Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review #9

Under the DomeUnder the Dome by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is the first new Stephen King I've read since he completed his Dark Tower series, at which point I thought he was going to retire, and then we he didn't, I sort of retired him on my own. But I needed a page turner to open my winter break with and I remembered that some reviews were heralding this as "vintage" King, so I picked it up.

Let's be totally clear: Stephen King phoned it in for this book. None of the characters feel especially loved or fleshed out and they, along with several of the story threads feel like amalgamates of better, King books. Needful Things and Salem's Lot both come to mind. But to be fair, the situation is driving the book, not the characters. The main thread under the dome is an extreme rendition of the Stanford Prison Experiment: it's not so surprising, but it's very compelling.

What disappointed me most about the book was it's lack of a grand architecture. Stephen King's last book to top 1000 pages was The Stand in 1990. The Stand had the benefit of both a compelling situation and plenty of fascinating heroes and anti-heroes. Plus, it had a place in the over-arching mythology of The Dark Tower series, King's "uber-novel." The Stand is a masterpiece. UTD is a lark.

While it may not live up to the standard set by his past novels, it is King's most compulsive page turner since Wizard and Glass, and his most visceral horror novel since Desperation/The Regulators.



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Friday, December 17, 2010

A Library Dream



I have a reoccurring dream in which I’m at the Copley site of the Boston Public Library browsing books. I rarely go to the library with a book in mind, instead I browse until I think of something I need to read. Meanwhile I’m also watching a beautiful young woman who is doing the same.

Like when I’m shopping for clothes, I always feel the need to run my hands over every book that even briefly catches my attention.

At last I think of one I’d like to read and head slowly towards its shelf. From the opposite direction, so does the beautiful young woman. At last we meet, our fingers touching the spine of the very same book. We smile at each other, but because this is a library, neither of us speaks.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review #8

Little, Big (Trade Paperback)Little, Big by John Crowley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


My feelings about this book are deeply conflicted

For the first 260 or so pages I had difficulty reading this book. It had elements I liked: fantasy, mythology, realism, and a little magic (but not so much that it unfairly dominates). But at the same time it was excruciating. Long descriptions of muddled musings, excruciatingly oblique foreshadowing. I planned the biting 2 or perhaps 3 star review I would give, ultimately comparing it to Gormenghast. Like that one, this book broods. A great deal more happens than in Gormenghast, however the mood and attention to atmosphere feels far more important than anything that's happening to the characters, or that constitutes a plot.

The first 200+ pages were a struggle to read. I tried everything. I brought to work. I read an interlude on the T. I put it on my night side table, and then in the bathroom, trying to find the right setting, the right space, and maybe temperature to settle in. But I couldn't find it

I noticed the change around the start of "Book Four: The Wild Wood," though I'm sure it started a little before that. Gradually things started to happen that seemed to matter. Whereas the beginning of the book seems most concerned with the reader's understanding of a bizarrely complex architecture and genealogy [I kept returning to Grady Tripp in Wonder Boys, who writes 1000s of pages of a never ending novel and, for one chapter, writes only of the bloodlines of horses], the center of the book is a story of love and loss, which is simultaneously the same story you've read/experienced before, but with a special newness. There are many other stories interwoven, but for me this was the most important story, in fact, really the only story I cared about it.

And, while it's still excruciating and oblique at times, once the the machinery was set in motion the book moved much faster, and I even came to understand that without those first 200+ pages I would not have had the necessary pieces and momentum for book to ever reach a satisfying conclusion.

When I was a little boy I used to go across the street to where my 2nd grade teacher, Ms. Heemstra, lived with her cat, Radar. She and her cat were both very tolerant of the curiosity of little boys, they even encouraged it. Whenever I went I asked her to show me her cuckoo clock. She would dutifully wind it so that after a minute's wait the bird would pop out. I was very excited, while Radar was disinterested. Over time I came to have an understanding of how the clock worked. I realized that it was "clockwork," some intricate machinery, and not magic which propelled the bird forward for my amusement. But to me it was as good as magic. The older you become, the more you learn, the more things lose this sort of magic. But of course at the same time, other things gain it.

