Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fox News vs. The White House

Since mid-presidential election of 2008 I have heard plenty of debate about how Fox News is too conservatively-biased resulting in a not-so-"fair and balanced" presentation or how the White House shouldn't be afraid of the one news organization willing to ask the tough questions. No matter the perspective, it isn't new for a president to have a particular known view about a news outlet. What is interesting is that NPR is weighing in by asking people to voice their opinion in a poll asking the public who they are more likely to side with.

Before I show you the snapshot, two items worth mentioning:

First, it isn't a one-sided battle with Fox News picking on the silent suffering Obama Administration. The White House Communications Director recently said "let's not pretend they are a news network the way CNN is" when referring to Fox News. There are many regular news shows on Fox News, and they aren't all The O'Reilly Factor or The Glen Beck Show. I am certain we could list at least two non-conservative news commentary programs to compete.

Secondly, statistics might prove that the White House Communications Director is simply showing political bias and demonstrating he is out of touch with America when claiming Fox News isn't a real news network. The numbers show that Fox News trumps all other news networks when you consider basic viewership. In fact Fox News typically has as many viewers in a day as all of the other news networks combined (Daily: Fox News = 1,375,000 as compared to 1,392,000 = CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and HLN combined; at primetime, Fox News beats all other news networks combined by over 100,000 viewers.)

So, you might already be guessing where the results of this NPR poll are headed (as of 10am October 21st, 2009):

At the bottom of the poll there is disclaimer information about how the poll is not scientific and an appeal for more people to more regularly get involved in these web conversations. I think, even though the poll is not scientific, it is interesting that 2/3rds of the NPR voting public would side with Fox News rather than the White House. NPR has never been famous for attracting a conservative audience so I wonder what this poll really reflects about this little war between the Obama Administration and Fox News?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cash For Clunkers Is A Clunker

According to cnnMoney the cash for clunkers program numbers are in and those numbers don’t look too good.

In the article, a reputable automotive review site shared analysis about the 2009 year end sales predictions and compared those figured with the actual number of sales that cashed in on the clunkers program. Here is what those numbers look like:

  • A total of 690,000 new cars were cash for clunkers deals.

  • Even in this economy 565,000 of those sales we previously predicted.

  • This leaves 125,000 auto sales that no one anticipated and that could be attributed to the program

In dollars what does this mean?

Well, if each deal cost the taxpayer $4,000 in rebate dollar to the purchaser, that means that the program cost $2,760,000,000. That's almost $3 billion! More importantly, if you remove the 565,000 auto sales that were already predicted, then divide nearly $3 billion across the remaining 125,000 new and previously unpredicted sales, the taxpayer paid around $20,000 per clunker (give or take a few thousand bucks.)

So what does $20,000 in taxpayer money buy us?

Here is a nice truck! Would you pay $20,000+ for this truck? Wait for it. You don't actually get the truck, though. You are simply buying the right to have the truck put down. Half of the Cash for Clunkers gimmick was about taking old gas-guzzlers off of the road. So once those heaps were purchased (with your taxpayer dollars), they were put out to pasture. That's right. Your $20,000 in taxpayer cash was used to buy and then crush this car. What a deal!

More offensive than the waste is the program managements response to that waste:

“It is unfortunate that has had nothing but negative things to say about a wildly successful program that sold nearly 250,000 cars in its first four days alone," said Bill Adams, spokesman for the Department of Transportation.

Let's read through that government spin and re-interpret that quote...


Isn't 125,000 sales still a big number and should we cut the program a break?

Shouldn't we just celebrate big numbers? Well, if they had sold 1 billion cars over the program period, then it would have been a success. You might be thinking “Steve... seriously!!! They would have to have sold 1 billion cars for it to be successful! Is that really reasonable? Was there even enough time in the program in a good economy to have sold 1 billion cars?

You are right. It isn't reasonable. In fact, 1,000,000,000 car sales isn't enough success by the numbers!

