Sunday, May 31, 2009

Summer Clothes

I've already expressed some reasons why the south is a great place, one being it's friendliness towards their neighbors. Another one I would like to write about today is the acceptance they have for people wearing swimming attire all summer long. I like wearing as little as possible during these hot Summer days. I'm not saying I'm showing anything that people would find offensive. I'm just talking wearing short shorts, a tank-top, or maybe wearing a swimsuit with a cover-up dress over top it. This is the kind of attire I'm used to wearing on the Summer months at the beach and I would really like to do the same here in Baltimore without feeling self-conscience. The only reason I feel that way here is because we live on a relatively busy road and guys have stopped to talk to me in creepy tones while I'm working in the garden or they yell remarks from their cars. I just don't get that, this is our property I should feel comfortable walking outside with a summer dress on. I like the freedom you feel in Myrtle Beach, where doing this is accepted and everyone else is wearing the same kind of clothes. I like feeling comfortable without restrictions. I also love wearing sandals everywhere and this is a doable thing here. I prefer no shoes at all, but since this is the city I know that's hard to do and pretty dangerous. I do hope to live someway one day that is more relaxed in it's wardrobe mandates. Maybe North Carolina, I love it there, but I'll save that for another entry.

Google is Awesome To the Plex


This is sort of a lame entry, I know, but I feel like I need to give some props to Google. No company is perfect, and Google has been party to a malfeasance or two, and party to a few questionable practices. Nothing serious. And what large corporation hasn't? It's hard to keep tabs on the behavior of thousands of employees. Overall Google is an excellent company that has produced some pretty remarkable products.

I was just watching a video on their latest effort, Google Wave. Here's the link if you're interested.

http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2009/05/google-wave.html

The same engineering team that created Google Maps is now working on Wave. In lieu of trying to describe it myself, I'll deign to Lars Rasmussen, the lead architect on the project. He says, "In Google Wave you create a wave and add people to it. Everyone on your wave can use richly formatted text, photos, gadgets, and even feeds from other sources on the web. They can insert a reply or edit the wave directly. It's concurrent rich-text editing, where you see on your screen nearly instantly what your fellow collaborators are typing in your wave. That means Google Wave is just as well suited for quick messages as for persistent content -- it allows for both collaboration and communication. You can also use "playback" to rewind the wave to see how it evolved."

You really have to see it to understand. The demo video is a bit down the page at the address I quoted above. It's long but worth it if you're interested. As usual, Google has fully imagined a simple concept, maximizing every aspect with a strong focus on usability and user interface. If you remember, Google Maps did the same thing, taking an existing concept offered for years by companies like Mapquest, exploring the idea's full potential. In the process it created a completely new platform for information presentation, and made services like Mapquest seem like mere toys.

Google Wave is set to turn email, instant messaging, content creation, collaborative workflows and many other applications on their ear, fusing them all into one seamless environment.

As an aside, some of you may not know that I went to Hebrew School with Sergei Brin, the co-founder of Google. It's true, oddly enough. He and his family immigrated from Russia I believe, and came to Greenbelt where he spent a short period of time at our synagogue and in my Hebrew School class. He was a quiet kid, so I never really knew him that well. Years later he starts what would become one of the most important companies on the planet. In "Six Degrees of Sergei Brin-tion"*, I'm a direct connection.

Remember that for the next uber-geek party you attend**.

*There's actually no such game, at least officially. You can play it if you like, but it's likely to be a pretty dull exercise. Try "Six Degrees of Random Garden Vegetables." It's much more entertaining.

**If you find yourself at such a party, remember, they are probably far more scared of you than you are of them. Bring nachos.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Knowing a Good Electrician


Finding a good, reasonably-priced electrician, or a plumber or a lawyer is a huge positive. I know two now.

Most of you know that we've been remodeling the house for some time now, which has necessitated a lot of new wiring and the fixing of old wiring. My brother-in-law John helped us with the early, middle, and late middle phases of the project. He's an excellent electrician, and you don't get much more reasonable than a bill of coffee, Big Bite hot dogs, shared labor and good conversation. Thanks again, John. You're a rare breed.

But Steph and John have Jackson now, and not a lot of free time. So a friend of a friend who did a little work for me in the past has taken over the tail end of the project. So far I'm really impressed. He and a coworker of his from his day job (he works for a major electrical company) have been coming in the evenings and making really good progress. He's working right now and should either be done today or middle of the day tomorrow. Of course I've been nervous about the bill. But today he gave me a figure for where the project currently stands, and it's very reasonable. I'm really happy so far.

Fact is, a lot of people pad their bills. Most often it's because of high overhead. A lot of employees and equipment, etc. requires a lot of extra money. But I've met some sheisters that just pad because they can, and they know enough people are willing to pay, or don't know any better. So, just a like a good car mechanic, having an electrician or carpenter or any other skilled tradesman that's honest, efficient, and reasonably-priced is a real boon.

Thanks John and Shall-Remain-Nameless-To-Protect-Your-Day-Job-Even-Though-Only-A-Dozen-Or-So-People-Read-This-Blog-And-None-Of-Them-Work-For-Your-Company-Which-Shall-Also-Remain-Nameless.

Feeling Good






I like feeling good about my work. I think my personality really shined during yesterday's wedding. I definitely felt more confident and hope that the pictures show that. This was my first solo wedding and I really think I performed really well. I really like doing this and hope my talents continue to get better. All the people really warmed up to me. I kept the smile going for hours. After some convincing I even managed to get the couple back outside for some shots. All the groups shots had to be done inside the church hall due to the rain, but I rolled with the punches. I feel good about it overall. I had a couple people come up to me and say what a terrific job I was doing and commented on my personal nature. It felt good and I really can't wait for my next job.




Friday, May 29, 2009

Photography Tips

I like when you find useful tips on other blogs. I found some great group shot tips for tonight's wedding, so I feel more confident now. One was to keep the camera in continuous shot mode, this way you can take many shots at one time and your bet that one of those will have all eyes open is much greater. Another good one was befriending a guest that knows all the different family members and ask them to assist you during the group shots, this way they can help you make sure all the correct people are in the shots. Smile, you need to be constantly smiling. Keep the mood positive and don't show you are stressed or bothered in any way. Posing the groups by height is important. Tall people in the back shorter people on the sides and the front. Pose the parties around the Bride and Groom. Do shots with everyone looking at the camera and some with them looking at the Bride and Groom. I must remember to stay in control, one way to do this is by communicating to everyone. When people are not being cooperative tell them that the bride and groom has requested I get shoots of everyone. Giving them a reason is sometimes all it takes.

Okay, this entry was mostly about pumping me up for my first solo shoot today. Give me luck everyone!

This Entry Isn't Filler...


But it's about it. And yes, sometimes entry topics don't flow out of the subconscious quite as freely as other times. Sometimes you have to turn to what's around you, and this morning it's spackle.

First off, the word is fun to say. See...you all just tried it. Spackle. It's a great near-onomatopoeia for the action. "I'm gonna go spackle on some spackle!" And the verb form doesn't limit itself to smearing building material into holes and crevices. You can spackle butter on toast. Poorly complected people can spackle their faces with make-up, and has-been actors from the 80's can spackle the cracks in their careers with ill-conceived but well-liked reality television concepts.

In the last year or so, I feel like I've become pretty adept at wielding the spackle to cure most ceiling and wall ailments. I've had to. There've been a lot of holes and blemishes to fix and fill here in this wonderland of old plaster walls and settling foundations. I've actually come to enjoy the entire process (other than the sanding.) I liken it to sculpture in reverse. I'm attempting to take a rough, broken, craggy or uneven surface and return it to a pristine flatness. It's not always as easy as it seems, although it is, I suspect, much easier than sculpture. Anyone with hundreds of buckets of spackle and enough free time could convert Michelangelo's "David" back into a large block of stone.

