Thursday, March 31, 2011

A half billion blogs...sigh

Blogger reports that by the end of 2010, more than a half billion people had created blogs using Blogger. So what are the odds that anyone is ever going to read your blog now? Even if you browsed a blog a minute 24/7 for a year you'd only see about 525,600 blogs. And that would be only 1/100 percent of the blogs out there. And the number keeps growing.

That sucks. It just reinforces my theory that if everyone is famous, no one is.

There should be a test you have to take before you can create a blog. And then you have to commit to maintaining it for at least a year or they come and remove your little toe or something like that. It would give us serious bloggers a  more level playing field to post on.

I remember when there were only 50 million or so blogs out there that you had to compete with. You had a snowball's chance in hell back then to be read. Now you have a snowball's chance to set up shop on the sun to be read.

Good thing I have no delusions about ever breaking away from the blogger pack and being noticed. I miss the good old days when you had to type out your prose, poetry or fiction and submit it to tons of obscure publications in order to be rejected. At least you knew that at least one person was reading your stuff. And if you were lucky, you'd get an impersonal rejection slip to prove someone had at least looked at the first page of your manuscript.

It's not like I read other people's blogs either. Oh I tried to. But every time I started following some one, they wrote a "I'm closing my blog" post and stopped posting. Because it takes a lot of energy to keep cranking out blog posts knowing the only people who read them are doing so by accident after googling topics like, "are clams really happy."

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over thinking you are going to get a different outcome. I'd say that pretty much applies to blogging.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Carrot on a stick

I am convinced that our lives are pretty much motivated by things that are happening in the future. It keeps us moving in the present. There is nothing like a vacation, holiday, big event or upcoming birthday dangling in front of you like a carrot on a stick to keep you going.

Unfortunately, vacations end, holidays fly by, and birthday cakes (or carrot cakes) are eaten and then your brain frantically darts around looking for something else to look forward to. The problem with once a year carrots like vacations, Christmas and your birthday is that they come and go once a year but they linger on your credit card statements.

You're better off putting baby carrots on a twig for things like your favorite television show, your daily downtime before going to bed or dessert. These unfortunately, are carrots fraught with obstacles such as reruns, cancellations, children with monsters in their closets and an expanding waistline from looking forward to dessert a bit too much.

To this day, I get a charge out of buying something new. It's the process I look forward to more than the having something new. I love doing Internet searches to compare products and then order them. I love tracking them online to see when they are going to be delivered. And I love finding the package on my doorstep. But when the package is opened, part of the joy is gone. Because what do I have to look forward to, now?

Buying things is another baby carrot. It is hard to live in the now, especially after years of conditioning as a child to cling to something to look forward to as your motivation. My 4-year old daughter is constantly telling me the things she will do when she grows up (which to her is when she turns five). It reminds me of how much of our youth we squander wanting to grow up. And then we squander the rest of our lives trying to find something else to look forward to or moping about the past.

Is it even possible to live totally in the now? Everything seems so geared towards the future. Clocks and calendars rule our lives. Our lives revolve around meeting some kind of schedule. Sometimes I think the only way you could possible live totally in the now would be to be stranded on a desert island. But I suppose even then, you'd be thinking about being rescued and ordering things on

I'm not even sure what now is. We actually seem to be constantly moving between the past and the future with now being the Jello you are trying to pin to the wall. You can always look back on the now, the future now is always a bit fuzzy and frankly more appealing. Because you are never sure what it is going to be like and you can imagine it anyway you want.

Which leads me once again back to wondering where it all ultimately ends up. Because isn't the ultimate carrot on the stick attached to the Grim Reaper's scythe?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Harry!

Google tells me it is is Harry Houdini's 137th birthday today. He has been dead, however since Halloween night in 1926, so I don't imagine he will be up for blowing out the candles on his cake. But then again, he was the escape king, so who knows.

Actually in addition to being adept at escaping from handcuffs and straight jackets, Houdini also was obsessed with debunking mediums who claimed to communicate with the spirits. Pity he's not around to take on Zack from the Ghost Adventurers.