Let's run the numbers. 1 billion cars would have meant that half of those cars were attributable to the program, lowering the rebate per car cost to the taxpayer down to $5,500 per car. Technically, they would have needed to sell over a billion cars such that about 630,000 of those sales could be directly and reasonably attributed to the program to just get the per car number down to $4,500 (the maximum rebate.) Mind you, we as the taxpayer are still footing the bill to underwrite U.S. auto sales which almost makes no sense to me!! But at the minimum this should have been the target for success. If there wasn't enough time to hit a reasonable margin for financial success then WHY DO THE PROGRAM? At what point and by what measure does running a program that simply creates more debt at the expense of taxpayers become a good investment?

Calling 125,000 new auto sales a success just verifies that the government has no idea how to measure success.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

iPhone Game Project

My first iPhone game project is underway...

(click the image to make it larger)

Step one is learning all about basic physics and how to pull off physics in Flash. I have so far tackled basic velocity and trajectory along with some collision math (when two or more object bump into each other.)

In the above screen shot you can see an iPhone sized screen with 100 objects bouncing around the screen at random velocity, spinning at random rates, all random sizes and one of three random shapes. Next notice the colors. That is only helpful to me at the moment while I am programming but the color coding goes like this:

  • Green: the object recently bounces off of the west wall.
  • Yellow: the object recently bounced off of the north wall.
  • Orange: the object recently bounced off of the east wall.
  • Blue: the object recently bounced off of the south wall.
  • Red: Two or more objects recently collided with the object.
  • White: the object recently collided with another object but is currently not touching another object nor is it touching an outer wall.

Here is another screen shot with 400 objects all bouncing around the screen!

Almost nothing is anything other than red, meaning that flash is working hard to calculate a whole bunch of collisions. Technically, with 400 objects on the screen that means that Flash would potentially need to calculate 400 x 400 possible combinations of objects colliding. I recently learned a little trick about how to pull this off without demanding that amount of CPU power to collision detection. Basically, in short, I have divided the screen space into a grid and I am only testing for collision against objects that share reasonable proximity. This drastically cuts down on the number of tests. Next I can avoid testing similar converse cases meaning if I test if Object-A and Object-B are colliding then I don't have to test if Object-B and Object-A are colliding (that would be a valid test [permutation], but a redundant one.) That cuts the tests way back again. Finally, to keep track of objects I am sorting them into Vector (or data-type-based) Arrays which just cuts process time for lists of objects to test... in half!

Here is one more screen shot of the same view but with only 25 objects bouncing around...

You can see more colors at work depicting bounce-state in this example since there are fewer collision opportunities.

So, currently there are over 75,000 iPhone apps out there which means there are likely not many more opportunities falling into the "completely unique" category. Whatever game idea this evolves into, well... there will likely already be "an app for that." So I am not worried about competition. I am in search of killer cool ideas. My first game might be something simple like rounds of flying a spaceship through an asteriod field (like this game here) and each new screen would get increasingly more complicated. I have a few ideas for interesting ways to make the effort more challenging using multitouch and the accelerometer (when you tilt the iPhone) , but we will see.

Below is a tweaked version of this for the blog here (only 50 objects set into motion with object collision turned off):

Saturday, October 24, 2009

desktop wallpaper creation site

I thought I would share this interesting site where people can create a share wallpaper designs using the tools provided by the site. It's a fairly cool site with a number of interesting tools for layering these stamp-style illustrated graphics, sharing your designs and downloading them for use on your computer.

Here is a quick shot of my mac hard at work helping me create a desktop wallpaper:

You can click the image for a closer view.

The site is

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Google Andriod Mobile OS Moves to #2

Phones running on the Google Android operating system just got a promotion in device domination, PC World reports. Just as looming is the news that by 2012 industry analysts are saying that the Apple iPhone will lose market share. Don't obviously cash in your Apple stock yet. The iPhone surely seems to be the trend setting device at the moment and I believe it's a safe guess that we will see more innovations over the next two years.

