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!