As I read this book I was continuously torn by two conflicting impulses: the desire for more magic and the desire for magic-less clarity. In a lesser a book I'd say this is a major flaw, but I think this conflict forms the heart of, and maybe genius, of Little, Big. In the presence of one, we want the other, but in fact in order for our stories to matter they need to marry both, and I think this book accomplishes this feat.

However, as with Ms. Heemstra's cuckoo-clock I tend to prefer smaller machinery, and I can certainly think of stories (for instance: "Vanishing Acts," by Kelly Link) that make me aware of the same things without requiring over 200 pages of winding.



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Scrabble Mania - part I

GAME 1.

Dash: 119, Ori: 212, Gage: 224.

Gage was in it to win it, making double digit point plays on all but one turn. Ori had the highest single play of the game with La/Fax/Ore/Axed for 55 points, however, when Rick played clean/it, he opened up the triple word score to Gage, who was "ice" cold on the way to his win.



Game 2.

The Jew a.k.a. Gage Norris: 222, Dr. King a.k.a. Frederick Dashiell: 114, The Laser a.k.a. Ori Fienberg: 242. The Jew put everyone in check when he played Queen for 48 points, but The Laser made it mate with Vibe/Cape.



GAME 3.

Freaknizzle a.k.a. Rick, Razor a.k.a. Ori, Sonic a.k.a. Damian.

Sadly, Freaknizzle had to bow out after his seventh play, doom. Sonic fought valiantly, but a combination of bad letters, and perhaps some anxiety about his impending (hopefully not doom) Math final exam kept him from really getting the ball rolling. The Razor took it with a score of 274 to 111.




Stay Tune For More Highly Competitive Scrabble Match Ups As The Foundation Year Writing Workshops Wind Down For The Year!

Friday, December 3, 2010

An Elegant Dinner

Pan-seared Calves Liver and Fig Balsamic Caramelized Onions, Shiitake Mushroom and Meyer Lemon Carolina Brown Rice, with Lightly Earl Gray Scented Green Beans.



Then: Hershey Kisses Filled with Caramel. Someday I'll learn how to make dessert.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Review #7

Prayers for the AssassinPrayers for the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book has a lot going for it. The fight scenes in this are peerless. I was taken back to the olden days when I used to read and then reread R.A. Salvatore books featuring Drizzt Do'Urden. In fact, I'm not 100% certain that Rakim Epps isn't really Drizzt (more on that later).

Also, though it's a bit odd, I learned a fair amount about the Muslim religion and traditional observances. It's a stew of modern and fundamentalist practices and really makes me feel like I should find an actual book about it, rather than a suspense-thriller, or wikipedia. Any suggestions?

Before you can read this book you must first suspend your disbelief. If you even read the back cover then you'll know it's necessary, and I read mostly fantasy, sci-fi, and educational theory so I'm used to it. Even so, I had a lot of difficulty. It took me till about 1/3 of the way through before I felt like Ferrigno had been able to create a world I could believe in, at least enough to enjoy the book.

Otherwise two glaring flaws prevent me from giving this book more than 3 stars. First, Ferrigno delivers characters background stories by forcing the main character to have long "remember when" conversations with each character. Really, I'm not sure how one goes about fleshing out a character's past without it feeling awkward. However, I think in mysteries such as this one a lot of that background is really unnecessary. The main character is a "shadow warrior," I'd almost prefer for his past to be a little more murky.

The second flaw draws me back to Drizzt Do'Urden. Rakim Epps' nemesis is another Feyadeen, this one an assassin. He's a pretty great character, and nearly Epps' opposite. A great Artemis Entreri character. But does their rivalry live up to that example? Sadly, no.

