Monday, October 26, 2009

My Pan-Roasted Pork Chops and Apples

One of the greatest surprises in learning about myself was the discovery that I love cooking. I'd cooked a little bit out of necessity before but found a serious passion for it a little over five years ago. I've always been a foodie (well before I'd ever heard that term) but used to be very proud of avoiding all domestic arts. Then I grew up and faced reality.

When I moved to my current apartment that has an actual kitchen (if only there was counter space... sigh) I came up with this recipe and it's been a consistent favorite even among the picky eaters I know. It's evolved a bit each time I've made it since this is the first time I've ever attempted to write it down. While apples and pork are a traditional pairing, as far as I know this way of making them is completely original, I never consulted a recipe for inspiration or anything.

Ingredients (scaled to serve 2):
  • 2 thick center-cut pork chops (usually boneless but I've used bone-in)
  • 2 apples, peeled, quartered, and sliced (preferably 2 different sweet varieties)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced roughly
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (crushed is better but the regular kind is okay)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried rubbed sage
  • salt (to taste)
  • pepper (I use about 3 grindings' worth)
  1. Pour just enough olive oil into a pan (preferably one that is not non-stick) to coat the bottom, set over low-medium heat Meanwhile, take out the pork to rise to room temperature
  2. Add onion and turn the heat to medium. When it starts sizzling sautee until onions are just starting to get translucent.
  3. Add apple slices and sautee until just barely turning golden. Cover and reduce heat to low-medium, let cook for 5-10 minutes until apples are soft.
  4. As soon as you cover the pan (or earlier), mix the herbs, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the mixture all over the pork chops and let sit.
  5. Give the apple/onion mixture a good stir and push to the outside of the pan. Place pork chops in the empty space created and let brown for 10 minutes (or until browned to your taste).
  6. Flip the chops and pile the apples and onions on top of the chops. Let brown for about 10 minutes again.
  7. Cover pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes without disturbing. If you hear a lot of sizzling just reduce heat a little more.
  8. Turn heat off and leave the pan covered for 5 minutes.
  9. Knock the apples and onions back into the pan, remove chops to rest on a plate/platter, and turn heat back to medium. Stir the apples and onions (scraping up any fond that may be stuck to the pan) until the juice from them has thickened into a nice sauce.
  10. Plate the pork chops and top with lots of apple/onion sauce.
Many side dishes work with this recipe, tonight we had peas and brown rice with garlic pepper and it was a delicious combination. Other big hits included roasted butternut squash, roasted sugar pumpkin, and my favorite, a blend of red and sweet potatoes roasted with baby carrots (I promise I'll post that recipe soon as well).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Worst Question You Can Ask Me

Since I've started playing music and talking about it again I've been getting asked the same question quite a bit, "What are your musical influences?"

It's a very valid question, as it's a way for people to decide if they want to listen to what you do, but it's excruciating for this songwriter, at least. I listen to an incredibly wide variety of music, always have, and I think all of it has had a big influence on me even if you can't directly hear all of it in my stuff. On top of that, much of my inspiration is music that people think of differently than I do.

For example, the Grateful Dead have certainly had a large effect but they are mostly known for their long drawn-out jams, especially to those who have only heard a little bit of them or gone to a show or two. The thing is, what I love best about them is their own diverse influences and how well-written their songs are. They have a much stricter structure than most people realize and the jams, while free-flowing, were always within the context of that structure much like great jazz. Many current jam bands just jam, the songs are more like vehicles for jams than examples of great songwriting, and it's quite a different way to play, one that I don't personally enjoy.

Huge influence? Yes. Do I play music like theirs? Not really. If you like the Dead will you like my music? Maybe.

From folk to jazz to classical to show tunes to good ol' rock and roll from the 50s to today with lots of stops at music from across the globe, every piece of music I've ever heard has informed my style, even the music I don't particularly enjoy has had an effect by teaching what not to do. I've sung in church and secular choirs, performed in many musicals, trained in African percussion, and played with very different bands in my past. What I do now comes from all of it and separating out specific examples just doesn't make any sense.

Honestly, I think if an artist can pinpoint precise influences their music isn't very interesting. It's even worse if the audience can tell exactly where you are coming from. Music is a living beast that evolves just as we have evolved from single-cell critters to the complex species we are today.

If you tend to listen to just one genre, please go get something else and expand your mind, whether you play or write or just enjoy listening.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I <3 #SpaceTweeps

There are many wonderful things about Twitter that have surprised me. I was highly reluctant to join for a long time, with my friend @souphead constantly nudging me (in a very nice way) to try it out. The moment I got on there, though, I started finding NASA's official twitterers, which soon led me to "meeting" some SpaceTweeps. The two subsequent shuttle launches were made much more fun by chatting with some of them and, at other times, I started learning a lot more about the space program by vigilantly reading their links and checking out their behind-the-scenes photography. Such fun!

But nothing can compare to last night. I'd planned to watch LCROSS crash into the moon by myself, as we have NASA TV here and, frankly, it was awfully early in the morning for this night owl. I'd planned to sleep and my partner promised to wake me up early enough to catch the launch. Then I went on Twitter for what was supposed to be one last time and all thoughts of sleep went away very quickly as I found out a bunch of people were planning to stay up all night.

We started a chat room hours before the impact was scheduled and made sport of looking at the NASA, LCROSS, and Moon trending topics and sharing the wackiest comments by the sort we dubbed "the zombie people." I would mention their insane thoughts except they've already given voice to them far too much (and many other blogs have covered them). The point is, here were a bunch of smart, funny, like-minded people who decided that it would be more fun to laugh at these insane notions than to cry over them, even though I think we all had a few choked up moments. Gagging moments may be more like it, come to think of it.

As the hours wound down the conversation slowed while we got sucked into the various broadcasts. When the plume we were told to expect failed to occur we experienced an even more special moment, disappointed there wasn't more of a show to watch but excited we had shared in history, made all the sweeter by sharing it with enthusiasts all over the world.

I haven't had so much fun staying up all night in a long time!

None of it would have happened without Twitter or the Space Tweep Society. They've brought together everyone from professionals to people like me, who love the space program simply as citizens. If you support the space program and astronomy in general, please join up! If I learned anything from last night it's that we need to band together if we have any hope of enlightening others to the value of science and study. I don't know if we can reach the zombie people, but let's at least try to get everyone else!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Trouble with the New American Dream

I love business. I enjoyed being part of the actual business part of the music business (most of my frustrations came from how little of that business has to do with work, talent, or brains. It's pure luck and the odds are far worse than Vegas). Making deals is a thrill and I even enjoy it as a spectator sport, particularly watching small businesses take off.

I'm a firm believer in capitalism as a concept, it is the only way that people can be free and open markets create better global relations as well as opportunities where there never were ANY before.

