Thursday, December 25, 2008

YELP – Mandarin Garden (Pasadena, CA)

Christmas day, you're in the mood for a bite but don't want to even look at the kitchen.  Instead you go with the traditional Xmas alternative, Chinese food.  With a big "Grand Opening" written on the menu, Mandarin Garden touts itself as the "Best Delivery Service in Town".  Feeling adventurous, we braved this unproven establishment. 

As good as some places are ordering delivery can sometimes be a journey fraught with miscommunication, shouting and the wrong food.  Thankfully, putting through our order was easy and painless. 30 to 45 minutes was quoted for delivery.

Here are our culinary choices for the night:

- Egg Rolls
- Egg Flower Soup
- Hot & Sour Soup
- Spareribs Shanghai Style
- Kung Pao Chicken w/ brown rice
- Steamed Dumplings (chicken)
- Crispy Walnut Shrimp

It was barely 30 minutes when we heard the knock on our door.  Everything was exactly what we ordered with some pleasant additions.  Cutlery w/ napkins, sauces (Chili, Hot Mustard, Sweet & Sour), and Crispy Noodles.

Let me start off with the disappointing part... the soups.  I was not a fan of them.  They felt watery and the plastic containers they were in gave a weird aftertaste.  If you do decide to try them you must transfer it to a bowl immediately to minimize the plastic flavor.

Now for the good stuff.... everything else.  The steamed dumplings were HUGE and packed with delicious chicken.  The Kung Pao was filled with good pieces of chicken and slices of onion.  It could have been hotter, but I'm a "chili head" so everything can be turned up a couple of notches.  Walnut Shrimp was great (though I've never had the dish before so I have no point of reference) and the spareribs were tasty.  Also, I ended up eating both bags of the crispy noodles (I might have a problem). 

Overall it hit just the right spot.  The food was steaming hot on arrival, flavorful throughout and large in portion size.  Easy ordering with quick delivery will have me coming back for more.

 

http://www.yelp.com/biz/mandarin-garden-pasadena#hrid:UjevUP_kEGmU6RS6kwXD2g

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

YELP – Thai Taste (Charlotte, NC)

This is the best Thai food in Charlotte.  I repeat.  This is the BEST Thai food in Charlotte. Another one of the "secret" restaurants that you need to be told about it's located in the Dilworth area right next to the popular gift store Paper Skyscraper.  The original and best of several locations (Matthews, University) I went there religiously the entire time I lived in CLT. 

As diverse as their menu was, I only sampled three dishes there Pad Thai, Pad Kee Mao and "House Noodles".  The last one being a specialty that's no longer listed on the menu.  The rating system is 1 to 6 stars and you can even order it with no stars for the scared or gastro-intestinally challenged.  For the true “chili head” you can augment the rating system.  Normally, they use crushed Thai peppers in the food which are still hot but don’t capture the true essence of the “heat” and flavor.  When you’re ready for the big leagues make sure to denote “fresh peppers” when giving them your stars.  The flavor difference is immediately noticeable from the very first bite.

For lunch during the week you need to get there by 11:30am or after 1:00pm unless you want to stand in line for a long time.  The place is popular and regularly packed.  They get all the businesses in the area, the residents of the trendy Dilworth neighborhood and a boatload of cops.  For many (like myself) this place is an addiction and you will see many regulars.

I can’t say enough good things about this place.  When I spent most of ‘07 overseas this was one of the first places I hit upon returning to the States.  Even now, all other Thai places I encounter are measured against Thai Taste.  If you spend any time in the Charlotte area you simply MUST try this restaurant out, you will not be disappointed.

*side note* For the truly adventurous you can go past the 6 star rating, but be prepared for “heat” especially when going the “fresh peppers” route.  Also be aware that anything over 10 stars is a personal challenge to the chef and he will guarantee you feel more heat/pain than you ever have in your life.  Enjoy responsibly.

 

http://www.yelp.com/biz/thai-taste-charlotte#hrid:z1YZ180HVckiRHzh5FOlUA

YELP – Nuart Theatre (Los Angeles, CA)

I had one of the worst movie going experiences ever at this theater.  The night in question was a Q&A session with Bruce Campbell for his new movie "My Name is Bruce."  Sadly the horrible experience started many days before this.

My girl had stumbled upon this special night and wanted to snag some tickets.  She called the theater to confirm that Senor Campbell would indeed be doing the Q&A on this night during this particular viewing.  The guy over the phone was not only rude, but seemed bothered by her attempts to verify facts.  That should have been a warning, but knowing how dorktastic I am she continued procuring the tickets. 

The theater isn’t close (about 20 miles away) so I could only see us going out there for super special occasions such as this one.  3 highways later we finally arrived at the place.  To say the neighborhood looked a little rough is an understatement.  We circled several times looking for parking finally finding a dimly lit corner with no obvious “tow away” signs.

We were the last ones to get our tickets due to the lovely LA highways being a total bitch.  The ticket booth guy was nice and handed us the tickets quickly.  When we got to the front door it was locked.  From the concession stand a large disheveled man stomped toward us like the giant from “Jack & the Beanstalk.”  He opened the door but blocked our way in until we gave him the tickets.  It was a cold night and the least he could have done is let us warm ourselves while handing the tickets over.  It wasn’t like we were going to bum rush him to get into the place.  The entire time it felt like we were inconveniencing him by patronizing the establishment.  After passing the troll we slid into the theater to enjoy the film.

The movie was cheese, as was expected.  The fans were ok.  Some of them asked decent questions, but most of them behaved like they were touched in the head.  I truly feel bad for Bruce.  Once the somewhat depressing Q&A was finished everyone started leaving the theater.  Throngs of people made their way to the entrance so my girl and I patiently waited in our seats.  Just when the crowd began to ebb the same disheveled man got on the microphone barking a harsh “ALL NON-ESSENTIAL PERSONNEL NEED TO LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.”  Some folks giggled thinking he was joking, but soon saw the seriousness of his expression and the seething anger radiating from him.

With such an attitude from the moment we contacted them to the second the movie finished, there is no way in HELL that I’m ever returning to this theater.  They can show all the pretentious art-house crap they want, but I will NEVER spend another dime there.  I’m almost tempted to write off the entire chain, but that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the organization.  With so many entertainment options available, indie film houses need to make themselves as inviting as possible to snag their customers.  This place did it’s damnedest to keep you the away and make you feel like crap.

 

http://www.yelp.com/biz/nuart-theatre-los-angeles-2#hrid:4wWUfiNJhJj5vpJen_aoxw

Thursday, December 18, 2008

YELP – Ru San’s (Charlotte, NC)

This place is not only a good sushi joint, but nonstop fun as well.  In the 4 years I lived in CLT this was one of those places I kept coming back to. 

You have a great dollar sushi menu (try the fried garlic maki), allowing you to sample a wide variety of flavors without breaking the bank.  During the week there's a killer buffet that's always mobbed.  Go early or late to avoid the rush.  Even at the end they're still on top of refreshing the buffet.

Dinner there is always good.  If you decide to do a sake-bomb the entire restaurant cheers you on.  The plum sake if delicious if you want a little sweet in your alcohol.  The tempura is great with a light minimally greasy batter.  Green tea ice cream is a perfect finishing move.

The entire staff (even the chefs) is friendly and attentive.  I can't say enough good things about this place.  My girl and I became regulars early on.

The one bad thing about restaurants in Charlotte is that you have to be told about the good ones.  You really can't drive down a road and "stumble" upon it.  Thankfully our Charlotte "connection" let us in on the Ru San's secret when we first moved there.

