'Tis the season 12.11.2002

Brad Brad asked me to remove the last post from this page, but I haven't really thought too much about it yet, because it's the holidays! I've been busy doing things like fixing Thanksgiving turkeys (that's the turkey I cooked in the picture) and doing my part to invigorate the economy. Sure, I've bought Christmas presents, but I even went the extra mile and got a new car. Okay, it was a new used car, but it still counts.

I'm made some updates around the site. 'Tis the season to be pissed off at Amazon.com, apparently, and I've updated the page with a bunch of letters I've gotten in the past couple of weeks. Included is the story of how Amazon stole Christmas and one angry customer's plea that whoever designed their account log-in functionality be executed by firing squad.

I also put up a bunch of pictures of my new dog, whose name is now officially "Texas Tater." He goes by Tex. I adopted him from Blue Dog Rescue -- he was just so endearing I couldn't manage to wait until after the holidays.

Won't you be my neighbor? 11.18.2002

I recently got a bit of hate mail. It's always kind of a shock to me to get such things, since I basically assume that it's people who know me that are willing to delve into things like a blog. But I got a response to my mention of the controversy over Augusta National and Martha Burk from a guy who was called "Brad Brad." Here's what he said:

Subject: Burk and the Masters
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2002 02:00:48 -0800 (PST)
To: letters@clicheideas.com

Just a comment about Burk and her femmenazi campaign. She is becoming the female Jesse Jackson of corporate extortion. Where do you think she is getting her paycheck from, saving the whales?

As for country clubs. I like golf and decided to join a private club to escape the tattoo showing, tank top wearing, foul mouthed idiots I had to play around on the public courses. If that makes me a snob so be it. Let's face it, some people suck. I think you must buy into that bullshit that being blue collar and poor makes you a better person. The old camel, eye of the needle, rich man, heaven crap. Being rich is cool.

You have more to give to the poor that way. Given your share lately?

Now, I guess I could have just ignored that, but I decided to write back. Here's what I wrote:

Hmm. I wonder how you ended up reading my web page. Anyway, thank you for your interest.

I believe that Martha Burk makes her money by being a public policy consultant for government agencies, universities and non-profit organizations. She’s actually the co-founder and president of the Center for the Advance of Public Policy, along with being the chair the National Council of Women’s Organizations. I don’t think she makes any money saving whales. If you’re interested in saving whales, however, I suggest you look into the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA. They actually rescue whales that have become entangled in fishing gear, and to do this they employ some methods used by the early whalers that lived in that area. It’s fascinating, really.

And, so, are you trying to tell me you are rich? I’d have to guess you were somewhere in the middle class, actually. Right? You see, I strongly suspect that people who are actually wealthy spend very little time writing to strangers to tell them how cool it is to be rich. For example, I’ve never received any e-mail like this from any Kennedys or Bill Gates.

However, no matter what your economic class status is, I’m happy to hear that you are using some of your income to help alleviate poverty. I, too, am quite concerned about poverty and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. As more and more of the money in the United States makes its way into the bank accounts of the wealthiest one and two percent of our citizenry, and as the middle class continues to shrink, there are a growing number of people who are becoming destitute.

More than 10 percent of our country is living below the poverty level, and that number is increasing. For a family of four to live below the poverty level means that they usually have an income of about $18K a year -- That’s a situation that seems nearly impossible to me, but more than 32 million people in this country deal with it every day. Living in a country in which there is a high proportion of people living in those conditions (and a significantly higher number of people living in near poverty) feels amoral when there is also such a huge concentration of wealth here, and these conditions will certainly lower the quality of life for everyone, especially if the downward trend is allowed to continue.

You can look at this if you want to learn more about poverty in the United States

I agree with you that we all need to do our part to help end this situation. As I said before, I’m happy to hear you’re able to put some of your own wealth toward helping people in poverty. If you’ve found any organizations that do especially good work in that area, I would love to hear about them. I’m always looking for more ways to take action.

- Ellen

Shocking enough, Brad Brad responded to this note today. Here's what he wrote next:

In closing.....