But I see spackle, and it's cousin caulk, as very positive things because they can save your life in home remodeling. Well-flung spackle can fix just about any form of destruction you can imagine for your poor, unsuspecting walls. And caulk, as I learned from a carpenter / handyman we used a few times throughout our remodel, is the patron saint and guardian angel of wood trim and moulding. A little bead of white, paintable caulk injected into the gaps between walls and door jams and moulding pieces can transform what looks like (and in my case probably is) a poor carpentry job into a professional-looking finished masterpiece.


Oh spackle and caulk
You fill the voids in my heart
And smooth the rough spots


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Anticipation of Family

I can't wait to see my family in a week. Like I've mentioned they are coming for Joe (my cousin) and Kaitlyn's wedding. Kerri, the kids, and Allen are staying with us. The house is coming along pretty smoothly. We will have most of it done by the time they get here Wednesday night. I just can't wait to see them all. The boys have gotten so big, both are talking like crazy. I'll probably have a similar entry when they actually get here, but first the anticipation is my positive. I also can't wait to see my mom and dad. I miss them so much, it's going to be wonderful. They finally get to see the life Jason and I have created in Baltimore.

The Ultimate Distraction

Since I sat down a half hour ago to start writing today's entry I've checked Twitter, email, and read Amy and James' most recent blog entries. And if it wasn't for the fact that I need to leave for work in another half an hour, I'd find something else to distract me. The internet is the ultimate distraction. With instant communication and the entirety of human knowledge at your fingertips, not to mention YouTube videos of people hurting themselves in a nearly infinite number of humorous ways, you can manage to never get work done if you choose.

But that's not positive, Jason? Western civilization would crumble if everyone chose to fritter their precious time away watching videos of Coke / Mentos eruptions and Twittering about how freakin' cool it is, writing useless blog entries with long run-on sentences to a very limited (but awesome) group of people instead of getting real work done.

True. But Coke / Mentos eruptions are freakin' cool. Let China do all the work.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Cashless Society


I just read an interesting article in Wired which takes a thought I've had before to its logical conclusion. I've always wondered why we still deal with small change. Pennies are nearly worthless. Nothing costs just a nickel or a dime. Even pay phone calls, the last bastion of the quarter, now cost more. Why not do away with at least pennies and nickels? Everything can be rounded to the nearest 10 cent increment without costing the consumer that much extra. I would even argue that we could scrap the dime, too. We'd keep quarters of course, and create 1$ and 5$ coins to replace their paper analogues. Coins are more durable than paper bills. Replacing the workhorse bills of our econony with coins would save money in constant reprinting.

But the article I read took the position that we ought to do away with physical currency all together. The argument is awfully compelling. I'll attempt a quick summary.

First of all, most of our daily transactions are already cashless and electronic. According to the article the number of card-based payments exceeded cashed-based payments for the first time two years ago. Almost 15 percent of online transactions are conducted through Pay Pal. FreedomPay and EagleCash, Smartcard technologies, allow college students and military personnel to pay for items without cash. And how many people have SpeedPass-type chatzkes on their keyrings to instantly pay for gas cashlessly. Cashless, checkless payments are getting to be the norm. I pay all of my bills online, almost negating the need for a checkbook.

I use my Visa Checkcard for most of my daily "in-person" purchases. There really isn't much need to carry cash. I do it only so that I don't have to use my card for very small amounts. And for person-to-person transactions, when a Visa card isn't workable. And that's really the last hitching point holding back a fully cashless society. Wired put it best. In order to completely migrate from cash, we need, "a ubiquitous and secure network of places where people can transact electronically, and that system has to be as convenient as - and more efficient than - cash." That system? Cell phones. There are already apps written that allow people to "flash" money from one person's account to another's instantly using the wireless cell network. With cell phone penetration at 50% of the population and steadily rising, cell phones will soon enable cash to disappear.

But why go to all the effort? Is cash really that bad? Yes. It's an antiquated system that, like the system of barter that came before it, is due to be replaced. First off, money is dirty. Passing from person to person it picks up germs, chemicals, drugs, and other filth. Physical money is also expensive to create. In 2008 alone, the printing and coining of money cost taxpayers 848 million dollars, just to replace degraded and decommissioned bills and coins. That strikes me as awfully wasteful.

A cashless country is one thing. Imagine a cashless world. You'd never have to worry about exchange rates. They would be worked out automatically, on-the-fly as transactions were carried out. No more travelers checks. No more exchanging currencies as you travel. You can pay with eDollars anywhere when the exchange is automatic.

From most vantage points, phasing out physical money seems like a pretty positive thing. The only people in our society that could suffer as a result of the switch are the homeless and panhandlers, people dependant on cash handouts. I don't think that's a good reason to hold onto our inefficient, expensive cash system. I'm sure, with the money the government would save no longer needing to mint physical money, we could figure out a better way to help our lowest income members of society.

It just makes sense.

Kate's the Name

I like my first name. It might be simple but it means a lot to me. I always liked the fact that it is just 'Kate', not Kathleen or Katherine. My family really likes K's, and I feel the connection too. There are some fabulous women with the same name like Katherine aka Kate Hepburn, Kate Winslet, Kate Beckinsale, Kate Hudson, Kate Moss, and Cate Blanchett. From what I can tell many are very independent and intelligent. Thanks mom, dad, and supposedly Kerri for naming me Kate. I really don't think I could have a more suitable name.

You Want Positive? How About a Nearly Finished Kitchen?

Our granite kitchen countertops went in today. Finally. After a year and a half of research, dithering, mind-changing and feet-dragging, they're installed. After all the mental anguish trying to narrow down such an expensive (and permanent) kitchen feature, I'd built up a pervasive fear that, in the end, I'd hate it. I was terrified to discover that we'd made the wrong choice, and now would have to live with something we (or I) didn't like.

Thankfully that's not what happened. They look great! Our choice of stone really sets off the res t of the kitchen. All the time invested in the decision making process was worth it. I'd post pictures with this entry, but the sealer needs 24 hours before it can be cleaned off. After that the granite will look it's best. Plus there's a floor to ceiling 2 x 4 supporting the eat-in bar slab. I need to get some supporting braces installed so that I can remove that. As soon as all that's finished I'll post a few snaps.

It's a happy day in the Karbownibloom household.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Online TV madness

I love how Internet sites now provide people with the ability to watch about any new episode they want. If you miss an episode of something you can go to hulu.com or the station's website like nbc.com and see if the episode has been posted yet. Some other sites I just found that I've never tried out are fancast.com, television.aol.com/full-episodes/, www.sling.com/, www.yidio.com, www.sidereel.com, and digg.com. We are so spoiled these days with DVR and online capabilities. You will never miss a series we want to watch. Of course having DVR and Internet at home is key. On my lunch breaks I used to watch a show on my computer which was always a great way to escape from my work reality. Everyone whose a compulsive TV watcher like me should give this a try.




Monday, May 25, 2009

Fusion of Art and Science

I love quirky art projects. Art which exists to be appreciated, and as a funny or off-kilter comment on some mundane aspect of life. In this case, artist Jason Freeny fuses mundane anatomy texts with pop-culture icons to create beautifully bizarre images.




I have huge admiration for the artistic mind; the person who thinks to do and does all of the things that we later claim we should have thought of.