This book was a command performance. I gave another friend The Name of the Wind, and he gave me this. This was an entertaining read, and while I don't feel compelled to read any more of this series, if I were at an airport and need something, I'd certainly return to Ferrigno's series, at least if I couldn't find another book promising the death of Nazis and treasure.



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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Phreelance Writers Forum - Love Letters

Last weekend I organized a drawer in my bureau that I’ve been using as a memory dump for many years now. Special finds include identification cards from 6 years of schooling, ticket stubs from every high school dance, and a sealed, unused condom, expired in 2002, which I think must have been from the first package I ever bought.

But the artifacts I was most excited to uncover were bundles of love letters. The first I ever received was written by my kindergarten-sweetheart after I moved from Mississippi to Massachusetts. The envelope is bordered in tiny hand drawn red hearts and they replace the dots on each “i”. The last batch was written to me at a writing residency where in order to encourage artistic isolation, the proprietors did not provide internet or phone access.

Every few years for the last 20 years some philosopher, writer, or technophile feels the need to proclaim that print media is dead and will soon be supplanted by digital media. Print media endures because people enjoy books not just as ideas, but as objects. Someday convenience and price may put an end to the print era; however, I hope we never reach the same point with love letters. Love and writing
love letters should never be matters of convenience. The extra effort helps makes love letters special.

But even if a lover were also a digital designer and took the time to craft a compelling digital billet-doux, it still wouldn’t compare. You can’t touch an e-mail knowing that your lover touched it. An e-mail will never be S.W.A.K. (sealed with a kiss). An e-mail cannot carry the scent of your lover. And on the darker side, if a lover spurns or betrays you, you can delete the e-mail, but that’s a cold and empty gesture, whereas burning a stack of love letters can be
extremely satisfying and at least pays suitable tribute to the passion the relationship inspired.

Check out more opinions and discussion of love letters in today's Phreelance Writers Forum.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Madness Much - Artifice Release Reading (Boston)

Join Artifice Magazine at the Boston stop of the MADNESS MUCH: THE ISSUE 2 RELEASE TOUR.

Date and Time:
Saturday, October 16 · 5:30pm - 7:30pm

Location:
The Enormous Room
569 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA
Created By

Readings by:

Elisa Gabbert
Ori Fienberg
Jeremy Bushnell
Andrew Farkas
M. Kitchell
...and others!

Get Out the Vote

Something strange is going on here:

We are being invited to vote for the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, an award to the ball player who’s the most charitable, or philanthropic, or engaged in their community. Entering gives the voter a chance to go to the 2010 World Series, and what's not to like about that?

Well, first of all, the interface is cruddy. The only pictures are of the ballplayer. In order to see each player’s community service, you must first select them, which flips over their picture so you can read three sentences about the player’s deeds.

What? No media? Really? The site is basically designed for a quick popularity contest, and while that's as good a way as any to pick players for the all-star game, for a community service award it feels a bit weak. There’s really nothing about the charities and programs that the ball players are associated with. No video. No pictures. No quotes. No numbers. Seriously. Is anyone actually going through and reading about these? There’s not even a link to the organizations they support.

Meanwhile, Chevrolet isn't doing much to encourage a meaningful vote. The website encourages you to "Vote for your favorite player," not to "Carefully examine the off-the-field contributions of each player and decide who best emulates the selfless contributions made by Roberto Clemente and other baseball-humanitarians.

Really, there's nothing wrong with the public getting to vote for the Roberto Clemente Award , but if you're going to hand the decision over to the fans, at least make sure they have the information they need to make an educated decision.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Misadventures in Adcopy #5 - Special "News" Edition

Metro is a free, daily newspaper distributed along the public transit lines of several major metropolis. Since last year they've been engaged in a blitz marketing campaign for a company called Acushakti, which has taken all of the health benefits of a bed of nails, and mass produced it in plastic. They've had weekly ads, including several full pages, and one day when Metro had the front and back cover printed to look like an Acushakti mat. Honestly, I thought that was a nifty marketing ploy.


