February 28, 2010

American Idol, gonna mess your mind

When football season ends, I don't despair in the same way I used to.  Because the Premier League is still going strong, and now I have American Idol.

It's a guilty pleasure, for sure.  I don't vote during the elimination rounds--no patience for it--but I do like to handicap the horses during the auditions and try to pick out the final few.  I picked Taylor Hicks and Adam Lambert, for example, as probably top-fours in their seasons, before they even made it out of Hollywood week.

This year, I have a new favorite who will probably not even make the top 12.  Siobhan.  Why?  Check out her tattoo.  That's right, it's the Gashlycrumb Tinies artwork!  And as you all know, that particular Gorey masterpiece was the inspiration behind my Unlucky 26.  So Siobhan, I'm in your corner, babe.  Call me.  If you win it all, I'll let you tattoo Marrow Manor on your other arm.

When I was in college, I actually had a pretty good singing voice.  I sang all the time, but only when I thought no one could hear.  I had no voice training, did not come from a musical family.  My instrument of choice was drum sticks.  Then, my junior year, I took a sight singing course and had a blast.  I was one of the better students, but that wasn't saying much, to be honest.  I performed better in my ballroom dance class, where, truth be told, all the girls wanted me as their partner.

Anyway, I digress.

At the beginning of my senior year, I took a chance.  The UC Men's Octet, a phenomenally talented and amusing a cappella group, was holding auditions for all parts (alto, tenor, baritone, and bass).  I grabbed the sheet music for the audition song ("Mood Indigo"), headed to the music building where they had rooms with pianos, and practiced.  I couldn't ever quite hit the higher notes in the tenor range, so I tried the baritone part.

The day of the auditions, I was thrilled to see that only the current Octet and about ten auditioners were in a small studio room.  No public humiliation.  My humiliation would stay private.  They were nice enough to ask each of us if we ever had any music instruction, so I was able to set expectations appropriately before even singing a note.

A few went before me, and man, were they good.  A tenor and a bass.  I knew I could never be as good as they were.  But here was my one chance to sing with the Octet, albeit only three of them and in a small room.  So I gave it a go.  We sang through it once, and I knew immediately I had started in the wrong key.  I never corrected out of the wrong key, but dammit I sang the right notes in that wrong key, and they were good notes, and my voice was smooth.

They were very kind.  The head guy said, without a hint of patronization, "I'm not sure that was exactly right.  Let's try it again."  This time I hit the right key and sang quite well, in tune.  Until the last few bars, when instead of the baritone harmony I sang the progression of the tenor melody.  If I'd had any remaining chance, I knew I killed it then.  Still, the guys were super nice.  They asked if I wanted to audition as a tenor.  I knew I wouldn't hit the high range, so I declined.

Listening to the rest of the auditions, I knew I was out of my league.  But really, I knew that going in.  And unlike so many tone-deaf American Idol hopefuls, music was not my life.  It just seemed like a cool thing to do.  I almost left before they announced the results, but I'm glad I didn't.  All the guys auditioning and in the Octet were beyond nice the whole time, encouraging and not the least stomp-on-your-dreams cynical.

To this day, I am stunned I even tried out.  But that's the only way I've ever gained in life--by stepping outside my comfort zone and taking a risk.  That one didn't work out, but I am so glad I did it.

February 26, 2010

A day in Facebook Ads

I, like most people who've spent more than six minutes on the internet, have been trained to ignore anything that shows up in the far right column of a web page.  It's only ads any more.  But recently I've been intrigued by the ads that Facebook is choosing for me.  So I captured a sampling of ads that Facebook gave me today.

This is the one that got me started.  Apparently, it's telling me that if I am a father and make very little money, I can have hot, overly-made-up chicks smiling at me in provocative ways.  Presumably, this is what a scholarship will do for me.  But wait, this appears to be a correspondence or online degree.  This is the internet.  I don't need to take online classes to find hot, overly-made-up chicks smiling at me in provocative ways on the internet.  In fact, it's almost difficult to avoid that kind of thing.  (Be careful what links you click, folks.)

Aaaah!  Now they're telling me I can become the Unabomber if only I sign up for their online scholarship thing.  Is this dude a dad?  I can pretty much guarantee he doesn't bring home more than $45 grand, unless it's in the sack that he filled in the bank vault with his ski mask on.

Yeah, now that's more like it.  Forget scholarships.  Who needs school when you can have pecs and delts like that guy?  And all I have to do is drink whatever he's got in the bottle.  And I can be a UFC champion.  That's definitely worth a click.

This one definitely got my attention because I am certain that Wells Fargo did not make, buy, or approve this ad.  I'm guessing, though I'm not sure, that if you click this it will take you to the scholarships for dads site.  This one makes me a little queasy because it implies that I and my coworkers aren't already educated.  I do, however, like the gratuitous hyphen in re-imbursement.  This is a school I want to attend.  One that puts random punctuation where it's not needed, to clarify something that does not need clarification.