Here's a link to the artist's website. This is guy is a mad, mad genius.

http://web.mac.com/moistproduction/flash/index.html

Creating a Stir Fry

I like making stir fries. You can be so creative with them, the possibilities are endless. It really is an excellent food for Jason and I too, because he loves Chinese food and I'm really picky about Chinese food. This way I'm cooking it my our way with everything we love. Jason even said yesterday as he was eating it that it was equal too if not better than Chinese take out, I of course think it's better. I really couldn't get enough of it, I was even thinking of it before I passed out last night. It was really good this time.

If you're interested here's the recipe:
Salt and pepper 2lbs of boneless chicken strips, then marinate them for an hour or more in a mixture of garlic wasabi marinade (pre-bought from store), teriyaki, and soy sauce.
Cut up vegetables to bite size pieces, this time I used half a red pepper, 1/4 of a yellow pepper, one zucchini, half an onion, and a 1/2 a lb of broccoli.
Once the chicken is finished marinading, start sauteing the vegetables (you'll need a large wok or deep frying pan, preferably one that could eventually fit all the chicken in it as well at the end). Once the veggies are sauteing, heat up a separate frying pan (I had to use two), then start laying the chicken out on them, I made the mistake of leaving the burner on high the whole time, next time I would turn them to medium. Pour the extra juice in the pans. Now just watch them, I did 3 minutes on one side, flipped them and then did 3 minutes on the other side. I started doing something kind of dangerous so if you'd rather do it a different way I understand, here it is once they are about done I cut the chicken up into bit size pieces while they are cooking on low, this way you cook them a little bit more as bit size pieces, letting the delicious marinade cover every piece. While you've been doing the chicken I add teriyki and soy sauce and some salt and pepper to the vegetables and then stirring them occasionally. You then add the fully cooked chicken to the vegetables. Let it simmer in each other's juices for about 15 to 30 minutes, while it's doing that make the brown or white rice. Serve chicken and veggies over the rice, and walla.

It is so good at the end you will think you've died and gone to Heaven- Seriously!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Watching My Nephew Grow

It's really amazing watching, firsthand, how quickly kids develop. As Kate said, we spent the day with family yesterday, and got the chance to see my nephew Jackson. He's nearly 3 1/2 months now, and he's already such a bigger little guy than he was before. It's nice now that he's gotten to the age that he can come leave home (with a little help from his parents), come to family gatherings and hang out with everybody.

My cousin James and his wife Amy, our two most vocal readers, came with their baby Caleb. He's six months old, and I was pretty blown away by the difference just two and a half months can make. He seems so much older than Jackson, so much more present and participatory. Having never really been so close to infants before, this is all pretty new and interesting to me. My most recent experience with kids previous to Jackson was with Kate's sister Kerri's kids, but with them in Florida, we got to see the pretty infrequently. Kaiden or Blake would always seem vastly older since the last time we'd seen them. It's cool now to watch the process a little closer up, with more stops along the path.

Having seen Caleb at six months, I can't wait to see my nephew at the same age. And then at a year, and on... It's the next best thing to having my own. Kate posted a bunch of photos from yesterday with her post. I'll let her photos carry this entry.

Baby Love





Nothing says positive like baby pictures. Yesterday Jason and I went to a cookout at his Dad's house. We got to see Baby Jackson and Baby Caleb, Jason's cousin James' baby. They were so cute especially when they were meeting for the first time. I can't wait to see them grow up to be friends. A few of the pictures I took came out really good. And now I can say that I really love taking pictures of babies, it's hard not to love. Babies grow so fast you really need to capture them through all their stages in life.

It was great seeing Sue, Gary, Amy, James, Lou, Karin, John, Stephanie, and Grandpa too. It's been a while since all of us have gotten together. The food spread was amazing- thanks Lou, Karin, and any others who contributed. Hopefully this summer will be filled with more fun cookouts and plenty of cute babies.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Dose of Comedy Relief

Finding a good comedy to watch can be almost as hard as finding a good horror. Last night we watched Role Models with Paul Rudd. It had the perfect amount of humor. Other good comedies are the ones the Judd Apatow helped create like Superbad, Pineapple Express, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. His acting team are great comedic actors. A lot of times all you need is a good laugh to relax from your hectic day. Mindless cinema with good writing and acting. Other favorite comedies are The Money Pit, The Jerk, Groundhog Day, all of the original National Lampoon Vacations, Young Frankenstein and of course the Monty Python movies. Joel and Ethan Cohen are intellectual comedic geniuses, films like The Big Lebowski and Fargo are amazing. I like good stand up comedy too. Mitch Hedberg and Eddie Izzard are a couple favs. Everyone needs a good dose of comedy every so often.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Things Could Always Be Worse


My brother-in-law got dealt a raw hand today. I won't go into particulars. It just wasn't a good day, and he lost some things of value. And this isn't the first time life chose to pee in the lemonade he made from the lemons life handed him. And it surely won't be the last.

But whatever you're dealing with in the moment, it could always be worse. Especially for those of us in developed, democratic countries. Things could be so much worse. I know "count your blessings" is a sort of tired phrase, but it's always applicable. Look at what you have, materially and psychologically. Consider all the friends and loved ones you've accumulated through your life. And when things go wrong, consider all the other ways that it could have gone so much worse.

Maybe instead of, "count your blessings" we should say, "count your unrealized potential catastrophes". It doesn't roll of the tongue quite as smoothly, but it's a far more visceral experience. Imagine all the alternate outcomes in life where your current calamity is just a small glass of water in an ocean of nastiness. Envision how much more awful your life could be, but isn't. How much more awful some other people's lives actually are. And as bad as things are for those people, things could always be worse.

Imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. It's different for every person. You might not have considered before what that thing is. Or you might be intimately aware of it. In some cases it may have already happened to you. If it has, and you're still here, you got through it. The worst thing that could possibly happen to you happened, and you came out intact. Intact enough to at least say, "I'm still here", which is saying an awful lot.

If whatever scenario you're envisioning hasn't yet come to pass, consider this. Likely it never will. And what is going on for you right now pales by comparison. Use your "worst case scenario" as meter stick against which all of lives troubles can be measured. Compared to your "10" scenario, your current muddle ranks a paltry "4".

I don't know whether this helps everybody, but it helps me. As bad as things are, they could always be worse, and I know where that nearly infinite regression ends for me. As long as "that" doesn't happen, everything else is cake.

And if that does happen, and I get through it...everything else is cake.

Passionate Goals

I really admire people that pursue their passions. I admire people that have passions to pursue. I've never really excelled in any one talent. I've always just been okay at a few things. I really want to get good at something, even if I have to work harder at it, not like people where the talent comes naturally. Some folks are just not that lucky. This means I'm going to work hard on getting better and better at photography. I would also like to start making crafts, but first photography needs to be my one goal. I really have been enjoying it. I have my first solo wedding next Friday. I know I'll do well, maybe not perfect, but I am still learning. My first goal is to be more out-spoken. Get people to listen to me and sound professional and friendly at the same time. I've seen so many guys do this and I really think my personality could do even better. I'll put an extra dose of confidence into my coffee that day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Short Entry on Long Weekends


One extra day tacked onto the end of a weekend wouldn't seem to be that noteworthy, but it's really the difference between a weekend and a mini-vacation. It doubles the number of days where you're not working and not worried about the following day. For me at least, that's huge. That one extra day of true freedom is enough to decompress from months of unending routine and get back into life with a fresh head.

I would take it a step further. I think it would be smart for businesses to give their employees more long weekends. It would benefit productivity more than would be lost by the extra vacation days. One long weekend say every two months would do wonders for the working population. At that interval the breaks would be spaced out enough to reduce billable impact and make them feel special. They're just distant enough for employees to look forward to them without them feeling completely out of reach, and a hopeful, expectant employee, fresh from their most recent long weekend, is a happier more productive worker.