However, what has happened to American business? When did personal greed completely take over to the point where so many people don't even care about their company or colleagues, let alone anyone or anything else?

I have been a big fan of the BBC show Dragon's Den since it started airing here. While not the most realistic portrayal of pitching (especially since entrepreneurs are not allowed to use notes or Power Point), it's a fun way to watch what people are concocting and what makes a pitch click or not. I also like the "dragons" they've had participating over the years, they clearly are in it to make money but they also seem to genuinely want to build the businesses they choose to invest in. Their decisions and offers make logical sense and their advice is often fantastic. I would be happy to work with any of them.

When I first heard that ABC was rolling out Shark Tank I was rather excited to see our homegrown version. I was familiar with the "sharks" on the show already and thought it would be fun to see them in action even in the strange environment of reality television. My main reaction to the actual show, though, is it makes me even more disappointed in the way Americans think about business.

You have to be tough to succeed but do you have to be ruthless? Kevin O'Leary likes to point out constantly that, "Money has no soul," and yet he views money as a religion, to worship and even listen to. Well, I agree, Mr. O'Leary, that money is soulless but that is the reason to NOT worship it. It's also the reason that we, as the ones with souls, could use a lesson in responsible use of money. Money is a tool, much like a gun. Having some or lots of it enables you to do good or evil, the money itself will never make that choice. You can protect your family, build a legacy, and even help people with it. You can also use it to dominate, oppress, and destroy all kinds of entities.

There always have been and always will be people who are motivated purely by greed but that used to be the exception and these days it seems more like a rule. I firmly believe it is the reason we're in the mess that we are in. Greed promotes bad management practices which undercuts employees' enthusiasm (key to getting good performance) which makes them treat customers poorly. At that point, you either need a near-monopoly or extremely low prices (Wal-Mart, anyone?) to lure in and keep customers. It's bad business, no matter how much money you might personally make in the process.

People who make a lot of money by wrecking people's lives (and livelihoods) and peddling irresponsible garbage should never be proud of themselves. People who build truly great companies (the kind that benefit everyone involved with them from founder to end-customer) should. Think about who you look up to and use your own money, no matter how much or little it is, to support the latter.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bake Sale for NASA

I haven't posted any of my music or lyrics on here because I have been writing anonymously and I have had an issue with people trying to steal my intellectual property in the past. However, when Jen Scheer (@flyingjenny), one of my favorite SpaceTweeps (appropriate, as it turns out she started the group) asked to see the lyrics to the following song I realized that maybe it's not such a bad thing to mix these parts of my life. In fact, I feel like I'm starting to become CraftLass more and more in real life as well as online, since I've been meeting people in person who I first found online for the first time in years. Maybe that should become my new stage name as well as pen name...?

I also am quite proud of this song and think it's timely, so I'd rather have it spreading around regardless of if I ever make a dime on it than keep it to myself. I performed it last night for the first time and the response was very positive, with a few people going so far as to say it made them think about their own feelings about NASA and funding. I tried to make it as accurate as possible, using information from Wayne Hale's blog, NASA's website in general, and posts and tweets by SpaceTweeps as my inspiration. Who am I kidding? The song popped into my head and pretty much wrote itself while I was reading those things and watching the Augustine hearings more than the other way around.

Okay, here goes:

Bake Sale for NASA

We sent men to the moon because of some lines
In a speech that inspires to this day
We learn more about Earth from orbit
Than we can in any other way

Yet we spend and we spend and we spend and we spend
On corporate welfare that will never end
Programs that waste more than they create
Yet we’re happy to let NASA deflate

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race

A very large chunk of what sets us apart
Is our driving need to explore
Humans are best when we’re trying to test
Our limits and find we have more

The more that we learn the less that we know
So further on still we must go
To answer the questions that in the past
We didn’t even know to ask

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race

To turn this whole endeavor over
To private investors and other lands
Would be giving up the greatest power
We have in our nation’s hands

Some skeptics say we should keep funds at bay
Until we have fed everyone
But we produce more food than ever before
Because of what NASA has done

Nearly every invention created for space
On Earth has found a useful place
Saving some lives and improving many more
Like we’ve never seen before

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race

In these days where folks are always trying
To take real science out of schools
We need to step up our efforts
Or become a nation of fools

I could go on for days extolling the ways
Investment in NASA makes sense
But I have only this song to convince those who are wrong
And think it’s a wasteful expense

I will dare to say it’s our greatest success
Less than 1% is hardly excess
In a budget that keeps us all in debt
At least here we can see what we get

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race
Human race
Humans in space!!

(If you like these lyrics, I'm talking to a producer right now about trying to get at least a simple acoustic version recorded quickly and will post it here when it's ready, I promise!)

Also posted at the Space Tweep Society Blog.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Marriage, Timing, and a Dose of Reality

While I'm on the subject of marriage, can I rant about my other pet peeve that pertains to it? Oh, yeah, this is my own blog and I can write what I want, no matter how unpopular it may make me. I don't do this to get fans but to air out my brain, which is why I try to stay anonymous here.

Okay, to the topic at hand now:

My state, New Jersey, has a 3-day waiting period for a marriage license. Wisconsin has the longest in the country at 6 days. Nevada famously has none.

Waiting periods seem to frustrate people who wish to elope immediately, as hilariously portrayed in How I Met Your Mother a few seasons ago (the "Atlantic City" episode, to be specific). I have actually heard that complaint in real life, too.

So, here's my question for the world, why elope? I understand wanting to go do it alone if you have loved ones who might cause trouble if you announced your marriage, but I don't understand the immediacy unless one of you is about to deploy and is worried about survivor benefits (I still think that can easily be a mistake but at least there's practical logic behind it). Come to think of it, if your family or friends could ruin your decision to wed what chance does your marriage have?

Marriage is the second biggest decision you can make (after the choice to have children or not). Even with the option of divorce a marriage will affect the rest of your life. Shouldn't a whole lot of time be dedicated to considering such a leap?

People are amazingly good at hiding their true selves for about one to two years. Those under 30 are especially capable of this as they probably don't know themselves all that well yet (there are likely exceptions but I know that was true of all of the people I've ever come in contact with). According to the CDC, the chance of a marriage surviving goes up dramatically if the woman is over 25 (the highest age group they accounted for was 25 and up and they only surveyed women). I find that incredibly unsurprising despite the fact that I have been with my partner since I was 20. Then again, if we'd married back then we would almost certainly have divorced, there was plenty of turmoil and times where we thought it was over in the early years. Instead, we're a happy couple who are more bonded than I ever dreamed I could be with anyone and I give a lot of credit to the fact that we had the freedom to easily split up. We didn't even live together until just before our 10th anniversary.