At least the Author's Guide is free.  At least it openly refers to self publishing and doesn't do those underhanded vanity publisher tricks, at least not at the start.  But really, does anyone believe that if you self publish your poetry, you will "get discovered by traditional publishers"?  That's like saying, "join Twitter and you'll get discovered by traditional publishers!"  I really hate products that prey on people's dreams with no actual hope of fulfilling them.

This one just has me befuddled.  There's an "average Team USA mom"?  At first I thought this was an ad for custom sports apparel.  Then I thought it was an ad for... um, something Olympic.  Then I saw it as a P&G ad.  More like a WTF ad.  What are they trying to sell me here?  Pringles?  Does P&G make Pringles?  Oh, I guess so.  I'll put this one down to a cute but ultimately stupid attempt at Olympics related nerd humor.  Moms, nerd humor, and Olympics--trying to hit a trifecta but coming in just outside of medal contention.

There were other ads, too, but these came up most often (apart from the Facebook feature ads).  I don't have any particular point in this blog post except to say that, yeah, now that I've paid attention, I fully understand how easy it was to train myself to ignore that right column on web sites.

February 24, 2010

God, guns, and the flag

Three stories that have come up in recent weeks:

  • Man wants to rename a mountain
  • Teacher has kid arrested for not reciting the Pledge
  • Handguns flaunted in Starbucks
When people have a view to impose on others, they rarely stop at the line where reasonable discourse turns into insanity.  In fact, some of them already began on the far side of that line.

Here in Walnut Creek, there's a mountain.  It's only 3,849 feet tall, but more of the Earth's surface can be seen from its summit than from any other peak besides Kilimanjaro.  Thirty-five of California's 58 counties are visible from this mountaintop.  It is a key survey point for much of California.  And it's been called Mt. Diablo since as early as 1824, when San Francisco was little more than a Mexican military outpost of about 250 soldiers.

So of course a guy wants to rename it Mount Reagan.  Actually, he doesn't much care what the new name would be.  He just doesn't want to glorify Satan any more.  Apparently, God told him to file the petition.  Because, you know, God cares about this.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, a teacher had a 13-year-old girl removed from her classroom by school police when she refused to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  Oh, the humanity!  She must be a Communist, or a terrorist.  I am surprised she didn't end up at Guantanamo, labeled an enemy combatant.

Three things really bother me about this:  First, that this school has "school police."  Either this is a really tough school and the school police probably have something better to do already, or it's an insanely rich hoity-toity school where parents are worried about things like, you know, free speech.  I mean the exercise of free speech, and making sure it gets punished severely.  Second, that the teacher broke state law and violated school policy by trying to force the student to stand and recite the pledge.  Can we even call someone like that a teacher?  What, exactly, is she trying to teach?  And third, that some people actually think the teacher was doing the morally right thing.  That is scary.

We return now to the shadow of Mt. Diablo, where some kooks think it's really important to strap on handguns when buying coffee.  California has "open carry," which means that while it's illegal to carry a concealed handgun, it's not illegal to buckle one into your belt as long as it's not loaded.  The ammunition can be handy, just not loaded in the weapon.  For some reason, a group of people decided it was important to make everyone aware of this law by insisting on wearing their weapons when they got coffee.  Because you never know when there might be a firefight at the half-and-half pitcher.

It reminds me of a joke I heard in middle school:  Why does a dog lick its balls?  Because it can.

So, why does a man insist on flaunting deadly weapons in wealthy suburban coffee joints?  Apparently because he can't lick his balls.

We now return you to your regular programming of health care, global warming, foreclosures, the rotten economy, and Olympic medal counts.

February 22, 2010

Winter Olympics: guns, bikinis, and really cool sunglasses

I was shocked--shocked, I tell you!--last night when my younger son declared that the Biathlon was the least exciting winter Olympics sport to watch.  Considering that my two boys have more airsoft weaponry than most third world countries have actual guns, this declaration woke me up.  (I had fallen asleep, you see, because "ice dancing" was on the TV.)

I figured that anything involving shooting would keep my boys rapt.  Skiing and shooting.  Skating and shooting.  Hot dog eating and shooting.  Lawnmowing and shooting.  What could be more exciting, apart from maybe watching someone strap on skis and fling himself sixty feet skyward in a windmill tornado tumbling exhibition?  (OK, possibly if the skier were in fact doing this jump behind the biathlon shooting targets.)

So my boys eschewed the manliest of winter sports, the one involving the gun.  (By the way, I think women's biathlon should be moved to the summer games, and moved to the beach. It'd be like women's beach volleyball, only with bullets instead of a ball.  Girls, guns, and bikinis.  The IOC is missing a major ratings opportunity here.  But I digress.)

