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Archive for June, 2009

House 2, Homeowner 0

About 3 months ago our refrigerator stopped working well. As in, every item placed in the crisper drawers froze within hours – including beer bottles that exploded (ah… the smell of beer wafting from your tomatoes). Time to replace it.

So I go to Best Buy, which is where I bought my new dishwasher about 2 years ago. That was easy. The guy came in, disconnected everything, reconnected the new one, rolled away the old one. Ta-da! New dishwasher.

Um, yeah, don’t buy a frig from Best Buy. Their installation guys can’t touch your water system. The guy comes in and tells me I have to figure out how to turn off the water supply to the frig myself because he can’t touch it. Insurance.

Well. I know I’m in trouble when the guy says “insurance.” So I go downstairs and I think I see the right valve. I mean, there are three copper tubes coming out of the top of the water heater, all of those have little valves. I turn and turn and turn it until it’s tight.

Nope. Wrong valve. Homeowner 0, House 1.

The new frig is now installed in the garage. The old one, unplugged in the house. The guy leaves. I proceed to rip 100 pieces of blue tape off of the new refrigerator. I have an appointment in 45 minutes and I need to walk everything from the kitchen to the garage. “Camille!” I yell. “I really need your help right now!” (Jack escaped earlier by going to a friends’ house.)

She and I race back and forth, filling the frig. I go to hop in the shower, 5 minutes left until I need to be in the car. And this is how I discover… I have turned off the hot water.

No time to call the plumber now. I take the fastest, coldest shower ever, and get to my appointment.

While I am in the shower, Camille reorganizes the refrigerator so nicely and neatly I begin to wonder if she is going to be the organization freak her mother is.

Calling the plumber when I get home, we both decide  the valve needs replacing – it won’t turn at all – so he goes and gets the parts, comes over, goes downstairs. Turns the valve. I pay $180 for a plumber to tell me that I just didn’t turn it hard enough.

Double homeowner fail.

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Addendum to earlier post: My absolute favorite song on the new Melody Gardot album is Our Love is Easy. Get thee to iTunes and download it immediately.

So every now and then I share with my friends what I’m listening to. Why not take it to the blog, I thought this morning while enjoying a cup of coffee and procrastinating with a little web surfing. My friend Jeremy Epstein writes in his blog about every film he sees and book he reads. It helps round out his blog, makes him into more of a real person.

Today, in perusing my Recently Added list, I see:

  • Bare Bones, a new album by Madeline Peyroux
  • The Swingin’ Miss D, a collection of Dinah Washington recordings
  • The soundtrack from the film Marie Antoinette
  • My One and Only Thrill, a new album by Melody Gardot
  • It’s Not Me, It’s You, by Lily Allen
  • Everybody’s Got Their Something, by Nikka Costa

Now, I’m no Dave Marsh or anything, so these are just my thoughts on what I’ve downloaded lately.

First, I notice all of the artists are women. Second, three of the six are jazz or jazz-like. I’m sensing a trend. So, let’s look at Madeline, Melody and Dinah first. Dinah, an undisputed master. Her voice is clear as a bell, ebulliently happy and defiantly optimistic even when she sings songs like But Not For Me.

I downloaded that after a friend mentioned the song Embraceable You. To my mind, Dinah and Sarah Vaughn do the best job with that song. I already have Sarah’s version but my Dinah Washington collection is sorely lacking, hence the purchase. My favorite song on the album — well, that’s hard to pick. I like Drown in My Own Tears. But her version of Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby fairly jumps out of the speakers. Makin’ Whoopee is one of my favorite jazz standards.

Madeline Peyroux’s new album, Bare Bones, is a collection of original songs. This is a brave artistic decision for someone who could easily make a career out of imitating Billie Holliday. She has Billie’s voice almost to a T – right down to her sense of humor, which is a little bit edgy, a little bit dirty, and a whole lot of strong. The best song on the album is You Can’t Do Me, a song reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt’s best songs about relationships — the ones about not being treated badly by someone she loves. It’s funny, biting, lilting and happy, which pretty much encapsulates Madeline Peyroux’s style.

Melody Gardot’s My One And Only Thrill is a great followup to her first album. A friend of mine introduced me to her first with the song Worrisome Heart, the title track from her first (?) album. The title track from this album, My One and Only Thrill, is a clear favorite. It starts out with a little bit of strings reminiscent of Debussy, and the song itself is just – well, her style is hard to describe. It’s really a fusion of traditional jazz and songwriting that pops her right out of that category. She also has a wicked sense of humor disguised by a beautiful voice, and an incredible band to back her up.

