Monthly Archives: August 2009

Stylist: How’s that?

Trumwill: Could you take a little more off the back?

Stylist: Taper it a little more, you mean?

Trumwill: Yeah. For some reason my hair seems to grow fastest in the back. When I’m not careful I am the king of the unintentional mullet.

Stylist: Hey, be glad that it’s growing at all.

Trumwill: No joke. Someday I may need it to grow super fast back there so I can cut it and plug it in up front.

Category: Market

Next Ghostland post is going to lean somewhat heavily on a band that you’ve probably never heard before. So I’m putting up this post as a primer. If you’re interested in hearing a rather novel band with a quite unique sound, below is a selection of songs I am temporarily putting out there for your benefit.

I also have descriptions of the subject matter of the songs, which were difficult because they’re one of those bands that are not necessarily straightforward with their lyrics. But they toe rather closely to a common theme where if you hear a few songs, they all start making a little more sense in their own quirky way. They’re also rather hard to classify. They’re usually shuffled under “alt country” but the label really doesn’t fit except in the early Wilco sense. It’s more a cross between rootsy rock and alternative in a haze of copious amounts of marijuana.

I will introduce the band more properly in a couple of days.


This one is, in my opinion, their best song. One of their best sounding songs, anyway, for sure. It involves the narrator who is feeling along and isolated and amidst darkness and trying to, in a sense, break free. He is presumably singing it to the woman who is the one thing (other than a functioning feature on his automobile and maybe an astrological phenomenon) right in his life.

A song concerning what, precisely, happens after a guy with a tenuous grip on domestic competence is left disentangle the woman that held it all together from his life and memories.

Narrator: Man, my life is going down the crapper. My mind is too muddy to even contemplate it all. But you’re free to watch and participate if you would like.

This song will be heavily featured in the post, so I don’t want to say too much about it except that it’s about having difficulty connecting with someone of the opposite gender.

Though this one encapsulates the nature of the band when it chooses to make sense. It perhaps encapsulates the faults of the stereotypical Generation X as the narrator tries to convince his lady-friend to do a plethora of things that she shouldn’t do including but not limited to fornication, illicit substances, and fiscal irresponsibility.

This is a song that encapsulates the band when it chooses to make less sense. A clump of clumsy yet imaginative metaphors that hop around from one to the next while he tries to say “Hey babe, life is tough and I guess things didn’t go the way you might have liked. I’d love to help, but man, that’s just tough. But know that I wish I could help. Totally.”

Category: Theater

As mentioned before, I’m reading Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, a collected of essays regarding pop culture from a Gen-X perspective. In his first (awesome) essay, This Is Emo, he mentions how he was able to translate a Woody Allen schtick into romantic success.

It got me thinking of something I’d been meaning to write about since I told Barry that I would a long while back. I can’t entirely remember what he had to do with it, but in my drafts is a note to myself to write about “Need a hook — for Barry.”

When I was coming into high school, I asked my older brother Oliver what the secret to girls was. My brother Mitch and I had never had a whole lot of success. Mitch had been able to muster up girls for dances, but he seemed to be stuck in the role as that sweet guy that girls got to know and like but didn’t seem to date. Maybe he just never actually asked them out. Ollie, on the other hand, always had a girlfriend from about the tenth grade on.

When I asked Ollie the question, he sort of shrugged it off. It was as though I had asked him how to drink water. You just put it in your mouth and swallow. You just ask the girl and if she says yes then you’re good to go. Presumably he was aware that they could say no, but I don’t think that they ever did. I told him about my difficulties getting to know girls to ask out and he said that they always just kind of hung around him. “The answer to your question,” he said, “is to be really good at basketball.”

It was a frustrating answer, but in its own way it was one of the most stunningly accurate answers I ever got. Be good at basketball. He was good at basketball. Girls befriended him. He asked girls out and they said yes. Mitch and I were both actually good at basketball in our own right, but not in the stand-out way that he was. Had he not stopped growing at 5’10”, he could have played at the college level.