What is interesting is the proliferation of available mobile software development kits that allow mobile device software developers the ability to more easily build games and applications for these devices.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 2010 commitment of Adobe to put its final touches on the coming Flash 10.1 player. Flash 10.1 player will be the first majorly significant move by Adobe to unify the Flash player across desktop and mobile platforms. To the average person, this means, if your phone can see Flash then any Flash on a website you view from your desktop will be fully visible from your mobile device. No more stripped down version of Flash player (i.e. Flash Player Lite) for mobile devices. This also marks the first time Flash will show up on a number of Mobile Operating Systems.

What does this mean for Flash Developers? It means that it is time to get your creative hats on and be ready to invest in building your own mobile applications for sale. Apple has gotten the whole "there's an app for that" right from the beginning of their foray into phone devices. Now Adobe is following close behind with the development tool to end all mobile development tools... Flash CS5!

The web you hold in your hand is about to get a whole lot better!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Flash On The iPhone is (almost) Here!

My dream just arrived! Hot off the press, Adobe has announced that the next version of Flash, Flash Professional CS5, will compile ActionScript 3 Flash projects into iPhone applications distributable via the Apple Store!

Read the press release here:

Before you jump to conclusions, there is still no Flash browser plugin for Safari in the iPhone. So all of the websites that display Flash are still not going to work on the iPhone (yet.)

So what does this mean for Flash Developers? Well, it simply means that we will be able to create ActionScript 3 projects that can run like iPhone applications. At the moment, we have no way of knowing how much of ActionScript 3 or what techniques outside of scripting will translate to the iPhone. For example, will timeline effects and tweens all translate? Do we have to do anything to optimize graphics for the iPhone? Are their new features that allow Flash for iPhone apps to save data to the iPhone? Can Flash for iPhone apps communicate with web services and retrieve external XML data? Can Flash for iPhone apps communicate with iPhone data and services (like GPS data, photos on the iPhone, the iPhones photo and video camera, phone lists, email, etc.) There are no answers yet. And even if there were, those answers would likely change since Flash CS5 isn't even in beta yet. But this is only going to get more fun.

Recently in the news, Adobe also made an announcement that the new HTC Hero Phone running the Google mobile operating system would have Flash built into it. According to Adobe, while that is only Flash Lite right now, they are throwing their weight behind getting a full Flash player for mobile devices this next year.

It seems that Adobe is completely poised to dominate as the development platform for cross OS mobile device development and that is great news for the many people who have invested in Flash for years. If you are simply someone who is geeked about your iPhone or interactive mobile device, just wait until the Flash development community has at it.

Now, we just need to see more people embrace cloud computing and the world will truly go mobile!

Note: For those of you who start spamming about where I found a picture a Flash for iPhone version of the all-powerful Adobe Kuler application, well... I didn't... it is a mock up I threw together assuming that would be one of the first apps that adobe will likely convert for use on the iPhone. Can you imagine it? Take a picture of something and launch the Kuler application so it can inspect it and create color schemes from the photo!?!?!?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Religulous is just another example of an anti-religion

I recently watched Bill Maher's docu-propaganda “Religulous” and while there are so many unbelievably trite biasing stereotypes in that film (I found myself mentally defending other religions against some of his over-the-top generalizations) that I couldn't begin nor do I want to address them. There were a few that I feel I would like to “set the record” straight with regard to.

The short list of “stuff I would like to address” would be (1) the parallel that he draws between the story of Jesus and the story of the Egyptian god Horus written nearly 600 years before Jesus shows up on the scene, and (2) his assertion that humanity is doomed if reasonable agnostics don't take a stand and say that religion needs to be done away with once and for all. I will address the second, first.

Religion blindly holds us in the past and if we don't give it up we are doomed.

Statements like this (not that exact one. This is a reasonable summary of his film's end-statement) are damning and conclusive. They are also partly true which makes them dangerous if we allow it to stereotype reality into an unreasonable conclusion.

