Friday, October 30, 2009

Starting Your Online Identity

Online Identity.

What's your reaction to those words? Some people cringe and want to surf online in perfect anonymity, experiencing without commitment. They want to see what a site has to offer them, without that site knowing who they are or how to get in touch with them. That's a valid, if naive, concern.

Other people just want to scream and make noise. They don't know what they want. They want a Web site up and they hope purpose/function will determine themselves later. I was like that.

Still others, and these are with whom I am concerned, want to use online representation to promote themselves for whatever purpose. Branding, transmission, howling into the void, &c. Among this group is a subset that does not currently possess Web savvy and may make a series of mistakes while trying to establish themselves online. Without insulting specific other companies, I'll instead focus on my love-affair with Google products and a few other services.

Branding Yourself.

There's nothing wrong with availing yourself of online resources to promote yourself, your ideas, or your services. This message isn't to people already doing this: this is for people shying away from the concept. My personal belief is that if you represent yourself positively, you won't go wrong.

Think about Facebook and Twitter, seriously. Twitter's a handy way to keep in touch with not just friends but professional interests. Text messaging was the first great leap in word-of-mouth advertising (the bane of bad movies, as production companies discovered), and Twitter was the second--global text-msg networking, essentially, with no roaming charges. If you keep your eyes open, you'll become startlingly aware of how many of your favorite media focii are already on Twitter: I'm following the editor of Merriam-Webster, NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Rachel Maddow, and Queen Rania of Jordan, in addition to many of my friends and co-workers. Really, the hardest thing for me about Twitter is being mindful of my visibility and trying to sound upbeat most of the time. (It is very important to sound positive when promoting yourself. Not insipid, but not dreary and self-destructive, either.)

As for Facebook, you should already know what to do: connect with your friends, learn how to set your privacy levels, and don't post any photos you wouldn't want your grandmother or boss to see. Within that context you should still enjoy a great amount of creative liberty. (I'd recommend avoiding all those millions of tedious little games, however: they're nothing but a time-sink. Your friends will try to lure you but be strong.)

And I understand the stigma attached to Facebook: it has a reputation of being MySpace II, a big, drunken, subliterate party zone. Yes, there are idiots on Facebook and they are great in number, but your presence there doesn't have to endorse, interact with, or acknowledge them at all. You can exist pristinely, peacefully on your own, set up your own boundaries, and hand-pick the trappings and accoutrement you desire. If Facebook is a party college, you can sequester yourself in the campus library quite happily.

Self-Aggrandizing.

There are other free online resources you can use to begin to promote yourself. Get a Gmail account, to start with--trust me, you'll love it (really biting my tongue to keep from slamming the other e-mail services). With it you will be connected to Blogger, Google Sites, and Picasa, but I'll go into those later. I wanted to talk about those in this post but I'm already getting too wordy.

What you should do, however, is focus on Google Profiles, which will act as a terse biography for yourself and as a hub for all your other social networks and online activities. It's very handy: fill it out and set it as part of your Signature for all outgoing e-mail. Here's my profile, for an example. You can set restrictions on who's allowed to see your profile and information, don't worry, but try to think of it as a multidimensional business card for your friends. You can link to any blogs you write, any Web site where you have a profile, or just keep track of places you like to go. You can do the same thing with Extendr, which a lot of people prefer, but you have to pay to make it look nice and include a bio. Unless you do, it's just a useful catalog for your bookmarks.

Eh... more later.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Prepare for the Horror

I know a lot of people like Holidazzle. It's popular with Minnesotans because it's a big-ass parade that happens around the end of the year. It's popular with parents because their kids love it and it's free to watch. Traffic might not love it so much since it closes down Nicollet Ave for a few hours, redirects Metro Transit buses every Thursday through Sunday, and clogs the perpendicular streets. Many of my friends work related to it, either with costumes or organizing it, so for their sake I'm reluctant to express my opinion of it... but I do anyway.

Oh my gods, I think Holidazzle is just a bunch of insipid nonsense. I think PC has its place, but the parade strikes me as so afraid of offending anyone that its iconography is muted and arbitrary. It wants to play up the "holiday" part of its name but avoids dwelling too heavily on Christmas imagery--someone will have to inform me whether Hanukkah or Kwanzaa are represented--and brings in a bunch of stuff that doesn't make any sense, like the storybook characters. What holiday does Pinocchio belong to? What end-of-year holiday does a big blue fish belong to, in any culture?

Earlier this week I was walking through the Skyway, probably about to drop off some mail at my favorite post office, the Central Loop Station, and I was approaching the IDS Tower when a cacophony assaulted my sensibilities. Closing in, I identified a to-do in the Crystal Court: Holidazzle figures swaying blindly back and forth in place while someone with a megaphone screamed bloody murder at them and everyone watching. Between the echo chamber of the Crystal Court and the heavy distort of the megaphone turned all the way up to amplify this merry-maker shrieking at the top of his/her lungs, any words or communication were completely unintelligible.

Oh, and yoga mats, which suggested to me that the parade figures were "warming up" for their month-long festivities. We hadn't yet surpassed Hallowe'en, and Thanksgiving was still a few weeks away, but here begins the preponderant Christmas-ish indoctrination.  That's not "merry" to me.  It's tedious, nonsensical, and arbitrary.  "Oh good, it's the traditional Christmas White Cat!  I hope he'll be strong enough to keep the Christmas Witch and her pet Christmas Alligator at bay this year!"

I'm capable of happiness.  I'm capable of appreciating simple pleasures.  But not like this.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Word: Gambreler

Ugh. Just learned a new word, or technically a job description.
Gambreler (a.k.a. Hanger-Off)
Hangs animal carcasses on overhead rail preparatory to dressing: Slits skin to expose tendons in hind ankles, using knife, and inserts "gamb stick" (hooked metal or wooden rod) between tendon and ankle bone to spread legs. Hooks gamb stick to trolley on overhead rail and pushes carcasses to next work station. Cuts flesh between toes of carcass and removes toenails.
Wasn't expecting that. Spotted this in The Onion (Oct. 22-28, 2009) in the American Voices section. You know, they pose a question pertinent to recent news and conjure vox populi responses. One woman was listed as a gambreler and I'd never heard of this. I'm not terribly surprised it slipped beneath my radar, given how little I have to do with animal slaughter and rendering.

