August 28, 2010

My Life is in Color Now

My friend Clairz started a second blog recently (my God! Isn’t retirement great! Can’t wait until I have that kind of time…LOL) where she has been posting old family and childhood stories and pictures. In this entry she was talking about several generations of family and posted two photographs – one from 1977 and one much more recent. Although different, the similarities of the pose was striking and made me think what a great double picture frame it would make. Then Clairz wrote this comment:

Interestingly enough, my own grandchildren posed for a similar photo in California, not too many years ago. They live a wonderfully healthy lifestyle, as their home is situated in a dead-end court where the neighborhood kids join in playing ball and riding bikes--not so different from my own childhood. Except, as my son would say, their life is in color.

This got me to thinking about things in my life related to photographs, family and life in general. Way back when, life was simpler, slower and maybe carried more depth but it is difficult not to remember it in some sort of black and white way. The memories are fuzzy, low contrast, worn out. As I have been getting prepared for retirement, I have spent a great deal of time remembering and reliving those moments, sometimes without feeling fulfilled. One preparation we have started to make in our move to retirement is to go through old pictures. We had way too many snapshots of half people, orange grass, fuzzy focus landscapes. We weeded through and tossed and put aside for others and just relived a few things.

(The Hulser 4, Christmas about 1964)

(The Hulser 5, about 1966)

(The Hulser 5, 1987)

My life is so much more different now however. A wife with which to share the memories we plan to make. Loving kids who have their whole lives ahead of them. Friends waiting for us to get to New Mexico. Now I look at some family photos posted on Facebook and realize that my life too is now in color and I am coloring it more and more each day. And this is a good thing.
Thanks Clairz and Mrsfabp for friendship and inspiration and support.

(The Hulser 5, 2010)

August 27, 2010

The Canonical Penguin: Close but No Cigar

In some of the old family stories I have told, I have jokingly referred to us in mob or criminal terms just to make a funny. However there really is a bit of the darker, potentially dangerous and criminal in a couple of family tales I will write about today

This first story took place when I was about 7-8 years old. My grandmother lived with us growing up and often babysat for the crew when my parents had other obligations – my dad with the VFW and Democratic Party in Queens, my mother with the Catholic Church and school in our community. It is on one of those nights that this occurred. It was late in the evening, my grandmother watching us, and we were sitting in the dining room. It had lace curtains on the windows facing the back yard. The curtains moved on their own and we went to the window to peer outside, convinced that there was someone in the yard looking in the window. My grandmother, who was prone to overreaction, especially in regards to overprotecting the grand kids, reached an emotional high and a dash to the telephone to call the police. For some reason cooler heads prevailed for a bit and another check of the yard, including turning the porch light on, didn’t reveal anyone or anything there. The explanation – leaky, drafty windows allowed wind to move the curtains, dark outside / light inside created a reflection on the window of one of us, seen by my grandmother and kids but believed to be someone outside. No doubt my parents were saved the embarrassment of explaining to the cops they were called because of a reflection.

(not the alarm on corner of 214th place and Northern Boulevard, but an incredible simulation)

The second story occurred a few years later when I was maybe 12 or so and involved me, my brother Mike and almost brother Tom. Again it was late in the day and we were hanging out, playing in the backyard. On the facing block there was a house and the upstairs bedroom window was open. Curtains fluttered in the breeze, and there was a smell of smoke in the air. As we looked up at the window in the fading light, we saw a flickering light. Quickly we convinced ourselves that there was a fire in the bedroom and we needed to call the fire department. We ran from the house, down the block, around the corner and up to the fire alarm box. All set to pull it, we paused. Looking at each other we turned and went around the rest of the block to the front of the house in question. No smoke, no fire, no commotion. Again, disaster averted. Imagine the embarrassment for us and our parents trying to explain that little tidbit to the police.

Ah, living the life of an almost criminal…
(These are stories about things that actually happened with plenty of witnesses. It has passed from the apocryphal to canonical in nature. Wiki says of canon – “material that is considered to be "genuine", "something that actually happened", or can be directly referenced as material produced by the original author or creator.”)

August 26, 2010

Book Review: “Stonehenge” by Bernard Cornwell

I recently wrote that I was listening to this book, an example of the historical fiction that is a guilty pleasure, so I thought I would review it for all y'alls...

Set in prehistoric Britain, more than 4000 year ago, this book follows several tribes as they search for religious fulfillment at the hands of their various gods. Names such as Saban and Orena, struggle as fictional characters living their lives in the wilds of the British Isles, struggling with their view of the gods which control everything from the rise of the sun and different seasons to the amount of wild animals their clans hunters will be able to find. It is the effort to please these gods and influence them in some way that leads to the creation of a giant stone temple, that we commonly call Stonehenge now.

