Monday, April 30, 2012

Too Much Time

My wife showed me something this evening -- it is a link that has been making the rounds on Facebook. I'll describe it but I won't link to it. You can go search for it if you want but I refuse to be part of that process.

According to this link, some woman, somewhere, makes a different cutesy lunch for her child every day. She cuts the bread just so and arranges the eggs or the carrots so the lunch looks like her kid's favorite tv show or film or some other pop icon. She then takes a picture of it and gives it to him to eat. I'm upset on many levels, not the least of which is that this is a cheap way to get your kids to eat carrots. First off, this is another person who has exploited mediocrity to become a meme. She isn't doing anything creative -- she didn't make the tv shows; she didn't invent the video games or direct the movies. This woman is arranging food to look like what others have done. And yet people are passing pictures of her kid's lunch around. I hope that someone from DYFS looks at the food balance and decides that the lunches are not properly composed and takes her kid away.

Also, this woman clearly has some artistic ability. I don't. Is it fair that she can get internet famous (which means "not really famous at all") because she has taken some artistic gift and applies it to food stuffs instead of struggling in the textbook design field like all those others who drew Tippy the Turtle successfully. I now have to explain to my children not only why I am not famous but also why their lunches are so comparatively plain. Don't I love them? Why can't I make a sammich in the shape of the leading characters from Law and Order or Dance Moms?

Next...her kid has to eat these. What kind of respect is he learning for art? I worry that when he goes for his junior year abroad to Paris and visits the Louvre, he might think it acceptable to nosh on the Mona Lisa. Or he won't appreciate real art because he'll say "Yeah, that Degas is nice, but I don't see any cookies, so how can it be called real art?"

And remember, she takes a picture of these lunches every day. She is pimping out her kid's lunch. She knows that it is simply a self-publicizing method. If she were doing this without the coverage then I could see her as a frustrated artist. Now I see her as a frustrated art-whore looking for popular approval. Well, she isn't getting it from me. I'm eating stripes and solids tomorrow in protest.

I somehow didn't throw up when I read about the guy who dressed in different costumes each morning to say goodbye to his kids as they got on the bus. At least in that case I had the sense that he was embarrassing them, so it was a redeemable act. And the photographer who took daily pictures of his kids and posted them as one video series of stills to document their growth? I forgave him because he isn't doing much more than the average parent does at a kid's bar mitzvah for the slide show. He gets to call it art because he is a professional. The proud parents get to waste 10 minutes of my time because I am usually half in the bag. It's all good.

But this food thing was beyond forgivable. Will her child be able to eat an average lunch when no one is catering to his cultural whims, or when the school bus hits a pot hole and the ketchup splatters so it looks like Grover has a bullet wound? What kind of expectation is this setting up for his future wife?

And if you look at the food, it isn't that interesting. A slice of bread. Some crackers and veggies. Did she ever have to force him to eat a food he hates because of the artistic integrity? Has she triggered an allergic reaction because it was more important to have just that shade of mold-blue/green?

I'm going to go and shape my leftover Chinese food into a square and give it to my kids. Why a square? Not because it will be reminiscent of some tv character, but because when I poured it out of the box, it was pretty much already there.


OK, inspired by Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and the use of interactive writing projects, I have figured the next big thing in performance art. If you choose to adopt this and make it happen, please send me a million dollars.

So here's the idea. Take 6 people and put them at 6 different computers around the country. Each plays a role in a play, but instead of being on the stage, the play is written to capitalize on their presence on a webcam. The "audience" watches on their own computers, using software (or a website) that allows them to see all 6 cams at the same time. So things like getting up and walking around and speaking from "off camera" and the use of body and facial language replace standard physical interaction. Six characters should be enough to keep things moving and keep the audience shifting from image to image without being overbearing or confusing.

Is this being done? Because if it is, and I just thought of it, those people had better send me retroactive residuals.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

There's an app for laziness

I found something out today -- something so troubling that I just had to share. I'm just that kind of guy.

A student was sitting with his study group today and discussing a book. The exact book is unimportant, but it is "Inherit the Wind." It actually might be important because it happens to be a very short play. But on the whole, I don't think it is that important so let's move on, shall we? The student was trying to figure out how he could learn about the book without having to struggle through the whole hundred pages. He decided to read the SparkNotes. OK, I'm not going to fight. So I figured he'd open up his laptop and go to the SN site and read about the story.