An old acquaintance once told me that the main benefit to marriage was that it creates an extra hurdle to leaving each other, which makes trying to work things out more appealing. I disagree. To me, that extra hurdle can leave you feeling trapped and we all know how a wild animal reacts to being cornered. It's not pretty and rational thought is long gone at that point.

To those who say love isn't a rational thing and marriage should be all about love, well, you're right but any time you sign ANY legally-binding document there should be plenty of non-emotional thought put into it. Marriage is, first and foremost, a legal mechanism. Can you be 100% sure of the decision to marry? Of course not, but you can hedge your bets by taking the time to get as objective as possible about your prospects.

Love does NOT conquer all, either. Nor is it something that can happen at first sight, as one of my favorite people used to say, "It's really lust at first sight. Love takes a long time to develop, until then it's all about hormones and brain chemistry and those factors fade." Real love needs to be tested thoroughly as well. I have been through a lot of traumatic experiences and found that they can wreck a relationship or strengthen it. The latter is the kind of relationship that can last, as there is no avoiding a certain amount of catastrophes in life.

If you haven't spent a minimum of two years with someone, how can you have shared the experiences that give clues to how your partner reacts to stressful situations? If you haven't seen those reactions how can you even guess that you have the capability to survive real life together?

If anything, the waiting periods for marriage licenses should be lengthened and maybe we should even take a hint from the Catholics and their pre-cana requirements. I rarely agree with the Catholic Church on anything but my parents were pre-cana volunteers and many of my views were shaped by listening to their sessions with young couples. Quite a few had no idea what they were getting into before pre-cana and taking the time to talk about the reality of marriage not only taught them about what could be expected but they clearly learned a lot more about each other by participating in the process. If pre-marital counseling of any kind makes one or both partners uncomfortable how can you possibly expect to be able to work together effectively once legally bound?

Marriage is the beginning of a journey rather than a goal. You should prepare for the trip just as you would prepare for a long-term safari in a dangerous region without a guide or any other grand adventure.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Same Person, Different Rights

I was just reading a post I'd missed on my new favorite blog, Are We Married?, about the fight for equal parenting rights and it led me down a familiar mental path.

See, I'm in a very long-term committed relationship with a man, but I have a few ex-girlfriends in my past and have been truly in love with a woman in my life. I'm also very sensitive about
rights when it comes to the most important decisions a person can make, to marry and to have children. I'm marriagefree and childfree and proud of it. I haven't 100% written marriage out for some time in the future, I'm realistically flexible and can see some practical advantages to the institution, but I am not having kids under any circumstances other than taking in the children of those I care about if there is no other option but them going to strangers. I knew I didn't want to be a mother for certain when I was 3 and have yet to waver as of 33. To be perfectly honest, the thought of having a kid terrifies me more than jumping out of a plane did! Only one thought is scarier -- pregnancy.

My only problem with my decisions is the conversation I have had oh, so frequently with strangers. acquaintances, some family members, and even a few friends:

Them: "So, are you two married?"
Me: "No."
Them: "How long have you been together?"
Me: "About 12 years [or whatever amount it was at that point]."
Them: "Oh! That's a long time! Well, when are you going to get married?"
Me: "I'm not sure, probably never."
Them: "But what about the kids?"
Me: "We're not planning on having any."

And then, depending on religion or age group, they launch into one of several tirades. The most common is just that if I don't have children I will end up regretting it, which is funny because I refuse to regret things, it's such a waste of time and energy. Another regular is that I will lose my boyfriend if I don't give him a family, which is ridiculous as he doesn't want those things either and we ARE a family as it is, we certainly act more like one than many married people. My personal favorite was the guy who told me I should kill myself because I am not fulfilling my function as God's daughter. I am not joking, he was a cabbie who picked me up at JFK and drove me to Manhattan, a very long and strange taxi trip.

I know I could just lie or try to change the subject but why should I have to do that? I much prefer being proud of myself and my choices, even if it can be painful to hear the reactions.

Then I look back at my life and realize that I could be having such a different conversation if I'd settled down with a woman. The very same people who lambaste me for choosing not to marry or have children would be telling me that those are not even an option for me as long as they have their way. That would hurt a lot more. The concept that a decision I made to go out to the bar where I got to know my boyfriend one spring evening years ago could completely change my rights is mind-blowing.

I think about Guadalupe "Lupita" Benitez and how a clinic refused her access to IVF. I think about the droves of right-wing voters who came out for Prop. 8. I think about how people used to complain about gay couples having more disposable income than them because they didn't have children yet they don't want them to spend that money to become parents or support children.

What worries me more than the serious Christian Coalition-types, though, is the amount of generally rational, tolerant, accepting, and loving people I know who are pro-gay rights in every other way but are also anti-marriage equality. Why? Why does it affect you in any way? It's not like anyone is talking about taking away a heterosexual's right to marry.

People who love each other should be able to marry each other or not as they wish. People who want kids and can care for them properly should have them, people who don't and can't shouldn't. It's that simple. We have an awful lot of control over these things today, the capability for a whole new level of personal freedom and choice.

We need to strip away all the laws that take away anyone's rights and worry about people hurting each other instead of who we can continue to oppress and how to best oppress them. Politically, spiritually, and in our attitudes as well. If that happens it will be the moment America truly becomes The Beautiful.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Operation Scholar-Without-College

"Humiliation and mental oppression by ignorant and selfish teachers wreak havoc in the youthful mind that can never be undone and often exert a baleful influence in later life." -Albert Einstein

I am a learning junkie. Always have been. The problem is, I don't like school very much. I went to really good primary and secondary schools and have taken a bunch of college courses at good schools but I get really bored easily. Classes never move fast enough for me and I've always been in trouble with teachers and professors for getting ahead of my peers, which is stifling and frustrating. It doesn't help that I'm a freethinker who likes to search outside the box for answers rather than regurgitate what someone else thinks. Teachers are rarely fond of that, only the best of the best want students to be that way.

I come from a super-academic family where almost everyone has at least a master's degree and there are several Ph.D.s (with more in progress), including my mother (who was the first). So, school is frustrating but not finishing is also frustrating and a disappointment to them all. I just can't win.

Of course, now I have another factor (a very common one these days) of not being able to afford school. Even if I could get loans I do not want to do it that way. I've watched my friends struggle for decades under the weight of loans and college was a LOT cheaper when they went.

In the end, though, a degree isn't that important to me. What I care about is learning. The only thing I miss about school itself is the conversations that make you think more deeply about the subject. These days, though, I'm finding that online more and more. Not to mention that I can now watch lectures from schools that would probably never have me, read journals I never knew existed, and keep up with the absolute latest studies and experiments. I'm so grateful to be alive in this day and age with all these opportunities for learning outside the classroom. I think I mentioned this before but it bears repeating: I'm also grateful to the American Museum of Natural History, particularly Neil deGrasse Tyson, for their excellent lecture series, even though I haven't been able to even afford to attend those recently. Still, they are responsible for my rediscovery of my love for math and science, plus anthropology and other related fields of inquiry.

