a light flogging, issued by a large woman dressed in a leather bustier and face mask, brandishing a thick bullwhip. If this is the department supervisor's third offense, a group of stockboys is issued loaded rifes and the offender is executed by firing squad (after punching out on the time clock, of course).

5. The last one is my ultimate fantasy. When I tell the checker about the item I could not find, she pushes a large red button under her register, and many things happen simultaneously: the doors into and out of the store automatically close tight, sirens begin to wail, primary lighting is shut off, and a voice over the loudspeaker blares, "This is an emergency product lockdown. I repeat, this is an emergency product lockdown. Everyone remain still until further notice."

At the same time, a message goes out to the company's main regional distribution center, listing the store number and the name and UPC product code of the missing item. Within seconds, the computer retrieval system drops the item on a conveyer belt and delivers it to a team of waiting store personnel dressed in emergency flight suits and survival gear. They hop into a helicopter waiting on a nearby helipad, and within minutes they fly to the store and land on the roof.

As I watch, amazed, a skylight opens above the checkout line where I still stand, a rope is dropped, and a man rappels down, landing directly in front of me. He bends down, kisses my feet repeatedly, then gets up and hands me my 32-ounce jar of pig's feet.

Before being pulled back up to his waiting helicopter, he looks me straight in the eyes and asks, "Sir, was there anything else you couldn't find today?"

And I say, "Well, there was this new brand of fat-free yogurt I'd heard about..."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Friday, January 05, 2007

Self-inflicted Book Meme

I imagine that taking the time and trouble to fill out a lengthy meme simply because you came across it yourself on someone else's site (and not because a friend tagged you with it, and you only complete it so that the guilt caused by your contemplation of ignoring it entirely will cease oozing out of your pores like pus) is considered bad form, or possibly a sign of lunacy, such as calling up a telemarketer and begging them (please! please!) to tell you about all the sweet deals they have to offer you.

However, when I was on my "Reacquaint Myself with the Blogosphere" tour today, I came across a book meme on Pages Turned called the Calvino Meme, and it intrigued me so much I decided to fill it out, as if it had been sent to me by a fellow blogger I owed money to.

And, in the same spirit in which I found it, I will not create any more bad karma in the world by tagging any of you with it. If you choose to answer it on your blog, it's your own pus. I mean fault.

Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages

The Divine Comedy by Dante

I want to read it, even though I’ve heard it’s not all that funny.

Bleak House by Dickens

I have made a life commitment to read all the novels of Charles Dickens, but for some anal retentive reason I am sticking to a resolve to read them in order of publication. I figure that if I don’t do this, I’ll never get around to finding the wherewithal to tackle such dull entries as Barnaby Rudge, which I’ve already slogged through. I’ve heard so much about what a great, entrancing masterpiece Bleak House is, but I’m only now reading Martin Chuzzlewit, so I’ve got a ways to go before I can tackle Bleak and not feel somewhat guilty.

The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon

When I was a young schoolboy, a couple of the other bookish kids I ran around with at Frostwood Elementary in Houston and I had a contest to see who could finish reading this tome, the thickest book we could find in the school library. It's not really all that long by adult standards (especially if you've read Tom Clancy or one of Dickens' doorstops), but for some reason I've never been able to get further than a few chapters into it.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Hardy
Ulysses by Joyce

The Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success

The Proven Way to Lose Weight, Have Great Sex and Make a Fortune By Doing Whatever You Fancy at the Moment, However Self-indulgent and Trivial

I can’t find this magical classic anywhere, no matter how hard I search.

The Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case

The Oxford Unabridged Dictionary

I want the real shelf-sagging McCoy, not the thing on compact disc. I want a dictionary you have to carry in a wheelbarrow.

The Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer

Does this mean that you put them aside because they're so dull you could wait six months to read them without any problem? Or are they so good and juicy that you're "saving" them for leisurely (ha!) vacation reading? I'm not sure, so I can't answer this.

The Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves

I'm collecting the entire All-American Ads series of books by Taschen. They each have hundreds of wonderful, full-color magazine ads from a decade or two of the 20th century, which offer a neat look at what kinds of things ordinary folks spent their time dreaming and partaking of. I own the ones for the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, but they're somewhat pricey, and I haven't bought more yet. I still need the ones for 1900-1919, the 1920s, the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. There's not one yet for the 1990s.

The Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified

Old books of etiquette, such as the ones by Emily Post. It's amazing how things taken entirely for granted today were considered weird or downright scandalous just a few decades ago. For example, in the edition released the year I was born (1960), it says that public airings of buttocks cleavage and multiple facial piercings were not acceptable at a cotillion.

Any kind of pop-up books, the more intricate and innovative the better.

Books Read Long Ago That It’s Now Time to Re-read

All the novels of Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, one of my all-time favorites and one of the few books that made me laugh so hard I hurt.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Many of the novels of Kurt Vonnegut

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Books That If You Had More Than One Life You’d Certainly Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered

The 11-volume, colorful and quite dusty railroad train of books on my top shelf known collectively as The Story of Civilization by the Durants, which I bought cheap at a Barnes and Noble sale many years ago and have yet to crack.

Quote of the Day:

"If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms around their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”

--Charles Spurgeon

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is Book Browsing an Endangered Pastime?

Since re-entering the blogosphere a few days ago after many months away, I’ve been busy checking through the blogs of some people I had read regularly back in the days. It’s been sort of like showing up at a high school reunion after many years – some people are exactly the same, while others have changed.

For one thing, there must be some kind of jammin', fertile electro-emissions coming from the computer screens when someone visits a blog site, because it seems at least half of the women whose sites I used to visit are now pregnant. In fact, most seem to be ready to deliver any day. There’s apparently been some very productive time spent away from the keyboard in the past half year or so. You rascals, you.

And I just about did one of those classic Oliver Hardy big-eyed double takes when I read the incredible news that Jeff was engaged. Man, people are getting together every which way around here! Did my mere absence cause all of this? (By the way, congratulations, Jeff).

My topic of the day, if I must have one, is books. Specifically, old, used, second-hand books, and the reading of them. In visiting my old cyber haunts, I came across this link to an essay by a Canadian, David Warren, lamenting the demise of antiquarian booksellers. An excerpt:
The Internet has been taking over their function -- inefficiently, since the main point of visiting a second-hand store is to discover books, not track them down. But the real cause lies deeper. Today, we have, especially among university graduates, a full generation of people who cannot read a book. This is especially true of graduates in the humanities, who have the additional disability of never having been exposed to one. They have learned only “theory,” from things that are not books. And their money is reserved for other “consumer durables.”
I also can relate to his description of his book acquisition habits, although I’m probably not as successful a winnower:
I once had a large library, of which I was inordinately proud. Thanks to accidents and vagaries of postmodern life, I now have a much smaller library, but one that has through the winnowing of necessity become more truly useful. So many books that I only piously hoped to read, went on to other pious hopers, leaving me only a core to which I cling, as to an identity.
If you’re like me, someone who actually enjoys spending hours wandering around a used bookstore or a large public or university library, just browsing the aisles to see what’s on them, then you’ve probably already gotten the feeling that this is an endangered pastime. More and more libraries are ditching their “physical” books, which take up space and must regularly be cleaned and re-bound, for “electronic” books that can be accessed so cleanly and easily in the four square feet of space it takes to support an Internet portal.

I work as a volunteer for my local public library’s used book sale. It’s our job throughout the year to sort and store all of the used books people donate. I was surprised to learn just how many of those discarded books are from the public library itself. Their only sin is that they’re not new or “hot” books, possibly covering subjects or by authors that are no longer in style, and I guess, therefore, irrelevant to the modern reader. It’s been eye-opening to me to see what librarians these days think isn’t worth saving shelf space for.

At the college where I work, long-range plans are being studied that would make indiscriminate browsing of the type I enjoy almost impossible. They’re thinking of one day going to an “off-site book retrieval system” of some sort. What that means is that they won’t actually get rid of the physical books, they’ll just store them where the public can’t get at them. To do so, we’ll have to fill out a request slip with the title, author and call number, and then some sort of mechanical Rube Goldberg contraption will reach into the bowels of the storage warehouse, put the book on a moving pathway and eventually deliver it to the circulation desk. That way, the library folks can get rid of those big shelves and have lots of extra room for more couches and computer terminals and espresso machines.

