Thursday, July 31, 2008
Last night, my trusty 24-year-old General Electric clock radio/cassette player suffered a life-threatening injury. I went to change the dial and found that, while the knob still turned, the dial did not move with it. Now, the AM band is set to nothing, and the FM band is set to a low-watt Latino station in Silver Spring that I don't think even broadcasts at night. I am going to pull out a screwdriver and see if I can perform some kind of miracle surgery (kind of akin to opening the hood of your car when it's dead even though you know damn well you can't fix anything under there), but otherwise, I think I'm going to have to say goodbye to the old gal and get me a 21st century model.
You can't possibly understand how this upsets me. I bought this big clunky radio at Christmas time, 1983, with a W. Bell gift certificate that I had received as a gift from WMAL. I was a receptionist at the time, and the station had gotten a ton of gift certificates as trade, so everybody got one as a holiday bonus. How many of you can remember where and when you bought YOU last clock radio?
This device was truly state-of-the-art.... a wood-grain plastic cabinet surrounding an LED clock with a solid state cassette player to boot! I woke up to that clock for my entire career, through literally thousands of 2 or 3 am wakeup calls... My hands became so familiar with the controls that I learned to set the time and the alarm without even looking at it.... a significant feature when you work the hours I work! In addition, the wide, flat top of the clock radio gave me plenty of room on which to lay my watch and glasses every night. We grew very comfortable together.
Now I face the hard task of finding a replacement. I'm sure today's models have all sorts of attractive features, but none of them will have the same feel as the old clock. Learning how to set it will be a chore. Feeling for it in the middle of the night will take a long time to get used to. Sure, I could try waking up to the alarm or the cassette player instead of the radio, but I have always found alarms to be too jarring, and honestly, the sound of the cassette player was never that good even when the clock was brand new.
No, I think I'll have to give the old gal a decent burial and find a new model - one that can play the AM band.
I wonder if they still make those!
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Three years later, the reality TV show's most ambitious project at the time has become the latest victim of the foreclosure crisis.
After the Harper family used the two-story home as collateral for a $450,000 loan, it's set to go to auction on the steps of the Clayton County Courthouse Aug. 5. The couple did not return phone calls Monday, but told WSB-TV they received the loan for a construction business that failed.
The house was built in January 2005, after Atlanta-based Beazer Homes USA and ABC's "Extreme Makeover" demolished their old home and its faulty septic system. Within six days, construction crews and hoards of volunteers had completed work on the largest home that the television program had yet built.
The finished product was a four-bedroom house with decorative rock walls and a three-car garage that towered over ranch and split-level homes in their Clayton County neighborhood. The home's door opened into a lobby that featured four fireplaces, a solarium, a music room and a plush new office.
Materials and labor were donated for the home, which would have cost about $450,000 to build. Beazer Homes' employees and company partners also raised $250,000 in contributions for the family, including scholarships for the couple's three children and a home maintenance fund.
ABC said in a statement that it advises each family to consult a financial planner after they get their new home. "Ultimately, financial matters are personal, and we work to respect the privacy of the families," the network said.
Some of the volunteers who helped build the home were less than thrilled about the family's financial decisions.
"It's aggravating. It just makes you mad. You do that much work, and they just squander it," Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt, who helped vault a massive beam into place in the Harper's living room, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
A Romanian immigrant has given birth to her 18th child in British Columbia, making her the province's most prolific mother in 20 years.
Proud dad Alexandru Ionce said Saturday that his 44-year-old wife, Livia, gave birth on Tuesday. Their daughter Abigail weighed in at seven pounds, 12 ounces.
"We never planned how many children to have. We just let God guide our lives, you know, because we strongly believe life comes from God and that's the reason we did not stop the life," said Alexandru Ionce.
The couple immigrated to Canada from Romania in 1990 and now live in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Their 17 other children range in age from 20 months to 23 years old.
Ionce said he did not know if the couple would have more children. The family now has 10 girls and eight boys.
"We would have liked a boy to be even," he said. "We thank God all of them are healthy and happy."
Ionce said the family has received calls from Germany, Romania and England, as well as from media outlets across Canada.
Life On The Beach congratulates the Ionce family and offers them nothing but all the happiness in the world - along with a box of condoms and this gift - a clip from my favorite Monty Python film, "The Meaning Of Life". Enjoy!
Sunday, July 27, 2008
- First of all, satellite radio is already a failure. Yes, many of you have it in your car, and you enjoy it a lot, and yes... you do keep hearing stories in the news about how many people are subscribing to it. But consider this... If you add up the total of XM and Sirius subscribers in the U.S., you will still get just a tiny fraction of the entire radio universe. These companies are only merging because they are desperate to stay afloat, and they had to agree to a number of hardships in order to be allowed to merge, uincluding several years of price freezes.