Fun, relaxed atmosphere.  Delicious food with a huge selection.  Incredible artwork (made by the owner himself) hanging on the walls.  What more do I have to say?  Get your ass over to Ru San's and have a sake-bomb for me ;)

 

http://www.yelp.com/biz/ru-sans-charlotte#hrid:RC9JPAwy2r7LqogEx_LxvA

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

YELP – Kenny & Ziggy’s Deli (Houston, TX)

The last thing I expected to find in Houston was a little bit of New York.  Going on the suggestion of someone from the client site, I hit up Kenny & Ziggy’s for a late lunch.  Walking in the place is jam packed with NY related memorabilia.  The walls are covered in movie posters (either about NY, set in NY or acted/directed by NYer’s) and Broadway show posters.  A lot of the show posters appeared to be signed by the entire cast.  A nice mix of tables and booths along with your standard issue deli counter.  The menu was MASSIVE in size and selection.  Yiddish was so ingrained into it, that there was a glossary included.  Pickles were waiting for you to nosh on while pouring over the options.

I went with the old stand by, Corn Beef and Pastrami on Rye with some Potato Pierogi.  The monstrously huge thing that came to my table can only technically be considered a sandwich.  Small moon or fully operational space station perhaps, but to call it a sammich would be insulting.  Taking a moment to admire the meat masterpiece, I grabbed the sucker and dug in.  It was a valiant messy effort, but I made it halfway before tossing in the towel.  The leftovers would easily be a dinner later in the week.  The pierogi came in an order of 3.  I had one boiled (never tried that) and two fried.  The fried were delicious and the boiled was interesting.  They all came on a big bowl of fried onion rings with applesauce and sour cream on the side.

The entire lunch was delicious, flavorful and ridiculous in size.  Definitely an unexpected gastronomic treat.  With my Jew-food cravings reignited I’m now on the hunt for a good deli in my hometown.

 

http://www.yelp.com/biz/kenny-and-ziggys-new-york-delicatessen-restaurant-houston#hrid:9rP-wI61eOvx6oyqLm0vmg

Sunday, December 14, 2008

YELP - Dan Thai Review

Being the professional flying monkey that I am, I end up eating at a lot of mediocre chains or crappy local establishments.  As much as I would love to live up to the “jet set” stereotype, a lot of my flying is to places you wouldn’t want to go to. That makes finding a good bite sometimes an impossible task.  Again, you have to set your expectations correctly.

Case in point, Burlington, NC.  Not known for it’s cuisine.  The furniture maybe, but that’s barely edible (though better tasting than some of the stuff I’ve had).  With my expectations correctly set at “craptastic” I tend to stomach my dining options.  Now the cool thing about flying all over god’s creation is that sometimes you find a diamond in the rough.  Either an amazing place that you would fly back to or something so much better than the local fare that it makes your work just a little more bearable.

Thai food is one of those types that all the trendy cities try to have a several restaurants of.  As a rule of thumb, the hotter it is the more I like it.  Let me be clear, I don’t like hot for the sake of hot.  That’s some macho BS peepee contest that I prefer not to engage in.  I’m a fan of ridiculous heat as long as it’s truly enhancing the flavor of the dish.  This is where Thai has become one of my favorite foods.  The inclusion of “fresh” Thai peppers in a dish not only ratchets up the fire factor but adds a whole new layer of complexity to a meal.

Dan Thai is one of those “diamonds” in the rough.  A shining example of great food in an otherwise gastronomic wasteland.  Like most Thai places (or restaurants in this area) it’s located in a strip mall.  The outside looks dismal at best and far from inviting.  Don’t let that fool you.  Once inside the decor is very nice, even approaching “date spot” status.  The staff is very friendly and attentive.  Everyone gets a soup to start which is a good intro to their flavors.  Sometimes I’ve had a clear broth with tofu and a little kick.  Other times it’s a thicker reddish curry that’s tasty and fiery.

My go to dish has always been Pad Kee Mao (a.k.a. Drunken Noodle) but known as Spicy Noodles at this establishment.  I asked for it “Thai Hot” with fresh peppers and they did a good job of accommodating.  All in all, the flavor of the food was great with fresh ingredients coupled with a nice kick.  Not as fiery as I would have liked, but most places take it easy until you become a regular and they know you can handle the dragon.

If you’re ever in this area (and I hope you aren’t) don’t despair.  There’s at least one good Thai place you can find solace in.  A little oasis of flavor in an otherwise dreary little slice of North Carolina.

 

http://www.yelp.com/biz/dan-thai-burlington#hrid:RnKNPsf_UvJH_qha_Nthhg

Sunday, November 2, 2008

To NaNo or not to NaNo

It's that time of year again, when a swarm of potential novelists embark on the mad journey to 50,000 words.  The entire month of November is consumed by rabid word lovers spewing dialogue, descriptions, narrative and plot at blank pages in an attempt to capture the elusive novel.

For those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, it started ten years ago as a lark by several friends.  The "dare" to write a 50,000 word novel in the span of 30 days.  From that little idea it's blossomed into a global phenomenon with over 1000,000 participants.  I've been participating in this insane event since 2004.  I haven't "won" yet (a win is reaching the 50K word goal), but I still continue to swim upstream.

The issue I constantly encounter is that my Novembers are always ridiculously busy.  Q4 may be slow in some sectors, but for me a ton of moola is made in the last two quarters of the year.  Because of this, I tend to be busier than a one legged man in an ass kicking contest.  This November I'm bouncing coast to coast on a weekly basis to work 3rd shift on a project.  I barely have time for daylight hours, let alone cranking out almost 2000 words a day.

As you can already tell from the word count on my blog, reaching 1000 words a day no matter what time of the year has been a pain.  I would like to put a serious effort toward NaNoWriMo.  Hell, I would like to put a serious effort toward writing a novel.  Its just frustrating that life has a tendency of overbooking itself.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

For the first time in years

Everything I own is under one roof.  No more storage units, multiple apartments in different states/countries or any other sort of geographically dispersed configuration.  All of our things are now situated in California in one huge pile in the middle of our living room.

Having lived a rather spartan existence for several years now, its shocking to see just how much crap we have still clung to.  Some of it for sentimental reasons, some due to lack of time to sort through it and others we forgot we had.   In the grand scheme of things we really don’t have that many possessions, especially since our furniture is almost nonexistent.  That being said, it’s still a lot when compared to the gypsy way we’ve been living the past 4 years.

The nonstop stress surrounding this coast to coast move has finally drained out of me, leaving me sluggish and weary.  The anticipation of the event along with the bucket of worry that is thrown into any move, had me wound tight for several weeks.  Now there’s nothing left to do but settle in, which thankfully is a low key activity.

Speaking of which, I’ve been here a week and am already digging it.  The weather and a lot of the neighborhoods remind me heavily of Miami, specifically South Beach.  That’s a very cool vibe to have.  Our pad is within walking distance of a metric ass-ton of things to do and/or eat.  Which not only saves on gas, but helps prevent us from becoming corpulent porpoises.  I have some high hopes for this new chapter in our lives.  It’s going to be nice to have a place that feels like home again as opposed to a glorified hotel.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Is it an unwritten law?

That whenever you get into a moving truck the radio is always on classic rock?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Harry Dresden Series

Let me start off by saying, my first exposure to Harry Dresden was from the short lived television series on the Sci-Fi channel.  I know people are polarized on the quality of that series, but it’s what drew me in.  I love the juxtaposition of magic with a modern day world.  Other than the TV series, the only time I heard about Harry Dresden was from the IMDB trivia for the movie “The Prestige”.  No matter what your opinion, Sci-Fi provided the gateway drug that led me to the harder stuff… novels.

For those unfamiliar with the series, here’s the basic premise: 

“The Dresden Files are set in a "alternate" Chicago where magic is real, but only a few actually believe in it; it's a first-person tale told by an irascible wizard named Harry Dresden, who regularly gives the magical establishment indigestion — and the police, the same. Take Sam Spade, your Average Joe Underdog Action Star, and toss in some spellcraft, and you get Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Heck of a guy.” - from Jim Butcher’s website

In roughly two months I’ve chewed through all ten of the currently available Dresden File novels.  I haven’t had this kind of passion for a series since I was a kid reading Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” books.  Even then the books had an ever changing roster of characters to keep things fresh and interesting.  The Dresden Files focuses on just one man.  He may have friends and adversaries that are accumulated along the way, but it’s always about him.  To maintain that level of character development, further deepening the emotional ties between reader and protagonist, all while staying true to the core values of the character, is an amazing literary feat. 