What's even more charming is the list of pre-existing conditions that are known to negatively impact or compromise the productivity of an efficient gambreler:
  • Pregnancy (normal)
  • Sprains and strains (back)
  • Repetitive strain injury
  • Depression (major)
So if you have any of these conditions, please don't bother applying. They will get in the way of your performance. In no sense do they imply that having the job might cause any of these conditions (well, at least not the first one).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

MMO Review: Shaiya

I want to start reviewing online video games, specifically MMOs. For those outside the gaming set, that's short for MMORPG, which stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. These are games like World of Warcraft, EverQuest, Ultima Online, &c.: the setting is a fantasy world with humanoid races, magic, and medieval technology (more or less). Your perspective is either first-person or hovering directly over your on-screen character. You run around, kill monsters, fulfill quests, amass treasure, and improve your skills in combat, magic, and other disciplines. Get it?

Well, those games cost a lot. You buy the initial game, you buy all the expansions after it, and you pay a monthly subscription fee. At the same time, there are a number of video game companies that are producing free MMOs. They seriously don't cost any money to own and play, and they usually take less than 2 GB of space. Some of them make money by giving players the option to purchase powerful weapons or flashy armor/clothing that can be shown off in the game. That really matters to some people and it's a lucrative source of income.

Gamers and geeks already know about these, but I still think a bunch of people don't, so I'm going to review those games that I've downloaded and tried out. My criteria aren't demanding: I don't have a broad gaming database and history to compare them against, but I can speak as a beginner who'd like to get into gaming. I know what I like and what rubs me the wrong way, and I'm going to share some of that here.

Tonight I'm talking about Shaiya, a product of Aeria Games.  The game starts out with you choosing to ally yourself with, essentially, Good or Evil.  If you're Good, you can play a Human or an Elf; the Evil side gets the Vail (dark blue-skinned humans) and the Deatheaters (enormous orc-like creatures).  Each race comes with a choice of three classes, variations upon themes of melee or magic.  There is very little customization in the character creation process: four or five options in the categories of hair, face, and height.  Some players like endless customization options and other games will offer those, but this one sets you up to look nice and places more focus on the gaming itself.

The controls are pretty intuitive: W-A-S-D, and you can steer with the mouse while you're running, or you can point-and-click to your destination.  One drawback: the program does not enable you to run around objects, so you either scramble over them or find yourself trapped, running in place.  Other games plot a trajectory for you and let you jog around trees and fences when they come up.

Outside of that, it's a very pleasant gaming experience.  The music is great and the graphics are smooth.  They pay attention to little details like weather patterns, the sound of footsteps on various kinds of terrain, and stuff like that makes for a pleasant experience.  It's important to note that the translation to English is very well done here, which goes a long way towards making you care about the society within the game.  Attaining quests and figuring out where to go next is pretty clear, as well.  All in all, it's pretty easy to leap in and start playing if you have some gaming experience; if not, you're led around well enough and can attain some proficiency in short order.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thums Up!

I went up to Kabob's Indian Buffet for lunch again today. They heap a plate with as much food as it will hold, for only five dollars. It's a delicious blend of northern and southern Indian cuisines that I find very tasty--I end up wolfing it all down and regretting not taking my time with it, savoring each bite instead of licking my chops at the memories. Today I forced myself to eat slower, though, so that was better.

They had this soda, Thums [sic] Up, a product of Coca-Cola. Whoa, that was unexpected. Did they buy a present brand name, or did they seriously start up a company with a purposeful typo in the name? Or is "Thums" actually a person's name, and the brand is just a tribute to him/her? That last option would be the most desirable and the most excusable. Buying a misspelled company and failing to correct it is not permissible in my book, though I know no one's in the market for anything I write.

Anyway, my main Web site, Heavy Boots, is coming up for renewal again. For several years I've run this goofy-assed homepage with a random assortment of content. I gave up all delusions of structuring it and updating it regularly long ago. So why am I doing it? We are a full decade past the time when personalized goth Web sites were cool--all the goths were doing it, coming up with goofy names for themselves, buying domain names, making friends with people who knew Flash--and Heavy Boots doesn't represent anything in my life anymore. The boots the site was named after, in fact, have long since been retired/discarded. All my dreams for the Web site occurred long before I had access to the technology that could realize them, and now those dreams are stupid and embarrassing, like a tattoo gotten in one's second year of college.

What should I do with the domain name? Is anyone really going to be disappointed if I let it go? Is there any kind of market segment I stand to alienate? I find it incredibly hard to think so: if they exist, then they deserve to be disappointed because I have attracted the quietest, most unresponsive readership in the world.

I think I'll just let the reminders die off, let my URL degrade back to its original Google Sites format, and only give a rat's ass about my personal branding. Oh man, I bought a domain name for this place, didn't I? Sweven Volant, the irresistibly sticky name that draws people intuitively inward. And yet I'm pouring no energy into my "professional" site at CWFredrickson.org. How insane is that? The one responsible place that...

Well, that's why I'm not interested in it. Heavy Boots was a junk drawer for all sorts of crazy online stuff I collected, and my professional site is where I have to sit up straight and use an indoor voice for potential employers. I have to affect a very constrained, acceptable form of creativeness, whereas a lot of my candid online material could get me fired anywhere.

So I own Heavy Boots, Sweven Volant, and CWFredrickson. Who needs so many domain names? The third one is arguably necessary, but the first two? What purpose do they serve? They don't clear anything up. They don't even see a lot of traffic. I'm throwing money out the window with these vanity boondoggles. I think that'll stop.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Which Left First?

This post will serve two purposes, mostly for my own benefit.  First, I get to throw a couple images together that are stored on separate computers (that I use), and once they're uploaded to Picasa (via Blogger) I can remove them from my hard drives.  They will be reunited at last with minimal effort.

Second, I will compare how well GIMP works versus Photoshop.  I'm altering the levels in each of these photos for clarity: the egg in GIMP, and the bird in Photoshop.  I'm all about correcting levels, now that I know how to do that.  Kinda like learning a cool new word and needing to use it as often as possible.