The main problem with this system, and with visiting electronic used booksellers on the Internet, is that it eliminates, or at least severely impairs, browsing with no specific end in mind. You pretty much have to know either the title of the book you’re looking for, or its author. There will be no more of, say, wanting to see what types of books the library or bookstore might have on one subject, and then getting completely captivated by books on another entirely different subject that were noticed along the way.

I have found some of my favorite books and authors by sheer indiscriminate browsing. I’ll go into the library looking for one certain book, find it, and then start looking at the books standing nearby on the shelves. If I notice an interesting title, or an attractive or exotic binding, I’ll pull out the book and start flipping through. Many times I’m disappointed, but I cherish those times when I find some author, possibly many years dead and unread for generations, who tickles my fancy.

I mean, how in the world are you supposed to pick out an attractive art book – or a book to read to your child before bedtime – unless you can phsyically pick them up and flip through them? Yes, yes, I know you can conceivably look at any book online, but how much time and trouble does that take? You can take down a book and decide quickly by looking into it if it’s not for you, then pick up the next and repeat the process. Imagine how much more complicated (and how less enjoyable) that task is online.

Of course, I know that you can go into a big chain bookstore like Barnes & Noble or Borders and browse to your heart's content. And if the book you're in the mood for is something recent, or something eternally popular, then you might very well be in luck. But you'll find none of the quirky, old, forgotten books that reside in libraries or used bookshops. And the selection will be a mile wide and an inch deep. Take the works of Charles Dickens. Sure, almost any chain bookstore will stock copies of Great Expectations or David Copperfield or Oliver Twist. But how many will stock every one of Dicken's novels? And will there be all those interesting books about Dickens and his life and times, and the other books analyzing Dickens' works, which a good library will have close at hand? Doubtful.

Oh, well. At least down here in Texas we have the Half Price Books chain, which is where I spend a sizeable amount of my disposable income each year (although I have to drive to either Austin or Dallas to visit one). They seem to be doing a boffo business, so I don’t see them disappearing anytime soon, even if the public libraries here go with one of these soulless retrieval systems.

Monday, January 01, 2007

...As I Was Saying Before I Was So Rudely Interrupted

Well, it was like this, see. We were in the drive-in lane of a Wendy's in Albuquerque, waiting on an order of Frostys and Biggie Fries, when an incredibly bright light filled our car, blinding us all. Next thing I knew, I'm strapped on some sort of table under a lot of blinking lights and whirring machinery. I'm covered in what feels like last week's spaghetti, and some huge creature with a face full of eybealls and tentacles is poking and prodding me and making noises like I'd never heard before.

Of course, at first I thought it was all a bad dream brought on by too little sleep and too many saturated fats and hydrogenated solids. But I soon realized that my worst fear was coming true -- my family and I had been abducted by aliens. Large, rude, flatulent aliens, at that.

It's been an incredible five months, I can tell you. We were poked, probed, examined and forced to do any number of nasty chores by our captors. And believe me, it's never fun to wash underwear, but try doing it for beings with 23 legs! And don't get me started about their fondness for watching bad television. We eventually understood enough of their language to discover that they were supposedly sent here from planet Qrxttblavn to study human behavior, but the only shows they seemed to watch were reruns of "ALF" and episodes of WIlliam Shatner's new game show.

We'd still be there, laundering Swiss cheese undies while hovering miles above the Earth behind an invisibility shield, if it hadn't been for the untimely death of soul singer James Brown on Christmas Day. Our alien captors revealed that the Godfather of Soul was actually their leader, in human disguise, and explained that they were required to return immediately to Qrxttblavn to report the death and prepare for a national year of mourning and daily public singings of "Papa's Got a Brand-New Bag." On their way out of the galaxy, they unceremonially dumped the Muley family in the parking lot of an abandoned K-Mart in Wheeling, West Virginia. After a bit of using our thumbs, we returned to Waco on New Year's Eve, just in time to ring in 2007.

Of course, one of the first things I wanted to do was check in on Muley's World with an account of my experiences. I sure didn't want anyone to think I was some sort of lazy, self-absorbed, disloyal, egg-sucking bum who would simply walk away and neglect his blog for five months or more. No, sirree.

So, I'm glad to be back. I hope all of you had a great Christmas and New Year's Eve. I'll try to check in with everyone and see what's been going on in my absence. Take care.