One thing I like is the first person narrative.  The books I tend to read aren’t usually written in that manner.  For me it really added to the “gumshoe" feel the first couple of books had.  The wit and humor of the character comes through well in that voice. 

Another thing I've enjoyed is the way that decisions have consequences in these tales.  Not trite, meaningless consequences, but serious life altering events that sometimes don't show up until several books later.  His decisions are always true to his values and even though their repercussions might be severe, to do anything else would make him less of who he is.  It steeps the world in a moral reality that is tangible.  

The metaplot continues to ensnare, working it’s way incrementally through the books hinting at what it will blossom into.  It keeps the series from being a string of one-shots and molds it into an overall narrative.  Looking back at it, some of the occurrences in the books feel like chess moves slowly positioning themselves around a plan 10 steps ahead of what you’re reading.

Even with all these spinning plates, the pacing is fantastic.  Never once did I find parts dragging or dull.  If anything, there’s never a chance for Harry (or yourself) to catch a breath.   Dialogue’s great, action’s intense and the flow is superb.  Butcher improves with each books he produces, only further refining the quality of his tales.

I can’t recommend these books enough.  They’re solid, well done and not one of those “strong willed female protagonist against supernatural forces” hacks that seem to be clogging the horror/fantasy shelves these days (I’m looking at you Laurell K. Hamilton).  I can’t wait for more additions to the series.  Jim Butcher has confessed to having enough material to take it to the mid twenties.  I hope that’s true because I will be sad once this ride comes to an end.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Food Induced Coma

Of all the places I've traveled to, the DC area is one where I've kept the most friends.  The first time I was ever there, beginning of '07, I became buddies with a phenomenal chef named Andrew Markert.  When I returned in August of that same year, I met Scott and Jenn.  Through the magic of the Internet (and Facebook) I’ve luckily been able to keep in touch with them all.

Since I knew I was going to be spending two weeks back in their neck of the woods, I made sure to call them up.  Andrew recently became the new executive chef at a restaurant named Tallula.  Looking to kill several birds with a stone, I invited Scott and Jenn to Tallula in order to sample Andrew’s new menu.  The last time I tried his tasting’s menu was when he was chef de cuisine at Vermillion. My girl and I went into a food coma after finishing.  It was the first time I felt drunk off of food.  Needless to say, I was looking forward to his new menu.

Tallula - Tastings Menu

Scott and Jenn picked me up from my hotel and we shot down to DC.  As some of you may know, DC is a bitch to get around.  One wrong turn and the spider web of one-way streets would divert you from your destination for miles.  Let’s just say we made a couple of wrong turns.  I blame the GPS and its posh British accent. 

When we finally arrived the place was in full swing, enjoying the hustle and bustle of a Friday night.  Our reservation was for the “Chef’s Counter” which gave us an up close view of the kitchen’s inner workings.  It also allowed us to chat with Andrew as he went around being “executive”.  Waiting by our place settings was a printed copy of the evening’s menu (shown right).  Each course was one or two dishes along with a wine pairing.  We didn’t know who was going to get what, but since we’re all relatively germ free we decided to share.

I’ve always wanted to get deeper into wines, but without all the bullshit pretentiousness.  I wanted to experience aromas and flavors because I could, not because they were written on the side of a label.  Surprisingly, the wine pairings were a meal unto themselves.  The complexity and uniqueness of the wines not only complimented the flavors of the dishes but opened up my concept of what wine could taste like.

All in all, the meal was fantastic.  Great company, delicious food and lots of wine made for a memorable evening.  After our bellies were full with all these delights, Andrew gave us a tour of the kitchen.  Massive wheels of foreign cheese filled a walk in freezer alongside assorted meats, mushrooms and an entire pig.  Then we were shown the meat room where they cure their own salami’s and meats.

Andrew had a child like grin while showing off this last place.  I’ve never seen anyone so happy about a room of hanging meat.  We returned to our seats and continued chatting for a bit.  We finished our wine while he started in on pints (and I do mean pints) of vodka/tonic.  When you’re 6’7” a rocks glass just isn’t going to cut it.

We took some pictures, but because I forgot my camera and they had the wrong lens we only snapped a couple of slightly fuzzy ones.  The one crappy part of the evening was the fact that my girl wasn’t there to join us.  In her defense she was stuck in the Philippines over 8000 miles away.  We did tip our glasses in her honor and I promised the next time I would be in town, I’d drag her with me.

It was really good seeing everyone again.  With as much traveling as I do and the myriad number of places I’ve lived, it’s hard to keep friends.  When you do bump into good people you tend to collect them like rare pieces of art.  Sometimes they get lost in the shuffle, but the few that remain in your grasp become that much more precious.

Beginning of September I’m supposed to return, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet.  If I do, I’ll have to repeat this gastronomic experience with my lady, now that she has returned to civilization.

Anti-Male

Humans in general are tribal animals.  We look to find others similar to ourselves, searching for that comfort and sense of belonging.  Gangs, high school cliques, professional associations and secret societies are all examples of our desire for safety in numbers of like minded individuals. 

Now imagine the other  end of the spectrum.  Encountering someone who is the antithesis of what you are.  Someone who resonates at an exactly opposite frequency.  I recently had the pleasure (or is it unpleasure?) of meeting that person.

Let me preface my comments with the following: he is a nice guy and I don't harbor him any ill will.  My critique of him is not so much a put down or chastising but an observation of human characteristics. 

My ideas and values of manhood stem from my father (as they usually tend to in our culture).  I absorbed them not only through his words but his actions.  For me, a man is someone who is ambitious, works hard, has strength of will and lives life with a fiery passion.  Passion is especially important.  To live a life devoid of it, is to curse yourself to a bland milk toast existence fueled by the crumbs of true experience.  When it comes to my male friends they typically fall into the "alpha male" crowd.  This stems not from a desire for macho bullshit, but because passion and aggression are normal traits of this group.  Even if opinions differ they are held with a steely determination that I can respect.

With that in mind, let me bring you to the events of several weeks ago.  While up in the Maryland area, I hung out with a friend of mine from DC.  She had been a bartender when I met her and we kept in touch after my project finished.  When she heard I was in town, we made plans to hit a reggae show and swing by a jazz club she was working at.  Before we could kick off the night's festivities, we needed to swing by her place so she could top up on food and cash.  Her apartment is a cool little spot that she shares with her boyfriend. 

I had met him once or twice before, when I first hung out with her.  He never really made an impression because there was never anything impressionable about him.  It wasn't so much that he was laid back as that he was beige.  All those times had been in public settings so there was at least a modicum of effort being made.  This time, I was delving into the lair of the beast.  No pretenses, no airs, just raw unfiltered him.  His girl played the good host while he sucked oxygen out of the room.  I tried engaging him in light conversation, but it never went anywhere.  I tried all the tricks, from picking subjects related to things he had in the home to current political events (a popular go to method in DC) to recent movies.  Eventually silence was less painful than trying to pull anything out of him.

Finally, we were ready to hit the show and on our way out.  As we're leaving he gives his girl a kiss goodbye.  I turned my head, not out of politeness (I grew up in a Hispanic household. Kissing hello and goodbye is a way of life) but out of discomfort.  What should have been a warm display of affection was instead an awkward motion done out of habit.  It lacked even an ounce of passion in its inflection.  At that very moment is when I dubbed him the "anti male".  

He existed in a polar opposite to my wavelength.  No ambition, no drive, did enough to get by, and completely without passion.  Even in the subjects that were his "favorite" there was no spark, no light in his eyes.  Living like that would be my own personal hell, a breathing functioning zombie shambling through life never truly ever tasting it.

She's been with him for a while so I hope that he reserves his passion for her in private, but if this is the way he is throughout his being then I have no idea how she endures it. 