But these photos come from the same stretch of construction next to the skyway crossing 8th St just east of Hennepin.  There's a little channel formed in the ledge next to the windows of that skyway.  You would imagine snow and water get trapped there, of course, but so does trash.  Cigarette butts, twigs, leaves of course, and I think once there was a designer running shoe someone tossed up there.  But someone's cleaning that channel out because nothing stays there for very long.  That photo of the egg is a few weeks old, and that egg doesn't exist there anymore.  Likewise, I took a picture of the bird yesterday and today it was gone.  They're very prompt about cleaning that gutter out, yet I've never seen anyone there.  Granted, I can only monitor it before 10 AM, at noon, and after 3 PM, but during those times I've never seen it.

I'm specifically avoiding any kind of poetic conjecture about the egg and the bird up there in the channel.  It would be too easy to turn prosaic and thoughtful, to try to appear deep and pontificate over their fates and crap. But it's just crap, it's trite and it's crap.  No one would be impressed with me going on about "oh, egg" or "oh, bird" or "oh, irony."  No, stupid people would fall all over themselves trying to be the first, and then the loudest, to promote their philosophic conjecture, all trying to gain the most attention, trying to get laid by the prettiest girl, but neither of those are my goal.  Well, attention, yes, but for the right reasons, not just to have it.  That's why most people are working for it, and you can see this when they don't know what to do with it once they have it.

Dammit, I'm conjecturing anyway.  This is unacceptable.  Time for bed.  Stupid egg, stupid bird.

Update: Picture uploaded, but nothing concluded. I would have to edit the exact same image in both programs before I could learn anything.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Problem with Sexy Spongebob

Inspired by my friend Molly's entry on incongruously sexy Hallowe'en costumes, I ran around the Web and collected various images of the "Sexy Spongebob" costume.



This is a particularly bizarre iteration for so many reasons.  I probably don't need to spell them out but it would give me pleasure to do so.

Firstly: Spongebob Squarepants is a children's show character.  Granted, the humor is multilayered, not unlike that of Rocky and Bullwinkle, to enable adults to watch the show with their kids without feeling their brain cells dying off, but it's not so complex that it should trigger any biological reproductive drives.  The jokes aren't so clever that adults should feel aroused.  There's no aspect of the show that should elicit that response at all, so to take a children's asexual icon and convolute it for titillation is decadent (in its truest sense, not the way sex addicts and chocolatiers misconstrue it).

Secondly: Spongebob is still a male character.  Do what you will with a cultural icon and contort it to prurient ends, but the design of the outfit is such that it shows off the physical aspects of a female wearer to appeal to an audience that enjoys observing the female form.  Be this heterosexual men or homosexual women, neither signed up to get their rocks off by looking at a guy.

Thirdly: Spongebob has a goofy-looking face. What was the strategy behind plastering a garish yellow rictus over the frame of a physically appealing young woman? It's doubtful that it was intended to be a sexual deterrent but it may in practice have this effect. Someone who is doubly attracted to a woman because she is covered in a delirious caricature may harbor a few socially incompatible personal problems.

This costume presents at its core conflicting messages: an asexual icon in a sexual application, and a male visage stretched over a female frame.  I imagine the designer wasn't thinking very hard about the end product and what it's purpose was.  He was probably shooting in the dark, arbitrarily grasping any image and applying it to a tight-shirt/short-skirt template.  This could easily have been Minnie Mouse or Supergirl.  So, to filter this product through my tried-and-true "is it right/true/necessary" screen:

Ethos: It is of questionable judgment to use the trappings of childhood for adult sexual solicitation.
Logos: This costume transmits at least three discrete conflicting messages.
Pathos: This costume makes a valid erotic argument, dependent upon the wearer, of course.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shinder's Sucked and I Hate Modern Art

I'm just keeping half an eye on the old Shinder's facility.  I'm not a fan--I have a grudge against them on my sister's behalf.  She tried to order a game through them and they failed to inform her when it came in; when she stopped by to check on its progress, they had sold it to another customer though it was clearly on hold for her.  Additionally, there was an awesome Death stand-up display (from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series) and she offered to purchase it, as a gift for me.  The store employee told her it had to make the rounds to the other outlets but he'd reserve it for her.  Predictably, somewhere along the way another employee decided he wanted it and so it was lost.



Various friends of mine have similar stories about poor service and questionable business practice at this news/comics outlet.  When Swindler's announced it was going out of business, I felt a sense of satisfaction rather than mourning the loss of some Minneapolis tradition.  I don't mourn the departure of something simply because it's been around for a long time: I mourn when something valuable has been lost.

Now I work kitty-corner from it and enjoy a bird's-eye view of what goes on in its discarded husk.  I posted pictures of when the umbrellas were mounted all over the building and shots of the gradual departure of those umbrellas.  For the past couple of weeks only four umbrellas remained, mounted on the name of the store, but now they are altogether gone.



Today, however, in passing I noticed some artsy installations inside the building.  I'm guessing it's being converted into yet another art gallery, because we don't have enough of those.  I mean, it's great that we have a thriving artistic community around here (there's precious little else to do once the snow quilts us down), but...  I'm personally not impressed with a lot of the art I see.  There's another gallery a block or two south on Hennepin, prominently featuring a large Photoshopped hand made into a poster.



Observe the picture above: spray-painted logs. It's like Jasper Johns but without the budget.  I'm one of those unlikable curmudgeons who feels there has to be an original concept behind concept art.  It's not enough to put a small slit in the middle of a canvas, or to collect a lot of one thing and stack it all together.  That latter would be awesome if it were illustrating some kind of statistic, like, all the non-recyclable trash generated from a year of family picnics, but it's not.  It's just a big "look what I did, Mom" rainy-day craft.  It's not even as interesting as if someone draped the upper floors of the IDS Tower in the world's largest macaroni-necklace.  And I don't mean a hundred thousand little pieces of macaroni strung together, I mean individual noodles as large as a metro transit bus, strung on a rope suitable for mooring a ship.  That is challenging concept art, not "oh look, I stacked a bunch of cups and it kinda looks like a cup itself."