You sound like a Clinton liberal. PC is a goner and thank God for that. As for Burk being a public policy consultant it would be much more honest to call her a hired corporate extortionist in a post PC environment. I apologize for sending an email in reply to your site but I find the topic of Burks attack on a golf tournament and club humorous and disturbing. I hate to see terrorists (Burk) trying to sway private organizations to adopt her way of looking at the world through threats. If you believe that is acceptable than you must also have sympathy for Bin Laden's threats of harm to us if we do not convert to Islam. We don't need any more home grown cry babies threatening tantrums if they don't get their way. Think about it.

Please do not reply as I have much better things to do than chat with liberals.

Surprisingly enough, I decided to respond. It really is a surprise, because usually I don't bother with this sort of thing. If I'm suddenly buried with hate mail, I certainly wouldn't want to commit to writing all those folks back. But today I just thought, "What the heck."

You mean cry babies like Bush who says things like "He tried to kill my daddy," when our elected legislators express concerns about going to war when there is no proven clear and present danger to our country or our people?

Telling somebody that they must "sympathize with Bin Laden" just because they disagree with you is a cheesy cheap shot, and not very clever at all. Not only that, it's insulting to the families and all of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11 and on the U.S.S. Cole. If you want to have effective political discussions with anyone, you should avoid such ridiculous transparent tactics. You're trying to play upon my fears and undermine my patriotism. Don't bother. I love my country and I do what I can to make it the best possible place to live, and my actions prove it.

If you don't like to chat with liberals, don't write to them in the first place. I am proud of my activism and am thoughtful about my positions. If you prefer to talk to people who don't disagree with you, I suggest you seek them out rather than people like me. Thanks.


I don't know that there will be any further responses from Brad Brad, or if there are that I'll be bothered to post them, but I do know the controversy over the Masters is picking up. Do a search on a news website and you'll be innundated with stories. And you can click here if you want to read an interesting article about Martha Burk and the current excitment about Augusta National. It talks about how "Hootie Johnson," the chairman of Augusta National, "went ballastic" when she simply wrote one letter, which is what I think is the most interesting thing about this story.

A tribute to my old dog. 11.14.2002

In early September my dog Cronkite died after a long battle with cancer. I put together a collection of pictures of him last week that I think really show him as he was. He was a good dog.

Haylee, my other dog, is doing okay on her own, but I'm thinking about getting another dog. I think two is a pretty good number for dogs. She really likes to play and hasn't has a regular playmate in a while, since Cronkite has been sick. There are definite advantages to single-dog life, too, but they are social animals, after all.

Rescue is the way to go, of course. I'm considering the rescue of another basset hound, but not ruling out other sorts of good dogs. They're all pretty good, after all. There's great basset hound rescue information here, and I'm quite entertained by the website of Bowser, a rescued basset who lives in Maine.

Finally, vacation pictures. 11.6.2002

And so many, too! I've put up three galleries of snapshots, one of which is a seriously extensive collection of digitals. You can find all that stuff here.

Last night's election results were pretty crappy all around. Where the hell were all the Democrats? Not voting because they didn't like the negative campaigning? Well, now look what we've got. It's just super.

Back from vacation 10.23.2002

Coming back from vacation is hard, too, of course. I got back on Saturday, and have been a bit overwhelmed. Work piles up, e-mail piles up, mail piles up ... there are piles everywhere. And, while my bathroom is nearly done, it's not completely done, and it always makes me feel a little bit closer to crazy when my home is in a state of flux. It's rained nearly every day since I returned, with the exception of Sunday, when I attended a wedding reception at Club 21 in Uhland, Texas. It's the home a giant milk bottle. It was quite a place, and I'll see if I can't get a couple of pictures up of that event pretty soon.

I have lots of pictures to put up of my vacation to Massachusetts, of course, but they're not quite ready yet. It was a great trip -- we saw some incredible foliage and did all the coolest touristy things. There was even some celebrity siting: We saw Rosie O'Donnell with her partner walking around in Provincetown, and on the way back we saw Richard Thomas and his wife in the Chicago airport. You remember John-Boy, right?

One thing I have updated on this site is the Amazon.com page. I'm getting an overwhelming number of visitors looking for their number, and I've gotten some responses from them, as well as some more customer service information. I've posted that stuff, and I encourage you to share it!

Taking a vacation is hard 10.4.2002

I'm finding myself very busy trying to get myself ready for my vacation tomorrow. I've squeezed all sorts of chores in this week, including going to the acupuncturist -- I'm sporting three needles, two in my leg and one in my arm, that are supposed to help my wrist and back -- and getting a few pictures scanned in for my snapshot gallery. I also met with the guy who's going to be renovating my bathroom while I'm away. The plan is that I come back, and that I'll have a whole new bathroom. Just like magic!