I know I would be. So Mr. President. Barack, if I may be so bold, sir. Please consider this a formal petition to declare the first Monday of every other month a national holiday. I'll leave it up to you and congress to decide the occasions. I really don't have a preference. National Tacos at Home Day. National Super Plush Carpet Day. Jean Claude Van Damme Day. Whatever. The particulars aren't important. Just give us six long weekends a year along with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, and you'll have a strong, motivated and hopefully more heavily employed workforce in the coming years.

Hell, why don't you take one of those day designations for yourself. I think you deserve it. Barack on, Mr. President.

Melodic Tunes

I love old melodic folk music like Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, and of course the Beatles. This music makes me feel at ease and is great to read or write too. Great for road trips. Favorite movies of mine that are filled with this music are The Graduate, Harold and Maude, Across the Universe, and Running on Empty. I would love to be relaxing outside right now in this beautiful weather reading to some Cat Stevens.

The Sound of One Dog Barking

I'm not sure why, but I've always loved the sound of a neighborhood dog barking off in the distance. It must be one of those sounds I associate with my childhood, growing up in a safe and secure environment. It's one of those sounds that makes a neighborhood feel complete, as if I'm living in some sort of "Leave it to Beaver" wonderland where the paperboy is still a kid on a bike with a little bell instead of some creepy middle-aged person chucking papers from out of a slow moving van.

A lone dog talking to himself off in a yard too distant to see encapsulates a simpler time. It makes me feel like I'm home.

Now if the dog is right next door and won't shut up, that's a wholly different scenario. So really the warm, fuzzy feelings are a matter of proximity more than anything else.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who loves soup? I do!

I'm finally getting a chance to do my blog today, I was really sick all morning, unfortunately. I believe it was side-effects from a prescription drug change. Sorry to start this on a not so good note. Finding something positive to write after being so ill is pretty hard. I don't believe I've talked about my love for soup yet. Well, I love soup. I really enjoy creamy tomato. I also like chicken noodle and Italian Wedding, especially when I'm feeling like this. I love Maryland Crab and Cream of Crab. I love split pea with ham and sirloin burger. I am just a big soup fanatic. Some people don't understand soup, they don't know that it's okay if it doesn't fill you up completely. You can always have fruit or a sandwich on top of it. I also love eating food with spoons, which may have something to do with it. Some other good ones are potato leek, cream of asparagus, seafood bisques, and corn chowder. I like both beef broth soups and creamy soups. Everyone should give soup a chance. I want to start making my own soups, if anyone has some good recipes to share that would be great.

On a Clear Night


Looking up at the stars on a clear night in an unpopulated, dark area is an unparalleled experience. It's shocking how seeing the stars in such stark relief makes the sky seems at the same time infinite and close enough to touch. And what's funny is, prior to the 20th century, this view of the cosmos was a normal nightly occurrence. Not until the birth of the electric light, and the resultant light pollution was ambient light so ever-present as to drown out the starlight. Now we have to drive far from civilization in order to catch of a view of the night sky the way our ancestors enjoyed it.

Most recently, Kate and I had a chance to scope the sky the was it was intended when we were out in Sedona, AZ. There, tucked up in scenic pull-offs, surrounded by red rock mountains under cloudless skies, the stars were resplendent. It was jaw-dropping. We laid out on the hood of the car, speechless. It's really something that everyone should see at least once in their lives.

Locally a good place to take in the view is Loch Raven Reservoir. I remember going out their at night back in college and seeing basically the same sky we saw out in Arizona. Really anywhere remote enough to escape the optical din of man made lights is the perfect location. It's well worth the drive.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Using Your Pets for Your Own Amusement


Owning pets has its rewards. They are instant family members, loyal to the end. They love you unconditionally, largely because their brains aren't hefty enough to process the concept of "conditions." Nor can they distinguish a laser pointer point from an actual, capture-able thing, and that's the sort of thing I'm writing about today.

Pets are great diversions. It's a riot watching little feline junkies pine for a fix of catnip, and then roll around in ecstasy with little regard for the fact that their fur is getting coated in their drug of choice. My cats (Banjo especially, back when he was around) are also absolutely transfixed by plastic bags. They perch themselves halfway into the bag, licking its inner surface incessantly. I can't imagine it's the flavor they're after. It must be the crinkly sound and the feel of the plastic on their tongues. Or maybe it's a natural offshoot of licking lead paint earlier in life. I'm not sure, but it's bizarre and hilarious.

Banjo also used to flip out for laser pointers. He'd run himself ragged; in circles, up walls, up and down from furniture trying to catch and kill that little red dot. It didn't matter that he'd never even managed to touch it before, let alone capture it. He wasn't about to let seeming invulnerability stop him from hunting his prey. And he reacted that way at fourteen years old. I only wish I'd had laser pointers when he was younger. I think his head would have literally exploded.

Fetch is a favorite game with our canine friends, a game that would never work with another human. It would be like dropping your pencil repeatedly and expecting your friend to pick it up for you every time and enjoy the privilege. But dogs freaking love it. Any opportunity to run anywhere is a good one. And that's why using your pets for your own amusement is so great. Not only are you enjoying yourself, but they are, too. When your dog rolls over, plays dead, or shakes hands, he's getting the satisfaction of a job well done. With Banjo and his laser pointer, the hunt is more important than the capture. So, unless you like to painfully torture small mammals for your own amusement, generally it's a two-way street of fun.


The fun doesn't really start until about halfway through the video.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Yummy Ice!

I really like flavored ice treats, my favorites are Minute Maid's Juice Bars, 711 Slurpee's, and northeastern style snowballs. My family brought snowballs to the south when we bought a shaved ice machine. We had a stand up at Garden City for a summer, it was a good business attempt and very fun. My favorite snowball flavor is egg custard, it's a vanilla delight. I can't wait for it to get a little hotter out so all the stands around town open up. Unlike snow cones, snowballs are served in a cup with a spoon. Their are tons of different flavors and you can choose to get ice cream on the bottom or marshmallow on top. They are messy, but really great. I just love eating flavored ice, it's probably a top desert for me, I even might rate it higher than ice cream. Whenever you're in B'more try one of our traditional snowballs out.

Decisive Creativity

I love when ideas come together. That was what this weekend consisted of, thought out plans coming together. I cleaned and organized the bedroom, the kitchen, and the bathroom. The kitchen is the most transformed. Everything finally has a purpose. I'm so happy that I had the decisive creativity I was hoping for when I got to work. It's such a relief to see things coming together. I can't wait till the whole house is in such amazing shape. I also came up with an idea for dinner and my vision came out absolutely delicious. I am on fire right now, I hope to keep this momentum up.

Recipe Contents:
2 boxes of whole wheat pasta
1 jar of Vodka sauce
1 jar of Parmesan Marinara sauce
1 pound of store bought Polish sausage, diced
1 pound of cooked/peeled shrimp, diced
half a onion, diced
half a red pepper, diced
1 yellow squash, diced
half a bag of baby spinach, wilted
salt, pepper, Herbs of Provence, and any other spices you'd like to throw in.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Survivor: Undisputed King of "Reality"


I love Survivor. Love it! Never thought, years ago, that I'd hear myself say that, but it is some of the best television available today. And I was one of those people that poo pooed "reality" TV pretty heavily during its genesis. "Real World", "Big Brother", and "Survivor" were all part of the same "watering down" of American culture. None of it was "real" anyway. As an editor I know that a skilled one of my kind, given enough raw footage can tell any story they like, irrespective of "reality." And if you're creating fiction, why not have it be scripted.