Monday, October 19, 2009

Making the Popular Avatars

If you're anything like me, you've been watching trends in avatar creation come and go, and you've always been left choking in their dust.  Where'd they come from?  How'd people find out about them?  Most importantly: how do I get one?




Dookyweb
Mad Men
Face Your Manga

Below is where they come from.  I don't know how other people learn about them first.  But this is how you get them.
There.  Now you've got a headstart for making some awesome, attractive icons/avatars for yourself!  Dookyweb lets you e-mail your image to yourself so you don't have to worry about screen shots or anything.

I don't have TekTek illustrated here, but it's a fun anime-oriented tool to create a full-body chiba figurine of yourself, as realistic or outlandish as you'd like to create it.  Anime.Mypic is for the serious avatar consumer: it's not a free service and it's not cheap, but the end-product is a one-of-a-kind piece of art unlike anything else out there.

P.S. Yes, I've heard of Zwinky.  No, I do not recommend them at all.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Clean as a Whistle

Also, I shaved my goatee off last night.

I was growing it for a long period of time partially out of curiosity, but also for a kind of idea for a short film clip Rebecca and I had been planning on. When she bought her Flip cam, she asked me to knock out a little script so we could play around with movie-making. She's got some good editing software on her iMac, and she's had more than a little training in the whole process.

I've written scripts before so I pulled out this old copy of Page2Stage I bought for class about four years ago. It needed an update, and that's when I discovered this $80 program was now being offered for free, as its designer was going elsewhere in his pursuits and decided this program was a wash. Dammit.

But the goatee was getting to such a length that my nervous habit was kicking in: I winnow out coarse and malformed hairs, individual whiskers, that bug me and I pull them right out of my skin. Something in the back of my head formed the theory (which, intellectually, I know is fallacious) that the follicle was inherently flawed and generates a flawed whisker, so if I extricate it, it will be replaced by a better follicle to grow a smooth hair shaft. This is different from trichotillomania in that I don't receive a burst of pleasure with every hair pulled and I don't have an irresistible urge to follow through on the act. However, it does leave little hairless spots that look bad unless I shave closely, diligently, so it's best to just shave the whole thing off rather than worsen these bald patches.

And I'm about to hit the shower but I woke up with my hair in a nice style so I thought I'd get a crappy little laptop-cam shot, balance it out in Picasa, and upload it to Blogger. I'm very restless right now and just feel like blogging for writing's sake. I should probably focus this energy into a more productive channel.

Trying to Get Back Into Anime

Well, Twitter appears to be down yet again, so I'll have to record my findings here.

I'm getting back into new anime and am searching for interesting new titles. Some of my favorites include Witch Hunter Robin, Last Exile, Paranoia Agent, and Gunslinger Girl. The titles sound ridiculous to inexperienced Western ears, I know, but the stories are compelling. Last Exile and Gunslinger Girl feature wonderful character development with poignant philosophical reflection; Witch Hunter Robin explored a new artistic style, something not unlike art deco animation; Paranoia Agent was a compelling, deep psychological project that touched on the darkness in the human spirit with shocking clarity.

With those standards in place, I plunge back into the mix in search of new treasures. I used collect fansubbed anime--that is, anime that was recorded in Japan, translated rapidly by Japanese-speaking American fans (I'm guessing in their late teens and early 20s), subtitled with flashy and attractive artistic design, and then shared over Bit Torrent networks--but my collection grew too large for my storage capacity, and now I have a 200 GB drive sitting on my shelf, fat-packed with anime I've yet to watch.

But what I'm finding now is disappointing. This is largely because I don't know where to look, less that we're in a season of unimaginative story lines. Make no mistake: much of anime rests on the genre's laurels, making the same old jokes, redressing the same old characters, reenacting the same old relationships and plots. Knowing what I do of fanboys--and anime fanboys mistakenly call themselves otaku in the States--they like the familiar, they find it hard to accept and assimilate real innovation. A good example of this is the live-action series Firefly: many of the ideas seemed new but the characters were heavily cribbed from other less-popular series and the script sounded like a bunch of pasty, grub-like geeks, dizzy on Cheetos and Skittles, riffing as a group through one-liners and half-remembered exchanges in other TV shows and movies.

Kanokon is just irritating. Underage high school sex comedy... I don't need it. I started watching the first episode, where they run through the usual business of introducing each character and their generalized traits: Kouta is a hapless, underdeveloped boy, a transfer student (adding to his alienation and groundlessness) who is victimized by Chizuru, a teenage girl with large breasts and raging libido. Asahina is a bossy, prudish girl who enforces propriety and morality through verbal intimidation, and Tayura is a handsome, too-cool, indolent teenage boy who developed early and harbors a slight jealousy at the physical affection heaped upon Kouta. We learn all this within the first five minutes of the show, a very busy and trite five minutes. They would save more time by simply analogizing the main characters to the main characters of other shows they stole from. But something in the opening sequence that more is afoot: for no apparent reason, Chizuru is actually a fox-spirit in disguise, alluding to an ancient Japanese superstition frequently plundered by contemporary anime.

What can it all mean? I really don't care and won't stick with it to find out.

Kobato is also another disappointment. I'll let Wikipedia sum it up:
Kobato is sweet and perky girl, but also extremely naive about the world around her. She has a "mission," which is to fill a mysterious bottle of hers with the suffering from people's hearts so her wish to go a certain place that she desires to go can be granted. However, she has a restriction in that she is not allowed to fall in love with any person whom she heals the heart of.
Yeah, I can see where this is headed. Lots of comedy as she fumbles blindly through social convention and learns the intricacies of human behavior, with the help of her "teacher," a blue stuffed dog toy that can speak and move when no one else is around (though I suspect, as per the formula, a few trusted friends will be allowed to see the toy come to life). And she'll fall in love with someone, and maybe that love will change her mind about travelling to this mysterious destination of hers. There's nothing in this for me, though the artwork is superior to that of Kanokon.

For a more fantastic bent, Isikai no Seikishi Monogatari ("Saint Knight in an Alternate World") starts with a beleaguered youngster implanted in a powerful semi-living suit of armor who is tasked to assist with the assassination of a young princess during her coronation as "king" (Japan believes that not only is king more powerful than queen, but that it's an office women can be promoted to, apparently, a concept not foreign to Western fantasy literature). In the first episode we learn he's being bullied into doing this so he can earn his freedom to return to a certain place (notice a pattern?), but first he has to get past the bodyguards, all of whom are female, the most powerful of which is a shapely, vain young woman in an all-pink semi-living suit of armor. Nothing happens in the first episode that compels me to care about any of these characters: no curiosity, no insight, nothing.