I just had this discussion with a co-worker recently. It went something like this: The Jewish population broke new ground in culture with Abraham and Moses. You see, up until that moment in the cradle of civilization Egyptian-style world religions were busy reliving a pattern-cyclical view of life. Said another way, from calendars to religious holidays the world was stuck in an infinite loop of staring at the past, doomed by a lifestyle to repeat it or risk not appeasing the gods they served. There was truly nothing new under the sun and they preferred it that way as demanded by their cultic priests. Society wouldn't have it another way. Then along comes this nomadic tribe following after a God demanding that the old patterns be damned requiring them to break free of the bondage of thinking like the cultures around them.

With the Jews the proverbial circle was broken. God was off and running in a straight line beckoning these tribesmen to follow off into places they would never have ventured on their own. Being stuck blindly in the past a slave to a doomed unconscionable pattern was not the form or function of this relationship. Having said that ground rules were in fact laid down for the purpose of rebooting an entire group, breaking their ties to that compulsive culture from which they emerged. It doesn't honestly get any more cutting edge than that in that specific context.

The truth is that we continue to need the lessons taught to that tribe. We need to remember our past so we can remind ourselves of where we've been in hopes to affect where we are going and not for the purpose of repeating it. We need to remember how to relate to God. We need to employ a basic and reasonably responsible manner of relating to one another that is not selfish and that defies the more base-learned behaviors of a broken culture that surrounds us. Up until that point in history the world hadn't seen a view of God in relationship to man that moved in such a direction. We simply take that relationship for granted today (some of us are worse off than others in this area.)

Bill Maher evokes doom by shocking us with intense music and images of nuclear blasts and he describes the waring of religions around the world, as they blindly worship. What we, as the viewer might neglect to realize as we watch the movie, is that Bill is the wizard behind the curtain. He is the one who is deciding what images to splash in front of you, selectively leaving other images out completely. For example, even if every war that could ever be blamed on religion had never happened, the world would in fact not be war-free. Blaming all war and destruction on religion is completely ludicrous and anyone who might be willing to reflect on the last 100 years of world history can point to plenty of good and bad examples for why people get into intense conflict, many of which have no obvious correlation to religion. His stereotype is hugely revealing at this point to the degree that it derails any semblance of reality nor could he be accused of being reasoning or reasonable (the very thing that he claims to defend throughout the movie.)

Bill draws a parallel between the story of Jesus and the story of the Egyptian god Horus written nearly 600 years before Jesus shows up on the scene, claiming that the Jesus story is just a cheap alternative to a fairly well known (at that time) religious story.

The accusation goes something like this: 600 years before Jesus shows up the Egyptians write about Horus who...

  1. Was born of a virgin.

  2. Who was a god.

  3. Who healed people.

  4. Who walked on water.

  5. Raises someone (like Lazarus) from the dead.

  6. Who was born on the 25th of December.

  7. Who had 12 disciples.

  8. Was confronted in the wilderness.

  9. Was crucified and resurrected.

This is, at the minimum, unsettling, and Bill Maher is fairly rock solid on declaring that these are documented realities of that story. Clearly ignorant Christians are just not familiar with the fact that their religion was simply the retelling of an old mythological fairytale and are just dead wrong and their outspoken confidence in Jesus is sadly misguided...

or (as you may have guessed) Bill Maher just has it all wrong. Let's walk through these claims:

Was Horus born of a virgin?

There are multiple birth stories for Horus and absolutely none of them make his mother out to be a virgin. Anyone telling you otherwise is just making up facts. Horus mother was married to a god who was killed. As the mythology goes, she had him raised from the dead and which point she got pregnant from him so her child, Horus, could avenge his fathers death. The Egyptian gods and people in those stories were constantly having sex so there is no chance she, married to a Egyptian god, wasn't getting it on, nor does it imply that she was not having sex with the god to whom she was married.

Was Horus a god?