I read a lot about Harry Houdini when I was a kid. My interest in him was sparked by watching a movie about him starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Interesting enough, Tony Curtis' real name was Bernie Schwartz and Harry Houdini's real name was Ehrich Weisz. And one of Tony Curtis' first lines in a movie (a period piece about knights in armor) was, "Yonda is the castle of muh fadder." Tony Curtis grew up in Brooklyn. I think his best movie was Some Like it Hot with Marilyn Monroe.

But I digress.

Houdini died of a ruptured appendix after being punched in the stomach by a fan who heard that the escape artist had such great stomach muscles he could sustain a blow in the bread box without flinching. He failed to warn Houdini before he tested this theory, however, and Houdini didn't have time to tense up his muscles for the blow. So he didn't escape death. He died a few days later on Halloween night.

His wife, Bess, ironically held seances on Halloween for years after Houdini's death because he reportedly told her if there was an afterlife, he'd send her a message, "Rosabelle believe." It was a line from a play that his wife performed when the couple first met. Bess stopped holding seances after about ten years because she never heard from Harry. This is before EVP recorders had been invented, so that may be the reason.

Magicians throughout the world, however, continue to hold seances hoping to hear from Harry and maybe talk him out of some of the secrets to his escapes. But so far Harry is laying low. I think all of these people are trying to get in touch with him on the anniversary of his death. Maybe they should try his birthday instead.

All I'm saying is that his spirit is probably in a better mood on his birthday than his death day.

Anyway, happy birthday Harry!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Tim Reaper

Over the years, I've posted quite a few Photoshopped images of myself that bear a striking resemblance to the Grim Reaper. Well, they bear a striking resemblance to what popular culture tells us the Grim Reaper looks like. After all, if you've seen the Grim Reaper, odds are you aren't here painting a picture of him.

If the truth were told, I don't really think the images I've posted are intended to be the Grim Reaper (more like the Tim Reaper). I just like the mysterious quality of them. So in that sense they are like the Grim Reaper. We are fascinated by the Grim Reaper. I don't think its that we are intrigued by death as much as we are intrigued by what comes after (if anything).

I know some people profess a firm belief that nothing happens. Or those with a religious bent attach a time of judgement to the after life. I think the righteous ones are engaged in wishful thinking. I believe all of the judgement is going on in this life. Hopefully after we die we leave all of that crap behind and get on with whatever we exist for.

I think it is the fascination with the afterlife that keeps crap shows like Ghost Adventurers in business. I confess to actually watching the show, more to have background noise on while I work on my computer than anything else.  And if you are lucky enough not to know anything about Ghost Adventurers, it is a reality show  featuring three self-styled paranormal investigators who lock themselves in old buildings that have a reputation for being haunted. I think the show host, Zack, is about as sharp as a river rock.

Zack is a muscle bound moron with a really bad haircut. He and his camera and sound guy walk around with night vision cameras and EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) recorders bumping into chairs and shouting for spirits to pinch and push them. Most of their evidence of the afterlife seems to be EVP that are unintelligible until Zack interprets them. Apparently most spirits have the enunciation skills of Sylvester Stallone playing Rocky.

Zack and his band of bozos also bring in experts to review their grainy footage. These experts generally resemble those fat Goth people who hung out in alleys back in high school smoking cirgarettes and plotting to overthrow student government. Zack also interviews witnesses who work in many of abandoned buildings he investigates. The witnesses are often night watchmen and caretakers who only recently been out of rehab.

If the garbage they uncover on Ghost Aventurers are truly examples of what happens after we die, I'd prefer the theory that we just end. Because mucking about in the basement of an abandoned hospital throwing pebbles at gibbering buffoons would get old for an eternity (though I wouldn't mind chucking rock at good ol' Zack's head). What would be the point? The cliche answer is that these are spirits caught between worlds because they have unfinished business, usually because they met a violent or untimely death. Tell me, what kind of unfinished business would you have in the crawlspace of an old speakeasy?

The other illogical thing about the whole ghost theory is the mathematics of it all. If dying an untimely death doomed you to hanging out where you died, the spirit world would resemble Disneyland on a weekend. Wars and natural disasters alone would keep packing the spirits in between worlds trying to figure out how to string words together in an EVP recording device.

I do hope there is something after we die. Science tells us that energy is neither created nor is it destroyed, so I'm hoping the means we continue. And I don't really want to be sucked back into the universal ether without awareness. I'm one of those selfish people who clings to his fantasy of being unique and individual even while being connected to the universe.