More later...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Deserving, Entitlement, and Privilege

There's a recent news article about a crazy woman who duped an entire store full of patrons.

The first article I saw was a video clip from a local news station. They placed a lot of emphasis on what disorder the woman caused. Linda Brown rented a stretch Hummer limo and rode it to Burlington Coat Factory in Columbus, Ohio. Inside, she announced that she had recently won $1.5 million in a lottery and would pay for everyone's purchases, up to $500 per person.

I think the emphasis should have been on the customers. To read about a crazy woman marching into an expensive retail outlet and announcing she'll cover everyone's shopping, that's funny. George C. Scott used this tactic in the 1979 movie They Might Be Giants: needing a momentary distraction, he grabbed a microphone to a grocery store's PA system and announced a string of outrageous discounts on chicken, produce, everything. Even the cops in pursuit of him said their wives would kill them if they didn't take advantage of some of these deals, and they gave up the chase.

So it's amusing that someone would actually do this. I'm sure more than a few of us have thought of committing similar mischief in a public venue. Tom Green did the same thing on his prankish MTV show. But the reaction of the people in the area is offensive and depressing. If I were in such a situation, I'd like to think that I'd be incredulous enough to question the veracity of this strange woman's claim--no one in the store had that capacity, however. Indeed, they began placing phone calls to friends and relatives, urging them to hurry down to Burlington Coat Factory and take advantage of this offer, in addition to grabbing everything they could get their hands on. They didn't need those coats, all those supplies: they were just being outrageously greedy and seizing everything within their reach. Maybe they'd sell them off later, maybe they'd even be daring enough to attempt to cash in a refund for them at that very same store. But they were grabbing more than they ever needed and were calling people to rush over and do the same.

When the limo driver realized he would not be paid the $900 owed for his services, he turned Ms. Brown in to the police. But the people were something else: when it was discovered that the crazy lady actually had no money at all, they rioted. They tore clothes off the hangers and threw them to the ground. They knocked over displays and they looted. Oh yes, they still felt entitled to their "free clothing" and ran out of the store with armloads of stolen merchandise. The video clip I saw featured an interview with a balding, bespectacled middle-aged man who related his personal experiences with a defiant whine. He grabbed a wooden laundry basket and started filling it with everything he could grab--regardless of size, cut, or object itself, just grabbing everything. The customers believed they somehow deserved the merchandise and took it, after trashing the store.

That's where the story is, to me. That a crazy lady pulled this prank, that's interesting, but I'm more interested--and appalled--by the behavior of a store full of privileged, spoiled Americans who believed the reasonable response was vandalism and looting.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I did something perhaps I should not have: browsed a selection of random blogs on Blogger.

I did this by clicking "Next Blog" in the uppermost toolbar of the standard Blogger screen.  I don't know how "next" is selected, as it is not a sequential system.  Several times, clicking "next" actually brought me back to the same blog I was presently viewing, and not a few times it brought me back to one I'd read earlier.  I'm thinking "Previous Blog" may be as random as "Next Blog" was, though I could be wrong.

But I say I shouldn't have read through them because I came away with two distinct impressions: 1) most people are trying to sell you crap, and 2) I'm one of multitudes, legions of ignoble bloggers who will never go anywhere in this craft.  I think I write better than many of the blogs I read--I'm set apart by my ability to wield apostrophes correctly in all cases, among other basic, low-level grammatical and punctuation-based standards, and though I'm entirely remiss in my personal "word-a-day" project, I've a demonstrably robust vocabulary by comparison.

Regardless, what am I doing?  What am I saying?

This place is just my dumping ground for random thoughts, flotsam, and Web-procured technejecta.  It's not comprehensive or exclusive in any of these aspects (though I did make up "technejecta," in letter if not in spirit).  The only discrete quality is that these are my thoughts and values; whether anyone could discern them from anyone else's in the dark is another discussion.

I thought, at one point, I might make a blog of pictures, and then today I discovered somewhere around the order of one metric assload of blogs comprised (in whole or in part) of pictures.  The bitch of that is: while my writing is better than that of many other writers, my photography is measurably worse than that of other photographers.  I'm not a bad photographer, not at all, I have a certain knack though I have no orthodox training, but these other photo-blogs (we may call them phlogs) feature better scenery, technical superiority, and a thick layer of overall betterness.

All the same, I'm still uploading pictures with these posts (or I try to, most of the time) just to accentuate or otherwise dress up my dreary writing.  Lately I've been including photos that are the results of my self-tutelage in Photoshop: I'm crawling through its Help directory and learning about levels.  Today's picture is the fun I've had with Dodge and Burn.  Never knew what those were for before, but don't I look dreadful now?

Anyway, at least I'm not trying to sell you stuff.  I'm marketing myself, but currently I'm free.  Aspects of me are, at least.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Trouble With Comics

Those last two posts were fun, but now I have to write a very painful post, so I think it balances out.

I like my online comics. It's very clear that I do, since I've built and revised the aggregate of my favorite online comics. If you like comedy, and you like words as big as your abstract concepts, you will read these comics.

Once in a while, however, these online comics come into conflict. I've recommended comics that have fallen flat upon the fallow fields of my friends. Similarly, friends have recommended comics that found no purchase in my own sere and inhospitable terrain. There's just no accounting for taste.

Now, however, I find that the comics themselves are at conflict. This is most worrisome: it's like one day you find that all the five-dollar bills in your wallet refuse to share space with the ten-dollar bills. What are you going to do? You can't walk around with just ones and twenties. And so it is with me: I love Dinosaur Comics and I love Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, and yet it happens that each has made recommendations of other comics, and these comics are in conflict.