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

I just finished watching the third act in this very interesting side project by Joss Whedon.  Originally conceived during downtime from the writer’s strike, this musical is an experiment in distribution (Internet) and delivering quality without serious expense. 

In essence it’s a throw away side project, a “what if” made real.  What surprised me was the emotional impact at the end of the 3rd act.  The characters are really fleshed out for only three 15 minute episodes and they just draw you in.  So when everything falls into place in the last episode, you don’t notice the hidden emotional “punch” till its smacked you upside the head.

This not only made me appreciate the show more, but made me reflect on the power of the short story.  It’s not a format that is financially viable for most writers yet when used properly can have as much of an impact as a novel.  Sometimes even more impact because the points made are sharper, more raw and less encumbered by prose.  You can see it plainly in the furious discussions between fans of this series.

I’ve had a hard time getting underway with my writing goal and in conceiving of novel-esque ideas.  But after seeing a short story executed so well, I think I may have to dip back in those waters.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wordle?

I stumbled upon this site from a writing technology blog I hit every so often.  It creates a nifty Web 2.0 style word cloud out of any RSS feed or block of text you give it.  For shits and giggles, I popped in my RSS feed and here’s a couple I came up with:

Gabu-kun Wordle 07-11-08_resize

Gabu-kun Wordle 07-11-08 #2

I get the feeling I might be writing a lot about books, reading & writing… hmm….

There she goes…

June was the month of death by apathy.  July seems to be the explosive change month. 

Pieces I’ve been personally waiting to fall into place, not only fell, but are slamming several layers deep into the Earth’s crust from orbit.  I’m undergoing some intense career related and personal direction changes to say the least.  Getting more of a grip on where I want my life to go, as opposed to just trying to hold onto the bucking bronco.  

Ra’s career has suddenly exploded in the same manner.  Just today I dropped her off at the airport for a two month internship she’ll be doing in Cebu, Philippines.  Yup, the fucking Philippines.  She’ll be working on the set of an ongoing movie in production and post-production capacities.  On top of that, she’ll be working with Fashion TV Asia.  There’s also a film school there where she can partake of classes and workshops on her non production days.  And if that’s not enough, she’ll be training for underwater photo shoots/movie work. Of course this will all occur in tropical weather with lush beaches.  Nope, I’m not jealous in the least.

These are some of the examples of the radical change our lives are undergoing.  Positive, much needed and in the right direction, but very intense with no signs of letting up.  Frankly we thrive on challenge.  If I’m not under pressure then I’m bored.  Ra’s a workhorse to a ridiculous degree.  I honestly believe she could physically give 110%.

We’re all for challenging activity over mind numbing lulls.  This is also the beginning, since other phases of plan “kick ass and take names” haven’t started yet.  All in all, 2008 started with a whimper but is looking to end with one hell of a bang.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

June is still a pain in my ass

More so than any other month this year, June has been consistently difficult in many ways.  This isn’t the difficulty of a challenging project, but almost like my ability to live a normal life is being stymied.  It feels like death from inertia.  I’m stalled and can’t get going.

My motivation to pursue goals has been sapped from my bones.  Ninety percent of all interactions with my girl end up in misunderstandings or conflict.  Work is work with an extra dose of bleh.  It’s almost as if all my internal wiring is crossed.  Thankfully it will be over soon.  My only concern is that some of this crap spills over into July.  That would really piss me off to no end.

Its even a chore whipping up a dismal little post such as this.  I haven’t had the urge to finish my TMBG concert post or pursue my story ideas or anything.  I read a couple of books, but even that hasn’t sparked any mental juices.  This lull has been professional, personal, mental, physical and spiritual.  Frickin’ jacked from all angles with no relief in sight.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I just read a bad book

Every so often I come across a book that makes me say aloud while reading “I could do better.”    Book One in the Anita Baker series, “Guilty Pleasures” by Laurell K. Hamilton is one of those.  I’m not even going to link to it because I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone.

First let me say two things.  One, this post will probably contain spoilers for those interested in the series.  Two, I’m not a published author so I technically don’t have a leg to stand on in that respect, but I am a consumer of written materials so my criticism stems from being an unsatisfied customer.

Let’s start with the length of the book.  Barely over 250 pages its definitely light reading.  I find the Jim Butcher “Dresden” series to be enjoyable popcorn books (similar to popcorn flicks) but even those are respectably over 300 pages. Not to mention better in many more ways.  Also, the events in the book occur over the course of basically 72 hours.  To have that much bullshit jam packed into three days is crap. 

Characterization in this book is flimsy at best.  We spend more time reading about what characters are wearing than seeing any action from them or dialogue that reveals them in any real fashion.  Anita Baker is the stereotypical tough “short chick.”  Even with a first person narrative you really don’t get a sense of her.

Motivation is also another issue.  Actually, a HUGE issue.  This is a book about vampires, werewolves and all that bump in the night shit.  Suspense of disbelief is de facto with this genre, but when even in these situations you’re wondering what the fuck is this character thinking, you have problems.  Anita really doesn’t do anything of her own volition.  She rolls with the punches and barrels ahead with no real thinking.  The book is painfully plot driven.  At one point the phone rings and she jets off to put a zombie back in the grave, instead of formulating a plan of attack to kill the 1000 year old vampire that’s after her.  Her excuse to perform this ritual is so paper thin it hurts.  Its just an excuse for the author to put her in another “situation” that she needs to get herself out of.  Very very lame. 

Even one of the main traits of this character is brushed off at the end.  From the very beginning of the book we see Anita rail against mind control.  She has an intense fear of it as is shown throughout the book, YET at the end of the story she lets the one vampire that is actually infiltrating her mind live.  Intense pathological fear that gives her the willpower to resist it most of the time and she lets the one that CAN invade her mind live cause he’s a lace wearing frilly pretty boy. Nice.

The final showdown was disappointing as hell too.  Anti climactic to a T.  You think a 1000 year old vampire would A, fight a hell of a lot harder and B, not be such a 1 dimensional “sadistic child” character.  We get that she’s a child bride figure.  It’s written almost every time the character appears.  We get the fucking point, but it seems that the author forgot that the child bride deal was supposed to be a facade for the vampire.  You don’t live 1000 years by being a petulant child, you accomplish that by being a ruthless cold blooded motherfucking killer with Machiavellian skills.  How did this temper tantrum throwing little bitch become a master vampire of St. Louis? 

The more scrutiny the book is under the more it falls apart, which is sad.  I was looking for a good supernatural series in an Anne Rice sort of vein.  Instead I get this weak attempt at a narrative that might get better for the first couple of books, but which devolves into thinly veiled pornographic romps with nightmare creatures.  C’mon, Anne Rice’s sex was erotic not Skinamax.  I’m not willing to invest any more time in a series that might be ok for 3 or 4 books but slide into shit (as per what many of the reviews have said).

It was like a bad film, not B movie or campy enough to be amusing.  All it did was leave me unfulfilled and wanting my money back.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Joys of Technology

Allow me to get a little nerdy here.  Digging through my storage I stumbled upon one of my first laptops, an eMachine M6805.  I decided to pull it out and use it for a pet project, namely a Kubuntu installation.  With a 64 bit AMD chip and 1.25 GB of RAM it’s a solid little machine for being several years old.

In a former life it been my test bed for Vista.  The logic behind that was if it ran well on this it should run well on any newer hardware I acquire.  Not to mention, my main machine was running XP SP2 at the time and I wasn’t inclined to screw with it.

Being the thorough geek that I am, I do a little googling* before slapping Linux on it.  My research proved to be fruitful and I discovered an issue with the older BIOS firmware.  Thankfully a simple upgrade would resolve it.  Well, I thought it would be simple at the time.  Like I said, it was my Vista test bed, so that damn bloated OS was still running on this puppy.  I downloaded the BIOS update and tried to run it.  No dice. Then I went and tried some of the tricks that Vista is supposed to have under it’s hood (running in XP compatibility mode, turning off DEP, running as an Administrator, etc).  Nothing worked.  Not a single damn thing I tried would allow this update to run.

