Media Blackout Redux

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It’s time for a change. I did this years ago, and wonder why I didn’t keep it up. During that period, I found more time available for things that mattered, and way fewer negative thoughts invading my mind. I worried less, slept better, felt better, and found focusing on the good things easier.

No, I haven’t escaped to the woods…yet (not a bad idea, though). What I’m talking about is going back to an intentional personal media blackout. I’ve watched my behavior, moods, and perspective over the last few months as I’ve contemplated doing this again. And I believe it will help on so many fronts that are not percolating along as I think they should. In addition to the obvious gains in limiting negativism (and let’s face it, bad news sells), I expect, as I experienced before, a huge boost in available time to focus on my three criticals: support my family and friends, write like I’m a writer, and finish my house remodeling. All that in addition to my day job (and surviving the energy drain from that) and other interests I enjoy pursuing. There’s no room on my list of being me for an addicted news junkie attached to the electronic teat of the news media in all its inglorious capitalistic and narcissistic forms.

As of today, I’ve deleted the bookmarks in my Dailies folder (a folder on Safari that I read every morning of my favorite sites) related to news: New York Times Skimmer, CNN.com, The Daily Beast. I canceled my sub to the Toledo Blade. I even canceled my sub to The Economist (a great magazine, but a huge time drainer). I don’t watch TV news (don’t even have cable or over-the-air reception), so that’s a non-issue unless Netflix’s streaming service starts carrying NewsReels. And while there is no way in today’s connected world that I can truly unplug from “news,” I can at least disconnect from my voluntary sources and thus significantly lower my exposure to the world’s ills. When I did this a few years ago, it didn’t make me an ignorant hermit. I heard more than enough (too much actually) about major news via the workplace, Internet communications, and word of mouth. Truth is one can’t escape the deluge unless you’re off in the mountains with nary a soul around and miles from the nearest ‘net connection. That would be a bit too radical (but oh the hours I could devote to writing…).

And what about social media? And my beloved NPR? Hard calls. Twitter’s a huge black hole, and thus far not seeing much value there so will likely unplug from it. Facebook, however, is even more addictive than mainstream news. And NPR’s been part of my morning routine since…well, since 2007 as noted in the link above! Not clear on Facebook and NPR exposure quite yet, but do plan on watching them closely. NPR’s fairly predictable on news coverage re: time of day, so a little self control to avoid those zones should do the trick.

So what made me do this now? Watching myself become way too interested in the details of the Arizona shootings is what pushed me over the edge. It’s not that I don’t care about what happened, or feel for those affected, but more that I can no longer afford the emotional capital required to stay on the cutting edge of all the world’s problems, considering all the other things that whine for my attention. Those events that truly important where I can make a difference will find their way to me without me bartering valuable time away.

Will this media blackout du jour stick? I certainly hope so, but realize the proof will be in the productivity, not to mention the anticipated peace of mind. Don’t wait up for the proverbial “film at 11” to find out, because I’ve pulled the plug and hopefully for the final time.

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Celebration

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So it’s not exactly an Earth-shattering way of celebrating, but to someone who hasn’t had significant solid food in two weeks, it was glorious.

I’ve only recently embraced sushi as a delicacy, final realizing that sushi does not have to mean raw fish. The photo of my dinner above is testament to how once can enjoy non-raw-fish sushi. The top delicacy is a spider roll, consisting of soft-shell crab, ubiquitous rice, and a few veggies wrapped in soy paper (an option I like over the usual seaweed). Next to that is a Yasaihama roll, assorted vegetables in rice with seaweed wrap. The lone Nigiri Sushi is smoked salmon on…that’s right, more rice. What isn’t shown is the edamame I ordered as an appetizer. By time I snapped this pix, the delightful steamed soybeans in salted pods was long gone (and thoroughly enjoyed).

I’d love to report I had a little Sake to make this a truly fine meal, but alas, the restaurant (Asian Grill in Findlay), does not yet serve beer and wine. Considering I haven’t, along with real food, had even so mucha as a glass of wine over the last three weeks, that might have led to a bit too much celebration last night.

Findlay O Findlay

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I’m blogging to you from deep in the heart of…Northwest Ohio. Ohio? What happened to Texas? I’ve been up here in the land of sensible values since last summer, but I have a good excuse: an odd need to eat and pay bills. So when the chance came up to do a long-term consulting project up here in Flag City and thus end a drought of work, I said “Duh…of course.”