SMBC recommended Snowflakes, and Snowflakes is fucking stupid. It is stupid and lame with inadequate art and terrible writing to underscore a depleted sense of humor. It relies on vague and misremembered cultural reference for the bulk of its patois. People don't want that, that isn't what attracts attention: people want fresh, new humor! (Nothing older than 1979.) If you rely on referential material too much, you just attract a bunch of pasty and obese fanboys killing time between sci-fi conventions. Also, you can't leap into the middle of it but have to go all the way to the beginning just so these stupid, unlikeable characters begin to make sense. There is no kickback, and there is no reward.

On the other hand, Dinosaur Comics has recommended MS Paint Adventures and it freakin' blew my mind. Ryan North, author of Dinosaur Comics, says it's the ending episode of a certain storyline, but you can watch it by itself and appreciate the artwork, the craft, the skill, the vision that went into it. You can watch it again and again and sit in awe!

Now, it's just my luck that the author of Snowflakes will trackback to this post and see my alcohol-fueled invective and be a little hurt. It hurts more when your critics know big words; it's easy to shrug off "OMG ur t3h sux0rz." He might even comment self-pityingly and request further elucidation as to what it is that puts me off, or diffidently assert his indifference to my condemnation. I've been through this before a few times, a surprising amount of times.

But the guy I admire: he will never see this post. He has better things to do. He's working on his next fever-dream, compelling it into being. He's busy working on his art, while the slightly insufficient guy is busy looking at who's looking at him and estimating how much love there is for him. The artist I admire has better things to do.



I illustrated this conflict for my wife. I showed her the source comics (which I love) and their references (one that sucked and one that ruled), and she said, "There's no accounting for taste."

Adventures in the Kitchen

My wife's been quite ill lately and I'm trying to take care of her while running the household, somewhat. I mean, it's not like the place is falling apart and constantly needs an array of Band-Aids and plaster patches or anything. Things can pretty much maintain with some cosmetic strokes, like keeping on top of the dirty dishes, and I suppose I should do some household laundry tonight.

Last night I made dinner for us and, not knowing what to make, peeked in the fridge for a primary ingredient. There was a tub of tofu (sealed, packed in water) that has been sitting there for some length of time: I didn't buy it, gods know I never would, but there it was. I looked up a quick recipe on All Recipes--actually, just typed "recipe" into a Google search and received their little search engine widget for the site, which I think is super-awesome. And yes, I'm quite aware of all the other recipe Web sites out there (Rebecca prefers Epicurious) but this one suits my needs, and no one has made a compelling argument as to why I should switch.

So I found a recipe for "tofu parmigiana." I thought, Why the hell not, and printed it out. It had a small list of ingredients, of which all were represented in our kitchen, and the total cooking time was under an hour. I created the breading--Rebecca's gluten-intolerant so I used corn crumbs instead--and dredged the thick slices of tofu before frying them in an oiled skillet. That part was the hardest but I managed it well with a short trial-and-error curve. After that, baking it in the sauce (lacking tomato sauce I used a jar of puttanesca sauce) took care of itself, and with the addition of some vermicelli and a side of broccoli florets, I was a little impressed that I hadn't screwed anything up. Indeed, all the food was ready at the same time and we ate it while everything was hot.

That was last night. That was a lifetime ago.

Tonight I boiled up some rice noodle pasta and put some green beans in the microwave to thaw. Realizing I wasn't preparing any protein, I threw a couple eggs into the noodles while they were cooking. The whole mess boiled down to a thick stew, which discouraged me. I dumped more puttanesca into it with some black olives and shredded some white cheddar cheese to mix in as well. It tastes great (to me; Rebecca won't touch it) but it looks like vomit, I will freely admit.

That experience is more what I expect when I cook. The night before was a "curious statistical anomaly," an irreproducible effect. I am more accustomed to producing some technically valid epicurean disaster that provokes pitying yet contemptuous laughter in women, while it carries all the nutrients my body needs. Between the two nights, I've still improved my cooking average.

Sweven's Cloud

words,writing,blogging

Check it out: this is a "cloud" of some dozens of my most frequently used words. I can see I need to talk more interestingly around here. Created at Wordle.net.

Total Online Activity

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Snow, New Streets

The snow is finally upon us. We got a little appetizer Friday night/Saturday morning, but Monday morning shows the precipitation in full strength. I like it, I think it's lovely, but I have an associated dread as every Minnesotan does three things:
  1. reacts with shock and outrage at the snow, as though it has never happened here before;
  2. completely forgets how to operate their car in light-snow conditions; and
  3. can find no other topic to discuss for the next six months.
What's up with this? They act like they've been living in Reno or Tampa for the past half-a-year and were abruptly shuttled to Siberia. Surprise? Where does the surprise come from? Do Minnesotans not know where they've been living all their lives? Do they complain about how wet the shower drenches them every time they use it? And how about that ubiquitous, relentless force of gravity, huh? Good lord, it was never like this where we came from.

Today I was going to ride my bike to work, but I have some shopping to do tonight and it doesn't lend itself to bicyclical transport. Hopefully my goggles and half-face mask will turn up in the mail soon, to make this stunt all the easier. As it was, I rode the bus and had to listen to two disgruntled and disempowered men ranting in louder than conversational tones about how deluded everyone else is: "People be stupid, believin' in all sorts of fairy tales. Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Columbus Day." Oh my gosh, were they angry. They would quote the Bible, then deride Columbus for not knowing the Earth was round prior to his voyage, completely overlooking the fact that he thought it was flat because the church made it illegal to suppose it was round. And then the topic of college came up. You know, college: that den of misinformation and propaganda. The truly smart people are those who drop out of school and escape the programming.

Their volume was merely inconsiderate but their content was infuriating. Ambrose Bierce wrote in his Devil's Dictionary: "positive: mistaken at the top of one's voice." The only thing that kept me from leaping in and disabusing them of their most egregious notions was the fact that I would gain nothing useful from a conversation with them. It would have been completely futile, insulting, and the exact opposite of "helpful." I'm pretty sure nothing I could've brought to the table would have altered their minds.

I discovered with a little surprise that this weekend was when they converted Hennepin Ave downtown to two-lane oppositional traffic. It looks good! The new pavement, the new lines, it looks real good. And it's a good thing I didn't try to bike in this new context, what with the snow and the confused drivers and all. When I do cycle in to work, I'll have to remember to take First Avenue up. I wonder how that looks from 11th St?

