Warming Up the Word Processor

Once again, I’m considering NaNoWriMo. If you don’t know what that is, check the link then come back. If you do know what it is, you realize one considers it much as one contemplates getting married, buying a house, or committing suicide. Oh, the hubris! 50,000 words. Try not to think of all those zeros.

I think there are all kinds of writers. Traditional publication doesn’t define an author in my mind. I’ve found some of the best, most insightful writing online. But I have to believe that in the back of every writer’s mind lurks a novel. After all, the phrase is “Great American Novel”, not Great American Blog Post or Great American Letter to the Editor. So the incentive to complete an actual novel is fairly high.

The Wrimos’ (the nickname for participants) irreverent attitude is another attraction. The quantity over quality ethic strongly prevails. This notion is less troubling than it sounds once you realize that first drafts are not final drafts. The idea is to complete a novel; editing is the expected aftermath of a month of slinging words like hash.

I’m not committed yet, but with time running out, I’ll decide soon. Stay tuned for updates. Meanwhile, for one writer’s take on Nano, visit Mur Lafferty’s blog, I Should Be Writing. Her Special #27, offered as a podcast discusses the pluses and pitfalls of Nano.

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Ode to Wally-World

Five pairs of dress socks… check.
New reasonably priced leather shoes… check.
Off brand tortilla chips (they taste better)… check.

Damn! No souse. OK, put the liver pudding back.

Cheap sliced summer sausage (beef)… check.
Four spicy Bowl Noodles… check.

Trailer trash white girl in grey sweats (you know you’d hit it!)… check!

One pound of All Natural (yeah, right) granola… check.

Hurry now, must… beat… midnight cash drawer changeout!

Neil Diamond on the in-store radio. Damn right they coming to America… by the fracking busload on a Saturday afternoon. But tonight, it’s all quiet, and it’s not even 3 a.m..

Artificial daylight bathing the parking lot. Impromptu family reunions. The joy of a short walk to the car. A brother bumming a bag for his returns (mustn’t give the wrong impression).

There’s so much wrong with Wal-Mart. Yet, there’s so much right with it too.

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Tweaker’s Delight: Optimizing Vista

Change is inevitable. If you’re really blessed, improvement comes with change. It’s a highly debatable concept when the change being discussed is one’s operating system. No stranger to change, (for better or worse), Microsoft kept the computing world at bay until January 2007, when Bill and Company sprang Vista onto the general public. Eagerly awaiting users had their expectations slightly lowered when Redmond announced Vista, the first major upgrade since XP, would not contain WinFS. However, there were plenty of other changes to keep power users busy. And Vista adoption has occurred at twice the pace of XP’s adoption.

As a cautious observer and happy XP user, I’ve waited until now to take the plunge. By the weekend I hope to be the proud owner of a Vista laptop. In keeping with my belief that knowledge is power, I’ve discovered an excellent resource for understanding and optimizing Vista. Koroush Ghazi’s Tweaking Companion for Windows Vista is offered as a free PDF download, a paid version with illustrations and higher quality text, and a book.

The 248 page tome is not offered solely as a getting started guide, although savvy users will find it meets that goal as well. Instead, this is a thorough appraisal of the entire operating system, from its GUI Aero goodness to its enhanced DRM-infected heart. If you keep that in mind while reading the guide, you’ll stand a better chance of making the switch to Vista a positive change.

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Fall’s Second Coming

Cool, dry air greeted me as I stepped outside yesterday morning. That’s always a good thing in the dirty, and HOT south. After a brief glimpse of how sweet North Carolina Fall can be, a brutish return to summer temperatures held us captive for a couple of weeks. But patience is a virtue, and the upcoming crisp and clean air a welcome reward for waiting out the heat.

Soon, the crickets will settle down for good. All but the most deluded birds will shut up, and I’ll be able to enjoy the rustling of somber pines as they sway in time to the eternal End of Summer waltz. For some, the rustling of leaves crossing the street like harried school children will mark the hot season’s passing. For others, the end of Daylight Savings Time is the proper beginning of fall. The skies go dark so early, like a sleepy giant closing its eyes for a long hibernation.