This weekend I got a note from someone who needed to get Amazon's phone number, and was able to find it only on my website. So it must be searchable now, at least with some search engines. However, I also got a letter in response to the snail-mail I sent to Jeff Bezos. In it, one of their higher-end customer service response people recognized that the mistake had been Amazon's and apologized thoughtfully. You can find that apology here.

Now, here's something really important: Call your legislators today, and everyday until they vote on the current resolution to start a war with Iraq, and tell them that you don't support that war. You can reach them by calling the congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121. Click here for bucketloads of news stories and information about why this war is a bad idea.

No needles today 9.25.2002

Today I had my first visit with an acupuncturist. I was all prepared to come back and write about what the whole needle experience was like, but we ended up putting off any heavy-duty treatment until after my vacation. However, I did get to dip my sore wrist in paraffin wax, and I got a neat magnetic wrist wrap. And next week I go back to learn how to do some treatment myself with short needles, so if I've got pain in my back while I'm on vacation, I'll have some new tools to help control it.

Now, yesterday, I watched Charlie's Angels with my workmates. We rented out the stage at the Hideout, and it went pretty smoothly, and the price was good, so I'll recommend them. I was excited to note that I carry the same kind of backpack as the Angels wore when they undertook their water approach to the bad guy's compound at Carmel -- except mine is white. I already knew I used the same cell phone (which has been discontinued, by the way). Am I one step away from being part of an elite crimefighting group?

Only two more weeks 9.20.2002

I'm beginning to get really excited about the vacation that I'll be leaving for in two weeks. I'm going up to do a fall foliage tour in Massachusetts. My girlfriend has done all the planning, which has been lovely. I'm really looking forward to it. We're spending several nights in Provincetown, and I've been told by several people now that I really must do the whalewatching. That never sounded that appealing to me before, but I guess I'll do it.

I'm considering buying a new digital camera before I go, because, although my old one works beautifully, it's kind of big and I like my gadgets to be as small as possible. It's tough, though, because the very smallest cameras aren't enough of an upgrade to make me feel like I should actually make the purchase. I, of course, want it to be extremely teeny, be at least a 4 megapixel camera, have a 3x optical zoom and lots of cool manual features. You can't really find a camera the size of a credit card that does all that stuff, though.

So, I think I've decided on the Canon S40, which is small enough to slip into my pocket, gets consistently good reviews, and has been out for about a year -- I'm trying to steer clear of my early adopter habit, because I'm always ending up with buggy gear of one sort or another that way. Now, if I can only find one for under $500, I'll be golden.

A Textbook Case 9.16.2002

Last week, on Wednesday, I testified at the Texas State Board of Education textbook acceptance hearings. The selection of textbooks in Texas is a really complicated issue, but the Austin Chronicle wrote a really in-depth piece about it this week that helps clarify things a bit. If you live outside of Texas and think that this doesn't affect you, think again. Texas is such a large market that it's a huge influence on what goes into the textbooks that are used all over the country.

In my testimony, I talked about how I didn't think that political lobbyists should be allowed to manipulate children by manipulating information in their textbooks. A right-wing group called Citizens for a Sound Economy has been dominating the hearings, and they present themselves as a group that is trying to protect the free-market economy while more covertly pushing an extremely conservative social agenda. The picture they paint of U.S. history is a story about completely moral, capitalistic and Christian settlers who were always just and whose actions were always justifiable. For example, their Social Studies textbook criteria includes comments about how European settlers had the right to take the lands of the Native Americans without payment and how aggression toward white people by non-whites should be mentioned more often in textbooks.

Happily, a number of folks like me have testified in response. An organization called the Texas Freedom Network helped organize people who wanted to stand up to the CSE and the other right-wing groups who testify at these textbook hearings. There seemed to be a lot of people at the hearing I attended who represented those who prefer children be taught real history instead of the fictional kind promoted by the CSE. I hope we made a difference.

In other news, you can find new pics up in the snapshot galleries!