Of course, the secret to success isn’t to be good at basketball. A lot of guys who aren’t good at basketball get girlfriends. But the grand truth behind Ollie’s answer is that the secret is to have something that makes you remarkable. He was a jock. Then, in college, he was a former jock. So he had the kinds of girlfriends that hung out with former jocks.

One of the reasons that fuels the whole notion that Nice Guys Finish Last in love is that a lot of guys that identify as Nice do so because they haven’t much else to rely on. They’re not former jocks or writers or musicians… they’re nice. Often too passive to aggressively declare a personality. Sometimes so eager to fit in they wear an identity that doesn’t fit them. At all.

That’s not to say that they are actually dull people. Sometimes they are quite interesting to certain groups of people. But they are interesting in ways that that are utterly unappealing to girls. I know one guy that I can talk about computers with forever and I think he’s a great guy and would make a great boyfriend… but I have no idea what he would talk about to a girl unless she was also into computers. There’s a scarcity of supply to meet that demand.

Anyway, contributing to the whole notion of “girls like bad boys” is that bad boys quite frequently have a hook. An angle. An identity. So while the actual number of girls interested in that sort of thing actually may be somewhat limited, they’re easy to identify. There are a lot of girls that Ollie could have asked out in high school who probably would have said “no”… but those weren’t the girls that generally hung around him.

One of the bigger mistakes that I made when I was younger was not to do a better job of forming a solid external identity. You could say that I wanted to be all things to all people, but it was more a case of not wanting to be the wrong person for the wrong people. So in some ways I came across as a rather bland fellow. I suppose I still do, but it doesn’t matter anymore because I’m married.

The points at which I had the most success were those in which I was able to play on my home field. Not simply “be myself”, but to play to (and accentuate) my strengths.

When I met Clancy, she had read portions of the blog that I was writing at the time. A blog not too much unlike this one, actually. The most conventionally attractive women that I was ever with (the one that was the most “out of my league”) was attracted to the fact that I was a prolific (if unpublished) writer. Despite all of this, I was always relatively slow to mention the fact that I wrote and even slow to draw attention to the articulate and intelligent aspects of my personality because I felt that both were unhelpful.

And to a lot of people, of course, they were. Willie (and no doubt others) came to the conclusion that I was a pseudo-egghead who was preoccupied with sounding smart. And coming across as anything but down-to-earth has liabilities with a substantial portion of the female population and so my creativity was its own liability.

What I failed to truly appreciate was that these things were liabilities to the wrong people. They were people that I needed to write off in search for right people. I was so scared to death of writing people off that I failed to attract people that would have been interested in the me that it’s most easy for me to be.

It all harkens back to my post a little while back about Drake Mathers and Kenny Chesney. There is a lot to be said for knowing your market. Not only what your market is, but also what it isn’t.

Of course, you have to be careful that your market is some number greater than zero. This is not about “being yourself” or any of that feel-good claptrap. If who you are is somebody that does not cultivate any desire from anybody, you need to change who you are. If your interests are utterly mundane and of no interest to most women, it would help to get some new interests. For one thing, it’s one of the easiest ways to meet people. For another, it helps to have something to put under “interests” that doesn’t repel female-types.

But I think that you have to find something that you are genuinely interested in doing or genuinely good at.The answer for Ollie was basketball in high school. That isn’t the right answer for 99% of most guys. For me it might have been the school paper or {gasp} honors classes. I was somewhat fortunate in that the guy that I naturally became without even thinking about it (a heady-in-cloudy geek with enough social skills so as to avoid embarrassing anybody when meeting friends and family) had its own market. It wasn’t a big market, mind you, but in the end it only takes one.

This post didn’t exactly turn out like I had imagined. I don’t think I even got around to the part that involved Barry (whatever that part was). And it didn’t have quite as tight a central thesis as I might have liked. But such is life, and inexplicably being laid back and patient is one of my hooks.