But what's not nifty, in fact is unacceptable, are the articles that Metro has published about Acushakti. I’ve seen three in the mywellbeing section since December, and while I know Metro isn’t the gold standard in journalistic excellence and integrity (I can’t seem to find Metro’s Journalistic Code of Ethics), the About section of their website states, “colorful features are presented without any bias.” I’m disappointed that Metro can’t recognize the inherent bias of using articles to promote one of their advertisers.

The New York Times, which does have an accessible ethical code, calls these “advertorials.” And what’s the news being reported in today's article entitled Study: Nail mats 'do tackle muscle pain'? According to one of the doctors cited in the article, Dr. Anette Kjellgren, “additional pain (from the mat) filters out the competing pain.”

Yeah, I know, like how whenever I have a toothache I’ve found that being punched, hard, in the nose, makes me barely care about the toothache. Leaving aside the conflict of interest, or the somewhat simplistic results of the study, since when is an unpublished “scientific” study newsworthy?

When the value of spike mats for pain reduction is confirmed in a study published in a peer reviewed journal, that might be news, at least for another newspaper that hasn’t sold been running full page and larger Acushakti ads for months.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I can't believe my eyes...

Today the fine gentlemen who post daily for Phreelance Writers and I went down to Hawkins Street in Boston to fill out paperwork for our job as Writing Consultants (read:Contractors) for Northeastern University's Foundation Year program. See if you can find the direction on the M-4 form (pdf) that seemed just a little off-kilter to me:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Review #6

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When I was a little boy I often asked my parents to tell me bedtime stories. My favorite was a series by mother called, "Sam and Jackson Monkey." Sam and Jackson Monkey were monkey-brothers who loved peanut butter and bananas on toast, just like me.



I haven't told many people about my mother's stories for a couple of reasons, but the most important is that I felt ownership over those stories. They were created just for me, and they represent something so good that I've wanted to keep them sacred and protect them. Simply, they were too perfect to share.



I feel that this is the only possible reason someone has not recommend this book to me until just a few weeks ago, five years after its publication. I think every reader must be a little scared that something so good exists and they must also feel that same fear to share, the feeling that this novel had been written just for them.



Simply put Jonathan Safran Foer has crafted an utter masterpiece, filled with love, anguish, beautiful stories, characters, and interesting experiments. It is the best art I have seen come out of the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001. It is nearly modern fantasy, and yet it rings miraculously true. It is an affirmation of the power of life, imagination, family, and writing in the most difficult of times. It is easily the greatest novel I have read published in the last ten years.



Part of me wants to clutch it to myself and not admit to anyone that I know it's out there. Of course it's a bestseller and many people have read it, but it's so deeply intimate that I feel as though it were written just for me.



But it's just too good. If you follow my reviews on Goodreads you know that they're infrequent. I read on average a few books a month, but I rarely feel compelled to review them unless they are very good or disappointing. This book is not very good, it is the best, and if you take one of my recommendations, this should be it.



It may not immediately become one of your favorite books, but I'm certain you'll have a thoughtful read with moments and ideas that will resonate for a long while.



View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Endangered Internet Species

Who here remembers the Google Whack? There are many variations on the Google Whack, but the way I've always played is that you must enter two words, no proper nouns, without quotes, into the google search engine producing a search with 1 google hit. That's the purist form. Other variants allow proper nouns, and in another, the goal is to get as many hits as there are characters in the two words.