Today I joined the local library at last. It's a pretty good one for a small town and is part of a consortium that carries plenty more books than we have right in town. I've been reading about quantum and theoretical physics quite a bit lately and decided it was about time I take these studies seriously. To that end, I checked out Relativity by Albert Einstein and A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I read the latter years ago but simply can't believe I never read the original Einstein itself, no matter how much I've studied that theory.

Is that the best way to go? I don't know, I don't have anyone guiding me in this.

For fun, I also checked out Astronomy by Mark A. Garlick and A Devil's Chaplain by Richard Dawkins. Luckily, this library gives you four weeks with any older book! They'll even let you renew twice, but I'm hoping I won't need that privilege. At the same time I'm working my way through books on algebra, geometry, and calculus to refresh my memory and expand on what I know.

I realize that all this learning might make it even harder to go back to school (see the boredom problem above) but I'm also aware that I may never get back there and I just can't wait. It's not like I'd have a shot of getting a job in the sciences without a degree but this is the best I can do. My brain needs the exercise, anyway. Years in the music business rotted it pretty thoroughly, as can happen when you have to focus on fluff like what someone wears or how to write an effective fake bio to make them look more interesting. Even the intellectual challenges always felt so unimportant.

Most of my educational background is very much in the humanities but the more I get to know myself the more I realize I missed my true passions and (according to testing) talent. It's astounding how easily you can get swept up in a direction that you never sought out in the first place. Time to get back to myself.

The most pressing challenge at the moment, though, is to find the time to pursue all these things without wrecking my business and personal life. It might be nice to get some sleep at some point, too.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Welcome to the Only State More Corrupt than Louisiana! Now, Go Vote!

How do you choose who to vote for when there aren't any viable options?

I live in New Jersey these days and my first state-wide election here is coming up. For those of you who don't follow our politics here (outside of scandals that landed many in jail, including the mayor of my town), we are in the midst of perhaps the most heated election cycle of my lifetime. Our incumbent, Jon Corzine, is a favorite of Obama's (apparently, as he seems to spend almost as much time campaigning for him as he does on television appearances and screwing up New York City traffic) but pretty much no one else. His numbers are as bad as David Patterson's yet the Democratic Party seems to be fighting for him instead of asking him to step aside. I can't figure out if they really want to lose NJ or something. If they do I'm thinking it's because Corzine's opponent, Chris Christie, is so corrupt that they think he'll raise a lot of money for the party every time he does something that makes Democrats mad.

Either way, I have ended up with a huge dilemma. I'm very (theoretically) excited to vote at last in the state I grew up in and left before I was old enough to register but I have no one to vote for.

As you know if you've read my post on The World's Smallest Political Quiz, I am a Libertarian. The problem is, if I vote for my own party's candidate, it's pretty much a wasted vote. That is why the two-party system does not work. Call me crazy, but I'd much rather vote for the least of several-to-many evils than the lesser of two. I'm wise enough to know I will be unlikely to have the chance to vote for someone I might actually believe in but why do I only have two choices? In this case, it's not even the lesser-of situation, it's more, "I'm voting for pure evil and shortsightedness either way."

Two of my most politically-aware friends also live in New Jersey and are staunch Democrats. I respect their views immensely even when we completely disagree but they are considering not voting at all. That's how bad it is. They are not the sort to skip voting and they have very strong opinions on this election but they can't in good conscience vote for either of these men. They know better but just can't figure out what to do.

For me, not casting a vote is not an option at all, but I understand their sentiment. As far as I can tell, these are my options:
  1. Vote for the status quo and accept that my state will continue on it's extreme downslide. This is also a vote for corruption and irresponsibility.
  2. Vote for the "other guy" who is even more corrupt and wants to focus on issues that hardly even matter in this economy and time period rather than fixing anything for anyone.
  3. Vote for my party's candidate just to up their vote count, perhaps aiding the cause of being able to vote for a third, fourth, or fifth party someday in the future but more likely having the same effect as not voting.
New Jersey is, I believe, unique in that we depend so much on two other states (New York and Pennsylvania) for employment and therefore it's pretty hard to change our fate when we can't do anything to change their policies. Still, things used to be better here for individuals, families, and corporations alike. When I was a kid this was an exciting place to be, always growing and changing. As much as I've railed against the development around me and particularly hate how much farmland has become condos, at least most people could find a job, usually a very good one to support living somewhere so costly. Now we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and it's still more expensive to live here than anywhere but Manhattan and San Francisco. Everything has gotten worse. Everything.

I think about these things almost all the time with at least a few brain cells yet I am no closer to a decision than I was when the primaries ended.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Time for Change

Ahhhh, Autumn! I love everything about it. From the crazy weather that changes completely at the slightest whim, the special scent in the air, the changing leaves, the addition of clothing layers, to the promise of winter (my other favorite season) and holidays just around the corner. I could never live somewhere without such distinct seasons as the only one I don't adore is summer and even that serves to remind me why I appreciate the other three so much.

Today I am even more excited it's autumn than usual as I am about to launch my new company to the public. My excitement at this moment is a little more mundane, though. See, I live in a 2-bedroom apartment that I chose partially so I could have an office here. The need for it escalated when my partner moved in a few years ago but ironically we also needed extra storage space and I sacrificed my office, plus we no longer have an air-conditioner in there and it gets quite warm in summer (not great for the computer gear OR me). Right now, my office set-up is in the living room, which has been fine for the pre-startup phase but will definitely be untenable when I start getting calls from the public (fingers crossed!) and working the long hours that come with running a new business.

So, today I'm turning that room into an office again no matter how hard it may be. There's just no other option because I have a wonderful problem - I'm too in love!

I have been with my partner for over 12 years now and I'm still so attracted to him that I can't seem to get anything done when he's in the room. Everything takes far too long and I'm far more likely to make mistakes. It's like I never grew out of the high school mentality that plagues co-ed education, even though in every other way I'd like to think I've progressed. I'm blaming brain chemistry for this one as I really get a body buzz the moment he walks through the door every day, the kind you usually only experience for the first few months of a relationship.

I know, poor me, right? As I said, it's a wonderful problem to have and I hope I always have it. He's incredibly supportive and doesn't mind if I work all the time, I'm the one with the issues here and I'm afraid the fact of my distraction makes him feel guilty. It's not fair to either of us and certainly will not help me become the successful entrepreneur I am confident I can become if I just find a way to make this work, for the company AND for our relationship.