As historical fiction books go, this one has a lot going for it. Through his writing, Cornwell espouses a theory about the how’s, when’s and whys of this creation. After the end of the story, he includes a chapter that details much of what is known, not known and conjectured about this monument to the gods. Additionally he includes just enough of what I like to call “Neanderthal Porn” to make it interesting yet not cross into the “Neanderthal Romantic Novel” format of a Jane Auel or Sue Harrison. Sorry but I do not have to have every sexual encounter detailed in order to understand the importance of continuation of the species.

And now a couple of notes on the audio book process. I have come to understand no after listening to several audio books, that the person doing the reading provides a great deal of influence over the enjoyment of a book. When one reads, we do so in our own voice but these audio book actors (I guess that is what they are) are fleshing out the story in their own way. When I listened to Bryson read a couple of his books, it added to the enjoyment. Bernard Cornwell does not read this book but an actor with a bit of a British accent does and this made the conversations more believable for me. This will come up again when I review my next book and I will talk more about it then

So, in my initial use of the new Penguin Rating Scale, I give this book 3 Penguins…
Yes, I did finish it and found at times wishing it was going to continue, yes, I was entertained. A couple of things go right here - interesting subject I did not know much about, good voice of the reader made it more believable, and I like historical fiction, especially when it provides plausible historical context. I would not hesitate to recommend it to others who let it be known they enjoy historical fiction too.

August 24, 2010

The Canonical Penguin: Characters of 215th Street - Mrs. Perkins and Mrs. Watson

When I was growing up in Queens, NY, each block was almost a neighborhood in and of itself. There were plenty of other kids to play with, lots to do, places to go and doorbells to ring and run from. Two people we did not ring and run on were Mrs. Watson and Mrs. Perkins and I would like to tell you a bit about both.

Mrs. Watson was a family friend, she had some connection to my mother but I do not know the circumstances of that relationship. She was a sturdy, traditionally built woman who you would see almost daily sweeping her porch or walking down her steps on the way to the grocery store or some civic meeting. She lived across the street from us, the third home in a row of 3 story Victorian giants. The first two were bought and demolished when we were very young, replaced by a dry cleaners and row of townhouses. But Mrs. Watson’s home remained intact. Her side yard was one that we would cut through to get to the other side of the block. Her yard was a bit overgrown with bushes and had no fence so we could slip through it without being seen. She always had a kind word for anyone who passed her on the street. She slipped getting out of my parents car one day, they may have been taking her to vote, and she broke her hip. I can remember my mother feeling responsible in some way even though she was not and it seemed that after that Mrs. Watson was never the same. We rarely saw her doing the things she had always done, rarely saw her out anymore. Years later I heard she had passed away and someone bought her house, tore it down and built more townhouses in the row.

(Not Mrs. Watson's home but a good representation of how I remember it...)

Mrs. Perkins lived up the block in the garden apartments. She was very old when I was a kid. She was rail thin, always wore fancy dresses and heels and lived in a dark, second floor apartment. We would be sent over to her place by my grandmother and she would give us some money to go to the local A&P to pick up a few items – milk, bread, some fresh ground coffee. She would take her money out of a silk purse and always found an extra dime or quarter for us. My grandmother would go over and visit her occasionally but we rarely if ever saw her out walking in town. Her skin was like parchment and I can remember seeing the veins on the back of her hand when she reached into the purse and being a bit scared but she was not someone to be scared of.

Both of these women were examples of the high society that existed in our neighborhood at that time and both exerted strong influences on all of us growing up. They were some of the characters in the neighborhood.

(These are stories about things that actually happened with plenty of witnesses. It has passed from the apocryphal to canonical in nature. Wiki says of canon – “material that is considered to be "genuine", "something that actually happened", or can be directly referenced as material produced by the original author or creator.”)

August 22, 2010

The Penguin’s New Rating Scale

Behold the new Penguin Rating Scale! When I first started writing this blog I did not envision myself doing any sort of reviews of things. I guess I felt like I had an opinion and they were mine but was not willing to share my thoughts. Through the podcast process, Countless Screaming Argonauts (available on iTunes for free or on the website) I am expressing opinions about a variety of topics. Hence “reviewing” has sort of snuck into my writing. I have reviewed or participated in reviews of some restaurants, some books, websites, blogs, even an occasional movie and TV Theme Show Song.

As a result of all this, I have decided to develop a handy, dandy rating scale of all things deemed important. You will find one of these after any review situation I do. I will put the scare on the blog website in the right hand column for you to refer to. And now some details about the scale

0 Penguins – This means that the form in question is so bad, so lacking in value that even if I could, I would not even recommend Sarah Palin should try it. You know it must be bad!

1 Penguin – This is not a good thing, it is bad and without question not worth an effort. Trying this object will put you in the mind set of “I’ll never get that time back that I wasted with this!”

2 Penguins – Still not good, but maybe there is some redeeming value to this – maybe a cute actress, nice story, maybe it helps put you to sleep at night, at least you didn’t get acid reflux or the dry heaves, kind of not bad.