At its onset the Google Whack was an extremely rare phenomena, but you could do it, if you knew a handful of obscure words and some chemistry terms. But like the unicorn, the Google Whack is and was an endangered species. Sites emerged that collected them, and news outlets did stories on them, but of course once they were recorded that Whack ceased to exist. Other websites emerged that seemed to simply catalog vast swatches of words. Google Whacks are a web phenomena that may soon be extinct. If it's not already. I haven't thought about them in a while. In fact, the last I found was a few years ago. On 8/3/06 I found this gem:

popsicle triskaidecagon

The same google search today yields 19 hits. This is compared to

Methuselah bobbysocks

(yes, I know I broke my own rule and used a proper-noun) which was once a Google Whack and now inexplicably yields 448 Google hits.

Googlewhacks.com has what they claim to be an up-to-the-minute and unindexed Whack List, and yet I've tested several of them and not one of those supposedly fresh whacks is even below the century club, several have more than 1000 hits.

... Anyway, yesterday I was using Google image search to find illustrations of emotive monkeys. There are plenty of enraged, happy, sad, and even "sarcastic monkey" (with quotes in the search) yields 400 hits. But a search for "sardonic monkey" yielded a singular hit (not even of a monkey), it's own sort of Google Whack.

Honestly, I'm surprised, I suspected by now monkeys and monkey illustrators would have uploaded images with titles covering all possible monkey attitudes. However, without the quotes sardonic monkey yields over 10,000 hits.

If you're hunting a Google Whack I've found in the past that you should

1) avoid words that could be near each other in the dictionary
2) avoid common favorite words like defenestrate
3) pair two words from two radically different highly technical professions
4) pair something innocuous with a highly technical term
5) pair a word no longer in common usage with a highly technical term

Can you find any Google Whacks, traditional, or your own variation?

If you find a true google whack you can post it in the comment section with dashes between the letters so as to preserve the thrill for future Whackers. Honorable mentions for single digit returns, or for bizarre word combos that return far more hits than expected.

Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

FJELLSE

Last night my flatmate Eric and I went to the IKEA in Stoughton, MA. Several months ago we made a similar trip in the middle of the day. It was the first time I'd been to an IKEA store since we went to one in Philadelphia for my brother who was in college. I remember it being fun and exciting, with lots of people and bright colors. I might have even eaten a swedish meatball, but that's probably a fantasy. it's far more likely that I experienced an even more intense disorientation than I did when I went with Eric months ago.

We didn't really have a plan, and maybe that was the problem. We were both interested in upgrading our bedrooms. Eric had made a couple of trips to IKEA already, but wanted a desk and bureau other than the somewhat industrial chrome and wire ensemble he had been using. I'd been sleeping on a mattress on the floor since I moved in and doing my writing at a rickety coffee table while seated on one of those camping chairs that can collapse into a tube. Not ideal.


But when we got to IKEA we were, surprise-surprise, overwhelmed. We wandered aimlessly through the kitchen appliances, wishing our landlord would feel compelled to upgrade. We shuddered at the feel of the synthetic-lambskin throws. We pondered various beds and desks, ultimately realizing that we had taken no measurements before we left home. In the end the only purchases we made were at the IKEA grocery store, where I just barely resisted buying the "Prawn Cheese Spread."


Instead I bought a six pack of frozen Swedish Princess Cakes, which Eric and I wolfed down on the car ride home. They were good frozen. Like a novelty ice cream.

--That was months ago. Last week Eric's mother was in town and she took him on an IKEA shopping spree. One of the bureau's he wanted wasn't in stock, so he got a giftcard and that's why last night after making the necessary measurements, we returned to IKEA.

Even at 8:30 p.m., half an hour before closing time, the parking lot was still filled with dozens of cars. We went inside and browsed idly for a while, but we both knew what we were getting and so around 8:50 we headed down to the warehouse to get our boxes. Then with an announcement that the store would soon be closing the 8:55 migration began.

The checkout aisles were clogged with people with carts of nondescript boxes. Eric and I listened pretty closely and I think we may have been the only native English speakers there. Truly, IKEA brings together an international shopping community.