At that point I just had to laugh.  In order to install Linux I would have to install XP.  The fact that Vista couldn’t perform a simple BIOS update was just hilarious.  The more I play with Microsoft’s newest toy, the more convinced I am it’s just a pig in a dress.  Same old stinky shit (a little worse for wear in my opinion) with some pretty trappings to hide the hideousness.  In the very near future Linux will successfully pass the “grandma test” and once it does those cats in Redmond are going to be in for a rude awakening.

Thank you for indulging my very dorky bitching about M$.

 

* I didn’t believe it either, but this is now in the dictionary.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Books about Writing

Getting back into reading on a regular basis was easier than expected.  It also made me realize just how much I truly missed reading.  I haven’t regularly read books in years which is sad when considering that reading was one of my greatest joys while growing up. 

I recently picked up a bunch of books at once.  A mixture of “writing” books and fiction.  I’ve devoured four so far, which is a pretty good start.  My first conquest was “Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers” by Lawrence Block.  As I’ve mentioned before the moment I finished it I wanted to re-read it, that’s how good it was.  Had that been the only book acquired I would probably be on my 5th read through by now. 

The second book I read was “Storm Front” by Jim Butcher.  I’m a fan of the short lived TV show The Dresden Files so moving onto the source material wasn’t a far leap. It was a quick read and more a popcorn book than anything, but the attempt at a hard-boiled detective novel mashed up with magic in the modern world was catchy.  I’m definitely picking up more in that series.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield was the third.  A little arty like “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg yet it had some interesting insights.  Ones that took me by surprise and rang true.  There are some nuggets of wisdom to be found in this one.

Lastly, I just finished “On Writing” by Stephen King.  Since I was a kid he’s been one of my favorite authors.  Not everything in his vast catalog is good, but a majority of them have been and a few of them have been amazing.  Say what you may about the subject matter, the man is an expert storyteller weaving complex narratives effortlessly.  “It” is a perfect example of that.

Of the “writing” books I’ve read the two that have been the most useful are Block’s and King’s.  Both of them detail the nuts and bolts of the writing profession.  The reality of a writer’s life as opposed to the popular fantasy.  They also both espouse several axioms of the writing craft. 

1. In order to be a good writer you must be a voracious reader.

2. Output is crucial to writing.  The more you writer the better you’ll be.

3. Dedication is not the only thing necessary to become a writer, but it is crucial to being a successful one.

4. You must love what you write or else there’s no point in doing it.

A corollary to #4 would be “Write what you know” also known as “Write the truth”.

On a funny side note, King mentions that his daily writing goal is 2000 words a day and that a beginning writer should aim for at least 1000.  Glad to see I wasn’t too far off the mark in my initial thinking.  He also recommends the aspiring author take a day off which I haven’t included in my challenge, but still sounds like good advice.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Which thread to pull?

I’ve been playing with a mind mapping application, trying to organize some of the story ideas I have floating around.  They all have a common root with different facets of the theme.  A couple of the ideas are leftovers from previous NaNoWriMo attempts.  Half assembled, barely cooked, but with plenty of potential.  A couple are much older ideas that keep rattling around never getting past the initial concept phase.  Only one is a recent addition to the pile.

I definitely need a point of focus in order to pour all my writing energy into or else 1000 words a day will just collapse on itself.  I’m woefully behind, but I can catch up.  I just need the foundation to build upon.

Which leads me to my current situation.  Staring at a mind map looking at 6 ideas each glistening with possibility.  All enticing yet none really calling my attention.  The one plus is all this pondering is allowing me to enjoy a 9 Lazy 9 album I snagged.  New discovery for me chocked full of the noise I like.

Of course I’m juggling work emails/responsibilities at the same time.  Multi tasking may be the way of the future, but its giving me a wicked case of ADD.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why 1000 words a day?

When sharing my frustrations with my girl last night she asked me “Why did you make it 1000 words a day?”  Since those reading this blog might have the same question, I decided to answer it with a post.

1000 words a days is not a completely arbitrary number.  Yes it’s even and round which makes it appealing, but that’s not the only rational.  If I had went for something as measly as 300 words a day, I could have achieved that scrawling on cocktail napkins in a bar.  That would not have made me a better writer.  Same goes for 500 words a day.  Its a better goal, but still not pushing it and definitely bush league. 

With 1000 words a day as my goal I feel like that is a good start for the type of output a professional writer is required to produce in order to keep on track.  Granted, professional writers probably churn out a hell of a lot more than 1000 words per day, but for me it is the entry level requirement.  If I can achieve this then I can begin to seriously consider full time writing as an option.  Until then, it’s just a fantasy.

That’s another reason why I’m shying away from stream of consciousness writing in my posts or stories.  I need to produce the kind of writing that can be molded into readable material, not an overflowing spout of pointless drivel aimed at a word count.  Everything I’m writing is something that another person can read.  Whether or not it’s any good or enjoyable is a different story, but it is definitely readable. 

There are several authors these days that thankfully are a source of inspiration in my endeavor.  Wil Wheaton for his easy to read style that just brings you into the story.  He’s one of the first to make me seriously consider putting more effort into my writing.  John Scalzi for his nonstop output both in books and his blog.  Also easy to read, pulling you into his world be it through post or a story.  Neil Gaiman who’s amazing worlds continue to ensnare me.  American Gods, MirrorMask, Stardust… need I say more?  The one quality that ALL these great authors share is that they are approachable and normal.  They don’t spew prose from an ivory tower.  They don’t boast their accomplishments while crushing others.  They are normal everyday folks weaving tales for a living while still being firmly grounded individuals.  That sort of accessibility is what draws me to them even more and keeps me drinking from their kool-aid. 

I would love to join their ranks one day.  To me this self imposed challenge is the first step in that journey. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

June has been a rough month

For reasons I still don’t understand, June has been an uphill battle.  All my actions, thoughts and movements feel like they’re being done under water.  Constant friction in everything I do.  Even with a new bed (which is oh so lovely) waking up has become infinitely more difficult.

My word challenge has been going poorly, which is obvious from the chart on the left.  I’m very far away from target.  Posts alone will not help me reach it.  Unless I put my effort toward a novel or novella it will be a lost cause.  Then again it would help if I had an idea for any story, let alone a novel length one.  I tried writing a conversation between characters recently and that was downright painful.

As with any new endeavor you have the initial barriers.  Once I break through these it should be smoother sailing. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I vomit words at the screen

Writing a thousand words a day is a bitch.  Hell, writing even a hundred words on a daily basis is a pain.  Writing is one of those few things that so many aspire to do, yet is a chore most of the time.  On a good day I’ll hammer out a thousand words of something worth reading in around an hour.  No stream of conscious cop outs, no incoherent babbling.  When I write something I want to be able to share it with others and at least be willing to admit I created it.

One thousand words in an hour is about 16.6 words a minute.  That’s easy to hit if you’re transcribing something or not worried about the words making any sense.  As soon as readability is thrown into the mix it gets exponentially harder.  One thing I’m beginning to grudgingly admit is that if I’m going to make this goal, I need to read a lot more.  Only when I add more ingredients to the soup will I produce something with flavor. 

I just finished “Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers” which was a fantastic read.  Actually, the moment I was done I wanted to read it again from the beginning.  The writing style is easy to follow, the advice solid with no mumbo jumbo or “hidden” tips.  At the core of it all, a writer just needs to write.  And one of the ways to become a prolific writer is to be a voracious reader.  I can tie my largest spurts of production when I was younger to my insatiable hunger for the written word.  As real life slowly creeped into the mix, a career, responsibilities, etc, I found myself with no time to read.  It had been at least a year since I picked up a book when I started up again in London. 