I was so wrong. About Survivor at least. Years ago friends talked me into watching it. Begrudgingly I agreed, and I've been hooked ever since. On its surface the show is simple. Strand 18 or so people in some far-off, forbidding landscape without stable food or water supplies and have them battle each other for a million dollars. But that so belies the complexity of the game.

You have competing individual personalities, alliances that shift constantly, back-stabbing and blindsides, deep personal connections between players, as well as colossal disagreements. And what these people are enduring is no boyscout camping trip. I've seen tribes go a week or more with little food and only rainwater to drink. I've seen injuries bad enough that people have had to be removed from the game. And I've routinely seen players come back from facing elimination to winning or nearly winning the game. It's all about strategy and cunning, playing to your strengths, whatever they may be. And knowing yourself. Knowing what you are and aren't capable of. Knowing when to extend yourself, and when to ride the flow. Knowing the sort of player you are, and being able to successfully read the sorts of people you're up against. It is the sort of game that would be extremely fun (and difficult) to play, and is equally as entertaining to watch.

And yes, it is superbly edited. Doing the job, I can imagine what the editors are up against. It would be a blast (and hell) working on that show. They manage to ween 39 days worth of footage into roughly fourteen or fifteen 46 minute long shows. That is a colossal cutting ratio! Quite an endeavor, and one that's brilliantly carried off.

I'm still not a fan of all reality TV. I don't like the shows that play to the worst elements of human nature. Shows that are all spectacle with little or no redeeming qualities. That's the stuff that's watering down American culture. The shows that glorify stupidity, recklessness and callous greed. Survivor is not a member of that cabal.

Survivor is great entertainment, pulling in action, intrigue, sport and physical competition, strategy and mental discipline, wrapping it all up in a very difficult fight for survival. If someone says they dislike the show they've either never watched it, watched only a very small portion with strong preconceptions, or they're communists.

Survivor was one of the first, and it remains a benchmark of what reality television should strive for.

My Cereal Choice


I like sugar cereals. I know it's very childish of me, but I like what I like. My favorites these days are Captain Crunch Berries, Honey Nut Cheerios, Corn Pops, Honey Graham Oh's, and Fruity Pebbles. Jason was brought up on non-sugar cereals, so he prefers regularly Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, and other good for you cereals. Even though we like opposite cereals, his cereal obsession has got me obsessing as well. I really like a nice big bowl of cereal every morning. It's the best and it's something Jason and I can enjoy together.

The Conundrum of Being Productive

There is almost no better feeling than being productive, taking some task that's been hanging over your head and chipping away at it. Whether you finish or not, it just feels good to make headway. So why is it that we put things off? I suppose I can only speak for myself, though I don't think I'm alone. I procrastinate as if it were a paid position even though I know I'll feel so much better once I've cleared my docket. What's the point of "relaxing" when you've got all this stuff you need to do lounging there with you, tittering in your ear incessantly?

It's a lesson I've yet to fully internalize, I guess. But at least I see it. I recognize that there's room for growth. And one day I think my intellectual understanding will bridge to real-life constant application. In the meantime, I can enjoy those moments when I do get off my lazy butt and accomplish things. Man it feels good.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nuclear Power


Nuclear power, apart from the mostly unfounded fear associated with it, is an enormously positive thing. In a "greenhouse" world, nuclear power's zero-carbon footprint is enticing. It doesn't produce a single ounce of CO2 or any other greenhouse gas. Nor does it produce any sulfur or nitrogen oxides which cause acid rain. Other than the extremely dangerous spent nuclear fuel (which I'll get to), nuclear power is the cleanest reliable power source as we have access to.

Reliable meaning predictable and dependable. Wind, solar, and water power are all cleaner, no doubt. But they are, at least presently, in order, unreliable, inefficient, and too localized to contribute meaningfully to the US power grid. A complete revamping of the grid to allow for easier sharing of power between regions and less wasteful transport would be necessary to make these options as viable as nuclear.

I'm not putting these option down. I'd love to see them replace as many coal-fired plants as possible. But that will take a lot of time and expense. Nuclear power is viable now. And its safety record is impeccable. The Chernobyl incident is the only nuclear plant accident to ever cause fatalities. Ever. Three Mile Island resulted in no deaths and minimal exposures. Compare that to the thousands of people killed slowly by particulate pollution produced by coal-fired power plants. And the newest generation of nuclear plants are even safer, relying on natural processes like gravity and evaporation instead of big valves and pumps manned by human beings.

Of course there's the issue of the spent nuclear fuel. I don't know the answer to this. Until recently plans were to store all US nuclear waste deep underground in the Nevada desert at the Yucca Mountain site. This is a much safer storage scheme then current norm of storing all spent fuel on site at the plant that produced it. But it involves transporting the spent waste hundreds of miles, during which any number of accidents could occur. President Obama put the kibosh on this plan. I don't know enough about the science here. But I do know human tenacity and ingenuity. We've managed to design nuclear reactors that take a very dangerous and wildly powerful process and make it safe. Very safe. I think we can work out methods to transport the waste just as safely. And if we begin to rely more heavily on nuclear power that is exactly what we'll have to do.

One contender to help with this issue is a new reactor design called the Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor. It pelts the nuclear fuel with much higher energy neutrons, creating a reaction that burns the fuel 100 times more efficiently, deriving much more power from a given amount of fuel. That's exciting alone, but the increased efficiency also allows spent uranium fuel to be burned again. It's estimated that burning our current backlog of spent uranium (nuclear waste) alone in an SCFR reactor would be enough to satisfy the U.S. demand for power for the next hundred years. And reburning spent fuel reduces its radioactive half-life from thousands of years down to hundreds, making it much more realistic to sequester it away from danger.

France, as of the beginning of 2008 already derived 76.8 of its total power supply from nuclear plants. Belgium and Sweden get roughly half their total supply this way. The US, which has twice as many plants as these countries only derives 20% of its total electric supply from them. France generates so much surplus power from its reactors it sells it to other countries for profit. France also has one of the most robust health care systems in the world. You make the connection.

Here's one last element that pushes nuclear power over the top for me. Electric cars. Back in the 50's through the 70's, nuclear's hey day, electric cars were an extremely expensive, unworkable proposition. But they are necessary to allow nuclear power to help put an end to our reliance on foreign oil. There are very few power plants in the US that run on petroleum. So barring electric vehicles, nuclear power would have little impact on oil dependence. That has finally changed. Imagine a world where we derive most of our power from clean, carbon-free nuclear, wind, water and solar sources and then use it to charge battery-powered, carbon-free electric vehicles.

To me that is a wonderful prospect.

Nothings completely safe. We have to weigh the costs and the benefits of all of our power generation options. I think nuclear power, with all things considered, is our best bet for a clean, renewable power world.

Compassionate Giveaways

Ellen is giving $1,000 + to one person everyday in May. I think that's so extraordinary. It's always someone facing really hard times in this poor economic climate. Their stories are always so touching and seeing the joy in their faces when Ellen hands them the $1,000 is an amazing sight. I pretty much get teary-eyed every episode. I just commend Ellen for being so self-less. The world is in such disarray right now and Ellen's rewards bring such joy to so many in need. They don't just give you the $ if you're on the show either. If you write in your story and she picks you then the Ellen Show will show up at your house with the $ and whatever else you really need, like a new car or a full stock of pet food. Once again Ellen, thank you for being you.

http://ellen.warnerbros.com/2009/04/ellens_1000_a_day_giveaway_con.php

Friday, May 15, 2009

Embrace Your Thoughts

Last night while trying to fall asleep I thought of a my next blog idea. It was great and very insightful. Too bad I can't recall exactly what it was, so this entry will be about those moments when you're lying in bed and a you suddenly start thinking more clearly than you ever have before. You understand yourself better somehow and the ideas you've been meaning to develop start coming to the surface.