Step one is clearly a space for me to work in solace, and we're lucky enough in this city of tiny apartments to have the "extra" room even if I have to work amongst my huge collection of junk that I adore. It's exciting no matter how much I dread actually doing it, as I will finally have a space that is created for me by only me. If only I had that gene or upbringing or whatever that makes people good at cleaning!

(I'm also hoping that posting this for all of you to see will keep me honest and make me actually accomplish my goals here. I seriously hate cleaning!)

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Biggest Threat to the Sanctity of Marriage

The answer is simple: Civil recognition of marriage.

How did I get there? Well, the first easy answer is divorce and I've been watching the campaign of John Marcotte since reading about it in the Huffington Post a few days ago with amusement and interest. See, I have been saying that for a few years now (it came up in an argument with my father, truth be told) that marriage lost any sanctity it may have had when divorce became a common thing, almost more of a rule than an exception. Couples go into marriage expecting that it will succeed but always knowing, in the back of their minds, that if it's a mistake they have a way out that may require a lot of hassle but is ultimately easier than it ever has been before.

One day while I was waiting for someone on 72nd Street in Manhattan I noticed a giant sign in a window that read, "Sale! Divorces $500!" It broke my heart.

I firmly believe we need a divorce mechanism, there are some brutally bad marriages that need dissolution. However, it makes no sense that two people of the same sex who take their vows seriously can't avail themselves of the option when divorce (a much larger threat to "traditional" marriage) is readily available with not much sacrifice beyond money and, hey, you can even shop for sales to help that part!

However, divorce does not really touch on the sanctity thing in the end, as it is a civil procedure that is in no way sacred. In fact, unless you are married in a religious institution according to it's laws and customs, there is no sanctity whatsoever in marriage. Marriages performed by a justice of the peace, a ship captain, or an Elvis impersonator are not sacred, they are secular and legal. If you are Catholic and divorced and remarried there is no sanctity, as the Church will not recognize such marriages and they are technically adultery even though accepted in general society. There are plenty of examples of taking the sanctity out of marriage that apply to heterosexual couples without even entering the realm of true adultery, domestic violence, or other abuses of the institution.

So, can we just let go of that term when we're talking about gay marriage?

Honestly, I understand why some people hate the semantics of this notion, but I think that it would be totally fine if everyone who married outside a religious institution was considered to have a "civil union" (regardless of anyone's gender) and people who took religiously sanctioned vows could use "marriage". Anyone could get a civil union and each religion could have free domain over their own marriage rules. Everyone could have the level of legal and societal protection that suits each couple while religious people could have their sacred ceremonies truly be sanctified rather than a religious/civil hybrid.

Ahhh, separation of church and state, what an original notion that seems to be these days!

Friday, September 18, 2009

What Does it Really Mean to Be a Married Gay Today?

I may seem like an unlikely proponent of marriage equality, as I'm generally not pro-marriage, have never wanted to marry, and live with a man who is my long-term partner. So, you'd think marriage laws wouldn't be a passion of mine, but I abhor inequality and anytime people are restricted from doing anything they would like to do that doesn't hurt (or, in this case, even affect most) other people.

So, gay marriage is a cause I care about to the bottom of my brain and heart. I would also like for society to accept people (especially women) who choose to never marry, but I think marriage equality may actually be a more achievable goal in this country.

Why am I bringing this up today? I followed a "Follow Friday" message from my friend (@souphead) and ended up on a new site by one of her friends, Ruby. Ruby is a very smart and funny lesbian who married her wife while it was legal in California and mother of one of the most beautiful babies around. The happy family has decided to take a road trip across America to ponder the question, "Are We Married?" and what it really means as they spend time in states with widely varying laws. I'm looking forward to following their story, I'm sure they will have wonderful and thoroughly horrible adventures along the way (based on my own experiences traveling around America as a non-traditionally-minded person) and that Ruby will wittily report on them all.

If this family isn't a perfect example of why marriage equality is vital to our citizens, I don't know who is.

It's impossible to understand how anyone can preach "family values" and yet tell two loving mothers who value their family above all that they are in breach of them. I am very smart with test scores to prove it and quite creative in many ways and yet I can not wrap my brain around how people even come to these notions that have no bearing on reality.

Regardless of where you stand on this issue you should read Ruby's blog and get a glimpse of what it really means to be married as a lesbian in this nation at this crossroads in public policy and private beliefs.

Next up: What is really the greatest threat to the sanctity of marriage?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Death Penalty Truly Does = Homicide

Capital punishment. Just the words make my blood run cold. I am not a great believer in the Bible but I have often thought that was one of the best lessons of the New Testament, that capital or even corporal punishment are not the way to handle justice on any level.

On a logical level, it is nearly impossible to know a person's actions with 100% accuracy. Even video can lie, heck, you could be standing there watching something happen and not know the truth. It happens all the time, even to highly observant types.

The only good argument I've ever heard for the death penalty can be summed up in Ted Bundy's escape from prison via a law library and the subsequent murders he committed before Florida put him to death. However, that level of cunning is rare and Ted Bundy is an exception to many "rules" of criminal behavior. We like to pin the label sociopath onto all kinds of criminals but the truth is they are incredibly rare yet share the trait of most criminals that the death penalty is not even slightly a deterrent to them. If anything, it just ups the stakes of the game and makes it more interesting.

Well, I'm off on a tangent again. The point is, I've always been against capital punishment, but today I read an article that made my veins particularly icy and included a sentence that, to me, is the truly unrefutable argument to be made against it: "On his death certificate, the cause was listed as 'Homicide.'"

I don't know if that's standard, but it certainly makes sense, as it is quite intentional and thus homicide. Still, to see that we completely admit that we, as a society, are committing homicide on a regular basis just makes a horrifying concept seem that much more contentious. I'd honestly never thought about what they put on the death certificate in such cases before.

Even scarier, what the article was largely about was the appalling state of arson investigation in this country. If you watch much prime time television you must have seen some amazing arson investigations using all sorts of gizmos and scientific methodology. Well, it turns out that is more fictional than I thought. "In 1997, the International Association of Arson Investigators filed a legal brief arguing that arson sleuths should not be bound by a 1993 Supreme Court decision requiring experts who testified at trials to adhere to the scientific method." Seriously? I don't even have words (and that is extremely rare, as you may know if you've been reading this blog). Arson investigators often claim their profession is more of an art than a science. I'm sorry, but if you are going to kill me over something, I'd like some solid factual science to be behind it. Luckily, in this case the Supreme Court agrees, but arson investigators are still grappling with the concept.

Why is this country so much more accepting of art than science? Alas, that will have to be a discussion for another day.