- Most new XM and Sirius radios are sold through new car sales, which are not exactly booming in this economy.
- Most importantly - even as the two companies merge, satellite radio is already becoming obsolete. You may be willing to shell out 13 bucks a month for the service now, but in another year or two (at most), you'll be able to get all the same stuff (and much more) for free - once internet car radio arrives. It's just a short matter of time before that technology arrives, and once it does, it might just boost terrestrial radio instead of killing it. Stations that currently have signal problems in their far-reaching suburbs will now be able to potentially reach millions more listeners by simply streaming their audio, which listeners will be able to hear while driving. In fact, internet radio is already arriving. Looky here:
By the way - one technology I have not mentioned is HD radio. For those of you who pay no attention to the business, HD radio was terrestrial radio's answer to satellite - a way to give you hundreds more listening options commercial-free. I personally think HD radio is dead on arrival... Several companies have rolled out HD stations, but both the programming and the signal for those stations have been spotty at best. There's been a ton of money spent on technology and marketing, but despite all that, virtually no owns an HD radio, and for now, there's really little to no incentive to own one.
Just stick with AM radio, people... yeahhhh THAT'S the ticket!
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Closer to home, perennial all-pro defensive end (and dancer!) Jason Taylor was traded this week to the Redskins after spending his entire 12-year career with the Dolphins. In a move designed to mark a fresh start in DC, Taylor abandoned the number 99 that he wore in Miami in favor of number 55.... Still, Taylor admitted to feeling a bit odd putting on his new team's uniform... Something felt kind of strange and somewhat out of place.
I think I know now a bit what it's like for a veteran sports star whose spent his entire career in one city to be traded (or in my case, picked up off the waiver wire) to a new team. The game is the same, but you have to learn a new playbook and new technology, and get used to working with a new set of teammates wearing new uniforms. That's just what I'm facing at WBAL.
Right now, it feels like I'm on some sort of exchange program, and that I'll soon be back in my familiar digs on Jenifer Street, pounding out stories in the WMAL newsroom just as I did for more than 20 years. I know, of course, that that is NOT going to happen, but for now it still feels odd to be doing what I have always done - just in a different environment.
Imagine then how strange it was for me to do a news report this morning with a different ending than I've ever had to use before - Here's my very first report on WM - er, WBAL!
Please don't get me wrong... I am very much enjoying my time at WBAL. It's just kind of an out-of-body experience these days...
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Through the light and down the hill....then back up the hill to another traffic light at the forest park golf course. Turn left at the light...you will be driving thru the middle of the golf course at that point. Stay on that road, whose name eludes me until you get to the traffic light at Liberty Heights (which may say Liberty Road...whatever..it's the first big major cross road) Turn RIGHT on Liberty Heights. You Will stay on Liberty for a while. You'll pass a Baltimore Fire House on your left...just past that there is a major intersection at Garrison Blvd. Even if the light is green, slow down. The intersection is basically blind on two sides and west baltimore yahoos are famous for running thru it. Once thru that intersection, stay on Liberty Heights for another mileor so. You'll go thru three or four more lights. One at Hilton Street is very long...but you'll just have to sit thru it. The next one, at the bottom of the hill has a red light camera attached to it. It also has a short yellow cycle, so try to anticipate while you're coming down the hill... At the NEXT light, Druid Park Drive, with Baltimore City Community college on your right and a parking lot on your left, turn left.
Great detail, Bill... but there's just one problem... It's pitch black outside, and my 1997 Civic has only one dim overhead roof light. My aging eyes can't read the text without stopping the car. In downtown Baltimore. In the dead of night. In a neighborhood that I've been warned to drive through quickly.
I can read the directions just fine if I take my glasses off... But if I take my glasses off, I can't see the road! It must have taken me an extra 10 minutes to find where I was going, and any cop who saw me surely would have pulled me over for doing my slow weave... But I finally made it! I also rewrote the instructions to make them shorter... and in bigger type, too!
Just think! In another 4 years, I'll be eligible for the twilight dinner special at Denny's!
Somebody pass me a Depends!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
My son, Spencer, must be a great actor... Just ask Michael Savage! Anyway - As mentioned last week, Spencer made his acting debut on the stage at Camp Airy - and the folks there were kind enough to record the show and send home a DVD. Here's Spence's big scene on the lean, mean streets of New York City:
Did you hear his fellow campers cheering Spence on at the end? Way to go, Spencer!
