Saturday, September 29, 2012

The 'Secret' of Writing Great Stories?

I can't give you exact reasons why but "Chronicles of Riddick" is one of my favorite movies. Tonight, I watched it again for the first time in a few years. But now, when I watch movies and read books, it's to understand the how and the why of compelling stories.

One aspect of this science-fiction thriller that caught my attention was the protagonist, Riddick, versus the antagonist, Lord Marshal. Throughout the movie, Riddick deals with self-doubt and incredible setbacks. The overlord has none of these hindrances. The villain acts with a single-minded focus and complete confidence of achieving his evil goals.

As I think back to the Harry Potter movies, there seem to be the same set up with Harry and Voldemort - a hero with self-conflicted drama versus overly optimistic bad guy.

Is this the secret to well-written fiction?

Friday, September 28, 2012

What I Learned At A Wedding

A few years ago, you could entertain a party of your friends with ease. You would simply slip a CD into your boombox (or cassette, for your older folk; or a record, for you ancient rockers), crank up the volume, and let the music work its magic.

But those were simpler days before technology and hype evolved into their present forms. I've just come from a wedding reception and learned what the new norm is.

First of all, not just any person can provide the entertainment. You have to affix "DJ" to the beginning of some name that would make your mother blush. "DJ Kitty Kat" or "DJ incredibly Sexy" are popular, tamer versions.

Next, you need to buy a new performance controller. Otherwise, you can't wow the crowd with your ability to distort music that already consists of a mangled base beat and mumbled words.

Not that this mattered to most of the audience at the wedding reception. They would just as easily raved to a stutterer pounding a bass drum. Although, I did overhear the father of the bride saying, "I paid $5000 for this?"

Apparently, the only thing that separates a DJ from the rest of us is the ability to ask and receive a large fee for this back-breaking work … and the ability to face customers any time afterwards without shame.

Fortunately, our 'entertainment' hasn't evolved that far yet. We party-goers still have simpler technologies available. For mere pennies, we still have the low-tech sound-filtering capabilities of cotton balls.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Do I have the talent?.

Last week, I attended a meeting of a local group of writers at the nearby library. They read their amazing works. I kept my mouth shut out of intimidation of the greatness of their offerings.

In two weeks, I get to attend a 6-week creative writers class, offered by the nearby college. The more I read what I've written, the more I doubt my abilities. Will this class help? Or, am I nothing more than a wheel-chair bound racer hoping to compete with biped Olympians?

With my race against the literary wind of fame and fortune, I hate to think that my best chance is only by jumping off of a cliff - great time, but the end result is a killer.

Have You Hugged Your Steak Today?.

I think I can tell you this because you won't tell anyone else. So, Shhhh.

My favorite animal is steak. I love the way they talk to me, sort of a sizzly sounding voice. And that intoxicating aroma! I would rub my nose in their essence if I wasn't concerned about 4th degree burns to my face.

Steaks are hard workers; perfectionists, in fact, if you don't keep on eye on them. On a rare occasion, I get distracted on some task that demands my immediate attention away from my delicious friends. When I return to my beloved steak and ask, "Are you done?", it always replies, "Well done!". Oh no.

Sometimes, my juicy, red steaks aren't around when I need them. I meant to bring them home but I couldn't. Such a sad time. I hate miss steaks like that. Sometimes, my budget tells me to avoid them for the moment. Sometimes, the store only has the blue-green ones that I'm allergic too. (For some reason, my love can't overcome the sickness they unintentionally give me.)

But the ones that make it home bring so much joy. They don't mind patiently waiting in my freezer until I come for them. Then they rest contently in the safety of my warming pan. I'm always entertained by their favorite performance trick of being flipped.

Thank goodness, I'm a vegetarian. Otherwise, I wouldn't have the respect that I do for my meaty friends ... or the extreme leaning towards the sun.

Shhhh, don't tell anyone.


Thank you, Cheryl, for inspiring this post. I'm sorry.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How To Dress For Success ... sort of.

A couple of weeks ago, our CFO added more letters to his title and became the company's latest CEO. He spent much of that week endearing himself to employees by issuing bizarre memos, stricter company policies, and demands that we bow low when we approach him.

Of course, I am kidding about the "bow low" demand. That will be issued at the end of the month. However, in an obvious effort to improve employee morale, he has proclaimed an unforgiving dress code.

Have you gone to a convenience store with this warning displayed prominently on their door: "No shoes, no shirt, no service!"? Our beloved CEO issued a similar threat: "No sneakers, no jeans, no T-shirts, or else no job!"

Thank goodness, he implemented this wonderful change. Why, just the other day, as my fellow workmate and I crawled along on dirty floor of the plant, working feverishly to repair an antique piece of greasy machinery, I said, "You know, we really need to start wearing suit and ties for our job." What I said in jest must have been over heard.

But I can understand the reason for this latest edict. Somehow, during new company president's start, we employees - with decades of faithful service to the company and to our customers - turned into children, suddenly forgetting how to dress properly for our workplace. When we had special visitors, such as new customers that we want to impress, we knew to wear spiffier business attire. Yet, somehow, we must have forgotten this a couple of weeks ago.