I’ve lived in Texas since 1971, so to suddenly relocate (even temporarily) to a more northern clime is a bit of a shock to the system. To keep this in perspective though, my formative teenage years were spent in the suburbs of Chicago, so this cowboy is no stranger to cold northern winters. But that was more years ago than I’ll admit to in this public forum, so suffice to say I’m out of winter-shape, so to speak.

I’ve written fondly of winter and missing seasons here before, so this opportunity has certain upsides: seasons, smaller town, slower pace of life, and those damn practical Midwestern values. On the other hand, it’s still the culturally starved Midwest where corn and babies seem to occupy most minds. What culture one enjoys up here is either imported or traveled to…there just isn’t much here. But on the balance of things, I’ve enjoyed a simpler, more hassle-free life in my temporary Ohio digs.

One pleasant surprise has been the close proximity of several interesting getaways. You can get out of or across Ohio by car within a relatively short time. It takes part of two days to traverse Texas. Chicago and it’s cosmopolitan influences of the Art Institute and nightclubs is a brief four hours away. Cleveland and it’s Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame a couple hours. The blue hills of Kentucky are a little more than four hours due south. And for a spicier venture, Windsor, Canada and its blue collar party atmosphere beckon complete with (legal) Cuban cigars and potent beers. I don’t smoke cigars, but I’ll inhale those non-export high-alcohol-content Canadian beers any day.

I do travel back to Houston occasionally, and between the humidity (who wants to remember that?) and the congestion (who wants to deal with that?), it’s always a shock to the system. At the end of these back-travel weeks, I’m somewhat stressed and looking forward to returning where the corn sways slowly in the wind and the search for intellectually based culture continues. Of course, that’s not during the winter, where most of my time now is spent trying to keep the damn wind from sending its icy probes into every exposed skin pore. I love snow, and the temperature hasn’t been too bad, but the wind. Oh lordy the wind.

Unfortunately, winter in northwest Ohio is mostly about cold and wind, and seldom about snow. Tolerating frigid temperatures is always more pleasant when the calmness and serenity of a white, wintry blanket greets the eyes, but alas: this winter’s been unusually cruel and we’ve haven’t been blessed with much snow to mitigate the depressive gray of a snowless winter scene. But now spring is around the corner, with green images and hiking opportunities, and sun. I’ll miss what little snow we’ve had, but I won’t miss the wind.

Locals tell me we’re close enough to Lake Erie to stay under cloud cover for most of the winter in our attempt to emulate Seattle. Some of my co-workers even admit to taking occasional winter drives south a few hours where the sunshine is more frequent this time of year. I haven’t felt that dark side of winter yet, but the few days the sun does manage to break through the clouds it feels like a celestial event worth celebrating. Another difference between Ohio and Texas regarding the sun must have to do with sun angles. In Texas I couldn’t go outside without sunglasses, whereas up here it seems less of an issue. Maybe it’s the glare from all the concrete and glass that defines Houston, or maybe the air pollution down there reflects the sun rays just enough to enhance the glare. Either way, it’s a moot point up here right now for sunglasses are the last accessory I need to remember.

I’ll be up here through this year with an option to continue part-time for another year. I’m getting acclimated to this slower pace of life, and certainly relishing the seasonal changes, so who knows: maybe this cowboy might have to trade in them boots for snowshoes and heavy blankets.

Play Ball!

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It’s that time of year when every baseball fan gets excited, forgets how their favorite bums played last year, and relishes the fact that for a few weeks at least, their favorite team is in contention.

I went to the opening day game last night to watch the St. Louis Cardinals whup up on my favorite Houston Astros. Since I’m out to enjoy the festivities and baseball, I don’t get frantic when the bums lose, nor obnoxious when they win (well…not too much). After last year’s Astros record comeback from nothing, I’m not sure I can take the stress again!

These images are a few I took, mostly before the game. I created a photo album (link at the right) if you want to see more of the festivities and a nice glimpse of our Minute Maid Park, one of the current string of new parks designed to get the fans closer to the game while including some quirks and twists like the old ballparks of yesteryear. (In our case, we have a “hill” in deep center field and very close left field bleacher which, unfortunately, home-run-bashing Jim Edmunds of the Cardinals found to his liking in the first inning last night. :sad:).

So enjoy these images and by all means, if you’re close to a major league park (or minor league), get to a game or two and enjoy yourself. But bring lots of cash: there seems to be a renewed attempt to pay these ballplayers salaries from the fan’s pockets. (I went by myself and it still cost me $50 for a ticket, parking, a dog, peanuts, and bottled water.) It ain’t cheap, but it’s a blast.