He eventually becomes one of a huge cast of Egyptian gods. In that sense one could argue that since Christians say Jesus was God that Horus and Jesus were similar stories. If that were the matching criteria, then Jesus story would be likenable to any of the stories of the Greek or Egyptian gods a weak association at best.

Could Horus heal people?

There is no such story. In Egypt there were these plaques that were used to evoke the name of an Egyptian god for all sorts of purposes, including healing. But there are no stories where Horus did in fact heal anyone. Bill has to make a fairly big jump to liken the stories of Jesus healing people with the Egyptian evoking plaques. My best guess would be that Bill is just regurgitating something someone told him and I would be giving him more credit than he is due in assuming he even knows about the evoking plaques.

Did Horus walk on water?

There is no story of Horus walking on water. Where does this stuff come from? It is interesting that people are willing to retell such thing and not point to a reference of such a thing. Christians can easily point to scripture that at least documents such a story about Jesus. Not so with Horus.

Did Horus raise someone from the dead the way Jesus raised Lazarus?

The fairytale Bill tells is this... Horus raises a character named Osiris from the dead and Osiris translated from Egyptian to Greek becomes Lazarus, so the Lazarus story is simply a rip-off! What Bill doesn't mention (or doesn't know) is that according to mythology Osiris is the dead father of Horus and Horus life goal is to avenge his fathers death, which he does. There is absolutely no story where Horus raises Osiris or anyone else from the dead.

Horus was born on the 25th of December, so Jesus birthday is a fabrication and parallel of Horus birth story!

Horus wasn't nor was it ever written that he was born on December 25th. He was written to have been born in the Winter Solstice which would have been October to November, and paralleled him to many other Egyptian gods and mythological figures.

The truth is that Jesus wasn't likely born on December 25th. There was a period of church history where the church was working hard at redeeming the calendar and would take goofy local or regional holidays and turn them into Christian celebrations. Unfortunately December 25th is one of those holidays. From what we know of history, the “nativity” was moved to December 25th around 350 A.D. So while we really don't know when Jesus was born, we do in fact know it wasn't December 25th which makes the likelihood of a parallel in the original story completely ridiculous.

The Jesus story stole the idea of 12 disciples from Horus who also had 12 disciples!

If Horus had any following, then the only record was of four lower-gods and some human followers (total head counts are not consistent but are guessed to be around 16 with lots of other soldiers who went to war along side Horus.) Nowhere is there any mention of 12 disciples associated with Horus. I even read about how the zodiac constellations were like his disciples based on his relationship to them, but it's a ridiculous stretch to imagine a parallel.

Horus was tempted in the wilderness and so Jesus wilderness temptation story is a rip-off?

This is the worst parallel of those I have researched so far. Jesus temptation in the wilderness follows a 40 day fast and is documented in Matthew 4 if you want to read it. Jesus is tempted to take an easy road and calmly remains steadfast in his resolve to do his sacrificial mission on earth.

Horus does a bit of fighting in his mythology and there is a story that is depicted as the wilderness parallel, but it is nothing like the Jesus temptation. The Horus story includes castration and competition for power via proving sexual domination over the other. It is so completely far fetched to imagine these two stories as any sort of parallel (I am really cleaning it up here: the real story is vulgar and more like two guys trying to prove their dominance by having evidence that they raped each other.) It seems the only parallel is the idea of simply being in the presence of a contentious individual and that is such a weak likening factor.

Horus was crucified and resurrected and is the savior of the world, making this the most convicting parallel levied against the Jesus story!

The idea that the Horus mythology contains all three of those facts is really trouble for the Jesus story. If Horus' story contains him being crucified, later being resurrected and perceived as the savior of the world, Christians have a real problem!

But... alas... they do not. None of that is in the Horus story. In fact, in Horus mythology, he does not die... at all. Which invalidates both the crucifixion as well as the resurrection claims about Horus. And the Horus story is not a story about saving anyone. It is about revenge.

So why does Bill Maher share this stuff if it is clearly all wrong?