The cars, of course, have taken to it without problem. There are nice additional turn lanes to access the one-way streets which are in abundance. A few cyclists still come up and down Hennepin, either unable to break old habits or it genuinely is more useful for them. I am curious to try out the new cycle lanes on 1st Ave, now that my head's all full of such cyclist-pertinent issues as "Portland rules," scramble lights, bike blocks, &c. None of these exist, of course, but I wonder how long they'll be in coming as long as there's someone in Minneapolis' planning structure who cares two hoots about cycling.

It's really a case of the same old two mindsets at war with each other: "don't change the System, patch it up to enable it to run" versus "we need a new System to correct the problem." The latter represents progress, but the former is more popular for maintaining the status quo, and is implemented throughout U.S. industry, on all levels. Einstein would not have approved, as he believed we could not use the same tools or thinking to fix a problem that had been created by those same tools/thoughts.

Friday, October 9, 2009

When Words Matter

Okay, so my wife's sister gave her her old iPod Touch, and she's been letting me use it lately. Actually, she's been specifically requesting me to, so that we get some use out of it. It's a fantastic vent for all the bristling ideas implanted in my head after that social media conference: one of the predominant messages was "pay attention to the iPhone." It is such a cool device, in form and function, that a lot of businesses and developers are focusing on it, and it has no real competition. The Blackberry is kind of an afterthought now, a footnote.

And among my wife's family, the free game Scramble 2 is fairly popular. It's like Boggle, where you form words from contiguous letters among a random distribution of letters. For a wordsmith it can be as addictive as Tetris. At family gatherings it's not unheard of for people to pass an iPhone or iPod Touch around and compete... Actually, "compete" is a bad word for what we're doing. It's more like we're all soldiers in a platoon, assailing an impregnable stronghold represented by scoring 40 points or more.

This game is hard. It's hard to bring to mind all the words one knows and find them in combinations, or to look at the paltry selection of unlikely letters and summon words among them. It's very difficult, and it's very discouraging: frequently the end of the game is met with a chorus of regret as people review all the words they should've gotten.

Except who could get these words? I don't mind doing so badly, when the word database is so profoundly obscure. In this picture are the words dhooly, azlon, and cibol. I have never, ever heard of these words before in my life, in my extensive reading background, in my decades-long academic career.

I looked them up in the dictionary application on my iMac. It had never heard of them either.

I looked them up on Merriam-Webster. It seemed to have heard of them, but it wouldn't share their definitions without a paid account. It does that, sometimes: it saves the best words for people who shell out money for a subscription to the dictionary. Yeah, well, there are other Internet resources.

For instance, I still have my school account, and it still provides me access to the OED. What I found was as irritating as being denied the definition due to not paying for it.
doolie, dooly
A rudimentary litter or palanquin used by the lower classes in India, and as an army ambulance. (Erroneous: dhooly)
Azlon
Azlon is a synthetic textile fiber composed of protein material derived from natural sources.
cibol, ciboule
Another form of chibol, known also as Stone Leek, Rock Onion, and Welsh Onion.
Note that the definition for "Azlon" doesn't appear in the OED: I found it on Wikipedia. It is a trademarked name regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. "Asia" is forbidden in Scramble 2 as being a proper noun, yet I'm penalized for not knowing "Azlon." And the other two words are incorrect or not preferred spellings of other words.

So, this game? It's kinda bullshit.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Toys on the Streets

Here's a stirring indicator of socioeconomic forces in my community: homeless stuffed toys.

I was reading about this earlier this week, a financial pandemic spreading throughout the eastern seaboard. We're reading about massive layoffs and downsizing but people fail to factor in the "hidden costs" of this disaster. When the breadwinner(s) of the nuclear family unit abruptly lose their income-generating power, the microcosm of interdependency they've built up begins to corrode. The local community can no longer count on them for sustainable revenue. Parents can no longer afford health insurance for their families, and it becomes harder to stretch the dollar for grocery bills and other necessities.

Perhaps saddest of all, the economic crunch means children can no longer pay attention to their beloved toys. The fluffy rabbit on the left was busing into Downtown yesterday to apply at a couple temp agencies but he didn't think his prospects were good. "I haven't been working on my marketable skills," he confessed, his fur still damp from his shower. "My typing speed is, like, 25 wpm. I don't know the Microsoft suite at all. I found an old Ubuntu CD but I don't think it'll do me much good." I asked him about his personal strengths. "Jeez... looking cute? Looking innocent? I don't know. I'm a great listener, and I'm highly absorbent."

The bear (right) didn't have much to say. No plans, no idea where his next cuddle was coming from. He asked if I wanted to buy a bus transfer for a buck, then called me something obscene when I said I had a Go-To card. When I threatened to report him to the cops for being a public nuisance, he only looked away and started to sob. It's hard to want to be sympathetic on account of his behavior, but really, he's just a victim like so many others. He's only lashing out in response to the circumstances, like a washing machine of his former life, into which he has recently been thrust.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Web Presence and Branding

I am way too tickled when something like this happens: in this screen capture, my account is listed among others as an example of how to use Extendr. It's completely at random, and I'm surprised that the user population is such that I could come up twice in an evening, refreshing the screen over and over again. I think I saw Neil Gaiman's name flit by but was too quick on the refresh to check him out, and a Google search yields nothing.

I'd never heard of Extendr until Monday, when I attended the MIMA Summit '09. This service was mentioned in a lecture on branding and Web presence. It is similar to Google Profiles in that it is one page of all your relevant links, but there are differences. Google Profiles features a bio, a contact page, and a keen little personalized map of where you've lived around the world. On the other hand, it has absolutely no customization in its layout. On the third hand, there is no paid option, either: it's always free.

Extendr lets you tweak your font and background colors somewhat; it has a very clean layout and it groups your links into useful categories. It helpfully suggests how to sort your links (between Communication and Social, where would you put Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn?), and it has a fun little "tour" feature where you're escorted through a gallery of a user's links, but with the free account there's limited customization, no bio, no map or any other frills. The paid account is how you make it look very nice and more personalized.