Next we move from the stage to the screen... With the boys home from camp, the Matthews family took in WALL-E yesterday afternoon. Being Disney (and Pixar) fans, we had long been looking forward to seeing this film, which drew universal praise from critics, and has even been mentioned in some circles as a Best Picture nominee at next year's Oscars.
Oddly enough, WALL-E left me flat. I found its "green" message to be preachy and somewhat condescending, and I thought the basic story could have been told in half the time. It's almost enough (ok - it is enough) to make you believe there really IS a liberal media conspiracy out there sometimes - at least among movie critics. It also doesn't help when the Disney publicity machine kicks into overdrive... that sometimes makes it impossible to not be underwhelmed by some of its films. I felt the same way about "Finding Nemo"... Just as many say it was the best of the Pixar films, for me, Nemo lingers near the bottom... just above "A Bug's Life" and WALL-E.
Next topic - the coffee business... I find it hilarious that there are several grass-roots efforts underway to keep some of those 600 shuttered Starbucks shops open. These stores are being closed because they don't get enough business, and now, faithful customers are signing petitions and whatnot to keep the shops open... But Starbucks doesn't need to be preached to by the choir... it needs new converts... And at upwards of four bucks a cup, those converts ain't comin'... The Missus and I do not see eye to eye on this... She's a Starbucks queen... Give me a buck-39, and I'll get a 24-oz. vat o'joe at the 7-Eleven!
And speaking of the 7-Eleven... I will resume my once-daily early morning trips to the land of "Oh Thank Heaven" beginning tomorrow morning. My friends at WBAL Radio have graciously asked me to do some fill-in work for the next month - writing newscasts for my good friend, Bill Vanko, just as I once wrote them for Bryan Nehman at WMAL. I will also be anchoring the odd newscast outside of morning drive, so be sure to tune in to 1090 WBAL to hear yours truly!
I am half excited and half terrified to be going back to work. I do want a fulltime job, of course, and I had hoped it would have come long before this. I know in my heart that I will get back on the bicycle and be just fine, but there's just a pinch of irrational fear that I somehow lost 25 years of news skills in a few short months! We'll find out soon, won't we?
This blog has been a Godsend for me - giving me a voice to vent with, as well as a reason to get up and be productive every day. With my early morning work schedule (I HAVE A WORK SCHEDULE!!!), you will not find a fresh edition of "Life On The Beach" to read every morning, but please continue to check in most afternoons... I will continue to try to give you some daily nonsense to "enjoy"... Thanks to all of you for reading!
Now on to the next chapter!
Monday, July 21, 2008
For those of you who don't follow talk radio, Michael Savage is a nationally syndicated radical host who has made his living trying to offend as many people as possible. He considers himself a conservative, but honestly, to call him conservative is to give real conservatives a bad name. Savage largely exists to hurt people. A protest will be held in New York today, as parents of children with autism picket WOR radio in New York and demand that Savage be pulled from the air. I sympathize with those well-intentioned folks, but I think they are making a mistake.
The Michael Savages of the talk world thrive on controversy. It is the fuel that keeps their shows alive, and the spark that prompts more listeners to tune in and see what outrageous garbage will spew from their pie holes next. If Savage is pulled from this station today, he'll be on two new stations tomorrow.
No, this is yet another lesson that we learned in kindergarten that still applies today. If everyone just ignored Michael Savage, he would eventually go away. Or better yet - have a good chuckle at his expense. Imagine Savage walking a mile in your shoes - as the parent of an autistic child himself .
The belly laugh that that thought produces may just get this parent through the day!
Friday, July 18, 2008
When it was revealed that Jesse Jackson used the "N-Word" during his Barack Obama nuts-cutting microphone scandal on Sunday, I hesitated to blog about it. After all, the N-word is about as nuclear as you can get these days. Its political and social implications go far deeper than I would ever care to discuss here. In fact, even as I write this, I feel as though I'm in a mine field... one slight misstep, and I'm a goner. So I shall tread carefully and bulletpoint my thoughts.
- Jesse Jackson is an ass and a hypocrite who has spent his career taking two steps forward and one step back on the issues of civil rights. Unfortunately, Jesse is spending more time these days taking one step forward and two steps back.
You know what? After sitting here for several more minutes, I realize there's not much more I can say about this. I had prepared a couple of video clips, including a killer quote from "Blazing Saddles" and a clip of Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Whoopi Goldberg arguing about the N-word. I have some definite thoughts about the issue, but I also don't need the hassle of trying to explain myself by potentially offending someone.
Of course, this also makes me guilty of cowardice and sloth, I suppose... But I think I'd rather be scared and lazy than be accused of being a racist.