The obvious solution is simple. Very soon, upper management will announce uniforms for when we have visitors – burqas for everyone. What looks more productive than a plant full of worker bees dressed like masked beekeepers. Besides, you can't have visitors lusting after the hard-working employees. Who knows what better job offers might come of it?

In any case, as a guy, I am a little disappointed with this strict dress code. I guess I can't show up to work in my new miniskirt and high heels. According to the new policy, that would be an obvious drag.


Update! The natives grumbled loud enough that the CEO has reissued his dress code. "Comfortable" shoes for those who have medical needs. Given that many of the workers on the floor are heavy-set women in their late 50s and early 60s, we applaud the CEO for his generosity.

He will also allow us to wear jeans - as long as the jeans do not have holes in them. This one is confusing. After all, jeans have to have 3 holes so you to put them on your body. But perhaps our CEO wants to make a fashion statement. Perhaps, we must take our hole-less jeans, throw the legs over our shoulders, and loop them around our neck. Just as you would with a fancy sweater if your name was 'Biff' or 'Babs', and you had to slave away enjoying yourself at the country club.

T-shirts are still forbidden unless it has a split at the neck and a couple of buttons along the split. Nothing screams professionalism better than a ripped shirt with sensible buttons.

Burqas are being considered ...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Fine Whine On Wine Making

Bacchus is the esteemed Roman god of wine. Backyardachus is where I have my shed and plans to honor Bacchus as I making wine again.

Every man needs a hobby and brewing is one of the more rewarding endeavors. Unless, of course, your hobby becomes an obsession. At that point, you either need to start selling your liquid fruits of labor, or join an AA group.

Some people recommend for wine making equipment. I'm going for a more natural approach. I''ll gather apples and pear that lay rotting in my backyard. Once collected into a garbage bag, they can ferment further in the darkness of my shed. Later, I'll squeeze the pulpy mess and strain the good stuff into bottles with fancy labels to share with my good friends.

The bad stuff might be recycled. These special brews of decayed fruit and insects make great anonymous gifts at Christmas; especially to those special folks - you know, those who went out of their way throughout the year to make your life more difficult than it should have been.

Of course, by distributing such unwelcomed presents, you can't align yourself with Bacchus, the god of tasty beverages. Perhaps, Mars, the god of war (and now of Curiosity) would be a better standard.

For The Love Of A Leaf.

Why does Springtime have the sole reputation for making us do crazy things, surprisingly, without involving any arm-twisting? What about Autumn: When leaves fall dead to the roadside so they can bloom into colorful election signs. When we have a special night to don masks and become someone else for an evening of celebration. Of course, a few days later, we have another riotous free-for-all, complete with zany characters and unbelievable actions - otherwise known as an election - where we're compelled to pick those who wear their masks constantly.

I have to admit that I've done my share of crazy during Autumn. Though masks weren't involved.

During my pre-teen days, I lived in Gorham, a tiny town in the White Mountains of NH - scenic, peaceful, or as I liked to call it: the tourist trap of the North.

By the end of September, the mountains would explode into panoramic color, causing a migration into Gorham of rich, old ladies from Boston. Herds of them would saunter through the town, pointing and admiring leaves that hung just out of their reach. The hunt was on!

Being a gentleman, I would offer to climb towering trees and pluck an authentic White Mountain Autumn leaf just for them. Being an enterprising gentleman, I offered my services for a dollar - just for them.

I said Autumn makes you do crazy things. On more than one occasion, I risked my life to keep my customers happy by grabbing for a leaf just a post-summer's breeze away from my outstretched finger tips. Crazier still were the old women who tipped me $5 and $10 for a piece of plant already destined for the ground in a few days.

No, we can't restrict silly actions to just one season. If people drive themselves silly to buy dying leaves, then watching them vote for the lesser of two evils makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Looking, nah, Listening Into Podcasting

How do you put 3 long, tortuous hours a day (my commute to and from work) to good use? This year, I ended up converting my car into a "Educational Vehicle of Escape" by putting the "Downcast" app on my iPhone.

Radio and TV and Cable have had their influential moments in the sun. These days, the latest media of persuasion, entertainment, and learning has become podcasts.

So far these past 9 months, I've traveled with Adam Carolla, Kevin Pollack, Larry Miller, and Penn Jillet as they put their comedic interviews online.

I'm learning the craft of writing from "I Should Be Writing" and "The Writing Show". And, thanks to the discussion groups broadcasted by "Nerdist Writers Panel", I have an intriguing insider's look on how famous writers create those successful movies and TV shows.

The only downside is that I now need more time to spend listening to these and many more podcasts.

Of course, you have to wonder: How expensive is it to have a show on the Internet? Is anyone making money?

According various remarks made different people during their podcasts, their programs are very profitable. In fact, a little research shows that you and I could make our own engaging episodes. All we need is a mixer board, some mics, perhaps a web cam, and software. In fact, with a $150 plug-and-play system such asavid pro tools and some Internet bandwidth, we could be in business today. Then, with a little self-promotion and a lot of attention-grabbing shows, we can attract a big enough audience to have sponsors lavish our efforts with lots of money. See how easy that was!