3 Penguins – Now we have turned the corner. Maybe the subject in question is not without flaws but at the very least you finished entertained. At least a couple of things need to go right here – it is close to home AND they make good margaritas, I like the book and Scarlett Johansen is in the movie kind of thing. A bit hard to make a total case for but you’re not embarrassed being seen leaving the premises or carrying it out of the bookstore.

4 Penguins – This represents an overall very positive experience. I will tell people about it in casual conversation (have you read any good books lately), defend it against negative karma (well I DID go there and liked it, maybe they were having a bad day?) and let my friends know it is a MUST DO.

5 Penguins – This is the Zagats of superiority! It wins the Car and Driver award, the US Transportation Board 5 Star Rating, the Lombardi Trophy of Excellence, an Academy Award, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize all rolled into one. This is it!

So, enjoy the ratings system. Next up for a review will be a book I just finished, see you in the ratings scale…

The Canonical Penguin: Attic Treasures

Everyone loves those programs on HGTV where people search their attics and discover all kinds of “treasures” that end up being valuable. Who could forget the success of the PBS series “Antiques Road Show.” What about the show, “The 1000 Mile Yard Sale” on every fall. Well this is not about any of those kind of things. This is the story of our attic in our home in bayside when I was growing up, the “Aunt Bee” home.

I don’t really remember when we discovered the attic as a great place to go but it always was. I can’t ever remember being scared up there; it was not dark and creepy. It was well lit, had a small bedroom on one side and a large storage area on the other. There were a couple of windows and plenty of lights. There were Christmas decorations and old clothing hung on a steel pipe and a small bed in the bedroom. There was a wooden staircase leading up to it. I remember that sometimes we played hide and seek in the house and the attic could be a prime spot.

Then one day, we discovered treasure! Yes, real treasure – jewelry hidden (or so we thought) behind the walls in some rafter space. There was a large box of it. Some were just jewels, some jewelry and all exotic. It was discovered during a game when we were looking for someone up there. There were coats and stuff hung on a pipe across the rafters and behind them was a great spot. It was there that the box was encountered. I can remember dragging it out and opening up the smaller boxes inside and marveling at the “booty” we had discovered.

Some of these jewels were the things we dropped purposely on our neighbor’s lawn after we had discovered what this was, as I talked about in this post. It was an old box of costume jewelry, and the makings for more. To be honest, I do not know why we had it. I don’t remember my mom making or wearing the jewelry. I can remember it being some very gaudy colors – metallic blues and reds and greens and fake gold. There were clip on earrings, necklaces, pendants and broaches. But one thing I do know is that these jewels were the objects of childhood fantasies galore – cops and robbers, pirates, amateur archaeologist, junior scientist, just gobs of them. Now, I don’t remember what happened to them, why we ever stopped playing with them or where they went but the image of some jewels in a cotton-lined box will stick with me forever.

(These are stories about things that actually happened with plenty of witnesses. It has passed from the apocryphal to canonical in nature. Wiki says of canon – “material that is considered to be "genuine", "something that actually happened", or can be directly referenced as material produced by the original author or creator.”)

August 19, 2010

Sometimes Things on the Internet Make My Head Explode

OK boys and girls, gather around for a minute. Today we are going to start to prepare for that big final exam next week by reviewing some events of the last couple of weeks and putting them into some sort of historical/political/sociological perspective. Here goes:

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a ultra conservative radio talk show host. (BTW one note: Dr. Laura has a Ph.D. in physiology from Columbia University in 1974. Her doctoral thesis was on the "Effects of Insulin on 3-0-Methylglucose Transport in Isolated Rat Adipocytes". She is not a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist, just a bit of a quack...) Two weeks ago she was in discussion on her show with a black woman, who was upset that her white husband made disparaging and racist comments to his white friends. Rather than provide support or attempt to comfort the woman, Dr. Laura just loses it on the air. In a maniacal diatribe, she asks, among other things, why black comedians can use the “N” word but not anyone else. During this diatribe she herself used the “N” work 11 times. She ended her program that day with this gem:

"If you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry outside of your race."

The next day, Dr. Laura apologized for the rant, saying:

"I didn't intend to hurt people, but I did. And that makes it the wrong thing to have done. I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the "n" word all the way out - more than one time. And that was wrong. I'll say it again - that was wrong."

Now, the story gets even better. A mere 5 days later, after presumably talking with her publicist and handlers she said on the Larry King Show that she has decided:

"not to do radio anymore so I can say the things I wants to say. The reason is, I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what's on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I'm sort of done with that."

So she is going with the old First Amendment, freedom of speech argument, and feels she can’t do that on her radio show because special interests have decided to silence her. So this raises a first issue. Are the “special interests” she is talking about her bosses on her radio outlet that don’t want a loose cannon spewing racism on the airwaves or is she referring to the general outraged public who called her out on this?

