They Say It’s Your Birthday

What’s more personal then your birthday? It’s perhaps the most personal thing you could put on your own website. However, sometimes what makes your special day so personal is that it is actually tied to others. There’s a picture of my first birthday sitting bare-chested in front of birthday cake that I was entrapped into destroying. Next to me is my Uncle Lonnie. Lonnie and I share the same birthday and seeing myself as a brand new one year old sitting to what appears to be grown man has always stuck with me. Now that I’m 45 today, and Lonnie is 70, seeing us next to each other doesn’t seem to be such a radical age gap. Having a relative with your same birth date is pretty cool, but having the same birth date of a super star is super cool.

Frank Jr's first birthday 1970 in Alaska

September 21st seems to be a popular date in the stars. Fellow same-day Virgos that I know of their works are Stephen King, Liam Gallagher, Faith Hill, Alfonso Ribeiro, Larry Hagman, Luke Wilson, Ricki Lake, Leonard Cohen, H.G. Wells, and Cheryl Hines. However, for me, my favorite special day person is none other than Bill Murray. I have always liked Murray’s work since seeing him on Saturday Night Live. Over the years he just seems to be getting cooler and cooler. He’s got 19 years on me, but I think it would still be fun to party with him.

Perhaps better than sharing a birthday with a real-life super star would be sharing it with a fictitious one. For me it’s not just one, but TWO. The first is Doogie Howser, M.D. I’ve only ever seen a few snippets of the show, but on one that I did see they made a reference to it being September 20th and Doogie’s birthday was going to be the next day. After a bit of Googling and Wikipeding, I’ve discovered that the first episode of every season is tied to his birthday. A show I did watch religiously and discovered a related birthday was 30 Rock. In season 3, episode 13 “Goodbye, My Friend,” it is revealed that Dot Com birthday is September 21st as he’s filing his nails: “My birthday is September 21st. Not that anyone asked.”

But perhaps the most glorious of birthday honors is if your special day is glorified through song. To this I thank Earth, Wind & Fire and their 1978 number one hit – September. It starts off with the classic line: “Do you remember the 21st night of September?” The song has such magical staying power that NPR even just did a segment on how the song has stood the test of time, and even how they picked the 21st as the date.

So when you’re birthday comes rolling along give it a once over and see what’s going on. Maybe you’ll find a little gift or two.


Yet Another Blog Post About the iPhone

Just what the world needs, right? Another blog post about Apple’s iPhone. The trend since even before there was even an iPhone was to postulate and ruminate about the upcoming device. There are still posts hanging out on the Internet where folks predicted an early death of the iPhone because it didn’t have a physical QWERTY keyboard like the for-adults BlackBerry line. However, it was only 17 months before Research in Motion introduced the BlackBerry Storm, a full touchscreen model, because Apple was beginning to eat their lunch, and finally in late 2013 Blackberry couldn’t even find a buyer for their near death company and Apple sold 500 millionth iPhone in early 2014.

With Apple’s new event coming up tomorrow, the word on the street is that it will probably be about the iPhone 6, and maybe about the new iWatch – or whatever Apple will call it—but that’s a post for another day. My focus and attention is actually on the other end of the iPhone model line, or as Apple calls it, the iPhone 4s. I had had my iPhone 4 for over two years and loved it. Almost as a matter of principle I held onto it as long as I could. The feeling of being forced as a consumer to purchase something that you do not need is not a good feeling in my book. My iPhone 4 was months past it’s two-year warranty and worked relatively well. More than likely moisture had gotten into the front-facing camera lens so all of my photos looked like they were from a dream sequence. The home button below the screen only worked if you pressed super had, so I just used the AssistiveTouch on-screen home button, which is probably a nice way to keep the wear and tear down on the actual button since they are notorious for having problems, no matter which version of iPhone you have. And overall the poor thing was slow as all get out. It took far too long for any app to open up and to even work once open. Eventually, the phone became an exercise tool for keeping one’s Zen in check.