I will say this. I am a First amendment hawk. I believe our right to use words as we choose is what ultimately gives us our greatest freedoms as Americans. The censorship of potentially offensive words only serves to empower those words... and empowers the asses who use them.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Sorry, folks. There's just no excuse for this kind of sloppiness. How many sets of eyes do you think this ad must have passed by before it ever made it online? And no one captured a rather blatant spelling error?
Nothing irritates me more than bad spelling - especially in the professional arena. God has given us spell check programs for a reason, but even on top of that, if I'm a retailer spending millions of dollars a year on advertising, I'm going to demand a little quality control! Is it really too much to ask to have a junior underling (or two) proofread every bit of advertising that goes out the door?
I must say, as a disclaimer, that I won an 8th grade spelling bee, so perhaps I'm a bit of a stickler... But to me, any company that posts misspelled signs, or allows misspelled ads in print, is a bit sloppy and I have to question whether they are as careless with the product or service they are selling. It's by no means necessarily a deal-breaker, but it does cross my mind.
This spelling issue is becoming more and more of a problem online as companies that never had to worry about it are now selling their products and services on the Internet. We especially had to emphasize spellcheck at WMAL when we started publishing our radio copy on the web.
There is also the theory (probably well-founded) that more and more people entering the workforce are spelling-challenged. Millennials grew up with spell check, so they've never really needed to learn how to spell properly. Plus - they spend their lives text messaging, where no one writes complete words, let along correctly spelled ones!
The New York Times has also noticed a sloppy trend in advertising... You can read all about it here.
Have a goode day!
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
My interest in baseball slowly dissolved as the Orioles turned from a perennial contender to a perennial also-ran and as I started a family. I also came to find that the world (at least MY world) had become way too "short attention span" for the game. I no longer enjoyed the pace of baseball, and it became excruciating to sit through inning after inning of little action. I blame this, in part, on the 1996 departure of Jon Miller as the voice of the Orioles. Miller used to keep the game entertaining no matter what was happening on the field, but once he left, so did much of my interest in baseball.
Flash forward to last night - the All-Star game. I have always enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of the midsummer classic, simply seeing all of the all-stars in every team's individual uniforms has always been fun. I skipped the one-hour pregame, and channel-surfed back to FOX at 8 pm, as the players were being introduced... After watching this for about 10 minutes, I surfed away again, and came back about half an hour later, at 8:40 or so, to see how the game was progressing. To my shock and amazement, the game had not yet started. They were still doing some "greatest all-stars of all-time" introductions, and had not even thrown out the ceremonial first pitch. FOX had been on the air for an hour and 45 minutes, and the game had not even started!
I turned off the TV, and spent the rest of the night helping Robin paint Spencer's room, completely forgetting about the game. When I was checking my email around midnight, I clicked on Yahoo to see who won, and discovered the game had not yet ended! It was 3-3 after 11 innings. I switched on the TV, and forced myself to watch the rest of the game, a thankless task that reminded me why I stopped watching baseball in the first place. Four innings and more than an hour later, Michael Young of the Texas Rangers knocked in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 15th to give the American League a 4 - 3 win, bringing the longest game in all-star history to a merciful end.
I had to chuckle. Even though America had long since gone to bed, Fox still had one last commercial commitment to make. It had to run the "Chevy Post-game show", which included the presentation of a 2009 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, "America's MPG MVP", to the game's MVP, J.D.Drew. By this point, Yankee Stadium was a ghost town, and everyone on the TV screen, from Drew himself, to the chairman of Chevrolet to commissioner Bud Selig, seemed anxious to just get the hell out of there.
On a happier note, training camp starts on Sunday! Go Skins!
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Let's summarize our current economy, shall we?
- The dollar has dropped to an all-time low.
- Oil prices are near an all-time high.
- The value of our homes continues to fall.
- The unemployment rate is rising.
- Our banks are starting to fold.
- Gas is four bucks a gallon - if you're lucky.
- The airline industry is getting set to collapse.
It all makes this scene from It's A Wonderful Life seem very real, doesn't it?
Thank goodness - in another 10 days it'll be "Christmas in July"... and Lord knows we all need a little Christmas now (and that includes YOU, Randy Bernstein)!!!
Monday, July 14, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
We open with kudos for my boy Spencer, who made his off-Broadway debut (way off Broadway... OK - Thurmont!) as Officer Krupke in the Camp Airy production of "West Side Story"... Details of his performance are sketchy, since the show was for campers only... However, we have managed to sneak a peek at our own little "Man in Blue"...
Playing a cop... eating donuts! A part that Spencer was BORN to play! Your parents are WAY proud of you, Spence!