Honor them with peace, not war 9.11.2002

On the anniversary of last year's tragedy, I encourage all of you to take time to consider whether war with Iraq, as prescribed by our president, is really a something that we can live with. What have we accomplished with our war on terrorism thusfar? Do you really understand what we think we will get out of going to war now? Are you comfortable that our president thinks that he can start a war with Iraq without the consent of Congress (even though he now says he's decided to ask them anyway?) Are we ready to send off more of our men and women to die?

Here's a few things you can do to promote peace today:

Call in to your representatives and senators and tell them you oppose war on Iraq. You can reach them by calling the congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Attend a peace event. If you don't know of any, check out United For Peace. If you tried to look at this site yesterday, it may have been down -- it was hacked. But it's back up and running today.

Visit Peaceful Tomorrows, an amazing site done by a group of family members of Sept. 11 victims who are seeking effective nonviolent responses to terrorism. Find ways you can help them be more effective.

Contact your local utility and find out if they have any renewable energy programs in which you can participate. (Austin has one, and you can find out about it here.) Any increase in use of renewable energy in this country will be a move away from our traditional reliance on non-renewable fuels. This will help decrease our dependence on foreign oil and make our relationship with the Middle East less complicated.

Be peaceful today.

A September 11 online memorial 9.9.2002

An fellow blogger here in Austin is working on an online campaign to honor the memory of those who died on September 11 through peace rather than with war. Please visit the "Honor Them With Peace, Not War" site on Shiny Blue Grasshopper.

Cliché Ideas will be participating in this. If any of you have such web pages, blogs or online journals, I encourage you to join this campaign. There's a link to let her know you'll be joining in.

Does customer service still exist? 9.6.2002

After writing letter after letter after letter asking why I had to argue with their customer service rep to get them to take an unauthorized charge off my bill, Amazon did probably the closest thing they're going to do to admitting guilt: they gave me a $20 gift certificate.

I used to work at a brick-and-mortar bookstore; we called this sort of thing "feather smoothing." I'm sure they want me to just stop writing and asking the same question over and over, but they don't want to answer it, either.

Frankly, I'm just really exhausted by the level of customer service that most businesses are willing to give me these days. It seems that even companies who claim to provide stellar customer service still make you argue to get reparations when things on their end go wrong. For example, you might be overcharged for something, but when you call, the first customer service rep won't fix the problem, or can't fix it, and they have to get a manager on the phone, and you have to argue with them to get them to get the manager on the phone, and then you may have to argue with the manager as well.

It's a terrible way to handle your customers' problems. It puts the customer in a position of having to become angry and yell and get upset with somebody to get reasonable service, which feels gross and unhealthy, and the customer has to carry those nasty feeling around with them even after they get off the phone call. And it puts the customer service people in the position of having to be exposed to really pissed off people all day long. And that sucks for everybody.

This "squeaky wheel" method of doling out service has really got to stop. My plan, if I can possibly manage it, is to quit using the services of companies that make me argue with them to be treated reasonably. Unfortunately, good customer service is so rare these days that I might not always be able to find alternative companies that provide it either.

So will I use the Amazon gift certificate? Hmmm. It's a dilemna ...

The Sport of Golf vs. Women 9.4.2002

So, "The Masters," that big ol' golf tournament that gets so much attention every year, will be commercial free in 2003 in order to avoid subjecting its commercial sponsors to the dreadful intimidation of the National Council of Women's Organizations, a nonpartisan network that represents more than 100 different women's organizations.

The NCWO must have really threatened The Masters people, right? Actually, they seem to have sent only one letter, on June 12. You can see an Adobe Acrobat .pdf version of it here. It looks simple and relatively non-threatening, simply asking that the club where the event is held, Augusta National, review its policies and practices in regard to allowing women join their club. The club, which was formed in 1932, doesn't have an official policy barring women, but no women have been invited to join (they invited their first black member to join in 1990). Sure, they seem to imply that they might take some action if no progress is made; however, there are no specifics and no threats. In the letter, Martha Burk, the chair of the organization, asks merely to speak with the chairman of Augusta National.