A few minutes later, I saw him staring at his phone. I went over and said "I thought you were going to start working on your project. Put away the phone." I actually used his name, but his name isn't important. And how would you know if I lied to you about his name and chose one which was unimportant? If his name was Mohandas K. Gandhi then maybe you could make a case for its being important, but it wasn't. It was Michael. He said, "I'm working on it! I'm on SparkNotes." "Oh," I said, "you went to the site on your phone. OK." "No," he said, "theres a SparkNotes app."

I'll wait while you absorb that. Now I'll say it again: "SparkNotes app"

I'll wait again.

This has got to be the stupidest thing I have heard in the last 30 minutes, and I teach in high school!

Apps are already like SparkNotes for the internet. The phone user needs a faster and shorter way to access the underlying data which pollutes the web. The app helps categorize and limit information and makes it easier to access. But a shortcut to get to the literary shortcut seems ridiculous. Are the students that limited that they
can't get to the real, adult sized internet to get their shorter kid-friendly versions of books? Are we expecting that they are going to be on their phones and suddenly have to discuss themes from Puddin' Head Wilson? Does this often happen in situations where one can't get to a computer? Do our crutches need crutches? Shouldn't we stop trying to make everything handy and accessible in its minimalist form and demand that people do some modicum of work?

Sent from an actual computer.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A wake up call

I'm not saying that this happened to me last night, because it didn't, but it happened recently to someone I know. I won't call him a friend out of fear of reprisals but I will relate what he said did happened to him a few hours ago.

He was sleeping (which happens to the best of us) and his house alarm went off. This also happens and I hate it. I spend the first few seconds answering the alarm clock and turning off my phone and then the panic sets in. Why is the alarm sounding? Why can't God just let me sleep? Can't criminals be quieter? So I stumble out of bed, and as a matter of habit, I turn the alarm off.

This presents a problem -- once you turn it off, you can't see what zone was triggered so there is no way to know WHY the alarm was going off. But once it is off, there is such a temptation to go back to bed. For some reason, though, wives have this strange curiosity -- they want to know why the alarm sounded. So they (and I say "they" because this has happened to me and this is what happened to my colleague at 4 this morning, so I can only assume this is a truth of all wives, everywhere, even among the animal kingdom) say to the husband, "Go check that out."

Wait, what?

There is a murderer down there, a blood thirsty criminal who either can't read so he didn't see the sign on the front lawn saying we have an alarm, or doesn't care because he has had a series of personal downturns and misfortunes so he wouldn't shy away from chopping me into little bits and putting me into baggies, and not the zipper kind because we saved money by buying the generic ones with the foldy top thing. What a mess that would leave for the wife when she doesn't hear from me and comes down to check in 6 or 7 hours. So if nothing else, to all you wives, don't skimp on your baggie purchases!

But anyway. Why send ME down there? Have we not met? I'm not exactly a he-man and arming me with a pair of nail clippers won't make my flab and sweatpants any more imposing when I stumble on the band of ruffians in our kitchen making off with our collection of old sippy-cups which have no matching lids. Don't you remember that I'm the one who hates bugs? I was the one who frreaked out when the garbage bag dripped on my foot? I'm the anti-social one! -- If you want to meet new people who are robbing us, YOU GO. Why is there no equal right amendment between 11PM and 5AM? Fortunately, I only think these things and say nothing. I value all the right things in my relationship, like not having to sleep downstairs with the criminals.

So I (or my not so hypothetical friend) stumble down the stairs making the most noise possible hoping that my approach will scare the intruder back through the door he opened. I move through every room with the confidence I must exude to convince my family that this is a false alarm, mixed with the actual fear I feel at the remote possibility that I will walk into a room, turn on the light, and be confronted with an extra from The Road Warrior or a family of raccoons chowing down on a box of Power Bars and thus becoming even more powerful.

Eventually, I make it through the house and confirm that there is NO reason that the alarm went off. This is both comforting and incredibly disconcerting. Sure, no one seems to have broken in, but then why did the alarm go off? Is it broken? Did someone come in and then fix whatever he cast askew? So as I trudge back upstairs, ready to be pelted with questions about what I saw, and what might have caused the alarm to go off, I look at the clock and wonder if it wouldn't make more sense just to stay up. As the family drifts back into an uneasy sleep, I end up lying awake wondering if I remembered to check the boiler room. I clutch the nail clippers tighter and wait for sunrise when the monsters will have to get out of the house so that they can be waiting for me at work.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What I ate on my Pesach vacation

Short answer, everything.

For an 8 day holiday, I tend to buy 72 days' worth of stuff. And then eat it all in 8 days. Not my fault, really. I think that somewhere in the various codes of Jewish law is a small commentary which says (in Aramaic, no doubt) "one who has not gained 31 pounds over the Passover holiday has not fulfilled his obligation to remember the weight we gained during the exodus from Egypt."