I really contemplated getting up last night and doing my blog and I do regret not following through with that now. When you feel that clear-headed you need to get up and write or type your thoughts down, because you know full well that when you get up the next morning all the wondrous thoughts become unclear and vague. I wonder what causes our brains to do such in-depth thinking at such an exhausting time. If you need to get up early in the morning getting up to write something down can lead to not being able to fall back to sleep.

I really think now that sleep is not as important as feeling that enlightened moment and taking the time to reflect about it and write it down, which is vital. We only live this life once and we need to cherish every moment and we need to understand ourselves fully and know that these deep thoughts are part of who we are. Let's start taking the time to listen to our hearts and our minds.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tax Credits for Green Initiatives


I'm not going to pretend I know a lot about this topic. I don't. I only know about a few of the credits that are available, and I don't know all the pros and cons involved. So I'm just going with my gut feeling here.

And along with a general animosity towards the Italian Sausage sandwich I shoveled into it a few hours ago, my gut is telling me that tax credits geared towards the adoption of green initiatives are a very positive thing.

Here's a good example. I've been wanting to put in new windows here at our new place, but I've put it off because of the cost. Even doing the installation myself, the cost has been prohibitive, given that the money could be used for more pressing matters. But now there's a tax credit worth up to $1,500 which you can nab by installing approved energy efficient windows and doors. You can take 30% of the total cost of the job right off your tax bill, up to $1,500. It's a credit, not a deduction, so you get the full dollar value in your pocket. It's essentially a 30% off coupon. That's huge! The window job has now vaulted its way to the front of the line.

So I get a large discount on a job I wanted to do anyway, and afterward I start saving money on my utility bills. Win win...and win. I use less energy, my carbon footprint drops, and a little less bad is perpetrated on our unsuspecting planet. As more people take advantage of the credit, the savings effect swells geometrically. A lower power demand countrywide makes power generation with renewable energy sources, which are generally less predictable than coal powered plants, more feasible. Less reliance of carbon spewing power generation technologies further reduces carbon emissions. Like sharks to chum, once we Americans get a taste for the blood which is energy independence, we will feast to completion.

People, first and foremost, think with their wallets. Expensive green initiatives will never catch on. You have to couch them in terms of saving money. That's the quickest way to get people to hop on board. Then make sure they enjoy the ride and we can make real progress.

Serendipity, Part 2


Two months ago I wrote about funny, random and unlikely events in a post called, "Funny, Random and Unlikely." Today I had one such event happen to me, and it got me thinking about a follow-up.

This morning I was driving to work when my eye caught one of the small mile marker signs you see on many major highways. I've always wondered how accurate those signs are, given that the large overhead exit signs are clearly only approximations of distance. So I checked my odometer when I passed the next sign. I immediately noticed that the decimal place was at "0". So I was at exactly the beginning of a mile on my odometer as I passed exactly the beginning of a mile on the road. Pretty cool. But it got better.

As I passed successive mile markers I found that in fact they are accurate. Every time my decimal place hit "0" I passed a mile marker, and every time it hit "5" I passed a half-mile marker. It was then that I noticed that the first full digit on my odometer was also perfectly synched to the mile markers I was passing. As I passed the half-mile marker 14.5, the last two digits of my odometer read, "4.5". It was sort of shocking.

I almost never notice mile markers, so the chances against me happening to notice and pay close attention to them on the day that my odometer, against most odds on its own lined up perfectly with them are pretty high.

So first let me refresh my original post's central idea. The chances of what happened this morning happening are very slim. But the chances of an inordinate number of other possible things happening that didn't happen are also slim. And none of them happened, as you would expect. The chances of me getting into a car accident with a car of the same make, model and color were slim. The chances that the radio was playing the song already in my head when I turned it on were slim. Same for the chances that, at a light, I pulled up next to my old college roommate. All very unlikely events, and none of them happened. Except for the one that did. The point is that the odds of any specific random event happening are low. But the chances that any random, serendipitous, completely unpredictable event might happen are very good.

Criminy, Jason. Get to the point.

Okay, so based on the above reasoning, it's clear that interesting and often remarkable events that seem to defy the odds and sometimes explanation, occur all the time. Some of these events are unlikely enough that they get classified as miracles. But given enough time the occurrence of even some extremely unlikely event becomes likely. There's nothing intrinsically miraculous or meaningful about any of it.

And that, to me, is an incredibly positive thing. It means that "omens" don't mean anything. It means that "signs from heaven" exist solely in the head of the person interpreting the "sign." It means that all the ways we humans dupe ourselves into thinking that the universe is trying to tell us something are just randomness masquerading as intention. This is great because it frees us from superstition. The fact that two black cats crossed your path while you were walking to the store means nothing and portends nothing. The chances against it are high, granted, but that doesn't mean it means anything or promises ill fortune. In fact, considering all the other nasty things that could have also randomly happened to you but didn't like getting hit by a passing car, getting mugged, or having a passing bird poop on you, you're actually doing pretty well.

So the fact that my odometer and the mile markers I passed this morning were in perfect synch meant nothing. It wasn't a sign that my day was going to be a good one, nor was it an omen that my car was going to break down. It was just a cool little bubble of randomness made actual. For me, just observing the bubbles for what they are is way more interesting than trying to decipher hidden meanings that just aren't there.

I Can See Clearly

Contacts were such a great invention. I've been wearing contacts since I was 13 years old and I've had very few issues with them. I don't mind wearing glasses occasionally to rest my contacts, but I do really prefer not having a device strapped to my face all the time. I feel I see better with my contacts since you can view every angle clearly. I get the day and night contacts and wear the same pair for a month, resting them occasionally. I know that laser surgery is out there, but really I can wait or just not get it, since I'm fine with my vision status. Contacts. One of the many bonuses in my life that keep me stable and content.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Bane of Evil Spirits...and Water


I've always had a thing for gargoyles. They, along with carved stone and brick facades and other labor intensive building ornamentations are sorely lacking in today's modern cities. When I did my European tour in 2001 this idea was cemented for me. I remember being flabbergasted by the carvings and gargoyles decorating the Cath├ędrale Notre Dame in Paris, and the intricate moorish etchings and routed stone patterns scattered everywhere around the Alhambra in Spain. Stark modern concrete and glass building facades would do well to revisit the "modern" architect of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which embraced these architectural elements, though with a 21st century sensibility. It would seem that having to construct everything by hand, as was the case before mass production and modern building techniques, caused artisans to work even harder than necessary to pull beauty from their materials.


Here's something I learned this morning. Gargoyles are any grotesque figure with a trough or route carved into their backs, placed near the roof of a building with the express purpose of funneling rain water away. Gargoyle comes from the French, gargouille, meaning "throat" or "gullet." Without this water guttering function it's not a gargoyle. It's just a grotesque. Most people lump all building-mounted monsters into the gargoyle category, which is fine, but architects still maintain the distinction between the two terms.


So here's why, beyond their ornamental value, I really like gargoyles (or grotesques.) I love the window into the medieval mind they provide. People ornamented structures with hideous, grotesque figures because it was thought they would scare off evil spirits. I would imagine, if there were evil spirits, they themselves would be hideous, grotesque characters (if my experience with Ghostbusters has taught me anything) not likely to be scared off by portraits of themselves. And the fact that people felt the need to adorn churches with gargoyles is even more interesting. If there was a place where, in the medieval mind, you never had to worry about evil, I would think it would be in the great stone cathedrals. God, for them, would have been a much stronger deterrent to malevolent spirits than a bunch of stone monsters, you'd think. But people felt the need to add them to many of the largest cathedrals around Europe. What that points to is the overwhelming fear pervasive at that time. Fear that I think we've largely overcome, thankfully.