CODA

As is so often the case, I found myself thinking about the impending zombie apocalypse. What would you do if you were in an IKEA?

And on the heels of that, has anyone ever been snowed in at an IKEA? Do they have backup generators in case of power outage? I can just imagine hundreds of people getting free meatballs (or rib roast if it's a Wednesday!) and then curling up to sleep in the IKEA demo beds.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Misadventures in Ad-copy #4

The latest misadventure comes from generic products, in particular this cereal, conveniently located next to Chex at Market Basket.



I suppose this is nominally better than some other options. They probably crossed out "Square Shaped Ground Corn Product" and "Puppy Chow Base Material." True, in the context of the cereal aisle it's clear what this product is, and I'm sure the sparse, possibly even terse name is all that's needed there. But out of context it doesn't quite get the message across. If someone asked me to "pick up some square shaped corn," I'd probably spend most of my time looking for it in the produce aisle. "Square Shaped Corn" lacks inspiration, unless the name is meant to be comically direct. But this feels like a missed opportunity. Dr. Pepper has spawned hoards of impostors who no doubt earned their advanced degrees at an online University. My favorite amongst them is Walmart's resident M.D., Dr. Thunder. If you want to find out about other doctors near you, take a look at Frenchboxing's website.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to check out the other offerings so I don't know if they also carry my personal favorite, Toroidal Oats.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Less Popular Games for XBox

When you need to relieve stress try out this "game."


Magic and monkeys
. I defy you to find a better combination.

Are you extreme enough for Baby Maker Extreme?

Almost certainly not.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

War of Words

On April 19th the Tea Party Express passed through Boston spreading its message of goodwill and basic rights for all humans.

Just kidding. Here are a selection of slogans on signs (some may have been made by counter-protesters; I'll let you be the judge) and things said by presenters on stage.

On Stage: I don't think George Washington ever used the f-word!

On a sign: I'm white, I'm racist, and I'm proud.

On stage: Then I saw Sarah Palin and it was the most exciting day of my life since I had my child.

On stage: Everybody say it now: There's a communist sitting in the White House!

On stage
: Vote them out!

On stage
: Women, I have three questions for you: do you love god, do you love your family, do you love our country?

On a sign: Socialism, you would've gotten away with it too if it weren't for us meddling kids.

On stage: You won't find policy in my book, but you will find scripture.

On stage: You didn't expect this did you: a rapper with his pants pulled up.

On a sign: Green Coalition of Gay Loggers for Jesus.

On stage
: This is the 2nd revolution!

On a sign: Vote for Lemon Party at lemonparty.com

On a sign: Fidel Castro says he like ObamaCare: Is this the right direct for America?

On the stage, with 10 minutes before the end of the rally: Are you guys ready for a raffle? You want to win some prizes?!?

Meanwhile, it was a beautiful day:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The lifespan of a poem

I had poems in the February edition of Pank Online. In "Facts About Marsupials," I take a stab at answering where poems begin. A couple of weeks ago J. Bradley, author of Dodging Traffic, interviewed me for PANK. He asked me where poems go when they die.

It's curious: there was a stage in my life where I was worried about where I'd go when I died. That stage has mostly passed. I don't know where, but it's less interesting to me than where I'll go while I live.

However, the life cycle of poetry is now very important to me. First there's the unpredictable gestation period. The poet can carry the first cells of a poem in them for years before they even know it's there. Then the actually birth may take a few minutes to several months.

Just a few back and forth talks and eventually the poems are sent out into the world to find a home. For the most part they become tempered by repeated rejection. When sent by mail they almost always return to the poet, who then must look them over for defects before sending them right back into the fray.

Hopefully, finally, the poem is accepted into the dormitory like pages of a literary journal. So many different poems, so many different types of writing. The poet can only hope that the poem is accepted by the other poems and by the other poets. Then, for a long time the poem remains in that one place. Very, very rarely it gets invited to hang out with other poems, in another place. Usually this happens within it's first year of life out of the poet's home. Other times the poem eventually finds a place to live with its relatives.