So I eat because one should take on all sorts of stringencies for Passover. And eat them.

But I also had time to read over this holiday. I leafed through the many magazines which my wife receives. They are about women but not in the objectifying way so please, don't pelt me with rotten veggies over my choice of reading material. I might have to eat them. And you know how I feel about veggies.

I have recognized that during this holiday, my paunchier has become, well, paunchier. My spare tire now has a spare tire. And jumper cables. My love handles are more lovely than ever. My beer belly now has a more pronounced head. All that and more. So while I was reading, I took special care to focus on all the articles which advise how to remove belly fat. I read articles, I clicked on links, I learned everything there is to know about losing belly fat. And yet, somehow, I haven't lost an ounce.

I find this unfair.

I took the time and expended the energy necessary to read those articles and look at the recommended websites. I paid close attention to the recommendations and advice. For god's sake, there were VERBS involved and yet, nothing. I didn't skim or skip. I pored over the articles and it is as if I hadn't done anything at all. I turned pages, I nodded knowingly. I even half-heartedly mimicked some of the movements I saw recommended, so that I could truly understand what was being shown. Come on! Half-heartedly! It isn't like I did it with no heart! And still, nothing. This is unacceptable.

Therefore, as of now, we are ending our free subscriptions to all these magazines. No longer will I put myself through the torture of reading these articles when there is no positive benefit of having done so.

Friday, April 6, 2012

and then what am I?

Being on line in a supermarket affords me the opportunity to people watch. It also allows me to imagine that I am the subject of other people's watching so I try to buy my food in combinations which will confuse them. I imagine that people are looking at my food and wondering "what the hell is he going to make out of that??" So when I buy things like a pack of chicken, lima beans and instant chocolate pudding I know that somewhere, someone is going home with more questions than answers.

For the most part, though, I find that people are generally straight forward. The women with 15 cans of cat food either has a cat or has very particular tastes in her dinner of chicken and tuna. The man with 4 boxes of macaroni, a can of sauce and some cheese is obviously making filet mignon.

Today I got stumped.

There I was, on the express line, silently cursing the person up ahead who obviously had 13 items and then I saw what the gentleman in front of me had.

1. two pre-cooked turkey legs. They were the size of Delaware and, by law, had to be consumed while wearing some medieval clothing.
2. 1 container of ricotta cheese. For the midnight snack, I'm guessing.
3. 2 containers of mixed olives. Gross, yes, but sometimes, different colored olives are just what the doctor ordered. If you are suffering from a lack of taste buds.
4. Four, count 'em, four containers of chopped liver.

OK, the combination had me guessing but I couldn't really even get past item number 4. Chopped liver? I looked more carefully -- this was not some kosher brand, but a "from the deli counter, fresh from the cow" chopped liver. I didn't even know that anyone other than the kosher people MADE chopped liver and I certainly didn't expect that anyone ate it. Remember, I love chopped liver. But I always assumed that was a genetic thing: along with gefilte fish, celery soda and borscht came the dna-based predilection for chopped liver. This guy's other purchases seemed to put him, how should I say it, out of the fold of the Jewish minority. And, remember, he bought FOUR of them. What kind of a party was this guy throwing? This was NOT some hoity-toity "pate". I was clearly labeled Chopped Liver. And this guy bought it.

I am hoping he did so just for the joke, and to that I say "Well played sir. Well played."


I have a complex relationship with the internet. We have known each other since I was young and it was still finding its way, morphing from a unix based set of gofer sites into something visual. Before that, I knew my local dial up systems and multi-user portal systems and we grew to respect each other.

I fear, though, that my relationship is hitting some mid life crisis as the internet and I take cheap shots at each other. And I'm not sure what to do.

I remember the early days of sites like Mapquest. Looking at maps was fun but those, they were uncannily accurate! Directional signs were exactly as they appeared on the road and the mileage was spot on. OK, so there was the occasional mistake so I drove 15 minutes south before deciding to turn around because I was supposed to be going north and, no, the road was not going to magically make a u-turn to get me to my destination, but that was a one-time thing and I still loved downloading directions. But as sites like Mapquest got bigger and fancier, they forgot about me. Amidst the satellite pictures and reminders of "if you have gone too far" and the cute directions like "now swim 2500 miles" they have started giving out sloppy directions. Maybe it has gotten too big for me. Maybe there are just too many demands on its time for it to remember that I was there when it was just starting out. But I have gotten lost twice in a week while using online directions and I think that I have to stand up and defend myself at some point.