I suppose that's why you no longer see gargoyles and grotesques dotting cityscapes. We don't need them anymore. We know there's nothing nasty to hold at bay, and therefore don't need to invest the time and effort into creating elaborate stone wards. And I suppose that if fear is what it takes to motivate this sort of ornamentation in architecture then I'm glad they're gone, banished to the dustbin of history along with the ignorance that created them.

Designing Momentum

Alright this is a positive and I hope a good motivator for the next couple of weeks. I enjoy interior design. I can't wait to get really started on the house. It's going to be so amazing once it's cleaned with design elements throughout. I am really excited to get started. I want this place to be one-of-a-kind. I have some ideas, but I'm hoping more and more ideas come flowing once I get started. I went shopping yesterday for rugs, curtains, storage containers, and a lot more that's not as interesting. I took my time and visualized the spaces and colors schemes for the rooms. It was challenging but really fun. I hope everything goes smoothly and I keep up this creative and enthusiastic momentum.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Liquid Sleep Replacement


Ah yes. Coffee. Blissful addiction to millions of people around the world. One of the few substances with shops devoted strictly to it.* A rarity in the food world. Something that people will consume even if they don't like it, just to derive its effect. And, unlike alcohol, which is imbibed by people in an effort to get each other into bed, just the mention of coffee means the act is a lock. It's a simple seed with deep connections to most of humanity.

Interestingly, I don't really drink coffee to wake up. Caffeine in lower doses doesn't seem to affect me. I can down an energy drink and still manage to nod off. But I still have a cup every morning at work. I just like it. The flavor, the accompanying creamers, and the socializing at the coffee pot. Really, I think I'm attracted to the ritual. I'm a creature of habit, and certain morning rituals just feel right. Coffee in the morning eases me into the day. I think it actually relaxes my nerves as opposed to jangling them.

I can't wait for my morning cup.


*Interestingly most of those shops, Coffee, Bagel, Donut, Pancake (House), Waffle (House), etc. all revolve around breakfast. Maybe because people are too bleary-eyed in the morning to go anywhere without a very specific purpose.

Powerful Family Bonds

The intense love parents have for there children is so unbelievably powerful. Poor Jackson had a little bit of a scare the other day, he still may not be out of the woods entirely, but observing Stephanie and John's confounding love and protective nature for Jackson was profoundly beautiful. I know I can't imagine the feelings they are having right now when their child is not feeling well. Jackson is a strong kid and this entry is for all the strong and loving families out there, especially the Miller's. I respect and admire all your hard work, you three are tremendous.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Film Festivals

I've been a lover of film festivals since forever. I used to dream of going to Sundance one day to promote my own film or just to go to enjoy of the films and inspiring energy around me. My friend Brooke used to help run the Red Bank, NJ International Film Fest when I was living in and around NYC and I would always come to enjoy the fest and all the parties. It was always a great time and the films were so engaging.

For the past three years Jason and I have enjoyed going to the Maryland Film Festival. The first year Renegade was one of the sponsors so we both got free passes to whatever we wanted to see. It was incredible and we definitely took advantage of the passes. We saw something like 15 shows that year. It was sort of chaotic, but fun none-the-less. This year we didn't have the hook up, so we took advantage of the three ticket deal. It was like a buy two get one free sort of thing.

We saw the Narrative Shorts, which were all very compelling. Then we saw Bobcat Goldthwait's new film "World's Greatest Dad" starring Robin Williams. Some of you might not know that the 80s comedian has turned into a notable filmmaker in the past few years. This latest film is extraordinary. Robin's best performance to date. I highly recommend it. Be warned that it is slightly unnerving, brutally honest, and has a lot of bad language. Bobcat was at the film and answered a few questions afterwards. He was a very charismatic guy, and I'm now an official fan.

To add to all that I finally got to see the infamous John Waters, when he stood up from the audience to applaud Bob. The third screening was the Animated Shorts. They were pretty good this year. I got to go to one of my training workshop now, have a great day everyone!

Buying Smart Online


The internet has completely changed the way I shop. I make most of my major purchases online. I researched and bought all of the appliances for our new house that way. Our new HDTV came from Amazon.com. And countless past purchases, including the computer I writing this post with, came from smart Ebay purchases. I think Home Depot is the only major retail chain that I still buy large items from at the brick and mortar store, and that's only because home repair usually requires instant gratification. Researching and buying online enables anyone to be a smart consumer.

If you're willing to forgo having your new purchase in hand immediately, you'll almost always get your best price online. But even the impatient among us can benefit from online research, which is the first step in smart shopping. I like to start by going to product review sites. For example, I'm researching Blu Ray players right now, so I spend time at cnet.com reading product reviews from both experts and other consumers, comparing features and general price ranges. I think it's important to find a site that features expert reviews for the product you're searching for. Consumer reviews are useful as a general barometer of product quality, but someone writing, "Dude, I freakin' love this TV!" is hardly authoritative. Use Google to find review sites.

Once you've narrowed down which model or manufacturer you like, use price comparison sites like, Bizrate.com, Google shopping, or Pricescan.com to find your best deal. These sites maintain a constantly updated database of online retailer prices for (probably) millions of items. They give you one spot to compare dozens of online prices. Plus they give you shipping costs, for a true comparison. Each retailer is rated as well, and often reviewed by consumers, to help avoid trading price for poor service.

All of this research is free, and worth doing even if you ultimately buy offline. And on the flipside, offline brick and mortar stores are still great places to research prior to an online purchase. I went to Sears and Best Buy a number of times to compare TVs in person before I ultimately purchased from Amazon. You can't truly rate a television's image quality for yourself from pictures on a website. And had either of those retailers been able to compete price-wise with online-only retailers I would have purchased from them, but of course they couldn't. The overhead B&M stores impose on retailers always results in higher prices, another reason to avoid the major retailers online.

There are also services that track price changes for you. Pricepinx.com is one I've used before. You enter the item you're tracking and the sites you want Pricepinx to watch. Then, whenever the price goes down at any of your chosen retailers, Pricepinx sends you an email. It's a great way to automate a normally tedious task.

Finally, if you're willing to do some extra legwork, using Ebay is a great way to nab a good deal on used and often new products. Use the seller ratings to make sure you buy from a safe source.

Lastly, and this doesn't apply to Ebay, once you've chosen your vendor and you're ready to make a purchase, check out coupon code sites. Just search for "coupon code" with Google. If you've bought anything online before you know that often retailers run special offers, represented by a short code you enter at the purchase screen. The retailers usually email these offers to previous customers in an effort to spur further sales. Coupon code sites track them and let new customers in on offers they otherwise wouldn't be aware of. It doesn't work all the time, but sometimes you'll find a current code for the retailer you've chosen and save even further on your purchase.

The best part is that all of this is free. I do pay for a yearly subsciption to consumerreports.com, which is very helpful, but not necessary. You can find most of the information you need from free sites across the net.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Maryland Film Festival


This year was the 11th year for the festival, and it seems to get bigger and better every year. And yet many people are still unaware that Maryland hosts a film festival. For those of you that haven't been but love film, do yourself a favor next year and attend a few screenings.