I guess I'll see eventually. I'm in no hurry though.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I could have been a contender

"I could have been a contender.
I could have been somebody.
Instead of a bum...
...which is what I am.
Let's face it."

--Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront
There's nothing like a middle aged man's birthday to bring on the self examination of where he's been and where he is. It's not that I feel like turning my birthday party into a pity party, but I do ponder the young man's dreams versus the old man's reality.

It is useless to regret the paths we followed to get where we are. But I sometimes feel pangs that I never wrote a best selling novel or became a successful artist or musician. If I voice these feelings I get the proverbial "it's never too late." These kinds of statements generally come from people who haven't crested 40 and come to the harsh realization that what you are when you are middle aged is generally all you ever will be.

I know there are people who achieve great things in their twilight years. Colonel Sanders was a complete failure until his mid to late 60s when KFC finally took off. He died, however, having lost the rights to his own name.

I wonder if he was cremated and if so, was he original recipe or extra crispy.

But I digress.

I really don't think I want fame like I did in my younger years. I've lived long enough to watch too many famous people take an all too public nose dive, especially when they reach middle age. And in the grand scheme of things, who gives a rip whether or not people you don't care about  recognize you in public and want a piece of your fame by demanding your autograph or having their photo taken with you.

As I reflect on where I am, the greatest role I ended up playing with my life was to become a father. Now granted I waited until an age when many people were becoming grandparents to become a father. But I truly feel like I would have been a failure if I hadn't become a father. I may not have written the great American novel, sold a painting or played guitar to a sold out audience, but sometimes, in the eyes of my young children I feel like a rock star.

So maybe I am somebody.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fifty something

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I thought turning 52 was a non-monumental birthday. Now I discover turning 53 is in the same non-monumental ballpark. At least I'm still seven years away from turning 60. I do imagine AARP will up their onslaught to get me to join. I will continue to resist until I actually do become a retired person. And having two small children, it is safe to say that is quite a ways in the future.

AARP would have an easier time recruiting new members if they came up with a new name. I for one don't have any burning desire to be part of an association of people whose only reason for associating with each other is that they are aging rapidly. I suppose they make up for the challenges of recruiting by raking in multiple payments from the older members who forget whether they've paid or not.

Ironically, as I type this I am listening to Pandora Radio and an ad for AARP came on. Is it my music selection?

I think AARP should change their name to the WBWA -- Wise But Wrinkled Association.  Or maybe, WAAWBA -- Wise Ass And Wrinkled Butt Association. Or better yet, NDYA -- Not Dead Yet Association.

I don't mean to diss on the AARP, but I can get just as good discounts with my AAA membership and I don't have the stigma if being an old fart immediately associated with it. But enough dumping on the poor old AARP.

We will be eating at our regular Mexican restaurant tonight. I don't say our favorite Mexican restaurant because the food is really quite mediocre. We just like going there because our kids can make noise and have meltdowns with a minimum number of dirty glances being shot in our direction. I am not looking forward to the Mexican version of happy birthday being sang to me by bored servers while I wear a sombrero. But I will do it for the kid's sake. Though when we went there on my son's birthday last year he was terrified when the servers converged on him with a candle stuck in a scoop of ice cream and the sombrero. I'll try and maintain my composure.

I wonder if they give you a discount if you are a member of AARP?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day

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Just so you can't find the answer to everything by Googling it, I never could find a satisfactory explanation as to why someone who mimics someone is called a copycat. We have three cats and they don't seem to spend much time doing anything but eating, sleeping, crapping and puking. Though this being St. Patrick's Day, it opens up a debate over whether they are mimicking your average Irish wannabe.

I find it ironic someone came up with the phrase, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" likely to justify plagiarising some one's original idea. Not that I think there is an original idea. Google has burst that self-delusional bubble. Google any original idea you may think you have and you'll find someone has beat you to it.

Or they may all be copycats.

It is hard to conceive of original thought in a society where much of learning it done through rote repetition. The key to educational success is often the ability to memorize versus an affinity for abstract thought. This becomes increasingly the case as the arts are eliminated from curriculum to make way for the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Let's face it, if there were original thought, there would be no fashion, fads or trends. Things catch on because our herd mentality requires we go with the flow to avoid sticking out. Even the people who rebel against popular trends and fashions do so in sheep like flocks. Body piercings, tattoos and Mohawk haircuts are a perfect example.