I’m not going to overdose on “writing” books so I’ve switched to a fantasy title, the first Dresden File book by Jim Butcher.  I may not make a thousand words each day, but I do have an overall total of 365,000 words in one year.  Hopefully, I’ll pick up the slack here and there to make up for the gaps.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cuba Libre

Last night my girl and I hit an Afro-Cuban concert by Jose Conde y Ola Fresca at the Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa.  This was the last thing I expected to come through Charlotte, so I was incredibly surprised when she told me about it.   image0-1

NoDa is very similar to Coconut Grove for those familiar with Miami.  It's a cool spot people flock to surrounded by neighborhoods of questionable pedigree.  We made sure that directions were printed going to and from this theater.  With Charlotte's propensity to change road names and the bevy of one way streets in that area, we couldn't be too careful. 

Finding the place was no problem and we explored the area having arrived so early.  By happy coincidence we drove by a vintage shop a friend of ours owns called The Rat's Nest.  I say coincidence because every time we had previously gone to this place was at night, following someone else and a little tipsy.  We stopped by to chat, having not seen her in well over a year.  While shooting the shit customers came and went.  One pair piqued our interest due to the girl having a very nice tattoo on her shoulder.  Ra complimented her on it and we all began talking.  Seems this couple had just recently moved up from Miami.  We told them about the show we were going to see, suggesting they swing by as well. 

Saying goodbye to the Rat's Nest, we grabbed our tickets for the show and wandered around looking for a quick bite.  Bellies filled with Boar's Head sandwiches we ambled back to the theater.  The crowed was a healthy mix of all demographics.  Old, young, latin,white, black and then some.  Even though it may be odd to say, it was a refreshing change of pace going to a public show where everyone wanted to enjoy it.  Too many times things like this (or movies, festivals, etc) are ruined by obnoxious fuckers who paid to get in, but completely disregard the event.  I still don't understand that mind set, but that's another post altogether.

In typical fashion it started half an hour late (which is actually early in Cuban time).  They kicked it off with a strong intensity which carried through the entire night, even in their softer paced songs.  Everyone was really into the vibe, all jamming to the music in their own way.  Some seated, some standing and some tearing it up with their dance partners.

The energy from the crowd, rhythms filling the air, bodies on the dance floor caught up in the moment.  Savoring it all I realized just how much I miss Miami.  Not the place as much as the feel of it.  The heat, the Caribbean flavor, the joie de vivre unlike anywhere else.  At the same time I was sad.  Here I am a painfully un-latin Cuban far removed from my cultural roots.  My spanish is rusty, my dancing is rusty, my homeland ties tenuous at best.  As much as I was loving their incredible performance, it made me keenly aware how incomplete I felt.  Made me think of how the embargo might not lift in time for me to be able to visit Cuba with my father.  How with the passing of my grandmother there are pieces of my history I will never know, whole sections of family lost to her memory. 

Cuban-Americans are a displaced people and I should be used to these feelings, but it doesn't make it any easier to bear.  With every passing year I feel less and less of my heritage being a part of what makes me who I am.  This erosion slips subtly under my perception, its full extent revealed only when I look inward.  My life is a good one filled with love and success, but this pain I feel is in my blood.  I don't want to become a diluted caricature claiming a background I scarcely understand.  The symptoms of this occurring are tangible and my fear of it coming to pass genuine.

Since leaving South Florida, the only time I've felt that same flavor was when hanging out with the Columbians in Windsor.  That warmth and acceptance made me feel at home.  Made me comfortable in my old mannerisms, ones that I had to suppress in our less boisterous, less touchy, colder surroundings.  In no other place outside of SoFla had we encountered a pocket of heat like that.  I find it funny we had to cross the Atlantic to find it.

Introspection aside, the night was fantastic.  We bumped into the Miami couple during a break.  One a New Yorker, the other Columbian we were chatting away like old friends.  While leaving the venue they convinced us to have one last drink, unwilling to relinquish their newfound compatriots.  Drinks were imbibed, hands flying wildly as we shared our tales.  Even though geographically they're a little outside our realm (Concord) it'll be cool to have a liked minded young couple to hang out with.  Our last young couple divorced rather messily leaving a gap we have yet to fill.

I picked up a shirt (5 bucks for American Apparel is a steal) and a CD.  Normally I'm not one to purchase CD's but knowing the proceeds went straight to the band removed any qualms I had.  This kind of multicultural flavor is something Charlotte will need to embrace more heavily as it grows into the hot spot it wants to be.  Hopefully this is part of a larger trend and not only limited to the freaky deaky parts of town.

Friday, May 30, 2008

One sentence to get me started

One of the weird ways my writing works is that a single sentence can spawn an entire post, short story or even novella.  A lot of times this is some of my best writing, filled with an energy fueled by the muse briefly visiting me.  If I keep churning the creative pot these sentences bubble to the surface more often.  When I don't flex my mental muscles they are as common as unicorns.

One of my last posts was spawned from "a towheaded Englishman stuck in our sub-tropic land" which actually came from an un-posted piece I wrote because "my first girlfriend, who was a bit of a fag hag..." popped into my head while showering.

A piece I wrote a while back sprung to fruition from "and then I woke up."  I'm still debating whether or not to put that one up.  I would love for it to be published but have no idea where to submit it.  Hopefully the 1000 word a day challenge will keep the kettle boiling with ideas, making these one sentence wonders a more frequent occurrence. 

Thursday, May 29, 2008

B-Day Wrap Up

Yesterday went just as well as I had hoped.  Low key, fun and with a couple of nice surprises. 

As per usual, my girl baked an incredible cake.  Not only was it a giant cupcake cake, but there was an assortment of chocolate star cakes all around it, each one filled with candy. 

DSCF1437

And here it is after I blew out all the candles.  I truly am one lucky SOB.

DSCF1444 

My B-day lunch was good with at least one surprise guest, Gimpus Maximus.  Playing catch up with some of them I realized that several people thought I was still in the UK.  My last gig was back in March, but I guess the word hasn't gotten around yet.  Being mostly work colleagues it was a mellow affair.  Thankfully my half of the table was where all the deviants and non-work folks were.  Much more interesting conversations.

Dinner was even better.  Girlie and I went out to McCormick & Schmick's.  Since she had booked the reservation via OpenTable the restaurant was aware of my birthday.   Being our first time to this place we didn't know that they printed the menus twice a day (once for lunch, once for dinner).  What was especially cool about this was that the menus they gave us wished me a happy birthday =)

The meal itself was amazing.  I tried Halibut and Chilean Sea Bass for the first time.  Everything tasted incredible and one of the managers gave us free desert in honor of my day.  Overall the experience was superb.  I'm looking forward to coming back for future date nights with the misses.

As if the day couldn't get any better, my lovely wife gave me one hell of a surprise gift.  Delving deep into my interests she pulled out a left field gift that was 50% awesome and 50% unexpected.  In the very near future I will experience a live performance by THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS!  Yes, being excited about that makes me a super duper mega nerd, but I don't give a shit.  I've been listening to them since I first encountered them in High school and Tiny Toons.  

For those with no idea what I mean by that last comment check out the following:

Particle Man
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnUXZlatV6Y

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsQrKZcYtqg

I had a wonderful day, some twists and a spectacular lady to make it truly memorable. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Today is my "golden birthday"

For those unfamiliar with the term, a "golden birthday" is when the person turns the age of the day they were born.  In my case, I'm turning 28 on the 28th.  Even though the timing is special, I'm taking a laid back approach to the day.  Around the same time last year I had a going away/B-day party at Ru San's put together by my lovely lady.  It was a ton of fun culminating with non-stop dancing at the aptly named 80's club "The Breakfast Club".  A lot has changed since then and we've been through the ringer several times as well, so all I want for this birthday is something low key. 

What I will do to commemorate the special day is set a goal for my next year of living.  Work, life, time and a myriad of other excuses have been used for my procrastination with writing.  Even though my day to day is of a technical nature, my true love has always been the written word.  Fearing abject poverty and hunger, I never pursued it as a viable career.  Yet I honestly feel unfulfilled by not exercising my right brain instincts. 