That chairman, William W. "Hootie" Johnson, apparently isn't interested in chatting -- or maybe he just doesn't have time, since he seems to be spending a good deal of his workdays over-reacting. He responded with a short missive that said, "I have found your letter's several references to discrimination, allusions to the sponsors and your setting of deadlines to be both offensive of coercive." Then Hootie authored a press release in which he wrote that "the threatening tone of Dr. Burk's letter signals the probability of a full-scale effort to force Augusta National to yield to NCWO's will." The he went on to spin an interesting fantasy about what it would be like if the NCWO went after The Masters:

"We expect such a campaign would attempt to depict the members of our club as insensitive bigots ... We might see "celebrity" interviews and talk show guests discussing the "morality" of private clubs. We could also anticipate op-ed articles and editorials. There could be attempts at direct contact with board members of sponsoring corporations and inflammatory mailings to stockholders and investment institutions. We might see everything from picketing and boycotts to t-shirts and bumper stickers. On the internet, there could be active chat rooms and email messaging."

Chat rooms and email messaging!?! Not that, anything but that!

Hootie goes on to say that "We will not be bullied, threatened of intimidated ... We do not intend to become a trophy in their display case. There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet."

If anything is gonna make these people look even more like insensitive bigots than their misogynistic club membership practices already do, it's press releases like this one. But, luckily for Augusta National, they're a bunch of rich white men, and they're able to sponsor their tournament on TV commercial-free. No boycott will keep them down! Because even though Hootie pledges that "We do not intend to be further distracted by this matter. We will not make additional comments or respond to the taunts and gripes artificially generated by the corporate campaign," he announced on 8.30.02 that the club would pay to televise the tournament themselves in order to keep their sponsor from having to deal with economic intimidation by the NCWO.

If that doesn't disgust you enough to keep you from watching professional golf on television, read this article that talks about the appearance training that the Ladies Professional Golf Association offered their members last month, reasoning that better-looking female golfers with nicer hair and makeup would attract more fans. The LPGA commissioner, by the way, is a man.

Does this seem like a bad idea to anybody else? 8.30.2002

Okay, so CBS and Fox are planning to air reality shows based on the old TV sitcoms "Green Acres" and "The Beverly Hillbillies." Is it funny to make fun of class these days? I find the idea of laughing at a real lower-middle-class family trying to fight class issues in Beverly Hills pretty disturbing. And I find the idea of laughing at upper-class people who are annoyed at having to live like "average" people (in the South, of course, because the South is more backward than the rest of the United States) kind of nasty too.

In other news, my dog has been sick, so my blogging has been a bit weak of late. I didn't even bother mentioning that Hooters has been advertising on banners pulled by planes overhead during going-home weekday traffic hours, which I think is really wierd, or that I had an experience this week I haven't had since the 80s -- I hit a clump of unwound audio cassette tape in the road that wrapped itself around my bumper and flapped in front of my windshield for more than a mile.

I should mention that Amazon did finally refund the $300+ unauthorized charge to my account, after I called and sent letters again yesterday to every address I had for them. They have yet to explain to me why their policy is to hold their customers financially responsible when they make a mistake and send merchandise to them that they didn't order. But I'll keep asking. Maybe somebody will eventually answer the question.

I did, however, add another exciting snapshot gallery to my collection, which you can see here. Happy viewing.

Development at 5th and Lamar 8.28.2002

If you live in Austin and you give a damn at all about our city's unique culture, if you prefer to support local businesses over big homogenized chains, or if you're annoyed by the idea that the city would subsidize businesses that would markedly increase traffic congestion without addressing the traffic issues reasonably in advance, please visit the Bookpeople site on Schlosserr Development and their plans for 5th and Lamar in Austin, and write to our city council members about your concerns.

Amazon's Phone Number 8.26.2002

This weekend I found a unauthorized charge of more than $300 from Amazon.com on one of my credit cards. I thought I'd just call Amazon customer service and straighten it out, but guess what? Amazon doesn't provide its customer service phone number on its web site, or on the packing slips that come with merchandise you order.

I think that really sucks, so I tracked down the phone number, and I'm posting it here, along with my story of the really crappy way Amazon handles things when they make a mistake.

I also posted some more exciting "lomographs" in the Cliché Ideas Snapshot Gallery. I know you'll love 'em.

Back from Los Angeles 8.22.2002

Yesterday morning at 7:45 a.m. I flew to Los Angeles, and I was back at home yesterday evening by 11 p.m. Ain't I a jet setter? I saw Estelle Harris, the woman who played George's mom on "Seinfeld" walk across a parking lot. She was also the voice of Mrs. Potato Head in Toy Story 2. Among other roles, of course.

