Friday, January 29, 2010

More on satellite radio, iPhone, podcasts and social networking sites

I've been listening to a free trial of XM Radio in our Honda Element during my 60 minute commute. I appreciate the variety and range of easy access music that gives me ideas for worship services and sermons. I've learned of a few more new bands I to whom I wish to give a deeper listen. But it's still not worth $13-14 per month.

My iPhone is the free link to a much broader spectrum than XM radio. I have Pandora and CBC Radio free apps on my iPhone--and I'm sure I could find more. Since I've expanded my contacts on Twitter to more music-related forums--I know I can dig around my Twitter contacts for ideas for music. I am not at a loss for expanding my musical universe. And there's always the good folks I know at Trade Root Music who can fill me in on great music ideas. I will not be at a loss for music once the XM trial expires in March. Thank goodness XM doesn't have a credit card number for me anymore to renew me without permission.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A New Old Citizenship

When I attended McKnight Middle School in Renton back in the early 1980's, my report card gave other grades besides performance. One of those other grades was "citizenship." I wasn't exactly sure what that meant and how one teacher who saw me for a few hours per week (and worked hard to keep me occupied and learning) could observe my life as a citizen, let alone give me a grade. I think even the most self-aware of my classmates could attach this grade to behavior rather than performance. After leaving McKnight, I never saw this grade for citizenship again.

I once had very high and positive expectations for President Obama--though I wouldn't go so far as to call it "hope." Though I've always had interest and passion about politics, I never held an illusion that politics and politicians were a place to invest the energy of hope. For me, party politics has sunk to a new low. I've haven't taken well to the two-party system in the United States since my college days, and the actions of Democrats and Republicans in my adult life have not inspired me to draw any closer to political life outside of being an educated voter. It's hard to advocate for misguided or power hungry leadership.

However, I am still a citizen of the State of Washington and the United States. I am not required to support a political party to be a citizen. To be a good citizen, I can participate in public life, independent of decisions of Republicans and Democrats--to make lives better for my family and other people. Ideology does not come in to play. Democrats or Republicans will not prevent me from volunteering at my daughter's school. I volunteered at my daughter's elementary school last Friday for the first time, and I had an awakening to the meaning of citizenship. I realized that my energy toward Republicans and Democrats was misplaced for all of these years. My energy will be placed toward being a good citizen.

More on this topic later--but today I had to make a proclamation of a personal investment in a new old citizenship.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Satellite Radio vs. Podcasts

During my days of driving the back roads of South Dakota, satellite radio was almost a necessity. In 2003, my cassette player and radio broke down in my 1992 Honda Accord with well over 200K miles. I remember some drives I could pick up 1-2 stations if I was lucky--a Jesus station and a bad country station. I could get NPR news and talk in the morning, but I could only listen to so much classical or jazz music. If I was meeting colleagues in the more desolate areas of the state, I wouldn't get any stations at all. I saved up a little money and took the plunge into satellite radio, which was the wave of the future at the time.

I loved satellite radio so much my brothers and I bought my father one for Christmas one year. I bought and set up satellite radio outlets in my house. Depending on contracts and mergers, it was the best way I could listen to Seahawks, Mariners, Oilers and Kansas Jayhawk games on the radio in the hinterlands of South Dakota, where the Big 10, Vikings, Twins and Wild ruled. I listened to the CBC often in the morning in between sporting events and I had better reception for good college radio music, without the faint signal of an actual college station. The service was well worth the 11 dollars a month I was paying. I had every media outlet I could ever want, and I wasn't tied to a television--so I could multi-task on some of my lower mentally engaging activities. With my long commute, I was engaged and had some good thinking time before arriving at home or at work.

Satellite radio was one of the first services to go when my dear wife and I started to be more sensible and cautious with our money. I missed it a lot, but my iPod and the expanding world of podcasts began to fill the gaps. I didn't have to pay for the podcasts. In canceling my service with XM, I was to receive a refund. I never received it after several inquiries into my account, and I gave up, learning a lesson about satellite radio that cost me about $142.

It turns out that XM/Sirius is quite desperate to get some customers back. I received a letter that my service was reactivated for 3 month--Free. Ha.

Sorting through my piles, I found the documents that pointed to my sizable refund. I called XM and asked them, what gives? You're offering me 3 free months when you didn't offer any customer service with integrity? I was on the precipice of giving up on satellite radio for good, and after 2 agents, I found someone who promised me a check, rather than a credit to my account (I was open to a credit, but I'll take a check).