What's great about the festival is that it's all about film appreciation, not commerce. Most of the large festivals, like Sundance, Cannes, Tribeca, etc. are more about procuring distribution deals for filmmakers. They're an orgy of film capitalism. Not to say that they don't have great screenings, but they aren't designed for the everyman. The Maryland Film Festival is all about us, lovers of cinema. As a result you get a great mix of film material. Narrative shorts, animated shorts, avant-garde shorts, feature length indie comedies and dramas, documentaries, and even a few big budget hollywood flicks. Last night we saw, among a few screenings of short films, "World's Greatest Dad" a new dark comedy written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait and starring Robin Williams. Great movie!

What I love about MFF is that fact that everyone screening their films at the festival do it out of the love of the craft. Sure they come for exposure, but they're not going to land a big distribution deal from a screening at the Charles. But they are going to get a huge, warm response from a film-centric crowd more concerned with viewing good cinema instead of selling good cinema. Bobcat made the comment last night (he came to introduce the film and for a Q&A afterwards) that he's cried twice at screenings of the film. The first was when Robin watched the film and started crying. The second was when he saw the reaction from the MFF crowd. He said that he had never felt so much gratitude for an audience at any screening ever. I think that says so much for the festival. It's all about the love of the art.

If you come and can't afford a lot of screenings, at least do the ticket three pack. Tickets are normally ten dollars, but you can get a three-pack for 20, so you essentially get a free screening. If you love movies you'll love MFF.

http://www.md-filmfest.com/

Give me some Popcorn!!


I've got to keep this short today, since we have a few errands to run before we go to all the Mom's Day events. I have a few topics in mind, so I'm going to stick to the simplest one - POPCORN!! I am a huge lover of every kind of popcorn. Recently I've been getting Newman's Own Naturally favored mini packs. They come in different flavors like Cracked Pepper or Garlic Butter, they are amazing! I also of course love all movie popcorn. Watching a flick with some popcorn is the best. My mom's a huge fan of popcorn too, Happy Mom's Day momma, I love you! I am also a stickler for white cheese covered popcorn, Smart Food and Utz have great ones. I also like the sweet caramel favored popcorn. Man, I love popcorn, it's the perfect snack and if you don't overindulge it's not too bad for you.
I love me some Popcorn!!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The InterBrain


I think we, or at least I, take for granted sometimes just what a staggeringly powerful and unprecedented resource humanity has in the internet. In many ways it functions as a fully accessible, completely searchable (thank you Google) repository of human knowledge. The important stuff and the completely irrelevant.

It's a trivial little search I do pretty frequently that got me thinking about this. Often I hear a song on the radio, and either because the DJ doesn't announce them or I have to leave the car before he or she does, I can't find out the song and artist names. So now, as a matter of habit, I commit a short but unique cluster of lyrics to memory. Later I look up that phrase with the word "lyrics" tagged on to the end, and find the song and artist nearly every time.

It's easy to take that for granted, but imagine trying to get that simple bit of information even 20 years ago. You'd probably have had to call the radio station. If they answered and were willing, you'd have to hope someone there could identify the song based on the lyrics you remember. Barring that they'd have to be willing to go over the play logs for the day and tell you the songs that aired around the time you were listening. That might work once or twice, but the stations management would likely tire of constant calls. In fact, frequent calls of this nature from multiple people would likely cause them to institute restrictive policies. So then you'd have to remember to ask friends or a clerk at a record store until you got an answer or forget the song entirely. Not very efficient.

With the internet, the answer comes quickly and easily, with links to band information, gig schedules, YouTube videos for the song in question, and chances to instantly download it onto your iPod.

Trivial in a sense, but in the grand scheme, enormous.

Now imagine what it would have taken 20 years ago to get a solid explanation for say the role of enzymes in the breakdown of industrial pollutants. Or the schedules for most of the known comets. Or train schedules in Glasgow. If you could find answers at all, the process would be laborious and far from instantaneous. Plus you'd have to leave your house!

The internet is just staggering.

Being Decisive

I like when I make decisions. I have lived a very indecisive life and I tend to still sway in that direction. But, when I do make a decision I grab onto it and I don't let go, and usually they end up being the best decisions I could have made. Like when I decided to change my major and my university and move up to Columbia, SC. I met some of the best people there and most are still in my life today. Then when I decided to work at the summer camp. Best job ever! Then I got up and moved to NYC, what a life adventure that was. I'm happy I've made such amazing life leaps, living life fully is what it's all about. The decisions I made yesterday about what rug to get for the hallway weren't very extreme, but they still made me feel in control. I like the independence and the confidence decision-making exudes. I haven't made a clear decision on what my next career steps are, but I feel confident that when I do they will be for the best.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Easy, Breezy Skirts

I love wearing skirts when the weather allows. It's probably the one really feminine thing about me, other than my makeup obsession. I got a few new skirts from the Jill's Giveaway, so now I finally get to wear them since the weather is perfect. I prefer to wear skirts instead of shorts. They are so easy and breezy. I am grateful that since Jill's generosity that I now known about 10 or so skirts. So I should not need a new one for a while, if I can hold off of course. Thanks again Jill. Off to run some errands.

Bye, Bye.

Being Happy With What You Have


Sitting here, plumbing for an entry idea, I was reminded of a conversation from our recent Cinco De Mayo party. Many of the attendees lived in our neighborhood, and hence all have the same basic home layout, save for minor differences. Radiators in different places, slight modifications to bathroom layout, closet layout, etc. One of the largest differences was the size of the inter-room wall openings on the first floor. House here either have very wide openings between rooms, to the point that the walls almost don't exist, or they have considerably narrower openings, though still much wider than a standard door.

What was funny was that, universally, or at least partysially, everyone wanted the layout that they didn't have. It's a classic case of "grass is always greener." Kate and I have the very large openings. I thought I liked them until we had to lay out our living room furniture. Then suddenly smaller openings were looking better. Plus, the houses with the smaller openings have rooms that feel cozier, and oddly, larger. But those with the smaller openings feel constricted by them, and wish for the more open floor plan.

But what's the point of pinning after something trivial that you don't have, and won't have, when what you do have is good in its own way? That "grass is always greener" mentality can help motivate people to improve themselves and their surroundings, but I think it also leads to unnecessary suffering. Constantly judging your stuff against the merits of other people's stuff can lead you to undervalue what you have and see only the negatives. But this sort of comparison thinking is hardwired into the human brain. Maybe a more useful way to use this pattern of thought is to compare what you have against what other people don't have. This sort of comparison generates a feeling of gratitude instead of jealousy. It makes you appreciate what you have instead of rejecting it. Plus it generates empathy and compassion towards those on the "don't have" side of the comparison.

The problem with "grass is always greener" is that it's an unending cycle. There's always another fence to look over, another yard to envy. You can't ever be satisfied. As soon as you plunder one yard, you'll be looking to the next, constantly moving forward with blinders on.

Instead, the next time you find yourself gazing longingly at someone else's lawn remember that at least you have one. Some people have to get by with bare dirt and scrubby rocks. Appreciate what you have.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The pleasure of giving

I love the good feelings you get after giving someone a nice gift. Something that says I'm thinking of you and love you. The gifts don't need to be huge or expensive they just need to come from your heart. When they're handmade they makes them even more profound.

I really want to start making a craft, then during the holidays everyone can get something I made. I really love that idea. I just don't know where to start on figuring out what to make. I should just go to Michael's and other craft stores and street fairs and get inspired. Maybe in July I'll make that my mission.

I love making people feel good, I know I don't have much money, but I'd rather spend the money I do have on the people I love rather than spend it on useless clothes for myself. Not to say I don't like to buy something for myself every so often, but I definitely would hold off if someone's birthday was coming up. Blake's birthday is at the end of the month, I'm still shopping around. They need to know that their Aunt Kate loves them and if getting them cool gifts on the birthday is the only way to reach them, so be it. Time to shop.