Because he is the very thing that he claims he is rising up in “reason” against. He is a blind “believer” in an anti-religion, ill-informed and equally as confident and evangelical on behalf of his anti-gospel called “doubt.” And I don't have a problem with doubt, as long as someone is really searching for truth. And Bill claims this is who he is. But as you can see here, a few spare hours and a willingness to do some research can pull up more truth than the rantings of someone with deep pockets and a public persona like Bill Maher with an ill-informed agenda.

If you watched the movie and walked away absorbing his facts and doubts, just know that if one guy like me can take a couple hours and find a slew of failed facts and faulty logic, you might want to use the very brain that Bill Maher was so arrogantly worshiping and consider not investing trust in people like Bill who have the budget to market ideas but that don't really care enough to reasonably separate the facts from blind-anti-faith opinions that don't hold up under the scrutiny of a web designer / developer.

Final note:

I would expect the possible response to this might be “Well, Bill was misinformed about Horus, but there are many documented examples of how Christianity as a religion borrowed from Mithras mythology,” and those folks are wrong too. Here are some of those stories (as shared in Religulous):

Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25th as witnessed by Shepherds: Mithras was hewn from a rock (again in the Winter Solstice) and the early accounts say that happened before man was created. 100 years after the documenting of the Christian gospels, the Mithras mythology contained additional new story elements where shepherds helped Mithras emerge from rock where he was hewn.

Mithras was a teacher: There isn't a single story of Mithras walking around giving teachings or sermons.

Mithras had 12 disciples: Same as Horus, no 12 disciples. Again well after Jesus, people added an associated connection between Mithras and the zodiac's 12 signs (it was documented later than the time of Jesus.)

Mithras, the leader offering eternal life through shed blood: Nearly all gods talk about continuing life, but in the Mithras story the mention of blood isn't his own, but the blood shed because he killed something and nobody got eternal life via his killing. Not even close to the Jesus story really.

Mithras does miracles: All gods in all stories do god-like stuff, else why would they be gods? This isn't a silver bullet, but rather just part and parcel with god stories. The Bible itself contains stories of people worshiping false gods who claim to do miracles and the Biblical characters teaching those followers various lessons about their false gods.

Mithras is buried in a tomb, and after three days, rises: No such story. Far later in the tradition and new documentation and discussion of Mithras (after the time of Jesus) Mithras was said to travel souls to heaven or hell and some commentary imagine that ascending from hell might evoke images of resurrection, but those commentaries do not imply any comparison to the Jesus story, and even if it did, that commentary shows up after Jesus and not before. There is no tomb, or any 3 days. All of this is just extra-added silliness.

The most damning evidence against the whole idea that Christianity's Jesus is a copy of Mithras has everything to do with mistaken identity.

History tells us that the Persians told stories of a god named Mithras before Jesus showed up on the scene. But those stories, while predating the days of Jesus, are different from the Mithras religion that formed in Rome and became popular after Jesus. All of the stories that make Mithras like Jesus happened after Jesus, not in the Persian version of Mithras that predates Jesus.

So, Sorry Bill Maher... wrong again.

Glidecam balancing and fluidhead tripod on the cheap

Balancing a glidecam can be frustrating. The purpose of the glidecam allows you, as a camera opperator, to move your body without significantly affecting the steadiness of the shot you are filming. More specifically it keeps the shot uniformly level. Said another way, been the lack of shaking at the amount of consistent level, your shots look like they come from a dolly (I will toss some video up soon to demonstrate.)

Getting the sucker (your camera) to balance on the thing (the glidecam device) has been, so far, a hit and miss process. The magic of the whole thing is a combination of the plate the camera sits on, which can move forward, backward, left and right, and the counter-weights at the bottom of the device, which can move closer to the vertical pole and further away. If you have a camera with a heavy piece of expensive piece of glass on it (like a canon XL1 or greater) then you might want those counter weights far to the outside away from the vertical pole. In my case, I have the XH-A1 and while that is heavier than say, the GL1, putting the weights somewhere about an inch from the pole works for me.