It's a strange life, and of course there's more to it than that.

If you're interested in where poems go when they die, or what the world would be like without typos, check out my interview over at the PANK blog. If you like it, if you makes you think of anything, leave a comment.

If you're not interested, sign up here. We have a gang of dinosaurs to kill.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

South Roxbury Living

When I wake up in the morning it's unlikely that I will eat breakfast. But if I don't eat breakfast I'm bound for 10:30 a.m. crash at work. Over the years I've experimented with various "fast" breakfast options.

Pop Tarts would be the obvious, economical option, but one summer many years ago, my camp bought a full truckload of pop tarts. In the past pop tarts had been a treat, processed food reserved as a special treat for afternoon nosh, or as prizes for camp games, but that summer we were offered pop tarts at every meal. Quickly I came to understand pop tarts for what they really were: packing peanuts reprocessed into crumbly rectangles with a layer of sweet,non-adhesive glue barely bonding them together, and a brittle layer of sugar glass on top. Plus, even with fortification I'm pretty sure they have less nutritional value than a spoonful of potting soil.

Pop tarts were not an option.

I tried some liquid-breakfast options, but my innards were not impressed, and besides, they tended to have about the same nutritional value as a glass of milk, but at double the price. Nutri-grain bars were an improvement on Pop tarts in texture, but still didn't feel like more than an over-processed fruit bar sprinkled with a bit of oatmeal.

I soon forayed into breakfast protein bars and settled on "South Beach Living" bars, as "not awful." The chocolate-berry and cinnamon-raisin bars were nearly even "okay." The best had a little give, a little chewiness to them. Regardless, at 10 grams of protein per bar and assorted vitamins and about $.50 per bar I figured that the nutritional price was right.

Well two things happened. First, the boxes, which had been 2 for $5, went up in price. Not a large amount, but they passed a psychological affordability barrier. Then it became clear that they were not restocking the best flavors. Cinnamon-raisin was gone first, then chocolate-berry, till finally all that remained were the peanut bars, which were the least palatable.

One week my Hy-Vee announced the change with one of their coupons:


Finally the reason became clear, South Beach had decided to do a redesign. No big deal, and the coupon restored the boxes to their previous boffo value.

The new boxes shifted the KRAFT trademark from the upper right corner to the left and in it's place proudly proclaimed that these protein fit bars had "Twice the Protein of the Leading Cereal Bar."

In smaller font the box indicated the amount of protein: 8 grams.



So, KRAFT added some cursive, and removed their assertion that their cereal bars were a "Nutritious Way To Help Satisfy Hunger." And while they were doing this redesign they also lowered the protein content of the bars by 20%.

There's a small mathematical part of me very disappointed that South Beach Living Protein Fit Bars which once contained 20% of my minimum RDA of protein now only contain %15. If they had instantly restocked my favorite flavors I'd probably ignore it and carry on. I bet they even taste slightly better now that they have fewer dessicated soy krispies, or whatever they did to bulk up the protein.

I'd tell you to stop buying South Beach Living Protein Fit Bars, but I assume you already had more sense than that. For me, it may be time to start waking up 15 minutes earlier so I can make eggs and toast.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Scooped: New NY Times All-Nighter Blog caused All-Nighter

For my Nonfiction M.F.A. thesis, written between 2007 and 2008, I put together a multi-genre piece called "The Insomniac's Almanac," which as it sounds, was meant to be a pamphlet styled as an almanac, but with articles, stories, and information that would be particularly interesting to insomniacs (such as myself). I figured I'd get to learn about a chronic ailment that had been affecting me for many years, as well as have a product that a publisher might be interested in. Almanac-style books such as John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise, Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of a Modern Life, and Ben Schott's Schott's Miscellany were selling like hot cakes. At the same time pharmaceutical solutions for insomnia like Ambien and Lunesta were making tons of money. It seemed like the perfect combination.