The excellent article from the New Yorker that inspired these thoughts is a long one but well worth the time:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Surprise Vacation Surprises

I haven't posted in a little over a week because I had a little vacation, sorely needed. Most of it was spent at home, just enjoying some peace and quiet with my guy. It was nice. I didn't play guitar, write anything, work, or even keep up with Twitter the whole time (just checked in a few times for news on when Discovery would launch, which ended up conveniently being after our return). We had all these big plans for the week but ended up indulging in only one of them, our first overnight trip to the Jersey shore together, a last-minute idea that somehow came together.

We had gone on a day trip last summer, taking the high-speed ferry from Manhattan to Sandy Hook. It was fun, but I do question the name of that peninsula (island? I really should look at a map), there were far more rocks than sandiness. We wanted to go back there but couldn't find a room available within our price range, so I looked further afield along the train line that runs down the coast (it was very nice to NOT rent a car for this one, as I'm the only licensed driver in my household and I enjoy drinking alcohol on vacation, or pretty much anytime I'm not driving). I searched like mad for the right town and a B&B that wouldn't break the bank. All the towns I have spent time in on the shore are too distant for a train and there is nothing worse than a longish-distance bus ride to me, so I was going in rather blind.

Well, somehow it all came together and we ended up visiting Spring Lake, my new favorite shore town. Most of the people were older than us (which I like, a lot), it was quiet and peaceful without too many kids dominating the atmosphere. I like children but in shore towns they just get way too loud for me to take for long. There were quite a few on the beach itself, where they were delightful to watch and the waves were still the main sound. The beach was fantastic, soft sand with big waves thanks to Bill's recent presence.

I'm not usually a big public recommendation person, and part of me wants to keep my new spot a secret, but we were treated so well and had such a wonderful trip that I feel I should support everyone who made it that way. The White Lilac Inn was our home-away-from-home and the best B&B I've ever stayed in. Good food, comfortable places to relax including loads of porches and balconies, beds that made me sleep like a baby, and all brought together by the funny and thoughtful owner, Mari. Many times I have stayed in a place like that and felt like I was intruding in a stranger's home, but Mari and her staff made us feel like long-lost and very welcome family members rather than just paying customers. The other guests were also friendly and we had quite a bit of fun just hanging out on the porch with them. It was almost hard to leave the inn and explore the town, even though we were very much there for beach time!

The truly great meal of our trip was at The Mill at Spring Lake Heights. The food was very tasty, on par with some of the famous restaurants I've been lucky enough to dine in. Even better was the friendly waitstaff and the view of a pond filled with painted turtles. The only bad part was waddling home feeling like we had just been through a Thanksgiving meal (yes, Souphead, I did have the baby bump from overeating).

It's also amazing how relaxing a trip that involves no driving or flying can be. Most vacations end with aggravation purely because those modes of travel can be so stressful, whereas the train was pleasant and conveniently half a mile from both our home and the inn. It was lovely to come home still feeling refreshed and even nicer to come home from the beach when a storm was rolling in after our time there had perfect weather for swimming.

Happy on vacation, happy to be home. Does it get any better than that?

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Childhood Interest Becoming Adult Obsession

Twitter changes things. It seems mind-blowing that little messages like that can open up worlds of opportunity to learn, grow, and even meet people who become real-life friends. You can target your interests or just click around and see what catches your eye, serendipitous follows.

Most of us are interested in a lot of things as children (at least I hope that's true of most people), and of course, the question of, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" usually gets a different answer depending on the year, month, day, or even moment it gets asked by some well-meaning adult. If you caught me at the right time in my childhood you would have heard that I either wanted to be an astronaut or, really, any position at NASA would do. I would have also been happy to be an astrophysicist at any form of observatory. As long as it involved things out of this world, I suppose, it fit into my hopes and dreams.

In the intervening years that dream fell away completely. I even thought I had grown to hate science for a time. It's easy to look back and realize that I hFont sizead the misfortune of encountering really bad science teachers (one of my chem teachers didn't even know Avogadro's number. He said it was around 6x1023 but, when pressed, had no idea of what came after the decimal point. Still makes me want to cry in frustration). In every other way I had a phenomenal education but everything I learned about science came from reading and visiting the American Museum of Natural History. I'm sure being female didn't help, either, but no one cared about the sexism of science classrooms in those days.

Thank goodness (and T.R.) for the museum. As an adult, I have attended many a lecture there and, despite having only a G.E.D. have managed to cobble together quite a bit of knowledge between the amazing speakers and books they led me to. My childhood dreams started coming back to me, but this time in a mature way where the dream includes hard work, several degrees, and paying my dues even if I'm 50 or more when I get to break into it. Who needs to retire, anyway?

Then I found NASA TV. Ahh, the wonder of seeing Hubble images, day-to-day moments of life in the ISS, and whatever random stuff they decided to broadcast. The trouble is, it's hard to know when what you want to see is on as opposed to the educational programming reminiscent of early public broadcast shows.

So, how does Twitter come into all of this? Well, I joined purely to get in touch with an old friend and because another friend kept hounding me to. It took me about 3 hours to find @NASA and that was the moment I got hooked. Now I'm following a whole bunch of NASA workers and get up-to-the-moment updates and insights on what's happening with the whole space program and particularly the shuttle missions. I also know just when to turn on NASA TV now, very handy. Better yet, actual astronauts have answered my questions!

So, there you have it folks. I am a bigger geek than I usually let on, and it's not just in the fun used-to-be-a-sound-engineer way. Now you know.

Tonight I sit here, anxiously clicking refresh on my Twitter home page for any scrap of information about Discovery and aching to make my boyfriend turn off the NFL channel in favor of NASA, even plotting with my father about how to get our butts to a launch before the shuttle program ends.

I would like to send out enormous thanks to everyone at NASA who has gotten this girl hooked, especially @astro_mike, @astro_127, @astro_jose (on his first space flight tonight!), @absolutespacegrl, and @MarkKirkman. You (and a few others that got lost in my excitement) are providing a wonderful service to all of us who believe in the space program but can only press our noses to the glass. Not to mention all the hearty laughs you've all provided!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Guess I'm Just Not Cool Enough

I don't own a single product by Apple. I likely never will. I have in the past, but my last Apple product was an Apple IIe computer, which says a lot. Had an original Mac, too, but the IIe outlived it, believe it or not!

Now, of course, I'm all about gaming, so a PC is necessary in my life. I don't have the money for a second computer that runs only about 1/4 of the software I use almost every day. I thought about getting a Mac at one point for music (I was a sound engineer in a "former life") but it's hard to justify spending over $2000 on a single-purpose computer unless you need it for work, especially when I would also need to spend a whole lot more on all the ProTools and related gear. I don't allow single-purpose tools in my kitchen (unless necessary), why would I take up a chunk of my living room with one?