Then, the next turn occurs. Our good friend, Half Governor Sarah Palin, could not wait to jump into the breach on this one. She tweeted her support for Dr. Laura :

"Dr.Laura:don't retreat...reload! (Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence"isn't American,not fair")," Palin then tweeted, "Dr.Laura=even more powerful & effective w/out the shackles, so watch out Constitutional obstructionists. And b thankful 4 her voice”

For those of you unfamiliar with tweet shorthand or with Palin propensity to create new words, I offer this explanation of Palin’s words; she says Dr. Laura was forced out because she exercised her First Amendment rights and that activists were silencing her, those damn constitutional obstructionists.

So now my second issue, almost the same as the first. By activists and constitutional obstructionists is she referring to Dr. Laura’s bosses or to the general outraged public?

A third issue: When Dr. Laura apologized the day after her rant she said she was wrong, admitted being wrong and in my book, the story was over. However, 5 days later she said she was quitting because she wanted to regain her free speech rights. This begs the question did she LIE when she apologized and said she was wrong or was she WRONG when she apologized for what she said.

A fourth issue is the argument made by Dr. Laura, where she said during her rant that black comics use the “N” word, so why couldn’t she. Now I know that I am going all “Godwin’s Law” on you here but to use this argument is like saying that because Hitler killed Jews, it must be ok for all of us to do it. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Because black comics use the word, it must be ok for all of us to use it. Yep… (Didn't their mother ever say to them "if your friends jump off a bridge, would you jump too...")

Next up, a couple of disagreements with dear Sarah. If you are going to say that the “N” word falls under the guise of free speech, then how is that different than when she criticized White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for using the word "retarded" against liberal activists protesting U.S. debt management. Palin called this comment a "sick and offensive tactic." And she noted that Emanuel's "retarded" comment was as unacceptable as using the "n-word.” She called for him to resign.

Also covered under our First Amendment rights is freedom of religion which again sticks in the craw of dear Sarah. She also tweeted about the plans to build a mosque in lower Manhattan, on hallowed ground. Of course if anyone were to tell her where she could or couldn’t build a church we would hear about that on Twitter, you betcha! And as for the hallowed ground bit, why is it still just a hole in the ground, surrounded by Starbucks and McDonalds and people selling t-shirts and other souvenirs. Perhaps because of the First Amendment? To use her own words, it “isn’t America, isn’t fair” to criticize other Americans.

I can only come to one conclusion. These women, Dr. Laura and Sarah Palin are racists. Oh, and they are idiots too. Two conclusions...

August 18, 2010

Lunch Boxes

So this time of year always puts me in mind of back to school sales and the tradition we referred to as buying school supplies. A quick couple of notes:

As a kid, I always loved when the stores put out their Christmas decorations a few weeks before the holiday and it doesn’t bother me much now when they start right after Halloween. However I HATED when the stores put out the Back to School signs up in mid-August back then and figure that kids hate it now when they start appearing after the July 4th weekend.

Back to school sale for me meant a new pair of shoes, some school uniform pants and a package of paper to put in a loose leaf binder. Now a days, you can't get out of the store without dropping a couple of Franklins. For my kids it meant new sneakers, new clothing and enough pens, pencils and notebooks to fill a supply closet. Don’t forget the calculator, Mead Trapper Keeper, back pack and new lunch box with the theme de jure, any one of hundreds of cartoon characters.

I never got to carry a lunch box. We got the old brown bag most days and that was it. But I must admit that I loved the thought of carrying one and would do so today if I could. I wouldn’t put cartoon characters on mine today however; I think I would want interesting people on them to let everyone know where I stand.

Can you picture carrying your baloney sandwich and bottle of holy water in your very own Glenn Beck in the tin foil hat, lunch box? Available in red, white, blue or tin, for extra protection?

What about the Sarah Palin Delux model to carry your freshly shot and made wolf burger in. And you could fill up your commerative Ted Stevens Thermos with delicious moose chile, fresh out of the pot.

And boy, who wouldn’t want the Al Gore lunch box with plenty of bottled glacial melt water in it.

Then again, maybe these are cartoon character lunch boxes…

August 16, 2010

Why So Sad???

Look carefully at the picture above. On the left is my son, CollegeBoy. He is sad. On the right is his girlfriend, MissNicole. She is VERY sad. Why are they sad you ask? They are sad because last week, they travelled down to stinkin’ New Jersey in order to go to the USA – Brazil Soccer game. They went with a relative, PO Jen. She is a soccer fan. CollegeBoy is a soccer fan. MissNicole likes being with CollegeBoy. PO Jen and CollegeBoy followed the World Cup matches this summer. This World Championship was maybe best known for three things:

1. Vuvuzelas, the horn

2. The US team advancing to the second round

3. Vuvuzelas

PO Jen and CollegeBoy wanted to see the US Team in person and was getting to see them in the splendor we call New Jersey and the new Meadowland’s stadium. They wanted to see the team do well against Brazil but I think more importantly, CollegeBoy and MissNicole wanted commerative Vuvuzales. They were shacked and dismayed at this sign.