Category: Coffeehouse

A lot of my friends are having kids and of course they talk about them a lot on Facebook. I think I am so used to pseudonyms – particularly when it comes to kids of bloggers who themselves are not pseudonymous – that it’s taken a few weeks to sink in that the three-steps-beyond-yuppie name referred to on Facebook is their actual name. Oh, dear…

Category: Server Room
How DC Comics turned one of its most intriguing, independent, and strong female characters into a dull sexpot.

Most of my heroes are dead. By which I mean most of the DC Comics superheroes that I enjoy the most are either dead or have been significantly changed. It’s always sad when one of them dies, but the alternative is almost worse. I lament the deaths of Ted Kord and Vic Sage and Wesley Dodds, but nothing compares to having lost a character that lives and breathes (to the extent that comic book characters live and breathe) but has been stripped of everything that I liked and admired about the character.

There have been a few times when I’ve wondered if my distaste for Wonder Woman was simply because of her gender and her bucking the gender norms by being strong and commanding and whatever, but that concern folds when I realize that one of my favorite characters of all time, The Huntress, is female. The difference is that Helena Bertinelli, aka the Huntress, is what the writers try to make Wonder Woman, but manages to be so by being a complete character rather than an archetype. Or so it used to be.

A bit of background. The Huntress was originally Batman and Catwoman’s daughter, Helena Wayne. This was in a sort of alternate universe where Batman retired and his daughter took up the family business of crimefighting. Then DC changed their universe system and the character no longer existed. So they brought back The Huntress in the form of Helena Bertinelli, a sort of Batmanesque character but one that was initially kept at arm’s length1 and allowed to develop her own identity.

The original origin of Bertinelli was that she was a mafia princess whose family was shot down by a rival mafia. In fear of her life, she decided to take the offensive and hunt down her family’s killers. Her motives were not (originally) altruistic but rather practical. She was a very practical person. Unlike Bruce Wayne, she didn’t set out to become a hero. She didn’t decide to cut everybody off because of some obsessive crusade. She was stripped of her identity by virtue of the fact that she was being hunted and her previous identity was as the product of a family that did some pretty bad things. And her childhood was marred not only by being surrounded by relatively backward and dangerous people but also by the fact that her family’s crime games resulted in her being kidnapped and raped when she was seven or so. There were no fond memories of a wonderful life torn away from her. Not to minimize Bruce Wayne’s tragic loss, but she had far less choice to become what Wayne chose to be: distant, alone, and tough as nails.

She was also one of the most truly independent women I have ever seen in comics. Unlike Wonder Woman, she wasn’t shackled by the expectation to be representative of whatever the popular culture decided a woman should be. Unlike Black Canary, she did not have a Green Arrow to latch on to. Originally, she didn’t even have sex appeal as the creators went out of their way to make her look rather plain and unappealing2. She had the help of a former family enforcer, but by and large she made her own way. She did hold Batman up as a sort of role model, but even there she elected to be who she was rather than win his approval. Indeed, she remains one of the only costumed characters in the DC Universe to point out Batman’s hypocrisy. and the only character I’m aware of to push back against his dominating character that wasn’t a top-tier Justice Leaguer or a Robin3.

Her series ended after 19 issues and she retired. She resurfaced a little while later when Chuck Dixon dusted her off and put her in Detective Comics. She’d relocated to Gotham City and had found a bit of peace as a schoolteacher, but was drawn back into things. It was actually here when her relationship with Batman was more fully explored as she joined the Batman stable of characters. Her costume was changed up a bit, but it still had the spirit of her original costume4. They ditched the plain-looking thing, which was the first real shift from the awesomeness of the original character, but since it was more aesthetically appealing I certainly didn’t mind5. And for a while, as a Batman character, she made her way. When everybody else was saying “Yes, sir, okay sir,” to Batman, she was the only one with the gumption to push back. As much as she wanted his approval, she refused to do the one thing she needed to do in order to get it. Batman had a don’t-kill-ever policy and if she did not believe that protecting the life of the guilty was more important than protecting their future victims. Agree with her or disagree with her, she was willing to pay a price for her convictions. Her costume also changed again, covering up the legs into a perfect utilitarian uniform. I didn’t like it at first, but it was hard to argue that trading sex appeal for utilitarianism isn’t something that Helena Bertinelli would do.