An iPod holds no interest, I don't listen to music on the go, plus my phone holds more than enough for the rare podcasts I enjoy. I would never go back to AT&T for mobile service, so an iPhone is out. I don't like them, anyway, find them cumbersome where others find sleekness, so even when they spread to other companies it's highly unlikely I'd buy one. I keep TRYING to find an Apple product that interests me, but it never works.

So when Microsoft started running those ads showing people buying PCs and the one with the redheaded girl came out I couldn't help but giggle at her comment about not being cool enough for a Mac. Maybe that's my problem, I'm just not that cool. Macs crash as soon as I touch them, I can't get an iPhone out of standby mode (or whatever it's called). I would go so far as to say that Apple products don't like me any more than I like them!

In fact, my problems go even further - I suck at user-friendly. The more user-friendly something is the more problems I have and the longer it takes me to accomplish them. Microsoft drives me batty with this, too - every time a new version of Office comes out I cringe because I know that it will be more user-friendly and thus incompatible with my brain. I sometimes long for the days before graphical user interfaces and fancy features to make life "easier". I run my life out of MS Access rather than any of the software designed for tracking things, like to-do lists, so I can make it completely suited to my needs instead of relying on others' ideas of my needs. I like coding by hand and working in text form quite a lot. I also love Adobe for never dumbing-down their pro-level software. It's hard to do precisely what you want when a wizard is creating the parameters. I don't like anything that infringes on my freedom!

I wasn't cool in elementary school and I'm not cool now. The only difference is, now I'm fine with that.

Friday, August 14, 2009

World's Smallest Political Quiz

One fact about my family has defined more about the way I look at everything than any other: My father has been a passionate Republican for my whole life while my mother was just as passionate of a Democrat. It was like growing up with James Carville and Mary Matalin in reverse, only not political operatives but just intelligent and educated voters who care. Objectively, their points of view were unsurprising, as he was an executive at large companies while she was a Ph.D. who opted to teach in and, eventually, run public high schools instead of working in the relative luxury of colleges. They generally lived by what they preached and that obviously led to some heated debates at the dinner table. While this drove me absolutely nuts as a child it also made me learn the importance of being politically aware very early on.

The second most important lesson I learned is to respect people who disagree with you. Sometimes it feels like I'm the only person in Generations X or Y who feels that way. The vitriol between parties makes me physically ill when it's my friends spouting it. Disagreements are necessary and even helpful but the sheer petty meanness from both major parties is purely depressing and helps not one single person in this world.

Even worse, I've never fit on the right/left line, so the debates have always made me feel like even more of an outcast than I felt from being a geeky girl with odd interests all my life. I've also found that a lot of people I've met who THINK they know what party they belong in actually disagree quite a lot with that party. That's one of the many problems of a two-party system, many (if not most) people join a party that fits one or two of their pet issues and ignore that party's position on everything else.

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to receive an email from Dad with a link to The World's Smallest Political Quiz and a note about how he was surprised by his results. I immediately took it and, while not surprised when it told me I was a libertarian (I joined the Libertarian party a while back after doing a lot of research before transferring my voter registration to a new state), it was a revelation to see just how intensely libertarian I am. What validation! People have been trying to convince me I'm a Democrat for years despite my enormous issues with many of that party's stances and their underlying system of beliefs. I knew that wasn't right.

Being a natural skeptic in general, though, I felt the need to test the quiz a bit further and had my boyfriend take it. He scored precisely where I expected, as pretty much a super-liberal. Yup, I ended up with a significant other almost as different in his beliefs as my mother was to my father. We really do grow up to be our parents!

So now I want to encourage everyone in the country to take this quiz, it only takes a couple of minutes but it is by far the best way I've found to distill what you think into something quantifiable. The other wonderful thing about the quiz is that it will lead you into ways to explore the parties you might fit well into, regardless of which they may be. No matter how politically aware you may be there is always more to learn. Always.

Perhaps the most important thing about this quiz and the group that publishes it is that they are trying to redefine the political landscape, get away from the left/right line that leaves so many people like me out in the cold. Libertarians AREN'T conservatives, as many people think, and statists aren't liberals. They use a diamond-shaped chart that makes so much more sense than any straight line ever could, the world isn't flat and neither should our political options be. There is no category where you can divide the nation's population into exactly two positions, let alone one as sophisticated and complicated as politics.

John Adams famously said, "There is nothing I dread so much as a division of the Republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader and converting measures into opposition to each other." The man should be considered a prophet.

Please take this quiz!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


There will be a lot of posts on Les Paul by people who are better equipped to write them than I could ever be. Yet, as I can't think about anything else right now it seemed like I should get on here and tell a little story.

When I was 18 I hung out at a place in New York City called Tramps a lot. They had tons of really incredible bands there, from legendary acts who usually played bigger places to some of the most talented new discoveries. The place itself wasn't anything special but the moment the music started it was magical, an intimate environment that was all about music. It was also very special to be able to be there at the moment when I was all about musical discovery whether it was the best of the past or the future, which dovetailed very nicely with their lineup. Sometimes you really are in just the right place at just the right time.

After Danny Gatton's suicide they held a tribute to him with mind-blowing musicians volunteering their skills to benefit his family. I caught every drop of music of every night of it and could write a whole book about the experience but one memory trumps them all.

I was alone there and killing time before the music started by browsing the merch table. An older man walked up to the table and we started talking about the most mundane things. It turned out I grew up one town away from where he'd been living for years so we actually found so much to chat about that we never even introduced ourselves. It was a great conversation, the kind I would remember forever even if the next events of the night hadn't happened.

After awhile he said he had to go backstage, so I wandered over to the soundboard area to listen to the music that was now in full swing. My friend ran up to me and said, "You'll never guess who's not only here but is actually going to play a few songs! Les Paul!" I had, of course, heard Les Paul but only on records, so I was extremely excited at that moment. The music stopped and the very man who I'd enjoyed talking to so much walked out on stage with his signature guitar! I had no idea I'd been talking to a legend.

Oh, and the music - just so wonderful!

I ended up living right near the Iridium for awhile, so I went to see him whenever I could, but nothing can compare to those first moments of hearing his guitar sing. I have also ended up meeting quite a few musicians since then and, while many of those became people dear to my heart and Les Paul was barely an acquaintance, he touched my heart so deeply in such a brief time that he will always have a place in it.

We are so blessed that a mind that fine turned itself to music and that we did get to have him with us for such a very long time. It still feel like the whole world was robbed today, though.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Out from Behind

Last year I got a Handycam for Christmas. I'd wanted one for years but found it's almost odd to actually own one, as you then are expected to film everything, which means a lack of actual participation. As someone who loves to experience things that's tough to swallow for a lot of events.

I got a couple of really cool tripods off eBay, though, and that helps. Both are prosumer tripods, one is heavy and super-sturdy and the other is tiny and light for travel. They open up whole worlds of possibilities, but the funny thing is I mostly seem to be getting use out of the whole video getup around my home.