Cliché Ideas was in the news this week, albeit indirectly. Click here to see the links.

A quick Lomo tip 8.21.2002

If you decide to buy a Lomo camera, you should immediately go out and buy yourself a phillips head optical screwdriver. Most cheap eyeglass screwdrivers are flathead, but I found a "deluxe" version at Eckerd's with a phillips head end.

Once you have your screwdriver, use it to tighten every screw on your Lomo. A screw on the front of mine fell out yesterday. Amazingly, I found it -- it was in my pocket -- but it was very very teeny and I suspect it would be hard to replace if truly lost. I used the optical screwdriver to put it back in, and then I tightened every other teeny screw on the camera. They were all quite loose.

Another disaster averted. I'm headed out to LA for a business trip tomorrow and wanted to make sure I had my Lomo in hand. I'll only be in LA for about nine hours, but I suspect there will be a photo opportunity or two.

Walk away from the war 8.20.2002

If you're concerned, as I am, that we're heading steadily toward a war with Iraq that is not going to be a good thing for our country and the world, please visit MoveOn.org's Iraq meetings site. Consider going to a meeting to talk to one of your Senators about your reservations against a war in Iraq. I'll be going to chat up Kay Bailey Hutchison next week.

I also heartily recommend signing up for MoveOn's "action updates." This group is one of the best net-centered political activism groups I've run into. Progressive Secretary is another really great one; they coordinate letter-writing campaigns and make sending the letters very simple. If I were you, I'd participate in both. Because, you know, that's what I do.

Snapshots Galore 8.19.2002

I got my first roll of film back from my Lomo camera. Forget about Snapfish -- they keep screwing things up with my account and I quickly got bored with that. I ended up taking my film to Ritz Camera, because it's right around the corner from where I work. They have one-hour processing for about 12 bucks, which is more expensive than the grocery stores, but I decided to shell out for the convenience. And I couldn't be more pleased! The pictures have those nice white borders around them that nobody does anymore. I love it. Love it! I'm getting all my film developed there now. It looks like you can have pictures uploaded to their site as well, where you can share them for 30 days. I may try it.

As for the pictures, some of them I really liked. The colors are pretty great on the interior shots using the existing light instead of a flash. I got a lot of blurry shots, though, mainly because I didn't really think things through. I kept setting the camera at 0.8 to focus at 0.8 feet, but, of course, it's 0.8 meters, because it's a Russian camera and they're on the metric system. If I'd read the instructions, I would have known that 0.8 meters is about 3 feet and I would have taken fewer blurry shots.

I've put a few of the better Lomo shots up on Cliché Ideas, in the new "snapshot gallery" I made this weekend. I also posted some pictures of my dogs made with a Quad Cam toy camera, which is the same camera as the Lomo Cyber Sampler (or Action Sampler), except for the sticker that says "www.lomo.com" -- oh, yeah, and the price is different too. It takes four pictures, one right after the next, on the space that one picture usually takes up on the film. It's hard to explain, so maybe you should just look at the pictures.

Yes, she did. 8.16.2002

There was an apology posted on the website of the singer/songerwriter that I wrote about on the 14th who got me so riled up. It went up sometime last night. Take a look and judge for yourself.

I got another response yesterday as well, a woman -- a lesbian -- defending the intention of the musician's first letter. I responded pretty harshly. Frankly, I've heard too many people say of late that folks "have a right to their opinion" about whether or not it's okay to discriminate against or be intolerant of lesbians and gay men. I've seen too many people who exercise their bigotry and then hide behind a shield of faith or convention. I'm simply not interested in putting up with that kind of stuff. I won't sit quietly and let other people's self-centered bigotry interfere with my life without raising my voice.

Discrimination and intolerance may be deeply rooted in our culture, and even institutionalized in our laws, but that doesn't make it right. There's not always neutral ground; sometimes there's a clear difference between right and wrong.

Me and My Lomo 8.15.2002

I'm sending off my first roll of film today taken with my new Lomo camera.If you haven't heard of the Lomo, it's this little steel Russian-made camera that has garnered a kind of cultish following, especially in Europe, but its popularity is picking up here. It's sold outside of Russia by The Lomography Society, an Austrian company who promotes it as the ultimate camera for promoting spontaneous photographic art creation. They call the "community" of people who use the cameras lomographers, and encourage them to share their photos with each other, online, of course; but in physical spaces as well. The Lomography Society is now selling the cameras through Amazon.com, which is how I got mine.