What is this world coming to? Would you see a sign at a football game saying “No Beer”? Would you see signage at Yankee Stadium saying “No Hot Dogs or Peanuts Allowed?” Could you go see a professional hockey game with a sign posted saying “No Fighting?” Of course not. These things are a part of the fabric of enjoying the games we watch to be entertained and they took part of the entertainment away in stinkin New Jersey.

I’m not positive about this but I think that our Patriotic forefathers had Vuvuzelas in mind when they created the First Amendment covering free speech. This right was ripped away from CollegeBoy and MissNicole and it made them sad. It made me sad too.

We use to have that right. I can remember going to baseball games in the 1970’s with a long plastic horn, that had a droning buzz, much like the technologically improved Vuvuzales of today. We took them and blew them until we were exhausted but dammit, we were heard and no one even thought of trying to take this away from us.



August 12, 2010

“The internet's what's got us where we are”: My TLT – “To Listen To” list

Recently on this blog I have reviewed a few books, a couple by Bill Bryson and Malcolm Gladwell. These are books I have been listening to, mainly on my commute to and from work. I have enjoyed them a lot and thought I would take a second or two to fill you in on what I have on the old iPod now and what I am planning to listen to soon.

Currently in the portable microchip is a historical fiction book, Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell. I enjoy historical fiction, my “dirty little secret” especially those that reference early man. I liked Jane Auel’s first couple of books until they became mammoth soap operas (did you see what I did there – mammoth = giant long books but also the wooly elephant like creature featured in her books…) When they tired me I move to a couple of other authors including Sue Harrison and Linda Lay Schuler who did similar books about Native Americans and new people in the new world. I am only about half way through Stonehenge but see it setting up to offer a plausible theory as to what Stonehenge was, is and how it got where it is now and why.

After this I am going to move to a couple of books by Neil Degrasse Tyson, currently the director of New York’s Haden Planetarium. I saw him several times on Colbert and Stewart, follow his musings on Twitter and have enjoyed a number of videos posted on YouTube with him explaining things. After Bryson’s book “A Short History of Almost Everything” I was looking for more information about the universe and the things in it. Tyson’s book The Pluto Chronicles" does feed this craving.

Finally, I am going to give a listen to Dubner and Levitt’s latest “SuperFreakonomics.” I really did enjoy their first book “Freakonomics” and figure as much for the second. I follow their blog at the NY Times and they always have interesting takes on the economics and sociology of out society and society at large.

For the future? I think I will keep on the historical fiction and science routes for a while. I want to look into some books in the paleontological vein – Neanderthal and early man historical fiction, and the like. I understand Robert Sawyer has done some and am going to look for the audio books for him. If anyone has a suggestion or two along this genre or the science field, I am open to it! I will keep you posted…

August 11, 2010

“The internet's what's got us where we are”: Just a few more Blogs and Webpages…

So in my last blog entry I talked about RSS and Readers and mentioned I follow a number of blogs and websites this way. Well the actual number is close to 50! Yes, 50... Staggering, I know. But you must realize that not every one of them has new information on a daily basis. Some blogs I look at are 1-2 times a week. Some of the websites post multiple times daily but really those are short bits of internet goodness, not long documents. Some post rather sporadically, 1-2 times a month. If I read and digest every tidbit on any given day, it takes an hour in the morning and maybe an additional 30 minutes throughout the day to keep up. If time is short, I can manage a pretty good read in about a half hour. That is really less time than I used to take to get and read a morning newspaper, back in the day.

So, in conclusion of this part of the series I thought I would just make a quick note about some of the other blogs/websites I like to look at:

8 Minutes on High – my podcast partner Maqz writes a blog. In it you find commentary on the news, political tidbits, movie revies, video reviews, some family and friend information and some excellent photographs of birds and Upstate New York Houses especially.

Seth Curry Saves Duke – CollegeBoy got me into this one, the author is a big Yankee/Giant and Duke University fan who writes about the trials and travails of his favorite teams

Baseball Nerd - This is actually Keith Olbermann's blog about all things baseball, written for the MLB website. He is nostalgic and insightful and offers interesting takes on baseball history as well as baseball tody. Occasionally he will also get a great tidbit of info from one of his sources that he puts there. His readers knew Kevin Youklis was done for the season hours before the news hit the airwaves.

FanBoy – this is a website I have mentioned before. It is sort of a geek nirvana, a place for Japanese anime, science fiction information and the cultural trends on their cutting edge. Not for everyone, I skip the anime stuff but love the Star Wars and Star Trek and LEGO mentions.

Equals Three – This is a twice weekly review of internet video with commentary by Ray William Johnson, a YouTube sensation. The language can be a bit rough, but his satire is dead on all the time. Three video clips and a comic question of the day and he is done, all in a 4 minute package. Consider it an introduction to the world of internet meme. What is interesting is that I follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google reader so I ever miss when a new video review is available.