I agree with Bill Simmons that satellite radio lost its niche with a younger generation when the podcast world expanded. The only folks I see using their satellite radio are elderly folks who purchase higher end new vehicles. This observation is completely subjective and anecdotal, but I hear little if any buzz about satellite radio. I am at least somewhat media savvy.

I think satellite radio is going in the tank. Why would I want to pay approximately $14 per month for a good product when I can get a better product for free on my iPod? Or pay less than than a satellite subscription for equal or better content via iTunes? I control the content on my iPod, whereas XM/Sirius controls the content on their end. What I have appreciated about satellite radio over the years on the music level is that I am introduced to music I may not have considered otherwise. However, as I have become reengaged with media after a little hiatus as a stay at home dad (with my iPhone and Twitter and a little with iLike) I still don't need satellite radio to expand my musical palette. I turned on my satellite radio for three free months, but spending 14 dollars a month for good content isn't a necessary expenditure and borderline foolish.

If anyone else has a satellite radio story, I would love to read about it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Attempting to figure out my degree of disgust

My dear wife and I are working through season two of Mad Men. It took her a little longer to get hooked than I did. I think the writing on the show constitutes true story telling, at least the way I was taught. A story involves change in a character. The twists and turns in Don Drapers life and the changes he endures makes the story fascinating, regardless of his skewed moral compass. Peggy is also an interesting character in that sense.

Fine storytelling aside, there are some aspects to the stories in Mad Men that are challenging to watch. Some reflect "old-fashioned values," other values reflected:

+ Blatant sexism--though it is a heroic storyline to watch what Peggy encounters as she makes her way through the advertising world.
+ Smoking cigarettes wherever you darn well please without consideration for others.
+ For all the talk about the lack of social graces in today's world, the objectification of women is startling, it only happens in different ways and places today that is certainly not "social grace".
+ No social stigma for marital infidelity for a man (Draper is known as a "connoisseur" of women).
+ Alcohol consumption during work hours was no big deal.

I could go on and on, but I was most disgusted by another "old-fashioned value" in episode four of season 2, when the Draper family shares a picnic, and they actively leave their garbage in the middle of the park. I'm not sure why this scene troubled me the most, but for all of the things I could have screamed at the television related to Mad Men--the litter was the most disgusting. For that action of litter I could come up with no sympathy. What was more interesting is justifying that action with the question of daughter Sally to her parents. "Are we rich?" Soon after that statement, the garbage went flying.

Mad Men constantly makes me wonder what our children will find utterly foolish about our social conventions and values. Some of them truly are foolish, and we will be exposed. I think that is part of the intent of the show--and I find this writing and storytelling more provocative and effective cultural analysis of the 50s and 60s than films like "Welcome To Pleasantville." The characters in Mad Men are much more interesting and the story lines still connect viewers to current societal themes.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Song Watch for Daughter #2 (January 14, 2010)

Bad Romance--Lady GaGa
Go Waggaloo--Sarah Lee Guthrie and Family
Take Me to Show and Tell--Sarah Lee Guthrie and Family
England--Great Big Sea
The Night Pat Murphy Died--Great Big Sea

Daughter #2 attempts to make conversation with almost anyone--in the grocery store, church, Target, at the park, etc. She can keep a conversation well, if she chooses to speak on a topic in which the other person is knowledgeable. "England" is easily her favorite song. She'll greet someone ebulliently and immediately say, "we were far from the shores of England." After the confused look (or at least a smile), she'll say, "that's my favorite song. We were far from the shores of England." It's truly a favorite for her. A conversation starter and a mood changer. Interesting how she and much of society assumes that the things to which we regularly pay attention are on the hearts and minds of whom we come in contact. I'm still learning about my limited view on the world, and how it's not as normative as I often think.

Lady GaGa is on a rocket-like rise up my daughter's music chart. I had never heard of Lady GaGa until a little over a month ago, and I've heard a lot of buzz since then. Equipped with an iTunes gift card for Christmas, I picked up her song and wasn't engaged after my first two listens. I heard a Madonna retread--but in some ways, she's better. GaGa has a much richer voice. Her influences of Queen, Madonna and glam rock are apparent. I'm not sure what kind of staying power she has, but we're having fun with Lady GaGa in the car for our commute.