Finally Free

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I’m tired…tired of coping and dealing with keeping up with the latest tech gadget, software package, etc. It’s clear that I’m not getting any happier trying to be the mind-numbed consumer of whatever Mr. Retailer puts on the shelf. Add to that a struggle with keeping my hair under control (I am growing it longer, but even with newly discovered “product” I can’t keep it under control). I should also mention struggling lately with a unnatural appreciation of girly things. AND to top it all off, I’m really tired of working just to earn a buck…when all I do is spend, spend, spend.

So…

As of today, I’m denouncing anything even remotely reeking of consumerism, capitalism, societyism, you-ism-name-it-ism, along with some other, long-overdue changes. As evidence for my bold act of freedom, here’s my five-part plan:

* I just gave noticed to my boss: “I quit.”
* I’m giving all my stuff away to charity this weekend.
* I have an appointment at 5 today with my barber to have my head shaved. Hair is the devil’s eyelashes, you know.
* I’m heading off this weekend on a grand walkabout to points unknown dressed in a nice, silk robe-like thing worn only on holy days by a little Hari-Krishna grandma. It feels so nice.
* Finally, I have an appointment next week with a Swedish doctor to see about changing things so my feminine side can truly be represented.

While some of you may think this is all crazy, rest assured it’s the path towards finally finding happiness for me. I wouldn’t suggest these changes for any one else, but for me they make sense.

See you on the other side!

Oh, and one more thing: what’s today’s date? 😉

Bad Google

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Apparently there’s a new Google game afoot: Google Giggles (my name, I haven’t heard it named elsewhere). Similar to the game where you try to come up with a two-term search that results in one and only one Google hit, in this game you try to force a bizarre GoogleAd based on common words. Google’s AdSense program, which I used to have here at inkmusings, generates small context- sensitive ads that many are using to make $$ on blogs, sites, etc. But as you can see by the samples at the right, they don’t always make sense! 😕

The real challenge thus becomes one of trying to force a GoogleAd to show up that isn’t from eBay, since it’s obvious one can buy anything at eBay is seems (and New or Used!). 😳 And you may find that no matter how bizarre the term, there’s likely to be a rock band out there named that, such as in the case of an ad for a music store selling Toejam’s latest offering! So applying the eBay-doesn’t-count rule is not as easy as one might think.

Sometimes, though, the results are a bit scary. As the ad below shows, we tend to make things easy for terrorists these days in the good ol’ US of A. :huh:

Love for Sale

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teddy-love.jpgCupid may have filled his time sheet at full-rate fees yesterday, but today love is cheap. Everywhere you go it’s the same scene: heavily discounted, unloved, unwanted, undestined love-things for sale. Who can resist chocolate on sale? From the looks of some of the displays, plenty of people can (either that, or they over-gorged on choco-a-lot). And of course, there are the irresistibly cute orphaned hug-mes out there such as this sad little guy doing his best “pick me, pick me!” wave as I took his picture.

And sadly, no commercially based holiday would be complete without the near-immediate (do they at least wait until 12:01 a.m. out of respect?) pushing of the old to make way for the hurried stocking of the new. My local CVS pharmacy decimated the valentine’s card section today and begun putting up all things green. We’re a month away from St. Patrick’s Day (and all that silliness with green beer) and it’s already starting. I just got over suffocating on Christmas everywhere a few months ago. Sheesh. It’s enough to give an honest curmudgeon the rash.

Fry-Days with The Man

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frydays1.jpgNormally, I’m an easy-going guy, not one to cause trouble or for that matter, do anything to get noticed. But on occasion I inadvertently bump into “the man.” Such was the case last Friday night in pursuit of one of my infrequent Friday-night rituals: browsing the aisles of Fry’s.

If you’re from Houston, you know the store I’m talking about. If you’re not, then picture a typical Wal-Mart filled with only geek toys…and okay, maybe a few appliances thrown in to act as a viable cover. It’s not that Fry’s is a bargain. In fact it’s the opposite: you can buy the same thing elsewhere for less, but they have an awful lot of stuff you can’t find anywhere else, thus the draw. At least a fourth of the store is devoted to DIY pursuits, from remote-control whatevers to networking, PC building, modding, you name it. If it’s got anything electronic inside, it’s at Fry’s (and likely the parts and pieces to fix, update, or enhance it later). I always whisper a silent admonition to myself to “look but don’t buy” when I cross the threshold into credit-card heaven, but it never fails that a trip to Fry’s results in something carried out to the car. I just always hope the damage is not too severe.