The troubles started when they started going in and changing her origin. They moved her early experiences from New York City to Gotham City, which by itself was not much of a problem because it made more sense. But it was the start of a number of unsettling changes. They took away the rape/molestation aspect from her past. This was more significant because it was one of the things that differentiated her from most other characters. And unlike other times where rape appears in popular entertainment, it was the most irredeemable and disgusting sort. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it’s substantively different than the fact that Black Canary was raped in adulthood. They also had her parents killed when she was eight, just like Bruce Wayne’s. They made Batman her inspiration rather than her more unique path to the mask and cape.

And, of course, they started changing the costume again. First they added the shadow bat ears6 that Helena Wayne used to have. I assume that some liked it because it fit in tighter with the roots of the character. I disliked it for the same reason (let’s go forward, not backwards!)… but that’s more a matter of taste. But what really stung was the next change, put forth by the despicable Jim Lee7, which left considerably less to the imagination. And unlike the early costumes which showed off leg and (in her first one) arms, there is no utilitarian aspect to showing off her stomach.8 Oh, and they added these dangly ornaments from her earlobes9. It strikes me that ear rings are not something that Helena Bertinelli would wear in the first place, but that’s more subjective than the obvious problem that hooks in her ears that dangle and are easy to grab is exactly the sort of anti-utilitarian girlification that I had always appreciated that Bertinelli avoided.

Her personality also started changing. She inexplicably supported a presidential candidate on the basis of female solidarity10 . Thankfully, as far as I am aware she has not completely sworn off her formerly lethal nature. But she has become something of a member of the in-crowd and has lost the outsiderdom that helped me relate to her. She is the field commander for the Birds of Prey, a member of the Justice League for a while, and a participant in Titanesque11 drama.

I suppose to some degree this is an extension of the rape disappearing from her history. Early on, she had a relatively standoffish relationship with men such that I feared that she was a lesbian. She ended up sleeping with Dick Grayson (the first Robin) for no other reason than her daddy complex with Grayson’s mentor. She also slept with Arsenal in a rather casual manner. She also hooked up with Vic Sage for a while, though that did not bother me as much because (a) Sage is one of my favorite characters and (b) that was actually something akin to a relationship and he could have easily gained the trust for her to let her guard down. However, since the guarded nature of her character was tied into her early experience with men, I suppose it’s not so much of a reach. But it nonetheless strips her of one of the things that attracted me to the character in the first place.

When I was starting this blog, one of the first things I did was come up with pseudonyms. Mine had its own origin. The final four considerations for my wife included Helena. I’ve always been drawn to women that have a reserve of independence and strength and a willingness to do what needs to be done. And both command respect. Unfortunately, only one still does.


1 – Probably a little too much so. Batman appeared in the last few issues of the series, but the series could have been more successful if they’d done something earlier and established her more as a Batman character. But I think artistically they very much wanted to distance her from her roots as Batman’s daughter.

2 – This lead to some complains in the letter columns. She wasn’t ugly, really. She just had sort of bushy hair and a long face. It might have been attributable to the unique art-style of the series were it not for the fact that other women looked better. The writers and editors were very unapologetic. They said that if you wanted sultry dames to check out Justice League. It’s worth noting that Huntress became a part-time member of the Justice League at the time, though it was never mentioned in her series. Notably, in her appearances in the Justice League, she was smokin’.