And other sites, like White Pages. When it was first around, we sued to spend hours looking up phone numbers. And when a reverse directory came out, man did we have fun. But that time is past. Now, I wade through oodles of redirects and ads and find that the system won't just give me the phone number. "Click here to get a background check" it pleads. What if I don't want the ages of the people, or their email addresses, but just a phone number. And I can't crawl back to the old stand-by, the phone book. Many have died out and others have sold out so much ad space that finding a number is almost as tough.

Search engines? I admit, I have tried out a whole bunch, rarely being loyal to just one. And maybe this drove them to keep reinventing themselves. But at some point, search engines forgot that they were supposed to be helping me, not advertising themselves. Won't anybody think of the children?

I remember looking in awe at the burgeoning internet and thinking of all it could do. VRML promised walks through stores with complex visuals and a fully interactive experience. Nothing. Frames, colors, java and its applets all promised that somehow, the same information which bored me as I lived my real life would suddenly be compelling and worthwhile when I stared into the unblinking VDT. Now, I hang on every page load (and often, so does my computer) waiting for something to happen, somewhere so that I can have an opinion about it, or click on something. Facebook has, through all its permutations, reminded me that my life is pretty much not that interesting and waiting for one of my friends to do something is like watching paint dry or water boil. Sure it is fun for the first couple of days, but eventually, you have a hankering for a sammich.

So internet, return to me. Remember me and your childhood days. Remember the innocence of your youth and remember the promise of the future. Help me love you again by doing something so wicked cool that no one saw coming.

Monday, April 2, 2012

They didn't want me baby

It has been a long time since I have been rejected. I don't say that with any measure of arrogance -- I'm just reporting fact. I have the job I went out for. My wife agreed to marry me all those years ago. When I put the money in the soda machine, the soda comes out. So I don't have a lot of recent experience being rejected. This does not mean that it doesn't happen. I didn't get into all the grad schools to which I applied, but I got into the ones that I wanted to so I didn't feel bad when I was rejected to other programs. I haven't gotten every job which I have tried to get, but the ones I got were the ones I was really aiming at.

It has been a long time. Maybe that's because I don't do that many things which put me out on the line. Maybe I insulate myself by taking a safe course and only trying for things which I know I can attain, or which I know I have no chance at. So if I get them, I'm either confirmed in my conception of myself, or happily surprised, while if i don't get them, I'm confirmed in my self of limitation. But I'm not disappointed and that's the kind of rejection I mean.

If I put in my resume for the "president of he USA" job which is soon to be open, I'd be rejected but that's ok -- I don't really care. But if just so happens that I put in an application for a summer class which I think I'm perfectly suited for and I was rejected today. I have gone through all the stages of grief -- from disbelief to grief to blogging (the three recognized stages of grief). I have tried to rationalize [they never stated what they were looking for in candidates so how could I have given them what they want] [they are missing out because I am exactly what they should be looking for and they just don't know me] and I have tried to look on the bright side [now I can mark all of those papers that I pretended I lost last year]. I even tried to find fault with their system and with the program [how can they claim to do a serviceable job without the unique voice which I can provide]. But the bottom line is that they rejected me.

They decided I was not of value, not at the undefined "top" of some class. They decided they could do without me and they decided that the did not have any need for that which I use to define myself. I can try to explain it away, move on and keep a stiff upper lip because everything works out for the best and all that, but it just drives me to not want to put myself out there -- don't run the risk even for what should be a slam dunk because that hurts a lot less than being told that you aren't going to fit into someone's plans.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Non performance Art

I have a new idea for a show; it combines one of my previous posts about opening a store that has no purpose (go to here and search for "My Newest Idea") and Cage's 4'33". Here's my idea. You buy a ticket for a dollar and go in and take your seat. I come in and sit in a chair on stage. Twenty minutes later, you leave.

That's it.

I sit on stage. Maybe I make a phone call. Maybe I read the paper. Occasionally, I take a nap. Who knows. The point is, I don't do much of anything different from if I happened to be sitting around at home. I'm not acting like I'm doing nothing - I'm doing nothing.

Cage might have been making a point about ambient sound or the definition of music but I'm presenting social critique on reality shows and the intrusiveness of social media. This is the ultimate reality show because most of the time, people are boring and don't do much but not because they are trying not to do anything. Life usually just isn't much more than sitting in a chair. So I might as well make a buck while I'm at it.

As I'm sitting in a chair right now, typing this, the show is already on. You owe me a dollar.