But not everybody loves The Lomography Society, or the Lomo. I did find a site by a guy who lives in St. Petersburg and will sell you a Lomo camera for cheap (or for cheaper, at least.). His little web business garnered him a threatening letter from the Austrian Lomo people that is discouraging to read if you've really fallen for the Lomographic Society's marketing hype. His information page reveals a more realistic picture of the Lomo and the relationship between it's Russian manufacturer and the Austrian sales counterpart.

And, no, not everybody loves the Lomo. I actually read a lot of bad things about the Lomos before I bought mine -- things about screws falling out, poor post-Soviet craftmanship, and good pictures being more a product of luck than of skill. But I chose to buy one anyway, because it's small, and it can be set to auto-expose film without a flash when you're inside or it's dark. I have an SLR camera that can do this, but it's huge so I never want to take it anywhere. I strongly suspect I'm taking a lot of really crappy pictures with my Lomo -- only time and Snapfish will tell. But, so far, I like my Lomo. I like the way it feels in my hand, and the funny machine-oil sort of smell it has, and its strange industrial look. If there are any good shots, I'll post them here with further Lomo details.

No, she didn't! 8.14.2002

If you visited my page yesterday afternoon, you might have found that it took a while to load the pages. That's because I posted an open letter to a local singer/songwriter who managed to really piss me off, and sent it out to several e-mail lists. And, wow, did it take off! About 100 folks per hour were visiting. Whew.

On a completely different note: If you're ready to make some travel plans but stumped about where to visit, maybe you should consider the Lawrence Welk Resorts. Or maybe not. (Hey, I'm not the only one who keeps bring up Lawrence Welk. Take a look at this.)

More Outstanding Tunes 8.13.2002

I spent another evening doing nothing but sitting around my house and playing records on the new player. I got another batch of records off eBay, this time some 33 1/3. There's some great stuff in this lot -- Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Kay Starr, the Ink Spots.

And, of course, there's a relatively bizarre one in the collection: Lester Lanin and His Orchestra play The Madison Avenue Beat. "Have fun dancing and listening to America's most familiar music (58 TV and Radio Commercials)." That's what it says on the front cover; there's also a cartoon of a Madison Avenue ad exec with his doe-eyed secretary sitting on his lap with the caption, "Listen, Dear, they're playing our song." He's smoking a cigar and her steno pad is lying at her feet. This is my second Lester Lanin album; I picked up "Cocktail Dancing" at Thrift Town for 99 cents. Lanin was really into the concept of dancing to medleys.

Yesterday I was really excited when I found out my new workplace gives me the opportunity to invest in the Domini Social Equity Fund as part of my 401K plan. This may be the first time I've used the phrases "really excited" and "401K plan" in the same sentence.

Petunias, Peacepipes and Pizza 8.12.2002

After a bit of feedback, I've done some experimenting with the color of the page. My friends are telling me I'm not really a black-and-yellow sort of person. I'm trying the blue and red, and looking forward to your comments on it. Is it hard to read? But what isn't hard to read?

You'll all be happy to know that among my exciting weekend activities (knocking down wasp nests, doing my laundry, cutting my nails, trying to decide on a name for the cat) was figuring out how to create downloadable sound files using my new old record player. Yep, I can now make mp3s from the 78s. It's a slow and sloppy process, but I can do it.

As promised, I've got a copy of "I'm a Lonely Little Petunia" to share with you. And as an added bonus, I'm also sharing "Pass that Peacepipe" performed by Margaret Whiting, with the Crew Chiefs and Frank Devol and His Orchestra. This is not the most politically correct song around, as you can probably imagine. It's a song from a movie (which Margaret Whiting was not in) called Good News, which was made first in 1930 and then again in 1947. "Pass that Peacepipe" must have been a pretty popular song, because I remember hearing it before. I also remember that I never really thought about the racial implications of this little ditty before; rediscovering this song is a good reminder for me to remain thoughtful about these things. It's about time to order a T-shirt to support The Fighting Whites.