I love this season and all that it brings. Thanksgiving splurges, excited fair goers, and most importantly, a time to recharge my batteries before next summer’s return.

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EB Salutes You Tube: Lydia

There’s no denying the effect You Tube has had on the creation and distribution of user generated media. Lonelygirl15, the HD-DVD encryption hack, and Chocolate Rain are three of the more notable instances of You Tube media achieving phenom status. But it’s the wide variety of music that keeps me coming back to the site. I particularly enjoy watching covers of popular songs. Who knew you could find a group of adolescent choirboys interpreting Tears in Heaven?

Lydia is one of the most talented artists I’ve seen to date on You Tube. Hailing from the Netherlands, this sexy-cute bassist/vocalist brings S-O-U-L straight to your earhole. She covers Marcus Miller/David Sanborn and Cameo, but my favorite performance from her is a bass and vocal rendition of Denise William’s Free. Lydia also has a MySpace where she shares her bass playing history and some original music. Steeped in mid 80’s to 90’s funk, her voice reminds me of Tina Marie. And considering the current sewage flooding commercial airwaves, I’m all about the Way Back machine feel.

If you’re into slap bass and sexy soul, drop by and show your love.

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Free (as in Speech)

Been gone a bit handling family stuff and suffering a temporary internet outage. While I told myself I’d shy away from posting the typical “bloggy” kinds of personal detritus, I absolutely miss the clacky-clack sound of my fingers hitting the keys.

I’ve also kicked a few ideas for posts around in my head. Feels like things may get political in the future. Although with the sorry state of government and lack of palatable choices in the upcoming Presidential election, my thoughts may not be much to look forward to.

Anyway… in an effort to post outside my own head, this caught my attention from the AP wires.

Va. teacher fired for buttocks art sues (Bob Lewis, Associated Press Writer)

I could say much, but absent any information other that what I’ve read in this story, my comments would be superficial. However, one aspect of the article particularly caught my eye. From the ending paragraph, “him” refers to Stephen Murmer, the fired teacher:

…school officials summoned him from his classroom, told him the video created so much discussion among Monacan students that it was disruptive, and suspended him.

Students discuss any number of issues during the day. What to wear the next day, who got drunk last Saturday at the big party, and exactly what one would do given a shot at Stacy’s mom. My Honors English class in high school buzzed with so much chatter that it sounded like the lunchroom. If students couldn’t resist speaking at inappropriate times, that should be dealt with. But trying to control the nature of what kids discuss amongst themselves too closely resembles Ari Fleischer’s idea of citizenship. You remember Ari? Mr. Americans… “need to watch what they say, watch what they do.”

Apparently Mr. Murmer didn’t get the memo. Presuming the facts of the case are as presented, one little county in Virginia may learn a lesson about the Constitution that Ari Fleischer and the current administration would rather all freethinking Americans forget. Namely, that it applies to more people than the handful who are trying to destroy it in the name of Freedom.

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Never Mind the Mile High Club

The unusual things that parents must protect their children from never cease to amaze me. Maybe that’s because I don’t have kids… anyway, now this: R-rated movies wallpapering the insides of commercial airplanes. Eeek! Mommy why did that scary man cut off the pretty lady’s head?!

There’s no excusing parents that have a choice and refuse to control what their kids watch. But how do you turn off dozens of non-repositionable video screens? Here again is the intersection of individual freedoms and responsibility to the public. It’s a theme I’ll write about repeatedly. Ostensibly, in choosing in-flight movies airlines are merely following the consumer trend toward more violence and sex in films. The fact that FCC regulations and MPAA rating guidelines don’t apply to them creates an awesome burden to placate both parents and single adult passengers. However, since “asses in seats” equate to “brass in pocket”, many airlines continue to show material unsuitable for children.

Chapel Hill, NC photographer, Jesse Kalisher created kidsafefilms.org to address the issue. This informative website offers a place for like-minded parents to vent and sign a petition asking for Congressional action. While making it clear that the responsibility to fix this problem lies with the airlines, Kalisher doesn’t advocate for the outright censorship of in-flight movies. But he and nearly 5800 others to date agree that publicly viewable material needs to be appropriate for all of the viewing public.