So my "Educational Vehicle of Escape" has been quite an educational experience. As soon as I get a moment, I'll put my knowledge into action and retire soon after. Hopefully before I hit 70.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

OH, now you tell me.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Yeah, that'll teach me to date someone with bipolar disorder.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Twitter to the Rescue ... I Hope.

My company has installed Wireless Internet in the office area. In fact, right this moment, I'm using it to compose a tweet to rescue me from the bathroom stall:

"Here I sit, so broken-hearted.
Come to [insert family-friendly related word] and only ...

... discovered we're out of toilet paper. Again!
(No time to rhyme.
And, apparently, no time to hire competent janitorial help.)

Instead of screaming 'til I'm rescued,
I'll send a tweet in this unpleasant interlude,

'Cause big brother is watching our Internet packets,
in case we play with non-work related tactics.

My bum is numb,
so please interfere on the double,
I ask only for relief
and absolutely no trouble!

So ... HELP!"

I'm sure I can get this tweet down to 140 characters. I've got the time. It's not like I'm going anywhere soon. I can sit and reflect on the millions we made the big boys so far. I wonder if they splurged and got us single ply ...

If Only My Life Is A Beach

A refreshing salty breeze coming off of the ocean, rhythmic crescendos of the wet waves, warm sand between my toes, and - most important of all - no one else around me on the beach! That's one of the perks of taking vacation at the beach in September. After the Labor-day crowds have returned to their stressful work life, North Carolina shores became a paradise.

But paradise is going to have to wait yet another year. I had hoped to enjoy a long over-due act of selfish relaxation this month. By now, I had planned to call one of a Holden Beach NC real estate offices to reserve a ocean-front escape. But noooooo!

Have you ever had faced tough, unpleasant choices? A few months ago, I had to decide who needed my time more: myself or my friends and family. I had to pick what needed my money more: my sanity or my loved ones livelihood. I had to choose between a few days of self-indulgence or several months of handling unexpected needs of others. It's as though Life has kicked sand in my face and laughed horribly about it.

I can't do everything. Even though I try. Something has to give. So this year, the closest way to get to the beach will be through this crabby post. Sorry about that.

Maybe I'll won't vacuum the house for a week so the dirt and sand from outside can build up. With the cat knocking out some of the litter from its box, I should have a crunchy, almost-beach texture on the floor. Then, I can boil a kettle full of salt water to humidify my small house. Once I kick off my shoes, I can simulate an ocean breeze by racing bare-footed around the cat box. Heck, I might even take my clothes off and pretend to be on the French Riviera.

Of course, there is always the hope of next September.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Future: A One-wheel Motorcycle.

Try popping a wheelie on this engineering marvel - a single-wheeled, electronic motorcycle. Slated for production in January 2013, Ryno motors estimates the cost to be about $4500 for this Segway-like vehicle. Given the size of the battery, you can spend 60 minutes, screaming around town at a death-defying 20 miles an hour.

Of course, never mind the unintentional wheelies. I wonder how many people will put a basket on the handle bar and give other people rides?

Of Shining Pearls and Fast Metal

I began this week by studying vehicle-to-vehicle communication: a new technology where cars and trucks talk to each other. ("V2V" for you folks with an affinity for acronyms, or as I like to call you: "FWAFA".) With these chatty vehicles sharing information, accidents and traffic jams should disappear from the road ways. Of course, this also means your car will snitch on you. "Pssst. Herby is going 2 miles an hour over the speed limit. Pass it on. Yeah, I tried to tell him, but he's not listening to me. So pass it on to highway patrol."

So I plunged down the rabbit hole of Internet links. Researching V2V turned into looking up vehicle electronics. This became motorcycle cruise controls, then historical motorcycles, followed by historic motorcycle racing.

Finally, I arrived at the web doorstep of an award-winning Louisianan racer - Barbara Conner. And no ordinary racer is she! Here is an x-ray technician who revs motorcycles and cars into trophies, raises 6 children, and has a popular Barbara Conner jewelry line loved by several film and music stars.

Not only does she race motorcycles and design pearl jewelry, but she does this in the right order. You wouldn't believe how many people try to be successful by racing pearls, or wearing white motorcycles after labor day.

My research started with vehicle-to-vehicle communications. I ended up learning about one incredible person who communicates her desires into a mastery of vehicles, a mastery of family life, and a mastery of the market place.

Now I just have to figure out how move my potential for great things into actual success. I wonder if anyone has thought of marketing clam-covered motorbikes. If no one has shared this idea, is it because they're shellfish?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Big Brother and the Political Conventions.

When I looked at the TV Guide tonight, I saw "Big Brother" on CBS and Democratic National Convention on the CBS side channel - one show about sneaky people sabotaging the welfare of those around them, and other being a reality show.

Now, don't get your political panties in a twist. It's just a repeat of last week when "Big Brother" broadcasted along with the Republican National Convention. I know, "Big Brother" verses "Bigger Brother" - redundant programming at its best.

Either week, what do you expect? You encourage them when you vote. With your checks and your check marks, you encourage them.