Freakonomics – Based on the wildly popular book, the authors write a daily blog for the NY Times opinion page. There are 2-3 entries a day with links to articles, guest bloggers and regular contributes and occasionally a contest to win a copy of their book or other Freakonomics swag. It is a good way to become and stay informed about economic and cultural happenings, that is almost always entertaining.

Book of Odds – a website first brought to my attention by the Freakonomics guys who wrote about the dangers of having a gun in the house versus having a swimming pool. The Book of Odds details lots of comparisons like that, making you think. Sometimes the website follows themes as when it had five days straight of Titanic related material such as breakdowns by nationality of survivors versus those who perished.

So, thats all folks, a somewhat meandering list of blogs and websites I follow. I hope you enjoy checking some of them out. Up next is a listing of audio books on my "TLT" To Listen To list!

August 10, 2010

“The internet's what's got us where we are”: RSS and a List of Blogs

Again I begin by using my (and CollegeBoy’s) go to guide for information, Wikipedia. This is how it describes RSS and RSS Readers: “RSS (most commonly expanded as Really Simple Syndication) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format. An RSS document (which is called a "feed", "web feed", or "channel") includes full or summarized text, plus metadata such as publishing dates and authorship. Web feeds benefit publishers by letting them syndicate content automatically. They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favored websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place. RSS feeds can be read using software called an "RSS reader", "feed reader", or "aggregator", which can be web-based, desktop-based, or mobile-device-based. A standardized XML file format allows the information to be published once and viewed by many different programs. The user subscribes to a feed by entering into the reader the feed's URI or by clicking an RSS icon in a web browser that initiates the subscription process. The RSS reader checks the user's subscribed feeds regularly for new work, downloads any updates that it finds, and provides a user interface to monitor and read the feeds.”

So the key here is the comment “They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favored websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place.” Each morning I have my “internet routine.” I begin by checking my email and then right off of the email page I go to my Google reader and see all the new content that is available to me. I check the daily blogs I read first, and then move to the Yankee updates. I then touch on humor and by then 30 minutes have passed and I feel caught up on what is happening in the world, what my friends and acquaintances are saying and have had a laugh or two. Ready to face the day!

As mentioned, I use Google reader and I would highly recommend it. It has a nice, clean design view, offers easy ways to add, delete and manage subscriptions to all matters of information and if you use Gmail, it has a nice, one click jump to and from your email. Adding to your subscriptions is easy. If you see/read someone or something you would like to follow, you can look in the toolbar for the RSS symbol

(depending on your browser and version of browser). If it does not appear there, you simple look on the site for the symbol or a “subscribe” button. Clicking this brings you to a subscription page which you add to your list and you are following them! Very simple, fast and rewarding.

So this leads us to a final question which is “well, what do you read, anyway?” So I thought I would give a shout out to a few important people in my daily life:

The Zees Go West – Mrsfabp found her through a City-Data website for Las Cruces, New Mexico, when we were first starting to seriously think of relocation to that area. Clairz, the author had moved to New Mexico via New Hampshire and was documenting the process of the move there. She started in Clovis and then relocated to Las Cruces and her stories and pictures painted a very inviting feature. I read all the posts from her blog (over two years worth) and through comments on her entries began a correspondence with her and her husband Beez (who has his own blog – Pirate Dogs and Pilgrims). Her stories are wonderful, her pictures are outstanding and she really paints a picture of her life there with each entry. I actually have come to think of her as being a sister of mine in an earlier life as many times she begins her comments on my blog posts with “we did the same thing when I was growing up…”

Tales of the Amputee Mommy – Mrsfabp also discovered this gem of a blog, when reading about life with an amputee, when I lost my leg 4 years ago. Peggy, the author is an amputee who writes about her daily life – being married, raising a son, dealing with the every day parenting issues, while also dealing with having a prosthesis and all the issues that affect her life. Proper fit, learning to run, going through airport security, family and others attitudes, and dealing with the unsettling nature of realizing you are not whole. She has touched me in such a positive way, with her attitude, exploits and adventures (and misadventures!), such that my day is not really complete until I have checked in on her day too.

Wil Wheaton’s Blog aka WWdN:In Exile - For those of you not familiar with the name, Wil is an actor and writer who was one of the main characters in the movie “Stand By Me” and who also was a cast member for a couple of years in Star Trek – Next Generation. I came to him thought retweets on Twitter and when I checked out his blog, was captivated by his writinfg style and stories from Geekdom about the things he was doing and was involved in. Writing internet books, playing parts in several TV shows, Wootstock ( a sort of gathering for all things Geek) and ComicCons, he espouses the simple internet philosophy “Don’t be a dick!” Words to live by…

River Avenue Blues – This Yankee blog is an invaluable sourse of information about my favorite baseball team. Whether it is post game summaries, talk about the latest trade rumors or just an in depth look at a player or situation that has occurred, this is the place to go. Off season there are blogs about the minor leagues, free agents, trade rumors and the like which makes for daily reading enjoyment.