With that in mind, I have challenged myself to write at least 1000 words per day for an entire year.  A total of 365,000 words from birthday to birthday.  Either posted or written privately, I need to keep up this level of output just to prove to myself that I have it in me. 

This is the first time I've ever attempted this sort of thing.  All my fingers and toes are crossed in anticipation.  I have a year of possibility waiting ahead.  Wish me luck ;)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I reminisce for a spell, or shall I say think back...

Growing up in Miami you encounter a lot of flotsam.  This nonstop playground had an incredibly transient nature to it.  People from all over the world and all walks of life flocked to it seeking a taste of its foretold treasures.  One particular piece of debris I had the pleasure of encountering was a towheaded Englishman stuck in our sub-tropic land.  His holiday excursion turned into an illegal residence due to a combination of feminine wiles and insufficient funds.  Trapped in a cage of his own devising, he slept on his girl's couch while working under the table Mexican style jobs.  I first met him at a local pool hall I worked at.  He was inebriated, as were most of our patrons, dipping frequently into the well whiskey affectionately referred to as rotgut.  Being the Londoner he was, walking long distances in this state was not uncommon.  What he failed to realize was that it was exceedingly dangerous in this new land.  If it wasn't the pedestrian unfriendly neighborhood designs, it was the bevy of unsavory characters waiting to exploit debilitated people wandering around in the AM's.  After relaying to me a tale in which he was almost "cruised" the last time he staggered home, I offered to give him a ride.  Chatting while driving we became fast friends.

At the time his circle of friends was limited to the girl who's couch he surfed, her mom, and the guys at his short order cook gig.  With me as his guide, we dived into the late 90's South Florida club scene.  The Brit and the Cuban were an interesting pair trying out our tricks on an unsuspecting populace.  His bowler hat and accent, my club kid clothes and piercing's.  The surreal nature of our nights often extended past our obvious juxtaposition.  Drug dealers with Dalmatian seat cover pimp suits, nymphomaniac Nicaraguan sisters, more lesbians than you can shake a stick at.  Our drunken mood altered evenings were memorable to say the least.  Even when the clubs grew stale we continued exploring the nooks and crannies of the nightlife.  A country dive bar hidden in a strip mall was a frequent resting place along with the adventure starting pool hall.  Sometimes we'd gather other soldiers attacking late night eateries with ravenous hunger and painfully inappropriate conversation laced with chocolate chip pancakes.  Our friendship began to fade as his attachment to the owner of the couch increased.  The proverbial on again/off again relationship, he eventually got sucked into it full force.

The last I heard of him he was getting engaged to that girl.  Perhaps it was a ploy to remain legitimately in the country?  Maybe he was truly ensnared by her charms?  Either way he floated out of my life the same way he had washed up, slowly and quietly another piece of jetsam in the turbulent Miami seas.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach

I am living proof of that.  My girl who knows me all too well, started Memorial day with a super breakfast explosion.  Words do not do it justice.  First, here's the entire spread...

Breakfast Spread 001

As you can see below, tasty southwestern style hash browns with a small mountain of toast.

Breakfast Spread 002 

Coupled with pancakes, cheese omelette, turkey sausages and tomatoes.

Breakfast Spread 003

All that with the usual assortment of jams, butter, cheeses (cream & farmer) and syrup.  Topped off with a glass of yummy milk and the engine oil I lovingly refer to as Cuban Coffee (yes it needs to be capitalized, its that damn good)

Breakfast Spread 004

After devouring everything in sight I promptly entered a food coma.  I for one cannot think of a better way to start the day.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Boot to the Head!



Video game characters + comedy group recording = friggin' hilarious

I wish probate really was this fun.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Reason #245860 I Love My Girl

Yummy Breakfast 05-18-08

Yummy Sunday Morning Breakfast

Delicious omelette (cracked pepper turkey, jarlsberg cheese, spinach with tomatoes on top) & perfectly toasted wheat bread with margarine.  It was so damn good I had to share.

That is all =)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Today is one of those days I love

Days like this make me happy to live in Charlotte.  Bright blue sky with a fiercely strong sun.  Cool breeze blowing through.  Driving down winding roads, all windows down, listening to fantastic tunes (Venus Hum/Blue Man Group - I Feel Love).

Its my little moment of Zen, bringing calm to a troubled mind.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Re-Cut Trailers

While chatting with a film student friend of mine we discussed how editing and pacing affect stories.  You can find examples of this in many DVD extras (the "Fight Club" collectors edition is packed with them), behind the scenes footage or alternate takes. They go a long way in showing how simple little changes can completely re-arrange a film. 

You can also find great representations of this in re-cut trailers of classic films.  YouTube is littered with them, but here are some solid entries.

 

Mary Poppins

 

A Christmas Story

 

Now turning family/comedy films into horror is easy, but to pull it off in the other direction takes talent.  Here's my favorite clip of that.

 

The Shining

 

There seems to be an entire niche community around re-cutting trailers.  I'm all for folks flexing their creative muscles by taking the known into unknown territory.  Sometimes playing with someone else's work helps spark the creativity in your own.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A little funny for the weekend

YouTube - Akon Calls T-Pain

What happens when the two most vocoded voices in music come together... with some butternut reduction.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Wandering Thoughts

I stare off into the trees watching the wind twist them. Trying to decode the message in the rustling leaves. The clouds taking no notice of the secret knowledge being shared. A pale blue sky washing over everything.

The quiet settles me, soothing a mind too busy, too hurried. These soft moments are easily overlooked. Drowned out by the constant stream of modern reality. Incessant white noise cramming itself into us. No time for quiet in our lives. No time for thoughts turned inward. Unexamined lives making unexamined decisions leading to unremarkable fates. Making the motions isn't pantomime it’s all we have.

A world so uneasy with quiet.  Better to mask it with comfortable clamor because the devil you know… Potential is frightening. Difference unsettling. The herd providing security which so many crave.

Yet dancing on the leaves is the raw energy of possibility. Calling out to those willing to take a calm moment to listen to the silence.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Credit theft without taking the card

I had something very interesting happen to me today.  After work I went with my girl to the mall to pick out clothes for a photo shoot.  The first place we hit was Bebe, where she found a couple of cute things.  When she went to pay using her Mastercard, the transaction was "referred to the merchant".  That's odd?  So I tried mine, since our cards are tied to the same account, to make sure it wasn't the card itself.  Mine was also "referred".  Strange indeed.  I switched cards, purchased the goods and was on my way.

After dinner I thought about giving the CC company a call to see what was up.  I was surprised by what I heard.  Seems my card had been placed on surveillance due to some abnormal charges.  We went through my most recent transactions checking one by one.  Four popped up that were completely wrong (totaling over $3,000) and coming from a Kmart in Las Vegas.   The kicker is that I had the card in my possession.  Someone had gotten a hold of my number, created a "ghost card" then tried to buy stuff.

You always hear those kinds of stories, but it was one hell of a shock to have it happen to me.  I called the Kmart to let them know what had happened.  Tomorrow I'll follow up with their loss prevention people and attempt to track down the culprits.  Armed with the exact transaction amounts and times gives them an edge in matching the tapes.  From there they will take it to the police and the rest is history.

Thankfully I'm not directly damaged by their nefarious deeds.  In this case, the credit card company did me right.  No matter how careful you are these days someone will find a way to steal your shit.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Perfect comment on life in London

 Graffiti artist Banksy pulls off most audacious stunt to date - despite being watched by CCTV | the Daily Mail

According to statistics the average Londoner is watched by at least 300 CCTV cameras a day.  Britain has 4.2 million CCTV cameras which is 20 percent of the cameras globally.  Both of these numbers are frightening. 

The really scary part is how easily you get used to it walking around London.  No matter where you go, you can look up to find at least one camera pointed at you.  They even have mobile units driving around the city.  That blew my mind when I first saw them.  Sadly that's the direction Britain wants to go with its society.  The States are not far behind either, but a mass proliferation of CCTV has yet to be a nationwide thing.