The film Marie Antoinette was, in a word, awful. Sofia Coppola may have her own vision but she is not half the director her father is. Sorry. It’s just the truth. FFC writes hard-hitting, viciously real stories that tell you something about the human condition. Sofia likes her soft, rosy filters and she definitely has a thing for Kirsten Dunst. Anyway, all that said, her choices on soundtracks (or the person she hires to take care of the music) are really good. This soundtrack is pretty awesome. An interesting mix of contemporary classical music, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam Ant, Bow Wow Wow… good stuff. If I had to pick a favorite it would be The Melody of a Fallen Tree by Windsor for the Derby.

Nikka Costa’s Everybody’s Got Their Something. A friend on Facebook posted the song Push and Pull, which was used in the film Blow. My favorite track is the title track. I didn’t like every song, I’m not a big pop music person, but the energy of the album is good and her hair is pretty cool.

Save Lily Allen for last. Her new one is fantastic. Biting, funny, poignant, pulls no punches. Oh, and lots of swearing, if you’re sensitive to that, I wouldn’t download the album at all. I won’t listen to it around my kids. I have to say Not Fair is my favorite, with The Fear running a close second. She recently did a recording of The Clash’s Straight to Hell that’s not on this album – really good cover.

So that’s what I’m into today.

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My Favorite Spam

This is my absolute favorite spam email of all time. It is a college application essay… and this is what I always want to post on any About Me page.

3A. ESSAY: IN ORDER FOR THE ADMISSIONS STAFF OF OUR COLLEGE TO GET TO KNOW YOU, THE APPLICANT, BETTER, WE ASK THAT YOU ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION: ARE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCES YOU HAVE HAD, OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU HAVE REALIZED, THAT HAVE HELPED TO DEFINE YOU AS A PERSON?

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear.

I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat .400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy.

I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down.

I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

But I have not yet gone to college.

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I just started Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace a few weeks ago. Granted, I haven’t gotten that far because I left it in a spot I won’t get back to until Tuesday afternoon, but still. I started it.

I picked it up in record time, really. As intimidating books go. Finnegan’s Wake has been sitting on my shelf since my senior year of college.

For many years I was terribly intimidated by it… roughly the same level of intimidation as Finnegan’s Wake or some of Samuel Beckett‘s more difficult work. One of those books that you buy and put on the shelf, and don’t even attempt to lie about having read just to impress a friend… because, what if they’ve actually read it, and you come off like a Caulfield-esque phony?!

So there Infinite Jest sat for about 4 months, scaring me with its long footnotes and ridiculous girth, and all that I had been told before of David Foster Wallace’s blazing, but confusing, brilliance. Also, I had all but left behind postmodern writers. I don’t know why, really. But most of the work I read by authors like Pynchon and Barth leave me … feeling less alive, less human, and more like I just successfully completed a New York Times crossword puzzle… than, say, a good old-fashioned modernist work with its soaring themes, blinding epiphanies and satisfying endings.

I am pleased to report that not only do I have much room in my heart for postmodernism, but I also love and feel like I completely understand what David Foster Wallace is doing to me, and for me, as a reader.

It was his death that made me both buy it and start it.  For anyone who doesn’t know, he suffered from the time he was a young man from debilitating depression and recently committed suicide. It wasn’t voyeurism that made me pick up his work, wondering what hint I could find of his illness (though it’s all there). It was compassion, and sheer interest. A man so alive – he was so achingly, deeply alive – and so desperately sad.  After he died, I read so many articles about what a great guy he was – so many deeply felt stories about him written by those who knew him, that I felt personally saddened at the loss of someone I only knew from a book of essays (Consider the Lobster).

Also — and this is important — he’s from Champaign, Illinois, near where my family is from. He writes really well about that part of the country. Granted, he was around the U of I, whereas my family was around farms, but still. There is a feel to the region that he captures really well.

So I’ll update here. I believe it’s still the longest novel ever written. So this might take a while.

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So I am looking at the new features of the iPhone S. Yeah, yeah, video camera. Thanks for solving the problem and giving me a new megabyte eater I’ll never use, since I’m one of the few people I know of who has never uploaded a file to YouTube. Yeah, send pictures in text messages, great.