Being a race of copycats probably has to do a great deal with survival. If you see your neighbor avoid being consumed by a saber tooth tiger by poking it with a sharp stick, you wouldn't go far by trying to be original and tickle it with a feather to avoid becoming lunch.

And I imagine most great inventions come about by building on someone else's great idea and just tweaking it a bit so that it works smoother. If this wasn't the case, we would still be watching black and white televisions.

Oh well, I need to go make some copies.

Friday, March 11, 2011

You can't cry at the happiest place on earth

I first visited Disneyland when I was 15 years old. It was part of a trip my sophomore year in high school. I was in the marching band and we were performing at half time of a then LA Rams and San Francisco 49er's game. All summer I'd sold light bulbs, washed cars and picked up garbage at the Idaho State Fair to raise money to pay for the trip.

It was my first flight on an airplane and the first time I'd stayed in a hotel without my parents. We flew into San Diego and toured the zoo and Sea World. Then we boarded a bus and drove to LA. We spent one day at Disneyland where we were supposed to march down Main Street. But it was raining so we didn't get to perform.

Disneyland had always been one of those mythical places to me. I'd grown up watching Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color on a black and white television every Sunday night. Every now and then they would feature the amazing rides at Disneyland. It was always tantalizingly out of reach for me.

Vacations for our family always consisted of packing up my father's 1940s era Chevrolet with camping gear and driving to either the Sawtooth Mountains or McCall, Idaho on the shores of Payette Lake. We never stayed in hotels or motels and we most certainly never left Idaho.  Disneyland was pretty much not in the picture.

So having the opportunity to go to Disneyland when I was 15 was pretty cool. Even in the rain, I was pretty awestruck at the time. Back then, there were still in the A, B, C, D and E ticket mode. This was 1973. E tickets were the big rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. A and B tickets were stuff like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the tea cups.

I bring up Disneyland and my nostalgia over my band trip because I just got back from a trip to Disneyland with my family. And I have to tell you, it's a lot different going there now then it was 38-years ago. For one, I was pushing a stroller with my 4-year old daughter in it while my wife pushed another stroller with my 2-year old son in it. It is amazing how your priorities shift when you go to Disneyland with your kids. Instead of dashing as fast as I could to get in line for Space Mountain or Thunder Mountain Railroad, we maneuvered our strollers down Main Street to have breakfast with the Disney characters at the Plaza Inn.

Gone are the tickets, too. You buy one day passes or three-day park hopper passes for the price of a small car to have unlimited access to Disneyland or California Adventure and all of the rides. Unlimited access actually means unlimited access to the infamous Disney lines that deceive you into entering a ride queue thinking it is short only to discover it loops back on itself a million times through an intricate maze of chains and stanchions. We must have waited in line 45 minutes for the Dumbo ride for a 20-second flight in the flying elephants.

I have to hand it to Disney. They are geniuses at maximizing the opportunities to separate happy visitors from their life savings. After plunking down your four or five hundred dollars to get your family into the happiest place on earth, they employ their mass merchandising resources to extract out hundreds more for character dining experiences. Then they deploy photographers at strategic photogenic spots to snap your family photos and soft sell you on buying the memories online.

And, after winding your way through a beautifully landscaped maze of Pixie Hollow to have your children meet Tinker Belle (dutifully photographed by the Disney photographer), you find yourself exiting through a gift shop exploding with Tinker Belle merchandise. More than once we had to shake off our weariness and speed wheel the strollers through stacks of glittering bobbles before the protests of our children reached the critical meltdown stage.

It was hard to believe after gazing wearily at the throngs of people at Disneyland that we as a nation are still in the recovery stage of the recession. As we walked  toward Cinderella's Castle, we passed a couple comforting their daughter as she threw up a corn dog. I began to focus on the crying of other children pushed to the edge by one too many moments of happiness. And I felt remorse at the terror I instilled in my own children by taking them through the Haunted Mansion. My two-year old son and four-year old daughter weren't quite ready for what I used to think of as harmless cartoon like ghosts. As the famous stretching room just inside the mansion began descending, my son uttered a heart wrenching, "I want to go home."

It was then that the irony of crying at the happiest place on earth stuck me. You have to love mass marketing.