I’m an AT&T customer, for better or worse, and since I was out of my two-year contract I could upgrade my phone with some pretty sweet deals if I agreed to be their indentured customer for two years. They carried the various iPhone 5 models, but they were still too expensive considering the commitment I was making, but the iPhone 4s was free. Though free being like the Portlandia phone store bit—it was a free upgrade once I paid the $40 upgrade fee. The iPhone 4s has a chip two models down from the current top of the line iPhone 5s. And as noted previously, a new phone should be coming out any day that will undoubtedly have a brand new chip in it as well. But I really like the feel and size of the iPhone 4. The iPhone 5 family seem too thin and I don’t need a bigger screen. It’s over kill for my needs and I don’t want to be forced into it. The iPhone 4s is still going to be supported by iOS 8 when it comes out in the fall, but no word if it is going to slow the older phones down and I’ll be in the same boat for the next two years.

A phone, or a smartphone, is a personal tool and should fit the needs of the user. There’s more than one Swiss Army knife, and they understand that individuals have individual needs. That’s why they have been making some of the earlier models for decades now. Why couldn’t Apple have put a faster chip in the 4s when the 5s came out? Call it an iPhone4s+ or whatever, but give the choice of a different size for those of us who don’t want just one model. There seems to be a trend to make phones bigger and bigger, when only a few years ago people made fun of the iPad in that it was just a big iPhone. Which is really what it was. With the proliferation of touchscreen technology you could use it for any sized device you’d like. Are phones getting bigger to make room in the marketplace for the inevitable wave of touchscreen, smart watches—or as the industry calls them, “wearables”—coming out? Samsung’s line of Gear watches have been receiving favorable reviews and seems to be really setting the pace in this area.

I’ve had my iPhone 4s for about a week now and love it. It’s just my iPhone 4, but faster, with a working button and lens, and it’s the same feel. Who knows what Apple’s plans will be come Tuesday, but I’m going to continue to think different and stick with what works for me.

Cavalcade of Binge-Watching!

The way we watch TV has been changing—for quite some time, really. The move from watching a show at a fixed time changed in the mid-70s when VCR ownership started to move past the early adoption stage. The VCR allowed users to record shows on tapes and watch them later. This could capture a wide dearth of content for those willing to program their devices. With the introduction of TiVo in 1999 the process was simplified by recording to a hard drive instead of tapes. With the advent of streaming from websites like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, and through torrent-based options, “binge-watching” has become a thing. So much so that cable companies have been seeing a decline in cable TV subscriptions over the past few years.

The idea of binge-watching came into the lexicon when TV shows become available on DVD and whole seasons could be consumed in a long evening, or two. If you wanted to drop out of life all together, you could submerse yourself into days of viewing and watch an entire history of a long running show à la Portlandia style.

With so much streaming one would think that from an economics perspective the sale of seasons on DVDs would decrease. However, in 2014 the most torrented television show was HBO’s Game of Thrones, yet it was also the most purchased television show on DVD. More than likely the former was do in part to HBO not streaming its original programming except for those that subscribe to HBO. As noted before, this is a problem for individuals who do not subscribe to cable TV, because HBO does not allow for streaming-only subscriptions. Only recently have older HBO shows been added to Amazon Prime Instant Video for streaming.

Over the past year I’ve taken on some more easily digestible TV series. Here are a few of my findings:

Black Mirror
Channel 4 – 2 seasons, 3 episodes each – torrent
This is a fantastic show based around technology and how we will deal with it in the not so distant future. There’s an episode, “Be Right Back,” that pre-dates Her, and pushes the idea of A.I. relationships to the next level. Robert Downey, Jr.’s production company, Team Downey, has optioned another episode, “The Entire History of You,” to become a movie.

Dead Set
E4 – 1 season, 5 episodes – YouTube
This is a mini-series that aired in five consecutive days in the UK and is written and directed by, Charlie Brooker, who created Black Mirror. This dark comedy takes place on the set of UK’s Big Brother TV show while they are unaware that a zombie apocalypse is breaking out. Think Shaun of the Dead meets The Waking Dead.

Channel 4 – 2 seasons, 7 episodes each – Netflix
This Jessica Hynes and Simon Pegg created sitcom also features Pegg’s right hand man, Nick Frost. Pegg is a prototypical, late-90s slacker out of Kevin Smith’s universe. It’s very interesting to see the many troupes and themes in this series that would later appear in later Pegg/Frost joints. Great use of music, too!