But I use both Google Profiles and Extendr. There is no reason not to avail yourself of free promotion if you want to establish a Web presence. I used to want to because I was young and attention-seeking; then I didn't because I became private and a little paranoid; now that I'm trying to bolster my writing career, I'm back to flagging down attention. With that, however, comes a need to clean up my image: there are no drunken disaster pictures of me on Facebook, and I'm trying to cut down on my swearing in my blogs. Trying to be more upbeat, in fact. It's a good practice in general but it's necessary when you're presenting yourself on the world stage.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mislain Priorities

Does it pay to shell out for a domain name if you're just prone to changing your mind half a year later?

I went to the MIMA Summit yesterday and one of the lectures I attended had to do with personal branding. Never an issue before in my life but if I'm going to be an independent writer/editor (which I already am), I have to think about it. Which means I have to think about what the hell I'm doing with Heavy Boots, Sweven Volant, and the several other blogs I maintain on an irregular basis. What am I doing with the sxoidmal brand? Where should that go? Or should I drop it and focus on CWFredrickson? Or should I get off my ass and start marketing C.W. Wilkie in preparation for my name-change?

Then again, what's wrong with having a rinky-dink little blog to dump errata and nonsense into (namely: this place)? Nothing's wrong with having a junk-drawer of ideas, and honestly, I don't know what I'd do with a dedicated professional blog anyway. I'm not very professional. I have a great store of trivia, I'm strong in editing and writing, but I'm not very professional and I don't give a rat's ass about the professional environment.

I don't care that the Senior Social Editor of Periodical I Never Read has been bought out and transferred to Assistant Double-Plus Editor of Tedious Niche Trade Publication. I'm not interested in the industry: I just want to peddle my short stories or, failing that (which I have), pick up a couple gigs doing Web-based clean-up and ensuring small businesses don't embarrass themselves in their out-going literature. I say "small business" because I don't want to work for a large company again. I've done it before and it is nothing more than two thin slices of hell on dry, stale bread.

But then, where is this blog going? Where is Heavy Boots going? Does the Web need more cruft building up in the corners? On a good week, my blog sees 20-40 unique visitors. Most of those are subliterate idiots discovering me in a bungled keyword search; relatively few are people who intentionally followed a link and purposely went to my site. I'm pouring more energy into this blog, which is intended to go nowhere, than in a Web site and blog that could potentially further my career.

Why would I do that? Why am I doing that? What is the reasonable alternative?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Adventures in Minneapolis

Took the bus to work again. I'm wussing out in the mornings with a 20% chance of precipitation in 45F weather. How exactly do I think I'm going to adjust to biking to work in the snow and ice?

One funny thing happened on the bus: the 4 bus runs up Bryant, turns right on 31st St, then left two blocks later on Lyndale and takes that into Downtown. There's a bus stop just at the corner of Lyndale and 31st, so the bus driver has to pull over immediately after turning to pick up anyone waiting there.

There was a very intelligent-looking young woman at that bus stop this morning. She had long natural hair twisted up and pinned in a loose, attractive style, librarian glasses, a long wool coat, and a certain knowing half-smirk on her face. Something about how she carried herself suggested that she was very into women's issues and was probably very fond of a South American nation or two.

However, she wasn't immediately apparent. She was hiding behind the bus shelter while waiting for the bus, so the driver never saw her and sailed on past. She flung up her arm and trotted up the sidewalk in shoes that were not designed for running, and a young woman in the back of the bus hollered for the bus driver to stop for her. He did, in fact, to my surprise, and the educated-looking woman clopped up and caught her bus. She sat a few seats up from me, and a homeless woman behind her made a big deal of letting the young woman know that she was the one who told the bus driver to pull over for her. This, of course, was not true at all.

The young woman thanked her. "I was waiting there for ten minutes!" she said. "I couldn't believe he just blew past me like that!" Apparently, whatever she might know about women's issues or Brazil, she had no grasp of perspective. Because she was obvious from one direction of traffic, she assumed she was obvious from all directions of traffic and could not conceive that a bus coming from the south could not see her standing on the north side of a bus shelter.



So I saw this taxi driver pulled over by a cop. My first thought was, Holy crap, what does a taxi driver have to do to get pulled over? Because they're insane, they're reckless, and they're at the least inconsiderate. They're constantly running lights, jockeying between lanes, wedging themselves between cars and pedestrians. I could not conceive what over-the-top act a taxi driver could finally have performed to attract police attention.

Then it turned out the driver had some class of medical condition. When the ambulance arrived they hauled him out of his car and he looked dazed, gasping for breath, arms held stiffly to his sides and legs slightly bowed. He did not appear to have practiced a career of hygiene and proper nutrition, so I imagine his life finally caught up with him, whether it was a diabetic shock or coronary disease. An EMT got some defibrillator paddles ready as a peace officer steadied the taxi driver on his feet and led him away from his cab. But I kept on walking and missed the denouement.



Today I tried this ill-conceived Starbucks taste test, promoting their new VIA coffee. Heard about it on Facebook. I don't know what the salient characteristics of VIA are, and the taste test was haphazardly structured. I was given two small paper cups of coffee samples and I took my time sensing them: the cup marked with a X was mild and creamy, and the cup marked with an O was bright and tangy.

The clerk said, "Excellent! Now, which one is Pike's and which is VIA?"

How on God's green Earth am I supposed to know this? I've never had Pike's (and I don't even know what brand this is supposed to be) and of course I've never had VIA because it's new! Not only that, they're two completely different flavors, with only color and temperature in common. Guessing that the bright, sharp flavor might be a more popular, common brew, and assuming that Pike's is a popular (somewhere) competitor's blend, I supposed the creamy one was VIA and the clerk congratulated me on my success. I was awarded a coupon, which I would've received even if I'd guessed wrongly.

Great "taste test," guys. The difference between this and a tray of samples is that I got to hold up a line of paying customers while picking apart the flavors of each sample.



And over lunch I tried out a new place: Turby's Pizza, on the Skyway level of the Baker Center. It boasts being the only oven-baked pizza in Downtown, which I'm pretty sure is patently untrue.

Also, it's lousy pizza. It's just greasy with a tough, resistant crust and there was nothing noteworthy in its ingredients or seasoning.

It was interesting to note that the intelligent-looking young woman from the bus this morning was working the cash register here, though.