It got me thinking about other Olympic sports, though.

Curling.  OK, I kind of like it in the way I like ping pong and lawn bowling.  All three are well designed for the integration of beer.  But that whole broom thing... kinda girly, doncha think?  I mean, manly men don't do competitive sweeping.  When have you seen a Swiffer ad with a man doing the housework?  All they need is to add a guy at the end to pick up the stone, rinse it off, and put it in a dishwasher.  Emasculation complete.

Ice dancing.  Do we even need to go there?  This is the rhythmic gymnastics of winter.  This is figure skating for men who can't jump, and for women who are too big and fat to be thrown in the air like a high school cheerleader.  They should change this sport to incorporate some of the rules of the dance marathons of the 1930s.  Have all the couples on the ice at the same time.  Instead of sitting off in safety writing down random scores, judges would have to be on the ice, too, and tap the dancers on the shoulder when they've been eliminated.  And it would be a 12 hour marathon; if after 12 hours, more than one couple was still dancing, the judges could award style points to declare the winner.

Doubles luge.  WTF?  I mean, seriously?

I actually do enjoy watching some of the sports, if I've got nothing better to do like pick lint out of my navel or draw lines on the whiskey bottle to make sure the 10 year old isn't mooching.  Somehow I missed the US vs Canada hockey game, which is probably the one thing I would have sat down to watch in its entirety.  The downhill ski races are a bit like NASCAR in that there's almost certainly going to be a spectacular wipeout at some point, and that's OK because NBC in prime time tape delay won't show any actual serious injuries.  Cross country skiing is unfortunately like long distance running--truly an athletic competition, but fundamentally awful television.  I can allow figure skating because there's a manliness to tossing a petite girl into the air while zooming around on miniature swords strapped to your feet.  And speed skating--the one activity in all of humanity where a woman benefits from having enormous thighs.  Plus, as my son who is bored by the biathlon said, they get to wear really cool sunglasses.

So I guess the winter Olympics isn't all bad.  It's got guns, spectacular wipeouts, and really cool sunglasses.  The only thing it's missing is bikinis.

February 18, 2010

Random inspiration

I live in awe of those friends of mine who can post a blog post a day.  Sometimes two.  Or fourteen.  Sometimes with video.  Me, my posts have dwindled to maybe two a month (plus my weekly poem on the private blog).  That's OK.  I like my job.  I like my kids.  I don't much like housework, but it has to get done.

So tonight I turned to professional help.  The best help in the industry.  Right.  Google.  And Google pointed me to 1.4 million possibilities.  Here are a few that have potential (with a couple of suggestions from each), and which I may try using in the next few weeks.

A little twisted, some of these, but they have potential.  What about you?  Do you have a favorite random topic generator, or a favorite place to get a prompt?

For some reason, I was put in mind of this:

February 15, 2010

SFWC Wrap-Up, or, "How I avoided the claws that catch"

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
the Scottish Koala!

I'm paraphrasing, but I bring this up to say that today I made the Koala pleased.  Although she does not yet know it.  Today, I sent off query and pages to a fabulous, stupendous, wonderful, thoughtful, kind, intelligent, insightful, and very non-frumious agent that I met at the San Francisco Writers Conference over the weekend.  Another trait of hers is that there is a small but nonzero possibility that she may read this blog.  Did I mention stupendous and amazing?  I'm sure I did.

Last weekend I volunteered at the San Francisco Writers Conference for my third year in a row.  I absolutely adore (most of) the volunteers, speakers, and attendees.  Although after three years I find the content of the sessions a bit redundant, I still get a lot out of the conference.  Renewed enthusiasm, new contacts, a little new perspective and information, and most of all, fun.

I don't have much of a writeup about this conference.  I attended three of the four YA sessions I had wanted to hear, and I was assigned to Ransom Stephens' session about basic writing craft that was shockingly stupendous.  I worked the cafe and sold mediocre coffee at $3 per tiny cup (the hotel charged us $5 per cup).  I hung around with writers from Los Angeles, Salt Lake, Cincinnati, New Jersey, Florida, and--yes--even San Francisco.  I pitched two very kind and patient agents (did I mention stupendous and amazing?  oh, yes, I see I did) and waylaid a YA editor to bend her ear on some tough questions while waiting for the elevator.  And I did an awful lot of helping attendees find rooms, helping presenters remember to repeat the question, carrying boxes, etc.  Plus, since my wife also volunteered on Sunday and we had a room at the Mark Saturday night, we spent a pleasant Valentine's Eve in the city together.

All in all, a great weekend.

Today, the Day Job hauled me back in with a relentless efficiency and sucked all the life from my body before 2 p.m.  A little coffee reanimated my corpse, and by the boys' bedtime I was back in business and slapping together the query and pages.  Tomorrow:  the other wonderful, astounding, super-duper agent I met gets her query and pages.

Wish me luck.