One thing I did not do this weekend is have any Domino's Pizza delivered. I don't know if you've heard this yet, but Domino's is now charging a fee in some markets to deliver their mediocre pizza. That's just one more reason not to order from Domino's. One of the other reasons, of course, is to avoid putting any more dough into the hands of Thomas Monaghan, the founder and former chairman of the chain. Monaghan is one of the biggest contributors to pro-life groups out there, he spends a lot of money to support legislation that would use taxpayer's money to help fund religious schools through voucher programs, and he's associating himself politically with Dick Simon, California's super-conservative GOP gubernatorial candidate. He's famous for his "philanthropic efforts" that support the religious ultra-right. Monaghan retired a few years back, but still owns seven percent of Domino's, and thus makes not a small profit from the pizza sales. I've also heard allegations that Domino's ran some really racist ads in Guatemala in the 90s. I'm not certain that this is true, however, so don't quote me on it.

Of course, you should always consider buying your pizza from a local pizzeria instead of a chain and, by doing so, keep your dollars in the city where you live. Unique local businesses give cities character; keep your hometown from becoming homogenized by supporting them. If you live in Austin and want some pizza delivered, I'd like to suggest Conans.

A new toy 8.9.02

I got a new record player yesterday. Here's what it looks like:

It's an Audiotronics 300A, and I got it from Willie Bosco at Record Players Plus. It was really a pleasure doing business with him; I recommend him and his record players highly. Now I can finally play all those old records my mom brought me. It's an old classroom record player, which is cool, and it has this little clear plastic pillar thing by the top of the tonearm that glows with an orange light in a neat fiber optic-y way when it's powered on.

I can play a lot of records, too, because it plays at four speeds: 16, 33, 45, and 78. I ordered some cheap 78s off Ebay, and they arrived on Wednesday, so I was able to try out my record player as soon as it arrived at my office yesterday afternoon. So far, my favorite song in this collection of albums is the old classic "I'm a Lonely Little Petunia" by Lawrence Welk and His Champagne Music:

"I'm a lonely little petunia in an onion patch
and all I do is cry all day.
The air ís so strong it takes my breath away. ...
My nerves begin to crack
Each time I see a track
Made by a kitty with a stripe right down his back.
If he ever stopped by me, I think I'd rather be
A dead petunia, wouldn't you?"

And then the chorus sings, "Ooooooh!"

Maybe it loses something if you can't actually hear it. It's sung by a guy with a strong tenor voice, if you can imagine that. I'm working on figuring out how to use the headphone jack to record mp3s, so maybe you'll get lucky and I'll be able to share it with you soon.

Back up and running 8.8.02

Surprisingly, replacing the deleted Cliché Ideas site was pretty easy. I'd actually backed it up rather recently, shockingly enough, which made reloading most of the deleted pages a snap. I think I've done a decent job, but if you find any broken links, feel free to e-mail me and let me know.

So, if you want to explore all the old caves and coves of Cliché Ideas, just go to the navigation page. The quickest way to get there is to click on the bicycle that says "Get Around" underneath the site logo. This all means that now you've got both the new front page blog as well as all the kooky favorites that brought you back to this site time and time again.

Seriously, though, I've had a lot more visitors over the last three months than I've had most of the time this website has been around. The number of people visiting my site has gone up from about five people a day to about 45 a day. Many are dropping in from a website in Sweden called "Skunk Spray." My Swedish isn't so great, so I can't find the link to my page and don't know why they're clicking, but they're clicking, and clicking in droves. In my world, 45 visitors a day equals droves.

Not only that, there are more and more international visitors to my site -- not just from Sweden and Denmark, but from all over Europe, from Asia and the Middle East and from Central and South America ... even Canada and Iowa. And to all of my international visitors, I'd like to give an extra special Texas howdy.

Cliché Ideas -- Gone but not forgotten? 8.7.02

Believe it or not, Cliché Ideas is gone because I managed accidentally to delete it. All of it.

It's funny, because I'd been thinking I'd start a redesign tonight, and I had even worked a little on a new theme (you can see the evidence of it here). But I had meant to leave the majority of the old site pretty much intact.

So, I'm going to spend some time tonight looking at old backup disks and seeing how much of Cliché Ideas I can recover. For example, I know I have the Christian Regenhard memorial pages backed up, and I'll try to get those back online as soon as possible.

In the meantime, if you're looking for anything in particular, please drop me a line and let me know what you want to see; I'll make a special attempt to get anything you request back up as soon as possible ... if it is possible.


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