Speaking of Spencer, Robin and I are re-doing his room while the boys are away at camp... In Spencer's case, it's a bit of EXTREME MAKEOVER. We had to dismantle the loft bed that he's slept in the past four years, and now outgrown... The unit has both a desk and dresser underneath the bed, and rather than just toss it all away, Robin and I decided to take the bed portion off the top, and remove the back half of the piece, which was used for storage space. The only problem was that we needed to literally saw off the back half of a piece of furniture that was never designed to be removed.
There's nothing more manly than going out and buying a power tool! By Saturday afternoon, I was the proud owner of a Craftsman reciprocating saw, which I used to hack off about 50 pounds of finished wood! 10 minutes and four cuts later, I had successfully performed a storage unit-ectomy! The surgery did leave a small scar - about a 6 inch gash in the carpet, but we'll find something to cover that up, I promise! Now all I have to do is pay a visit to the Montgomery County Solid Waste Transfer Center to drop off all of the surplus wood, and we'll be all set. The "MCSWTC" is a fancy way of saying "the dump", but this is Montgomery County, where taxpayers obviously pay by the word, hence the fancy name...
So - now that Spencer's loftbed had been reduced to sawdust, the Missus and I drove up to Costco to buy him a new bed for his room... That was no sweat. After Costco, I treated Robin to dinner at our favorite Frederick eatery, the Double-T diner, which was delicious as always... However, when I went to pay, I reached in my pocket and found... nothing.
This was troubling, because I had checked my cash at Costco and had about 85 bucks in my pocket. The only guess I could hazard was that the money had fallen out while I was wrestling the mattress and boxspring into the back of the minivan... On a complete lark, we drove back to Costco just as dusk was setting in and pulled up to the space we had parked in. Robin looked out the window and promptly spotted a wad of cash. There was 60 bucks right where we'd left it! Robin and I spent the next several minutes inspecting every bit of trash in the vicinity, and just as we were set to give up, Robin found another 20 dollar bill! I did end up losing five bucks, but given the circumstance, getting 80 dollars back felt like winning the lottery!
One more thing to mention for today. The Redskins have won the latest round in their ongoing battle to keep their trademark. You can read the details of the case here, but all you really need to know is that the victory was on a technical matter, and the plaintiffs in the case are appealing. A group of Native Americans is suing the team, making the claim that the name "Redskins" is racist and disparaging. The team insists the word "Redskins" honors native Americans.
Now, I must tell you... I have been a Redskins fan since I was eight years old. I have not missed watching one of their games in at least a decade. I do call them the Redskins, and I would probably continue to call them the Redskins out of habit even if their name was changed. But let's at least be honest. Having a native American as a mascot is racist. Basing a sports team's name solely on the color of a group's skin is racist. This is not even a close call. In a world that demands political correctness... where virtually all colleges have long since abandoned their American Indian nicknames and mascots... the Redskins are an endangered species. I am no more anxious to give up the tradition of their name than any other fan of the Burgundy and Gold. But this is one battle I hope the Skins lose, and I think it's just a matter of time before they do.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
The launch of the new iPhone did not go entirely smoothly yesterday.
Sure, it was no surprise that people waited in line by the hundreds to get their hands on the new smartphone, which sports a faster Web connection than its predecessor. The unexpected part was that the crush of people activating new phones, and updating the software on old ones, threw iTunes for a loop and left some without a dial tone.
One tech Web site called it "the iPocalypse."
John Carnett was about to go on a week-long business trip to Nashville, but for much of yesterday his iPhone was unusable and locked in "emergency" mode. An update left him, and other users, with a slick, cutting-edge touch-screen device that could be used only to dial 911.
Some users who tried to upgrade their iPhones early yesterday to sample a new line of software applications got an error message on iTunes instead. Some did download the latest software, only to find that their device get stuck.
"Any idea how many phone calls I've missed today? How screwed up my business is?" wrote Carnett via e-mail after several hours of trying to get his phone working. He later returned his phone to life.
Although Apple and AT&T, the iPhone's carrier, planned to require buyers to activate the new iPhones before leaving the store, some customers were told they could activate the phones at home as a result of the iTunes problem.
A spokesman for AT&T, Mark Siegel, said, "The iTunes software was evidently overwhelmed by incredible demand."
"Apple has worked fast and furious to try and resolve this issue," he said.
Apple did not return phone calls for comment yesterday and released no statement.
More than 400,000 iPhones were expected to be sold worldwide over the weekend.
Some iPhone buyers grousing online started to refer to their useless devices as "iBricks." As one person posted on Twitter: "I still gots me an iBrick. Fully 90 minutes of trying to activate at home has FAILED."