But internet tethering. What’s this?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been sitting in a Starbucks with my laptop, happily typing away, go to check email on my phone, only to find a work-related email that requires an immediate and involved response. Phone. Laptop. Laptop. Phone.

Pay $6 for five minutes worth of internet access so that I can answer this one email?

Not bloody likely. I crack my thumbs and get to work on my phone. I’m an iPhone keyboard tornado. You can’t even see my thumbs move, they go so fast.

I’m just one of those people who believes no one should have to pay for internet access. Perhaps that’s old fashioned of me.

Bandwidth, and good, reliable information, should be freely accessible to the entire planet.

It’s a basic tenet of the academics who took over the internet after the military invented it. (Not Al Gore.)

So if I plunk down the dinero to upgrade to the new iPhone, I can be sitting in the Starbucks with my phone next to my laptop, create my own little network between the phone and the machine, and voila! No more $6 emails.

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My new favorite toy is here, the Kindle.

A very long time ago, when the death knell was being rung for newspapers and books – when print media had a time-date expiration stamp on its forehead – I decided to look into whether or not this could really happen.

At the time I worked for a newsletter publishing company whose print newsletters were being laboriously retyped and published online by subscribers providing our content as “benefits” to members and customers.

Apart from commercial reasons, there was a truly large problem with the idea that people would read everything online, on their personal computers. That problem was refresh rate. Secondarily, backlighting and resolution.

Monitors were never made to be stared at for extended periods by human eyes principally because of refresh rate. Similar to an LCD television, a computer screen must refresh every pixel displayed at a certain rate. They are simply designed and built that way (I didn’t go that far into why they are built that way; I just know they are).

Backlighting – the way a computer monitor’s brightness and contrast must change based on the amount of available light – was, at the time (1997), not happening in monitor technology. Same problem with resolution.

In short – print would not and will not die because it is really irritating to stare at the flickering letters for too long without feeling like you might just be going blind.

Enter… the Kindle. The Kindle has solved all three of those problems, and created a device with an extremely usable interface. I am reading my first book on it – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – and I must say, it is a truly pleasurable experience for my eye. And so light! So small! So… well designed.

I get all goose bumpy when I hold a well-designed piece of technology, don’t you?

Using it does make me wonder whether or not the Kindle’s design is being thought about for the next generation of monitors.

In my mind’s eye, I see a monitor with millions of colors, incredibly vivid resolution – maybe even three dimensional, one day, where you can tap and pull menus or items out holographically. It rotates on its stand 360 degrees.

The mouse is a thing of the past; the screen itself is made of a smudge-proof material to make it so that your fingerprints don’t mess up the touch screen (the way my face gets goo on my iPhone).

Oh, the fun I could have if I were doing product design.

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You’ve come a long way, baby.

That’s the phrase that kept running through my head on the way home tonight.

Data mining, pt. 1
First, the presentation – I saw Heidi Strom Moon and Lisa King’s presentation on Web Analytics. It was about how to use usage data in a smarter, more calculated way. (Heidi and Lisa work for CDG Interactive, a DC-based, full service creative agency.)

The presentation focused on how to get more out of usage statistics than your basic “who, what, when, where, how” using Google Analytics, a tool I will be checking out and brushing up on in the next few weeks because it looks so handy and versatile. And FREE? Did I mention, free?

I was heartened by the fact that none of the information was alien to me. After a few years out of the industry, I was worried that as I jumped back in I would feel like a dinosaur. But it all made sense. Much of it was good, sound marketing – developing, implementing and measuring the impact of campaigns using a pretty nicely built tool to do it. Did I mention it’s free?

A bonus of having a tool this good to look at data with is that, if you’re in a client service situation, you have real information to help you develop recommendations for a site – whether it’s a homepage redesign, a different content strategy, or a new marketing campaign. I remember the ‘good ol days’ of web development, in which we didn’t have a good way to track user behavior, so a lot of our work was … guess work. Good guess work based on gut and experience.

Data Mining, Pt. 2
I was also bolstered by being able to engage my professional network again. I got to catch up with women I haven’t seen in years, heard their stories about what they’ve been up to, their families… and the most beautiful part of seeing them again? That DC Web Women‘s members have not lost what made them so great in the first place – a place where women build each other up professionally, not tear each other down. A place where that feminist dream in which women help other women is not a dream… I know, I know, but it’s true. It’s bar none the most supportive professional group I’ve ever been a part of…  it’s nice to know that whenever I want to go back, even if it’s just for an evening, I can.

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