My thesis, like many others, was both a success and failure in many ways. I learned over the course of writing it that I didn't have the design [or perhaps research]skills I needed to follow through on my idea in exactly the way I'd originally conceived.

I'm the sort of writer who loves computers. While most of my writing starts on tiny memo pads that fit in my back pocket, my handwriting is cramped and approaches sloth-like slowness. Without a keyboard I would get little done. But despite considering myself pretty savvy with some creative computer programs like ProTools and Adobe Audition, I'm just learning to use Adobe In-Design after years of becoming frustrated at not knowing how to turn off auto-functions (like numbering, or capitalization) in Microsoft Word. I still use the most basic word processor, Notepad, for most of my drafts and only put something into Word when I want to know how long something really is, or get spacing right.

Whenever I set out to make a graph for my thesis, or some other interesting and friendly presentation of information, I'd find myself thinking, "...maybe I can get the same message across by writing a story or a poem," and then, without wasting much more time that's what I did.

A friend sent me a link to a new NY Times online feature last night: All-Nighters.

I scrolled down to find out who was in charge of bringing these thoughts together and there it was: Ben Schott seems to have decided that an Almanac for Insomniac's is a pretty good idea too. But where as I wasn't ready, Schott has the experience and skills to pull this off beautifully.

I did have one sleepless night, or a all-nighter (har! har!) over this: if only idea known how to do a little bit more a little bit faster, if only my follow-through could have been better.

In fairness, I'm also excited: I look forward to seeing his (and my) idea unfold in his blog. The pieces in it are really quite thoughtful and interesting.

Meanwhile, I'm not throwing the baby out with the bathwater; I'm still pleased with the pieces in my thesis and many have been published. This has just made clear what I knew already: getting an M.F.A. isn't the pinnacle or capstone of a writer's creative journey. It's another clarifying step. At least this proves that I had a good idea, and fortunately, I think I've still have some pretty good ideas I've just begun to explore. There are skills I need to tend to if I want future ideas to be able to blossom properly, and I will.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lolz!

I recently discovered that one of my friends with whom I often instant message is not always "laughing out loud" when he types the initialism "lol." In retrospect I know I shouldn't be surprised, but it always delighted me to imagine that the thing I'd typed moments before was so funny that he was unable to control himself, in fact so funny that he couldn't master the coordination to type anything but those two letters, conveniently located adjacent to each other. But this is not the case. This weekend, while he was on gchat I watched him type "lol" after a friend sent him a message that wasn't even remotely funny. Which filled me with doubt. Am I really not funny?

I have never typed "lol" myself when I have not just laughed out loud. Do I perhaps have a problem with being too literal? Almost certainly the latter. Clearly the "lol" is a symbolic meme. There are currently no published studies that determine just how many people are actually laughing out loud and I think it's safe to assume that the percentage is low. However if that's the case I don't know how "lol" overturn "haha."

"Haha" has the benefit of adaptability. An extra "ha" may be added at either end to convey more amusement, or reduced to a single "ha" to express a dryer and lighter sort of humor. Lol lacks that flexibility. Perhaps convenience is king: "L" and "o" touch each other on the keyboard while your fingers must travel to write "haha." Or maybe it's appealing because it's one pronounceable syllable. But neither consideration has impeded the popularity of other initialisms such as "lmao" and "lmfao." Furthermore those are clearly meant to be hyperbole for the sake of further amusement. But "lol" can be taken literally and thus using it so freely seems disengenous.

More about "LOL" here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Omnilogist

Artifice Magazine is an incredibly hot new Literary Magazine out of Chicago. My Author Dossier is now up on their mainpage. Also be sure to check out their submissions Wishlist. Then think about how nice it would be to get a year's worth of thought provoking literary curiosities delivered to your door.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010