The iTunes problem wasn't the only complaint. Kent Jenkins is unhappy with his carrier because his 12-year-old son was turned away after waiting in line at the AT&T store in Waldorf for four hours, with birthday money and funds he had saved for Apple's new phone. Kent Jr. was told he wasn't authorized to activate an iPhone on his father's account -- even though his father said he'd called the carrier to avoid problems.
Some would-be buyers got tired of the slow-moving lines and dropped out. Arlington resident James Layman waited five hours at the Clarendon Apple store yesterday morning but left when he concluded that the new phone's activation issues meant he'd probably have to wait a few hours more before using the phone.
At Montgomery Mall's Apple store, about 150 people were in line at 10 a.m. yesterday.
Vick Chan of Germantown said he got the original iPhone when it launched last year, too. He took the day off yesterday to get one of the first of the new iPhones.
At the end of the line, by the Baby Gap, Dawn Simounet of Hyattsville said she waited at an AT&T store in Greenbelt for almost two hours before managers announced that the store was out of stock and only taking orders for iPhones that would be delivered another day. She decided to try the Apple store, which evidently had a bigger supply.
Online, at Apple's support site, iPhone users hotly discussed the headaches they were experiencing with iTunes yesterday. But users who got their phones working again reported that the ire disappeared as quickly as it descended.
"After six hours of lost time on the only phone I have (no office phone, no home land line, nada), I'm back up," wrote one user, identified as a resident of Virginia.
"All my angry thoughts at Apple are slipping away as I browse the apps. Whoa."
Friday, July 11, 2008
The Jitterbug offers about a dozen buttons... the numbers zero through nine, "yes" and "no"buttons, and that's about it. The phone does NOT have text messaging, a camera or an mp3 player, or any other features for that matter. Plus - if you dial zero, a jitterbug operator will come on the line to help you figure out how to use your phone - just in case dialing a phone number and pushing the "yes" button to connect is too complicated.
Yes- the Jitterbug phone is being marketed to senior citizens - or, really, to the children of seniors, who want their parents to carry a cell phone in case of emergencies. Robin thinks the phones are neat because every time she gets a new cell phone, she needs about a week to learn how to use it. Plus, she's a luddite. In her defense, I must say that Modern cell phones are notoriously counter-intuitive, and their user manuals are usually difficult to read at best! I'm far more advanced technologically than my wife is, but there are buttons on my phone that I still have no idea how to use.
Still - if we want to avoid becoming our parents, we MUST learn and embrace new technology! My mother-in-law refuses to give up her dial-up AOL and progress to broadband, and I give her grief about it all the time... The millennials who responded in comments to this youtube ad for the Jitterbug phone thought it was hilarious that someone would buy what amounts to a black-and-white television in a high-def bigscreen color world. Their comments may show a lack of respect for their elders, but they are not wrong. We all have to move along to get along!
Thursday, July 10, 2008
These are desperate times for the nation's airlines. With one exception (Southwest), they are all losing money, and are looking for ways to save their asses even as jet fuel prices are rising out of control. US Airways now says it will start removing entertainment systems (i.e. - the video players that show movies) from most of it's planes... a move that will reduce travel weight by 500 pounds and save the airline 10 million dollars a year.
Sounds pretty desperate to me. And as if I needed even more proof, I received this letter from Hawaiian Airlines, which has joined with every other US Carrier to urge consumers to get Congress to hold the line on rising fuel prices! Here's the letter:
An Open letter to All Airline Customers:
Our country is facing a possible sharp economic downturn because of skyrocketing oil and fuel prices, but by pulling together, we can all do something to help now.
For airlines, ultra-expensive fuel means thousands of lost jobs and severe reductions in air service to both large and small communities. To the broader economy, oil prices mean slower activity and widespread economic pain. This pain can be alleviated, and that is why we are taking the extraordinary step of writing this joint letter to our customers.
Since high oil prices are partly a response to normal market forces, the nation needs to focus on increased energy supplies and conservation. However, there is another side to this story because normal market forces are being dangerously amplified by poorly regulated market speculation.
Twenty years ago, 21 percent of oil contracts were purchased by speculators who trade oil on paper with no intention of ever taking delivery. Today, oil speculators purchase 66 percent of all oil futures contracts, and that reflects just the transactions that are known. Speculators buy up large amounts of oil and then sell it to each other again and again. A barrel of oil may trade 20-plus times before it is delivered and used; the price goes up with each trade and consumers pick up the final tab. Some market experts estimate that current prices reflect as much as $30 to $60 per barrel in unnecessary speculative costs.
Over seventy years ago, Congress established regulations to control excessive, largely unchecked market speculation and manipulation. However, over the past two decades, these regulatory limits have been weakened or removed. We believe that restoring and enforcing these limits, along with several other modest measures, will provide more disclosure, transparency and sound market oversight. Together, these reforms will help cool the over-heated oil market and permit the economy to prosper.