Since I recently started playing music again after a long hiatus, and am taking the guitar much more seriously than I used to, I have taken to recording a lot of my practicing. It's incredibly helpful in so many ways.

However, I am realizing that I have a fear of cameras that goes deeper than I previously thought. Actually, I knew I used to have a fear of cameras but thought I had gotten rid of it when I last had professional pictures taken. That shoot was a revelation, I had so much fun and got quite relaxed, which of course meant the pictures were so good! Those were still pictures, though (on actual film, no less), and stills haven't bothered me since, so maybe it's just a fear of video cameras now.

I plug away, setting aside part of an afternoon every so often and letting the camera capture whatever I'm working on. It IS making me feel better about the camera just being there but it definitely makes it harder to play music. It's quite distracting. For one thing, there's the factor of not knowing where to look, it's kind of creepy to look right in the lens but it seems like I'm shady or something when I look elsewhere.

Which brings me to the further creepiness of watching the products of all this effort. I'm actually writing this post as one of my songs plays on the PS3 and it's possible that the reason I started it was for an excuse to look away. Defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

Well, at least my creativity is flowing in a lot of ways and I'm not letting my fears knock me back down. Baby steps, baby steps. Hopefully this will carry on through the nightmare of trying to play out again. There is no audience as scary to me than that stupid little lens!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Zooey Deschanel Pulls a Fast One?

For those who don't follow Top Chef Masters, two nights ago the elimination challenge was to cook one course of a five-course meal for Zooey Deschanel and her friends. Right after they were given the challenge instructions they watched a video message from the hostess with a huge list of what was supposedly her dietary restrictions: Vegan, soy-free, and gluten-free, just what a chef that doesn't specialize in those diets fears more than anything. As someone who used to be vegan, gluten-free, and yeast-free I was actually quite excited to see what these masters could do within that framework, but I also felt pretty bad for the ones who had never gone near that sort of diet before because I know how hard it was for me to keep up with my own restrictions. Overall, an exciting challenge, though.

We watched the show last night and so it was still in my mind as I ended up watching Craig Ferguson's show a few hours later. Ms. Deschanel was the guest and they were talking about baseball and the Dodgers, which led to this discussion of food:

Ferguson: "Do you like the Dodger dogs?"

Deschanel: "No."

CF: "What?! Oh, no, you're vegetarian, aren't you?"

ZD: "Well, I, uh, you know, go vegetarian sometimes."

CF: "Sometimes, like Lindsey Lohan."

ZD: [laughs and says something I can't make out] "...well, but I don't do Dodger dogs... I have been known to go vegetarian."

So, was this Top Chef Masters challenge simply cooked up by the writers and producers? I mean, someone who goes, "vegetarian sometimes," is hardly in a position to demand food with loads of tough restrictions. I know, I know, it's better television if she claims this is actually her diet, but the fact that these two things aired within two days really highlights the bullshit that we are fed all the time.

Just to be clear, I have nothing against people who can't stick to the vegetarian thing, I went from eating nothing but grains, beans, and veggies to a full-blown carnivore who likes her meat practically bloody so I can't say anything. I have nothing against Ms. Deschanel for whatever she chooses to put in her body, but this whole thing of people claiming a special diet and then it turning out to be not exactly truthful is such a weird by-product of these times.

I have a friend who has been telling people for years that he's a vegetarian, but if you ask further he'll tell you he eats chicken most days. So, then he'll say, "Well, I don't eat pork or beef," but if you invite him to a barbecue and offer him a piece of chicken and a well-cooked steak or burger, take a wild guess what he usually picks...

Product Placement

I love shopping, I love gadgets (especially for the kitchen), and I pursue buying them much like many people look for the right spouse. I do research then go to stores and touch or even use the product if at all possible, all in the quest for the perfect match to my taste and style. So, a few years ago, when I needed a new coffee maker I went through the whole rigmarole. Read professional and consumer reviews, researched what makes a coffee maker good at, well, brewing coffee, and even convinced myself that I could get a good cup without spending a fortune and that it would be best to have a separate burr grinder instead of a built-in one. The winner was the Cuisinart Brew Central and I have been in love with it from day one. It just makes a darn good cup of coffee, didn't break my bank, and looks slick to boot.

Then I noticed that it may be the most placed product in Hollywood. I've spotted it in dozens of TV shows and movies, the ones that spring to mind right now are Josh Lyman's apartment in The West Wing, the break room on Bones, and it is CONSTANTLY on screen in Two and a Half Men. This machine has more screen time than the hardest-working actors in Hollywood!

It seems that my noticing this would be an example of product placement doing it's job, but I never actually noticed that coffee maker before I owned it. Not once. I didn't recognize it when I saw it in the store or think, "Gee, I should get the coffee maker I saw on TV, it looks nice." No, I notice it purely because I already own it.

As I watched Bradley Whitford empty his coffee filter for the 10th time or so this morning I got to wondering: Who buys stuff because they saw it on a show? I know companies have all sorts of ways of measuring their ROI on various advertising campaigns but I'm not sure how they could track the success of placements. It would be fascinating to see some numbers on this.

As far as I can tell, the only product placement that really works is drinks. I was addicted for years to Coca-cola (I drink about one every month or two now) and when I see someone on TV drinking one it gives me a craving. That's just me, though, and I know I'm generally a more educated consumer than most people and couldn't possibly care less about celebrity or trends. So, are there people out there who buy products because they saw them on TV or in a movie? I'm quite curious!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Little Less Specialization

I have started a couple of blogs on subjects I'm passionate about, and plan to continue those, but it's hard to stick to a subject when you're interested in sooooo many things, as I am. I finally decided to create a place for these random thoughts and musings here.

I am a writer. Not really a pro, sort of in that netherworld between a hobby and having sold a few things over the years, but that doesn't matter to me. Everything I watch, walk by, or overhear sparks a million thoughts and I love to think about things from all sides, not just from my own perspective. This makes me rather frustrating to have a debate about, say, politics with because I'll probably argue the opposite point of yours even if I actually completely agree with you. People say much more interesting things when trying to prove a point and people DO much more interesting things if they don't know you're watching, like a candid snapshot. Everything I encounter makes me want to write about it. I don't know how to stop, even if nothing comes of anything I write. The words (and melodies, in the case of music and poetry) come into my head and clamor to get out, to the point of driving me crazy if I don't have a way to get them down.

So, don't expect any order or theme to this. If you agree with one post you may hate another. One may interest you greatly while others bore. That's okay, I've learned the hard way that I don't fit neatly into any schools of thought and don't want or expect anyone else to agree with me on much of anything.

That said, if you've found your way here my one hope is that you will laugh!