I understand the reasons for having these systems in place especially in this day and age, but as with any government related initiative there's huge potential for abuse and excess.  Using the fear against the citizenry allows them to overextend their reach eroding our expectations of privacy.  These cameras will never go away, I'm not as naive to believe that.  We do need to closely watch why and where they are being deployed.  Pushing back when security is no longer the objective.

Reading that article reminds me of some posters I saw underneath an overpass while walking to the BBC.

Weird Posters 001

Weird Posters 002

1984 is here, slipping in quietly while no one was looking.

 

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Another good article about CCTV

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Web 2.0 meet 1980's

Muxtape - GabuYafa

My latest time wasting Internet toy.  This mix is all about driving fast on a sunny day with the windows down and the music blaring. 

For those not familiar with this site here are a couple of links:

Easily Share your Mixtapes with Muxtape

Make the Most of Muxtape: A Field Guide to Playlists

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Super Geek Anime Fan Service

Creativity is an interesting thing. Sometimes you end up with something that pushes boundaries, reinvents a genre, or just makes people think. In a few rare instances something is created that so encapsulates a mind set that you can't think of anything that would top it.

Back in 2006 a video came out called Pirate Baby's Cabana Battle Street Fight 2006 by Paul Robertson (alternate link in case Wikipedia gets bitchy). Originally shown at an Australian film festival it soon spread like wildfire across the Internet. It distilled the essence of a side scrolling fighting game with an old school flair so perfectly that it immediately became a cult hit. Anyone I showed this to was not only floored by the over the top nature, but amazed by how complex it was. It felt as if the creator had channeled the secret desires of various subcultures into a visual explosion of pure Id.

Fast forward 2 years to Paul's latest video Kings of Power 4 Billion %. This film could easily be considered Paul's magnum opus. The following equation should give you a good idea of what's in it:

Geek + Anime(Fan Service + Otaku + Ultra Violence) + Video Games(Side Scroller + Run and Gun + Fighting Game) + Electronica = AWESOME

With a seizure inducing array of effects, music reminiscent of 70's cheesy sci-fi and more references than you can shake a stick at this 13 minute story keeps a frantic pace. Now in color (as opposed to the B&W Pirate Baby) it tells the tale of global invasion and the team of heroes destined to defend the world. It's cliched to say, but words alone cannot describe it. You really must see this to believe it.

All flavors of geek will enjoy something different in it. Those not partaking of the geekdom might enjoy it as well or find it utterly unwatchable. Of course only an extreme level of obsession could produce this, but no matter what your opinion the raw creativity displayed in this work is undeniable.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mitzvah

My girl did something really wonderful, she helped someone achieve their dream.  This all started last week while surfing a model networking site.  She came across an ad requesting a model for a show.  Upon further review she saw that it was for a makeup artist entering a contest to win a scholarship to the local Aveda Institute.  His portfolio wasn't as extensive as other makeup artists, but his talent was undeniable especially since he is also a female impersonator.  The transformation in his pictures was nothing short of stunning.  She corresponded with him via email, moved to a phone conversation and then agreed to help.

Over the weekend Ron swung by our place to chat with her and fit her for a dress he was making.  Even though Aveda is a hair and makeup school, he was going all out and styling her from head to toe.  Just seeing the initial scribbling's of the pattern were enough to excite her about the show.  They discussed music for the walk, shoes and all the other little details needed to complete the experience.  Once done he raced off to start his work.

Yesterday (Tues) was the day.  He picked her up early and then whisked her away to be his Barbie girl.  I was at a Microsoft event for most of the day preventing me from enjoying any behind the scenes fun, but made it to the show early so I could snag a good seat.  I gave her a quick ring to let her know I was there and she let me know that his mom was also in the audience.  I found her quickly, introduced myself and we chatted while waiting for it to start. 

There were 8 finalists each with their own model (some were family, some were friends).  They started by putting a "before" pic of the model up on a LCD screen with the name of the contestant, the music kicked on and the fully styled model popped on stage from behind a curtain.  Some of them had choreographed routines, others just made one lap of the runway.  They were all very creative with wildly divergent styles.  One did a 50's number, another went for punk/alt, there was a wedding themed one, a couple of bland ones and a Hindu goddess/belly dancer motif entry. 

My girl's was straight up haute couture fashion.  She was the only professional model there and it showed.  I freely admit to being biased, but she rocked the hell out of that runway, music thumping ("Let Me Think About It" Ida Corr vs Fedde Le Grand), fishnets, sweet shoes and a phenomenal dress.  When the judges were doing their Q&A with Ron they all gushed about how beautiful the dress was and how great the model looked.  One judge asked if she could have him make her a dress. Even though there wasn't any scoring, it was all 10's from what I could see.

The models and contestants made one last pass and then the judges went to deliberate.  It didn't take them long to decide.  Even the MC who had been putting these shows together for the past 4 years was surprised as to how quickly they came back.  They kept the suspense building with their obligatory "this was a hard decision, everyone's a winner" speech, but in the end they chose our guy =)

The moment his name was announced I shot up applauding and hollering like a mad man.  Ra jumped up and down like she had been the winner, hugging Ron who was dumbfounded.  Working on something so diligently you always want to succeed, but having it actually happen can still be shocking.  The poor boy was almost rendered mute, making his acceptance speech rather short.  The MC said her final words, thanking all that participated then the crowd slowly dispersed.  Ron's parents (dad made it a little later, but still before Ron's part) congratulated him along with a stream of Aveda people who had been watching the show. 

Now he will look forward to starting school in May.  The value of the scholarship is pegged at seventeen thousand dollars making this truly an opportunity of a lifetime for him.  Some of the Aveda folks asked Ra about her involvement and she admitted to only having met him the week before thru the model site.  The dropped jaws littered the floor.  They couldn't believe that happenstance led Ron to the model that would help him win.  One of the girl's told her "You were put in his path for a reason".

Thinking back to that comment it is incredible the way life works sometimes.  Ra was able to help someone achieve a lifelong dream just by being her good hearted self and lending her talents for a couple of hours.  It was truly an amazing experience helping bring that kind of joy to one person's life.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

And behind today's showcase is... A NEW CAR!!!

I finally bit the bullet and bought a new car.  Since coming back to the States we've been doing the rental thing.  In my infinite wisdom I thought it was a good idea to sell our car (NOT!) before going to the UK, something along the lines of having more cash to start our new life, no need for a car in London, blah blah blah.  I will freely admit that it was a stupid fucking mistake. Anyways...

In our attempt to minimize cost we looked at the budget/small car range: Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, etc.  After a couple of test drives we settled on the Nissan Versa HB.  Out of all the cars it was the most fun to drive and gave the most bang for your buck. 

Buying a car these days is just painful.  Since I already knew what I wanted, I called dealerships in the area to compare pricing.  5 long hours later...  It was ridiculous some of the tactics I experienced.  1 dealership didn't call me back, 2 dealerships refused to give me prices over the phone, and another tried to pull a bait and switch in order to get me down to their lot.  Out of the 6 I called, only 2 were nice.  One of the two nice ones was the place I originally test drove it at and thankfully ended up having the best pricing.

So on Monday I get to pick up my shiny new wagon.  It will look something like this -

Nissan Versa HB

Beep! Beep!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Rick Rolls

For as long as I've been surfing the Net I'm still surprised by some of the things that gain popularity.  One such thing is the Rick Roll.  The concept behind it is simple.  Post or share a link with others that's supposed to be related to a topic being discussed.  When the others go to click the link they are instead directed to a video of Rick Astley's music video for his song "Never Gonna Give You Up". 

Sending out false links is nothing new, but this particular one has reached insane levels of popularity.  This past April Fool's day was saturated with Rick Rolls.   I soon realized I had been Rick Rolled via the TV with the Family Guy episode "Meet the Quagmires".  Of all the recent Internet meme's this one has exploded off the Net and into the real world.

What led me to write a post was this latest Rick Roll.  Creative, funny and unexpected I think this is one of the best ones out there.