LoHud Yankee Blog – is a great news compiler of all Yankee news all the time. Newspaper based, the author has access to the best updated information and it is the place to go for the latest breaking news. I also follow this site through twitter.

Fail Blog – This is where I turn for a laugh each day and it is rare that this site not provide me with several. It is a combination of photos, videos and written words that illuminate the internet meme “FAIL” Each day there are maybe 15 posts that put a smile on my face, several of which are known to make me LOL (yea, couldn’t resist…)

Cake Wreaks – MillieJupiter’s favorite site, this website documents the travails of those in the cake baking industry who deal with the failures of people to use their common sense. The pictures here are worth a thousand words easily.

So, check out these sites if you have a minute or two and consider using Google Reader if you are looking for a better way to manage the different things you read each day! In my next post, a few more blogs and websites that I look at...

August 5, 2010

“The internet's what's got us where we are”: Books and Reading

I used to read a lot. Books, magazines, newspaper all were in my daily agenda. However, as I got older, I got out of the habit and really began to miss it. Three different things impacted this over the last several years.

First, I began reading newspapers on the internet. This is a great thing on one hand as I have lots of different options to choose from. On the negative side however , as we mentioned on our podcast many times including the episode “Is the internet making us stupid?” with all the availability one tends not to read in depth but rather skims in order to see what else might be available. I feel like I’m reading the same “number” of words but don’t feel it. And no, I do not miss the tangible feeling of holding the newspaper.

Secondly, when we went on a cruise a couple of years ago, I made an effort to read more. I figured I was relaxing and that was a great way to do it. In 10 days I read 6-7 books and reconnected with the feeling. My issue here is that with my eyesight not being what it once was and never being able to find my reading glasses, I just do not read as many books as I would like. Then, thru MillieJupiter, I discovered audio books and thru CollegeBoy, easy ways to download them from the internet. Add to this the fact that we got rid of cable TV and there is more time for this endeavor. And no, I do not miss the tangible feeling of holding a book (but a Nook might be a nice gift someday...)

Thirdly, I discovered “blogs” and shifted my reading for entertainment from magazines to this format. I use an RSS feed downloader, Google Reader, as so have a every day updating flow of blog material broken into four areas – individual blogs like “The Zees go West” and “Amputee Mommy,” Yankee Baseball Blogs like “River Ave. Blues” or “LoHud Yankee Blog,” Other sports related blogs on baseball, football and newspaper sports blogs, and Comedy Blogs like “Fail Blog” or “Cakewrecks” or “Fanboy.”

All of things have led me to feeling better, feeling as if my mind is more active, more willing to learn. I enjoy the things I read very much and expect to continue. In the next part of this series, I am going to talk about RSS readers and how to use them as well as mentioning a bunch of blogs I enjoy and think others might too. After that, a listing of books on my TLT – “To Listen To” list

(For those who may not have caught it, the new title of this series is a nod to my most recent fascination, the Jessi Slaughter Internet machine and her father’s propensity to utter internet meme’s. For more details about this, you could listen to the Countless Screaming Argonauts episode that talked about her and her situation…)

August 3, 2010

“The internet's what's got us where we are”: Some TV Series Recommendations

In my previous post, I talked about how the internet has changed the way we watch television. One result of this is that we now watch specific shows, ones recommended to us or that we have heard about through other internet sources. I thought I would take a few moments to let you know what we have been watching recently.

LEVERAGE – a TBS series is currently in its third season. I heard about this show from Wil Wheaton’s (Stand By Me, Star Trek: Next Generation) twitter and blog as he appeared in an episode in Season 2 and was back for a character reprisal. I like him as an actor and writer and so his working on a project was enough to get me to take a peek. The show itself is a somewhat light-hearted drama, think Mission Impossible meets The Thomas Crowne Affair. It stars Timothy (mrsfabp insists I use his full name, I call him Tim) Hutton with a cast of characters acting out a Robin Hood fantasy in modern times Boston. Good characters, plenty of twists and turns and interesting stories make it a good one. Watched the first two seasons and part of third consecutively – 30 shows all together, across about 4 weeks. They hooked me right from the start.

THE GUILD – this is another Wil Wheaton recommendation. He also appeared in a couple of episodes. What is unique about it is that it is an internet sitcom, only available from the website or Bing videos. It is a series of 5 minute long vignettes about a group of gaming people written by and starring Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). They are all about 5 minutes long and parody all of the thoughts you might have about adult who play role-play computer games. If you have heard of and liked “Dr. Horrible” (WIKI NOTE: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is a 2008 musical tragicomedy short film produced exclusively for Internet distribution. It tells the story of Dr. Horrible, an aspiring supervillain; Captain Hammer, his nemesis; and Penny, their mutual love interest. It stars Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day & Simon Helberg The movie was written by writer/director Joss Whedon). This involves several of my favorites and is sort of an inspiration to how The Guild Show was put together. Very funny, tongue in cheek comedy. Best part is that the shows are short; you can watch a whole season in less than 2 hours. Dr. Horrible is 3 15 minute mini movies, available on the website or through youtube.