The nation needs to pull together to reform the oil markets and solve this growing problem.
We need your help. Get more information and contact Congress by visiting www.StopOilSpeculationNow.com.
I don't honestly know whether the airlines are in genuine crisis, or whether they are just trying to save their companies' stock prices, but either way, it's going to cost me much more as a consumer to fly anywhere. As someone who has come to enjoy 140 dollar flights to Orlando and 250 dollar flights to L.A., this is a bitter pill to swallow.
Not that I can afford to swallow anything any longer... If these hard times continue for airlines, the once-unthinkable notion that they'll start charging passengers by the pound to travel could, in fact, become reality!
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Sweet! I saved 46 dollars! And the food was delicious! Thanks, Mouse!
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Meaning "First in War, First in Peace, Last in the National League" is no longer a bad enough description.
But wait! Some good news! The team's percentage drop in regional sports network television ratings is not the biggest in the major leagues this season! It's, um, the second-biggest drop! Behind only the Mariners.
According to an in-depth baseball ratings story and chart by John Ourand,
The biggest average households numbers, according to the story (which is based on Nielsen Media Research numbers) watch the Yankees (325,000), Red Sox (233,000) and Mets (204,000). The highest average ratings, according to the story, are found in Boston (9.75), St. Louis (8.04) and Minnesota (6.92).
More to the point, the lowest average household numbers, aside from the Nats, watch the Royals (28,000), Orioles (33,000) and Pirates (34,000). To repeat, the Nationals' number was 9,000, less than a third of the viewership in next-to-last Kansas City. The lowest average ratings, aside from the Nats, are found watching the Angels (1.24), Rangers (1.49) and Dodgers (1.57). To repeat, the Nationals' number was 0.39.
I've been told not to make public our own numbers on Nats-based Web hits, but I think "disappointing" would be an accurate description. "Very disappointing" might also apply.
Seriously, what the heck is going on here? Why do we have a baseball team? Is this just yet another example of Washingtonians being front-runners? Will the numbers spike when the Nats start winning? Does it just require time, no matter what the W-L record is? Was Peter Angelos actually correct about the lack of D.C. baseball fans? Is it really that hard to find MASN2? Or is it just that, in general, with one notable exception, Washington is to pro sports what Billings is to high culture?
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Now, with that preamble taken care of, I can tell you all about my latest adventure in the city of Lost Wages (or is that, in my case, the city of Lost Severance?)!
Now I know you're asking... an unemployed guy going on vacation in Las Vegas? Look - I planned this trip in January, a month BEFORE my job was eliminated. The airfare was paid for, I had already saved money for hotel and gambling, and I needed something to look forward to as I looked for my next career. There was nothing short of a new job offer that was going to get me to cancel the trip, so off we went with Lori and Randy Bernstein for five days and four nights of sin! I will share details by way of a list of likes... and a list of dislikes.
I liked (in no particular order):
- Discovering new things after perhaps a dozen trips to Las Vegas over a 20-year period… in this case, what it’s like to visit a casino for “locals”. We visited the Red Rock Casino, in Summerlin, about 10 miles northwest of the Strip, and found a resort that would have been the envy of the Strip if it was there. Beautiful casino… beautiful restaurants, a cheap and delicious buffet, along with a 16-screen movie theater, a bowling alley and a member’s club that was far more generous than anything either MGM-Mirage or Harrah’s would ever think about offering.
- Downtown Las Vegas on the 4th of July. Walking around at 10 o’clock at night in 100-degree weather with an interesting mix of drunk locals and drunk tourists, watching faux-patriotic America tributes on the overhead Fremont Street Experience screens, while 70-year-old women in bright green halter tops traipsed around with their breasts dangling to their belly buttons.
- Lucking out in both directions and having an empty seat between myself and the Missus on both plane flights. Almost made air travel seem civil again.
- Going to the pool for a dip, then sitting on a chaise lounge and drying off in 15 minutes or less under the broiling Nevada sun.
- Hash House a Go Go. You won’t find this restaurant in the tourist magazines, because it's a good 20 minute drive west of the Strip. We found it on the Food Network or the Travel Channel. This breakfast place has pancakes that are literally larger than an average dinner plate. One pancake can feed two people! Yum!
- Traveling with friends. There’s a caveat to this one. Traveling with friends can be great IF you and your friends are willing to be flexible, and willing to go off and do their own thing. Thankfully, Lori and Randy Bernstein are a wonderful couple for us to travel with. We managed to enjoy each others’ company and share many expenses – Plus - as an added bonus, Randy is a great blackjack coach!