It is really the adjustable plate that the camera sits on that is the fidgety part. You set the whole contraption down and make a few tweaks and then pick it up only to realize that it isn't ballanced only to do through this a few hundred more times until you get it right. Well, I think I have figured out the quickest way to make this process happen.

The real problem in the balancing work flow is the fact that you cannot easily adjust the camera plate or weights while holding the camera in the air. Here is the solution.

I just realized that the bottom of the handle of my glidecam pro 2000 is open. The handle is basically like an open tube at the bottom. This is by design so that it can be mounted onto another more expensive additionally stabilizing device. Then I realized that if I took the head off of my vertical microphone stand I could put the vertical end of the microphone stand into the open tube end of the glidecam handle.

Wowser! The glidecam is positioned above one of the outwardly stabilizing legs at the bottom of the mic stand and it hangs there perfectly well without tipping over.

Now I can easily start adjusting the camera plate and within a few adjustments I can see that the camera is now balanced both forward and back, left and right. ba-da-BING!

On to the topic of fluid head tripods.

In some cases people just walk a simple tracking shot of someone walking up a street and then the camera pans to follow them as they walk past and on down the street. If you don't have a fluid head tripod (which costs at least $300) then your shot ends up looking jerky and unpleasant. Here is a simple way to get that shot if you have a glidecam.

Put your glidecam back on the mic stand, and all you have to wory about now is pivoting the vertical pole, which sits fluidly on bearings and will give you the shot you are looking for without the hundreds of dollars of investment.

Obviously the one unfortunate problem is that you can't then lock down the camera and start pulling focus or something. But you can do other fun things, like slipping the glidecam handle up and off the mic stand to suddenly start following your shot!

Ah, what fun. If you have other ideas, feel free to append them here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nick Hornby, Naked

“Tomorrow morning, a hand full of middle-aged men would be regretting that they had gone to bed much too late.”

- Nick Hornby from Juliet, Naked

About one week ago I was looking for something new to read and noticed that the new Nick Hornby book was about to hit stands. So on my Kindle DX I decided to try out the whole advanced order thing. The Kindle is supposed to download the book auto-magically the morning that the book release happens. If you are a fanatically fast reader then you could have consumed it before the typical 10am rush to pick the book up at a Barnes and Noble. I however, was not in a rush.

Jumping ahead: Yesterday morning I was thinking about how I was enjoying the book and googled Nick Hornby to see if I was remembering a story correctly. Within a few clicks on was on his website where, to my surprise, I realized that he would be a few miles away in the bookstore Politics and Prose right here in town. So right after work I threw on the ipod, grabbed my satchel bag and hit the metro.

For the next fourty minutes with a train change I was able to devour a few more chapters of Juliet, Naked, reminding me about why I enjoy his books.

One mile walk later after my final metro destination I was sitting just a couple of rows away from the front of the podium. The room was filling quickly and we had another 40 minutes of waiting to do. I strategically placed myself on the side of the room with two doors and an office. I figured he would walk into the room from that corn if he shows up at all!

Lo and behold, about ten minutes before the beginning of the talk I noticed he was standing in the glass window of the room adjacent to me chatting with the bookstore event hosts. How fun.

The time with Nick started off with him updating everyone on his recent efforts and then he dove right into reading two excerpts from his book. The first was from a bit I had already read and I found it very interesting that he audibly “performed” his characters by taking on a different persona when each one spoke. It reminded me of my mother reading a children's book to some kids in her old classroom. The second piece was from a bit I had not yet read and frankly I didn't want to spoil it so in classic guy-style I willed myself into a mentally vegetative state so I would be sure and not retain any of what he read at that point... totally worked!