Bored to Death
HBO – 3 seasons, 8 episodes each – Amazon Prime
Written by and based on some real life antics of Jonathan Ames. Jason Scwartzman stars as Ames, a writer who’s procrastinating working on his second novel by becoming an illegal private detective. Zach Galifinakis and Ted Danson portray his friend and boss respectively that join Schwartman on his adventures. The series is really as good as you would hope it would be with this cast. Rumors are that a follow-up movie is in the works.

FX – 5 seasons, 10 episodes first season, 13 each the other seasons – Netflix
It’s a bit amazing this cartoon can be aired on TV, even cable. It must really push at the FCC decency rulings for TV. The setting is in an ambiguous time period, though it often has a retro look to it. Archer is the lead agent at the American-based ISIS private spy agency run by his mother. There’s somewhat of an OSS 117 vibe to it. The voice work on this series is awesome.

The Spirit of Quals Eve

Today is the day before I am to receive my questions for the qualifying exam of the PhD program I am in. We call them “quals” for short. The quals begin as four questions – one from each of your four qual-panel members. For me I have two areas of study with two panel members in each. What I will need to do at 9:00 tomorrow morning is pick up my four questions from the school, and choose one question from each of the two areas. From that point I will answer my two chosen questions in the form of two papers of 20-25 pages each all over the course of 10 days. This is the gauntlet we all must run to prove we have the mettle to be scholars. There’s also an oral review we do approximately two weeks after that, but that’s another story for another day.

So today I realized that it was Quals Eve. With it being Quals Eve I must prepare in some way for quals. For the most part that means to not freak out. In truth I have been preparing for several weeks, and in truth of that I have been preparing for two years of course work, and in truth of that there were the previous two years of master’s work, and in truth it’s really all of the actions of my life that have lead me to Quals Eve. I am all of my “mes” today.

I have been toying with several analogies of what the quals are like, but perhaps the best, which is probably really a metaphor, is Carlos Castaneda’s book where he goes out into the desert to find himself and is guided by his spirit animal along the way. It’s from a series I believe, but I had only read the one book. And there’s a lot of hallucinogenic drug taking as well. That might, or might not explain a lot. Anywho, Matt Groening has emblazoned it in my memory through The Simpson’s when Homer, after eating a super hot pepper at Springfield’s Chili Off, is lost in a desert and then guided by a Johnny Cash-voiced coyote. Homer asks if he should get rid of all of his worldly possessions, and after a guttural guffaw, Johnny Coyote answers, “If anything you should get more possessions – you don’t even have a computer.” Classic.

So toying with this some more in my mind today I was wondering what animal would be my spirit guide through this mysterious journey called quals? My 10-year-old daughter and I were walking around the corner of our apartment before dinner this evening and we were startled to see a baby squirrel sprawled out on the sidewalk. The little critter was about 7” with tail and it looked extremely young. It was still breathing and actually looked more like it was napping. We poked it a little here and there and it moved different parts of its body. It’s eyes never opened, so we surmised that it was to young to see, and probably fell out of the tree we were standing under, and doing the only thing it really knew how to do. Chill out.

It became clear at that moment that I had found my spirit guide. Though at that moment I failed to understand how this lethargic little creature was going to engage my inner spirit and guide me through one of the most important moments of my life – or at least the most important moment at hand. I have always been partial to squirrels, so that was maybe something? But then I remembered a paper we had read in one of my first PhD courses and the author related some story to squirrels and they had impressed me as someone who knew very little about wild creatures, and had probably never even taken the time out of their lives to just observe those around them. And in “those” I mean creatures other then humans. It is easy to put us on the top of the list of Animals That Communicate to Each Other the Best, when we as humans are the ones writing that list. Further more, maybe we only came up with writing so that we could make that list? Don’t get me started!

It was obvious that we were not going to be able to keep my newfound spirit guide, so we needed to find a place to bring him. And so the journey was revealed. The closest, and perhaps only place, to bring my wayward friend was the Wild Baby Rescue Center in Blairstown, NJ. That’s an hour and 40 minute one-way drive from my house. That’s over three hours of driving for those playing at home. However, the time was not to be questioned. It was only a human construct that I must measure in to bring the baby squirrel where he needed to go. (We discovered that he had a penis at the center, which is an amazing place and could well do with your donation.)

I see that it’s now 12:02 AM and officially Quals Day, and I have seen what my spirit guide had to tell me: relax, write, and the time will pass. Thank you, Spirit Squirrel.