The argument immediately reminded me of Tipper Gore’s (and the PRMC’s) fight to label explicit content in popular music. Perhaps the most benign aim of the PRMC, compulsory labeling was an uphill battle at the time. Now the black and white stickers are commonplace, accepted, and frankly quite useful. Most importantly, the stickers haven’t stopped the suggestive lyrics of the mid-80s from growing into the unabated declarations of hatred, violence, disrespect toward women, rampant drug use and consequence-free sex we enjoy today! Millions of CDs and downloads still occur, so it seems labeling is a win-win for all concerned.

In time and with the Congressional pressure Kalisher seeks, this conflict too will hopefully reach a conclusion that benefits all involved.

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Choose Your Battles

This Salon article about an MIT student arrested for a hoax bomb threat is disturbing. What disturbs me about it is how some people interpret the event. Without doubt, many will view the occasion as an example of our disappearing freedoms. But freedom and responsibility are joined at the hip. Any discussion of individual rights vs. public safety has to start with the understanding that a society is more than a collection of individuals. Consequently, societies have rights that may limit how individual members express themselves.

I left a post at Salon’s Tech blog with my thoughts on the matter. An excerpt is below.

In NC we have a General Statute that says you “cannot go armed to the terror of the public”. It basically means that your right to own and carry a gun (any weapon) has some restrictions. Those restrictions are partly determined by the public’s perception to and reaction of a person walking around “strapped”.

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Rissi Palmer Puts the Soul in Country

Rissi Palmer teeters on the precipitous edge of a breakthrough. No, she hasn’t discovered the cure for cancer. Well, maybe she has. Rissi Palmer is a country singer. Understand that last sentence. Rissi Palmer sings country. What I heard is definitely fresh, but her country roots are unmistakable. And her music refuses to wallow in the tar pit of “Crossover”.

Rissi also happens to be black. If the rest of her CD is good as the songs on her website, she may have cured the cancerous growth called “new country”. I don’t say this because she’s black. In fact, when you listen to her, close your eyes. Aside from a subtle round timbre and sweet warmth in her voice, you might not guess her ethnicity. So what (or who) does she sound like? Although comparisons are unavoidable, they often help a new audience place music in context until a more deliberate listen. Listening to Anybody Out There, you’d have to be deaf not to hear traces of Reba McEntire in the lilting chorus,

Is there anybody out there?
Somebody out there?
That one body out there…

Country Girl, the single apparently aimed at the CMT crowd, is the anthemic country pride song required of new singers. Yet a hint of Beyonce in the chorus livens it up without straying too far afield. All the singles at her website showcase an emotion-laden songstress belting out mature lyrics devoid of kitschy phrases and innuendo. She also writes most of her songs.

Her band’s sound is pristine, with a darling mandolin leading the pack. Some of the music has that dobro and slide “‘gator country” feel to it. The musicians may not wow you with genre-bending pyrotechnics, but they don’t confuse retread Loverboy licks for country either. Of course, my review is based on four songs I heard at her website. The rest of the upcoming album may be a disappointment, but I doubt it will.

Rissi has talent, looks, and the publicity machine necessary to succeed in today’s music world. Will she make it? It’s a tough call. The intersection of politics and music is sharply defined in the country genre. The Dixie Chicks discovered that the hard way before winning a basket full of Grammys. It’s not that Palmer is billing herself as anyone other than a country musician, but historically there have been few slots in the public spotlight for Major League black country musicians.

Remember Cleve Francis? I didn’t think so.

Recently, Cowboy Troy has made quite a stir. But stirring a pot of boiling water doesn’t make it soup. And frankly, “country-like” music isn’t country music. At least Rissi doesn’t have to battle the sexual context caused by a good-looking black man whoopin’ it up with a passel of attractive white women.

But Rissi has more going for her than golden pipes and solid songwriting. While Troy’s musical collages are decidedly niche (perhaps even gimmicky), Palmer’s music is genuine country. And it’s delivered with an honesty as sweet as homemade banana pudding.

Thank you Jet magazine for the short take on Rissi.

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