The Children's Music Genre is much more enjoyable and expansive than I ever imagined. I give it closer look because of my parenthood, but Smithsonian Folkways has expanded my engagement with the genre and imagine enjoying songs for myself, and not merely for my children. Elizabeth Mitchell was a first for me in this regard, and now Sarah Lee Guthrie planted herself firmly in my own musical consciousness. Guthrie's latest CD came to our collection over Christmas, and our family is enjoying the songs.

Friday, January 08, 2010

My evolving relationship with coffee (Part 9)

I stopped drinking coffee recently--I can't tolerate it's bitter earthen taste without sugary or chemically laden additives. I've switched to my brother's Yerba Mate methodology for keeping alert via beverage consumption.

Daughter #2 questioned the change. On the way home from church on Wednesday, she asked me "Daddy, where's your iced mocha?"

I explained to her that I'm now drinking tea instead of iced mochas. She replied, "Oh! We'll have a tea party!"

Even though our family is looking for a better home base so we have less family commuting, I am going to miss the longer conversations in the car with my three year old. I will need to make sure that we find other forums for our conversations.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Pondering the Influence of The Simpsons

Who cares if some think The Simpsons isn't relevant or edgy as in its glory days? The show still makes me laugh and think. It's influence is undeniable. Check this out:

When I thought I couldn't hear anything interesting about Tiger Woods

It took me two days of Tiger Woods coverage since November to gloss over any comment about him. Analysts and reporters struggle to say anything new and interesting--and many of these same folks are actually intelligent.

Once again, Chuck Klosterman breaks the mold. In his December 21st podcast interview with ESPN's Bill Simmons, Simmons asks for a different angle, and Klosterman delivers. I am weary of sports, PR, and news folks saying that Woods needs to come forward. This proclamation is boring and unoriginal. The interview is great dealing with Woods, but the entire two-part podcast is worth your while (as if I could say anything different about Klosterman).

Klosterman says that two things could change the public perception of Tiger Woods at this point. One is that if stories came out saying that Woods did generous things for his mistresses, like pay for their chemotherapy. Two, that Tiger Woods go completely in the opposite direction of his current intensely private public persona and become like Charles Barkley, where he comments on everything and become this gregarious, joke-cracking guy who comments on race, politics and sports. I think this seems unlikely, but intriguing. Barkley has his detractors, but generally he is loved by many, even if people don't agree with him. His recent problems with DUI arrests haven't taken away people's affection for him, because he is at least authentic. I think it also helps that Sir Charles is funny. I find Klosterman's take on Woods interesting, because I find that the typical call for Woods to go public (usually the preferred strategy is to appear on Oprah) is a retread of any public figure path when they commit any type of indiscretion. This typical path is boring, and it's not really a story.

During my studies in creative writing in college, one of my professors said that what makes a story is the revelation of change in a character. Without change, there is no story, there's only a description or a report. I suppose that Tiger Woods doesn't have to change for the sake of a story, but I do find stories much more interesting than mere reports. Klosterman turned a series of reports and analysis into the prospect for a compelling human story. That angle from Klosterman, should it or any similar variant, come true, would make the Tiger Woods story interesting.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Three year old travels through airport resembling old Hertz commercials


An eventful 12th day of Christmas it was. Twelve drummers drumming, Bing Crosby or the McKenzie Brothers weren't present to mark the occasion--but the travel shall be remembered.

Travel duties over the holiday season were divided between my dear wife and I by a complex formula involving preaching schedules, vacation usage, school calendars, mileage expenditures, and airfare purchases. This equation kept daughter #2 and I in Minnesota until today, with an early departure from Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. My dear wife and Daughter #1 returned to the Seattle Metro January 2 for the school schedule, primarily. Traveling today for me saved about $400.

The problem with this kind of travel arrangement is early morning flights and layovers. This time we landed in San Francisco, an airport I hadn't seen in over 10 years. Turns out I still wouldn't see much of it. Arriving early at MSP in anticipation of security, we were well prepared for contingencies. Or so we thought.

A three year old in an airport always presents extra challenges. Timing of bathroom stops, snacks, drinks, activities and exercise while in a high security and frenzied pace setting keeps my head on a swivel, establishing some sense of order and direction. I knew this planning and administration registered with my daughter, because she offered advice to other adults, "you have to wait your turn."