- Multi-hand Deuces Wild draw poker. Nothing beats playing 50 hands at once… especially when you've drawn three 2's in a Deuces Wild game! I even finished ahead while playing it!
- Margaritaville. The weather is here… wish you were beautiful. ‘Nuf said!
- Bette Midler. The Divine Miss M is still belting out her great voice and telling really funny (if old) dirty jokes at the age of 62. God bless her!
- The 6.99 Steak Dinner special at Ellis Island. I had read about this, one of the most notorious cheap food specials left in Las Vegas, for years – but I never had the nerve to actually try it! For 7 bucks, I enjoyed a 10-ounce sirloin, baked potato, green beans, salad and a 20-ounce homebrewed light beer. As I enjoyed my dinner, I was serenaded by the city’s most popular karaoke bar about 25 feet away. Definitely a must-do experience at least once (and perhaps just once) in your life!
- The blackjack dealers at Paris, where we stayed this trip. They were - without exception - friendly and eager to help... rooting us on to beat the casino!
I was NOT crazy about:
- Tipping everyone for everything. Forget gambling… tipping is the biggest industry in Las Vegas. I don’t mind tipping for good service, but sometimes workers conspire to hold you up for money. When we checked out of the hotel, I called for a bellman to come to my room and deliver my bags directly to my rental car. When he arrived, the bellman told me he was not allowed to leave the hotel, so my bags would be delivered to the bell desk, where another bellman would then deliver my luggage to my car. Yes, I tipped twice… Which bellman was I going to screw over?
- Trying to get comps. When one spends four days churning out literally thousands of dollars worth of bets at a casino, he should be able to expect more than $7.28 worth of comps for his trouble. Now that Las Vegas (well, the Strip, anyway) has become a two-player town (Harrah’s and MGM-Mirage own almost everything) , it is nearly impossible to even get a lousy free buffet!
- Having my minivan spat upon by a drunk teenager in a wife-beater, sporting gang tats and carrying a 16-ounce Bud. He was crossing the street downtown against my green light and apparently didn’t appreciate my little horn toot. I didn’t appreciate his DNA soiling my car window. No matter. The spit evaporated in about a minute.
- Having a “low tire pressure” sensor come on in my rented minivan, even though none of the tires looked low at all. The missus insisted on trading in the van for another, even though I was willing to fuggedaboudit.
- Sticking on a soft 18 against a 6, rather than doubling down as I should have. The move, an ill attempt to protect my bankroll, instead cost me more than a hundred bucks. STUPID ME! Textbook blackjack play exists for a reason!
- Hitting on 16 (although I do).
- Staying on 17 against a 10 (although I do).
- The Economy Taking Its Toll. Las Vegas was jammed with visitors over the holiday weekend, but business was noticably off compared to last year, when we also visited for July 4th. Our first two days in town, it was almost quiet in the casinos, and there were notably few table games even open. Traffic on the strip moved at the speed limit, which is NOT a good thing for Vegas. And the most telling sign of the lagging times was at the World Gaming Expo at the Rio resort, home of the World Series of Poker. We stumbled on this free "convention of vices" last year... A convention hall full of poker vendors giving away free playing cards, magazines, coupons for lap dances, alcohol, energy drinks, magazines, poker chips, baseball caps - any and everything related to the world of poker and all FREE! We eagerly planned to go back this year, but we were in and out in less than 15 minutes - and with NONE of the freebies we grabbed last year. There were, at most, one quarter of the vendors we saw in 2007, and the ones that were there were giving away almost nothing. I walked out with 3 magazines and a sample size bottle of sunscreen - and none of it came home with me. Companies that were hoping for exposure last year are now presumably just hoping to survive - if they are still around at all.
All in all, it was another memorable Las Vegas trip! I wish I could say when the next one will be, though... Even if the new job comes through, who knows when fuel prices will drop low enough for me to consider buying tickets to fly out west again! Vegas used to be about 225 dollars round trip, but you'd be pressed to find a fare for less than 450 bucks these days - That's a hell of a lot of money to put up when you've gotta plan to lose even more in the casino!
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I was surprised to find out recently that many, if not most, people I've spoken with had not heard of "Mad Men"... Perhaps because it aired on AMC, and it debuted as a summer series. The show's pedigree is impeccable - it's creator was one of the Executive Producers for "The Sopranos", and you can see some of the same familiar touches. The show has a highly stylized look (1960 modern - just like my living room growing up), and it uses music to make subtle points, just as the Sopranos did.
Check out this clip, then get on Netflix and check it out! You can thank me later.
Season Two begins July 27th, so now is a perfect time for you to get caught up!