click me for full pixNow being the good little blogger I am, I thought it would be fun to do a little photo journal of the whole Fry’s experience. So I sauntered in (after doing my return, a common ritual of these Friday-night solo dates), and before passing the magic gates to start browsing, I stopped and started to take a photo panorama (one frame of which you see in this thumbnail, which if you click on will open to a full picture). After two frames, a less-than-patient security guard hustled over and firmly told me “you can’t take pictures in here.” I stared at her not really connecting to what she said since it took me by surprise. “Is this a store policy?” I asked, dumbly, to which she uttered a little louder (I wasn’t deaf, but apparently she made that assumption), “YOU CAN’T TAKE PICTURES.” I smiled, said “Okay” then put my digicam away in pocket. If this had been Eastern Europe a couple decades ago, no doubt she would have yanked the camera out of my hands and removed the film. Or if she was having a bad day, simply shot me instead. Thank goodness it’s America (and thank goodness Fry’s isn’t run by Homeland Security or I might have been shot on the spot).

All this was no more than a trite little story to tell someday until I read William Safire’s most-excellent “On Language” column in today’s The New York Times Magazine. Today’s topic was on the use, mis-use, and nuances of clandestine and covert among other “spookspeaks.” Now I understood a little more about the nuances of my Friday-night excursion: I thought I was being covert, whereas the security guard thought I was clandestine, no doubt thinking I was a hooligan hired to snap pictures of their lauded bargains. In reality, I was neither exactly, but that didn’t console my poor digicam whom I’m sure whined in my shirt pocket each time I stumbled across some odd (but cool) geek toy begging for me to preserve in digital heaven, or more often, capture moments of the bizarre shoppers.

I didn’t stay that long since my clandestine intentions had been effectively thwarted by an ever-policy-vigilant rent-a-cop. In my wounded-ego condition I might have been tempted to console myself with a bunch of unnecessary (but oh so cool) thingamabobs, but in the end, I left with my dignity…and a cool KVM video-audio-keyboard-mouse switcher to share two computers with one monitor/keyboard/mouse…and some unsalted cashews. But really, that’s all! Next time I may just go in with one of those necktie spy cameras and try to complete my aborted mission. Let’s see how long it takes them to spot me then! Or not.

Signs

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princess.jpgI’m always intrigued by the graphic and frequent tongue-in-cheek nature of signage and tend to capture interesting signs I stumble upon.
Here are a handful of such visual stories encountered on recent walks. And yes, I’m taking the lazy approach to a post today, but at least they’re colorful!

The cleverly spelled Princess sign was on a residential garage (go figure) in Keene, NH; the dissappointing public street bathroom, alarming sidewalk sign, and the colorful Irish pub sign are from Bolyston Street in Boston; the dental arts sign is outside a shop on Newbury Street in Boston.

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Heigh-Ho

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knight.jpgAs the little dwarfs are wont to sing, “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go.” Except it’s just me…and I’m not singing nor whistling…but alas, I am off to work. Bummer.

Today I go back to the office, back to the salt mine, the grind, the 9-to-5, the whatever-passes-as-a-nickname term for one’s day job. After sitting out over a month, it will be nice to slip back into the old routine, but I have to admit my brief dance with retirement life was mighty tasty. Some benefits I’ve experienced in the last thirty days or so:

* No-alarm mornings – I’ve heard of people who live like this but never thought I could wake up without an alarm to nudge me into the world. Amazing.
* Slower days – Without the usual full day at the office bookended by a pair of weekend days partly spent doing the errands I couldn’t do during the week, the days progress more slowly. Nice.
* Drive-time commutes? Fuggetaboutit – How nice is it to be still in jammies and sipping coffee at the breakfast table while listening to bad traffic and weather reports? Oh yeah…
* No dry cleaning – No office time, no dry cleaning. Sweet.
* Stigmaless days – When you don’t work, there’s little difference between Tuesday and Sunday. Monday loses its dread, but Friday doesn’t have that feeling of release after a long work-week. Still, a good thing.
* Leveled happiness – For the last month I’ve been happy every day, instead of the usual up-and-down nature of a typical work-week. Very cool.

Of course there are a few negatives, but the only one of note is the obvious: at some point bills must be paid and the allure of being workless thus comes to a grinding halt. But overall, given the chance, I’d figure out how to survive days into weeks into months into years of doing what I’ve done over the last thirty days. In the meantime, however, I need to finish writing this, do my exercises, then get ready and go off to work, whistling optional. The only real challenge this morning is not getting up, but making sure I leave for the office a little early…just in case I have trouble finding it.

Picture taken at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art from their excellent display of late-medieval period (and beyond) armor.