EUREKA – this is a SyFy channel series that I had seen ads for and heard positive things about. I finally downloaded the entire first 2 seasons and began watching this week. I was hooked after the pilot and have enjoyed each and every show. Think X Files meets Northern Exposure for an idea of what this is about. Suffice it to say that this little town in the great Northwest, where everyone is a genius and a scientist for the US Government, certainly has a lot of weird things going on there.

Finally a short note about Mrsfabp. She too is getting into this new wave. She has to, as we no longer have cable. She has gotten into the more traditional types of series – watching downloads of HBO’s BIG LOVE, plus WEEDS and THE UNITED STATES OF TARA. She also watched American Idol last season, mostly downloaded and this season, downloaded and streamed at times. Also she was quite hooked on Dexter for a long time – maybe more than 2 seasons worth but more recently has not been watching it. She did ask me to update the United States of Tara Series with the newest shows though.

In the streaming department, I also watch MSNBC at night and at least check out what Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are talking about and pick and choose shows based on guests. Add to this the Yankee games during baseball season and the Giants during the fall, and you have a good picture where we are at in terms of TV show enjoyment.

On last thing. Even commercials are different in this internet age. As a family, we spent an hour last week looking at and talking about the viral ad on the internet starring the OLD SPICE GUY. It was funny and interesting and the latest ad reviews said that OLD SPICE business was up 100% in the month after these innovative ads hit the internet. Good show!

(For those who may not have caught it, the new title of this series is a nod to my most recent fascination, the Jessi Slaughter Internet machine and her father’s propensity to utter internet meme’s. For more details about this, you could listen to the Countless Screaming Argonauts episode that talked about her and her situation…)

August 2, 2010

The Internet and How it is Changing My Family Entertainment

This is going to a series on some personal observations related to my own experience in how the internet is changing the way that this American family stays in touch and stays entertained. Over its several blog entries I am going to talk about movies, books, TV, daily life and communication media and how, the way I use it, I experience it, has changed over the last 6 or 7 years and where I think it might be going. Each part will deal with one established media outlet. Today we begin with television.

First, a quick summary. I am a member of the TV generation. My parents did not grow up with television but came to it from serial radio which they listened to on a nightly basis. They only got a television soon before or after I was born so I always had one in my life. I can remember watching afternoon serial children’s TV, Howdy Doody, Soupy Sales, I Love Lucy, Red Skelton and Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights. I was around for the sitcom explosion of the 60’s and 70’s and remember feeling it was important to watch the news at night – Walter Cronkite of course. Then came the sitcom explosion and a new technology, the VCR which allowed you to time shift programs, doing away with must see TV and replacing it with must tape TV. Much more recently, there came the DVR which did the same thing but on a hard drive rather than tapes, making it easier to store and record. Most recently we have the technology of on demand viewing and Netflix on line watching TV programs at your leisure. One final “techy” thing is streaming and downloading of TV from the internet.

So, where am I and my family at you ask? Well, having a child on the cutting edge of all this like MJ and CollegeBoy, offers significant advantages as the two of them have demonstrated and convinced us of a new way to be entertained. First off, a few months ago we stopped our cable TV service. We had a DVR and cable set up and mostly left the TV on for background distraction noise. MJ first got me to watch a sci-fi show called “Firefly” and CollegeBoy was chiming in with “Arrested Development” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. What was different was that we downloaded the shows and watch whole seasons in consecutive order. This is a brilliant concept. Watching 2-3 shows in an evening in the time it takes to watch one on commercial TV. No commercials, stop when you like. Best of all, it maintains the continuity of the program with story plots and character twists, that are sometimes lost in the once a week viewing cycle. And, you never miss an episode! I must admit I am hooked. Since these humble beginnings we have downloaded several series – Weeds, Big Love, Leverage, Dexter, and the one I am viewing now, Eureka. This download thing is awesome.

Before you get any ideas however that this is some panacea of sorts, one point to know is that there are only a somewhat limited availability of programming this way. No day time TV, for example but longer running programming is there and waiting.

I must also admit that of the big three entertainments fields – TV, movies, and music, it is my best understanding that TV has “Got it” the best. All the major networks have shows available to be streamed on demand from their website although CBS is the most restrictive. Several other cable networks like USA and Comedy Central make most or all of their content available for streaming to the computer. This approach means some commercials but generally they are limited in number and time, much more so than commercial TV. This is developing right along with the smartphone phenomena and all that offers.

Finally, there are places to stream and watch live TV. I watch Yankee baseball almost every night. I see MSNBC every weeknight too. Mrsfabp watched American Idol this past season. Again, having kids on the edge of the technology helps a tremendous amount.

(In the next post I will do a quick review of the different TV series we are watching / have watched, before moving on to Books...)