After the reading they setup two microphones and streams of people lined up to ask all manner of questions. All I can say is that he was quite a patient and down to earth man. One person who prefaced his question with a very articulately accurate and eloquently detailed history of the forgotten industrial working class in England asked "Who, in fact, are your books audience?" As I turned my eyes to Nick Hornby, his eyes went from wide-eyed near-panic to smiling and he said "Thank you for that!" I think he too was wondering where the mans dissertation was going and if he would be ready to speak to the question at all! Funny stuff.

After the lecture he was supposed to sign books, or butts or foreheads or whatever and so I quickly re-purchased my favorite book of his, “How To Be Good” rather than have him sign my Kindle... or my butt.

In line I had the pleasure of meeting quite a few other Nick Hornby fans where we exchanged notes on favorite NH characters and stories as well as other authors and books. The 30+ minutes in line went quickly being surrounded with well-read and well-mannered people with apt social skills and a desire to tell their personal stories.

When it was my opportunity I handed him my book and said, “I... your book... so the one with the.... and YOU!....thank you!”

Just kidding. I didn't fumble my way through it. I had a chance to say hello and thank him for his books and tell him how I liked them and ask him if he ever went skydiving. OK, not that last question, but we did speak briefly and it was a pretty fun experience.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Breakfast Cappucino No Sleep Book Signing

Lately, due to some personal life schedule changes and morning tiredness I have been driving to work. This affords me the convenience of making a Starbucks run so I can grab a grande caramel cappuccino (non-fat and wet) and one of those small protein breakfast kits that consist of a grapes, boiled egg, a mini bagel and slice of cheese, along with apple slices and a peanut butter packet. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to the peanut butter and apple slices. What a combo.

For the last couple of days I have had trouble sleeping in. Basically, this amounts to waking up somewhere around 3am to use the bathroom and then having a difficult time forcing myself back to sleep. I think I have too much running through my head and as a result my brain will not relax. Creativity seems to be compatible with sleep; analysis, not so much. You would think this getting up early would make me more awake when the real morning rolls around... think again.

My job requires that I do a lot of programming and problem solving. Be it balancing creative resources for web work or just flat out figuring out the best approach to building some Flash or JavaScript widget I need for an e-learning project, I am employed to be systematic and analytical (not necessarily in that order.) Some days I feel like I am in the middle of five speed-chess games and I have only two arms and one brain!

At 3am, if I turn on the light in bathroom my brain seems to say, “time to make the donuts” and before I can lay my head back down it is off to the races problem-solving that days agenda. This is where my Kindle comes in.

Currently I am reading the newest book by Nick Hornby. For the uninitiated, Nick Hornby has written a number of books which have been turned into movies: High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, and About a Boy. My personal favs are: How to Be Good, A Long Way Down and Slam. His latest book is entitled Juliet, Naked which is about a woman who’s boyfriend is obsessed with a musician-turned-hermit. It is more complicated than this but Mr. Hornby is an amazing writer. The pages just fly. In his books he often references the music culture namely because he began his career as a columnist reviewing and writing about music. Reading his writing on music makes listening a far better experience.

For me, reading fiction is like a laxative for sleep. I don’t mean to say that it puts me to sleep. I think it just helps me to dream rather than problem-solve.

Today I have fallen succumb to my early rising habit and while I can now put myself back to sleep for a few more hours I seem to be able to rest until at least 5:30am. So, to save a few bucks I have broken out the old Italian stove-top cappuccino maker and having recently purchased some apples and Omega-3 fortified Jif peanut butter… mmmm.

I figure if I bought a grande caramel cap + protein kit every morning from Starbuck, five days a week, but replaced it with this little 5am treat, I will save nearly $20 per week… waking up early has its benefits.
So, now I sit and read the Washington Times e-edition on the iMac, watch a few interesting videos on YouTube, and read some Nick Hornby on the Kindle all while gobble and slurp my breakfast. It works for me.

As a final note, as I was writing this I made a visit to Nick Hornby’s websites where I just learned that he is on his book tour right now for the book I am reading and will be at a signing tonight here in DC! That couldn’t have worked out any better! Now, how do I get him to sign my Kindle?