We cannot control some variables in the trip, like sitting on the plane for an extra 45 minutes or so waiting for a gate while the plane was a bit late in the first place, dealing with important substances like wing de-icer. This delay put our connection in peril. Fellow passengers graciously let us out of the plane ahead of them expediently, and we waited at the gate for the stroller that help small legs manage a long walk to the next gate.

But the stroller did not come. After five minutes, my plane was boarding, and I didn't have time to chase down United Airlines officials to locate the stroller. I made an executive decision (that's why they pay me the big bucks)--we had to go. This was a risky venture with an unpredictable three year old. I told her to run. She ran. I had our semi-bulky and awkward carry-on bag, two insanely heavy coats for the West Coast (but important for Minnesota in January), and her little carry-on. I wanted her to focus on her keeping balance and her eyes on the path before us, which included maneuvering through three moving sidewalks.

As I watched her move, encouraging her to run, pay attention, watch out for others, stay with me, etc., all that came to mind was an unfortunate comparison--O.J. Simpson cruising through a busy airport as a spokesperson for Hertz car rentals. She dodged, she spun, she bobbed and swayed, but she never fell--and she stuck with me as well as a three year old can in a sprint through an airport terminal. We ran, jogged, and walked quickly for about a half-mile.

With about 100 yards to go, she started crying. She looked like a marathon runner who had hit the proverbial "wall." There's only so much a little girl can take. She was up at 4am, yet to have a successful trip to the potty. No lunch, and had run the most in one stretch she had ever run. So I held up her Nemo stuffed toy as a makeshift motivational speaker and said, "Do you want to carry Nemo??? Run to Nemo!!!" She ran to Nemo, grabbed her toy, and continued sprinting to the gate. I stopped when I got there, and she kept going toward the plane, only to be stopped by laughing TSA officials. It almost had the same feel to it as Forrest Gump running a football for the University of Alabama. I wasn't going to stop her, but it would be a trio of laughing TSA officials doing a "Stop Forrest, Stop!" to my daughter.

Wiping the sweat from my brow, we slowed down and made it to our seats. All the while, she proclaimed orders to random seat holders, "you have to wait your turn."

We're still waiting for the stroller. We had to make a claim to get it returned from United Airlines. The employees at baggage service noted how cute my little girl is. What I didn't tell them is that she pulled off a small athletic miracle.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Desperate Housewives--Usually Enjoyable, Occasionally Inspirational

The television tides have turned. Years ago in our more struggling days, my dear wife and I would enjoy a few days at her parents house because they had a slew of cable television so that we could meet the visual equivalent of Cheetos to the human diet. Feels good going down, but contributes little if anything to my overall health. These days, we have cable in our household, and my in-laws have removed many choice in worship attendance at the cathode cathedral. Because of Chuck Klosterman, I have lowered some of my disdain for television and recognize that I don't need to be a culture snob about it--and recognize it for its contribution. I can remember all the while that moderation is more important for my television diet and recognize its artistic value rather than attempting to set myself above culture for my own gratification. I come to my in-laws during this Christmas decompression time and know I don't have to watch television for it's own sake.

I don't watch Desperate Housewives because it's a great show. I watch it because it is the only show that suits my dear wife and I after a long Sunday at work. We enjoy the characters (even if they are caricatures) and the twists, though the stories on the whole seem weak.

Tonight's episode presented a storyline for which I was surprised (in a good way) and not by a sharp plot twist. Lynette is faced with the possibility of one of her unborn children living with a disability. Whereas the other dreams highlighted in the episode often reinforce the caricatures in the show, Lynette's character is given more complex situations. How do you raise a child with a disability to raise their lives to the best situation possible? I wonder that almost every day with my child and her autism spectrum disorder. We will have to work hard for the rest of our lives to provide opportunities for daughter #1 to thrive. Some days we miserably fail. Other days, we merely wonder. Other days we peer into the future to see what is possible. Daughter #1 is amazingly artistic--she wrote and drew some books for her sister and grandparents. She invented a board game and played with her mother and grandparents. I continue to dream that she will bring great joy to others and herself with her artistic pursuits. I don't ever expect Desperate Housewives to inspire this kind of pondering, but I'm happy when it does. I look forward to getting back home to the Pacific Northwest and talk with my wife about what we saw on tonight's episode.