3 – Batman was always condemning others to act out of vengeance and felt like he was the only one worthy of doing what he did. His no-kill policy was fine, but even apart from that he would continually try to set up distinctions between him and people like him that didn’t exist. He was a control freak and it was a very unattractive quality of the character.

4 – They covered up her arms but ramped up the cleavage. With the exception of the cleavage, it maintained the spirit of the original costume. They also gave her a more conventional cape.

5 – Who doesn’t enjoy looking at pleasantness more than plainness? As with the distance from Batman, the writers and editors were wrong about her appearance. From an artistic view it was interesting, but from a commercial point of view it was not a particularly good idea. They didn’t need to go quite so far in the opposite direction and turn her into a sexpot, but a pretty face would have gone a long way.

6 – You can see what I’m talking about in the second image (or to the right). They’re not really “bat ears” in the normal sense, but they point up above her head like that so that they look like bat ears on her shadow. It made a little sense for Helena Wayne in a universe where Batman no longer existed, but I’ve always considered them out of place for Bertinelli.

7 – I’m sure Jim Lee is a fine human being. But the damage that he has done to the comic book community both artistically and commercially cannot be overstated. He wasn’t alone in this, but he was one of the big players.

8 – This is not without its upsides. In the comics I hate it. When I see con-pictures of young women in the Huntress costume and the bare stomach and legs…. well it is not without its upsides.

9 – I believe they call these things “ear rings”. You know, on one hand it’s an odd coincidence that three of the four most influential romances or would-be romances involve women that didn’t so much as have their ears pierced. On the other hand, despite not having the same aversion to earrings that I do to, say, nail polish, I doubt it’s a coincidence.

10 – Helena strikes me as someone that, if she cared about politics, would be a pretty natural Republican. Both because of the better and lesser aspects of her personality. Ultimately, though, she does not come across as the type of person that would care about politics in any event (except maybe for a brief period after 9-11) the same way that, say, Tim Drake would. But while her feminist solidarity may push her towards a female Republican candidate over a more conservative male counterpart, it is a betrayal of character that she would cite gender alone as a reason to vote for a character. It would have been less out of character for her to vote Democrat.

11 – She was never, to my knowledge, a member of the Titans teams. She was a member of the Outsiders, though, and that iteration of the team essentially counts as it was staffed with Titans that they decided to make not Titans anymore because they didn’t fit with the cartoon. The issue here, though, is that the Titans was a romantic drama of sorts that worked very well for the characters they had but it was an atmosphere to which Helena Bertinelli did not belong.

Category: Theater

This is an item from a couple months ago, but it nonetheless demonstrates a sense of entitlement on the part of iPhone users.

Their anger revolves around the fast-evolving iPhone. To get one, most consumers committed to a two-year contract. But over that two-year period, since its introduction in 2007, the iPhone has undergone technology enhancements and, like many electronic devices, the price has fallen.

This week Apple introduced its new souped-up iPhone 3GS, with a price of $199 for the 16G version and $299 for the 32G version. However, that’s only for new AT&T subscribers.

If you bought one of the earlier versions of the iPhone and want to upgrade before your contract is up, it will cost you an extra $200. The upgrade price is $399 for the 16G version and $499 for the 32G model. Without a contract, consumers pay $599 and $699, respectively.

“If you are a loyal iPhone user like me, contact them through e-mail, phone, whatever — let your voice be heard,” wrote one upset iPhone user on the AT&T forum. “Let them know you will not be quiet. Do whatever it takes.”

The husband of a coworker/friend of my wife with whom I have struck up a friendship like to talk gadgets. He commented that one Apple guy he knows was complaining about the people complaining about how people who buy early-releases of products pay more than those who wait just a few months or a year. And not a little bit more. The Applehead said that that’s the way it works for all Apple products and people should expect it. My friend replied that if Apple is going to penetrate the market beyond Apple’s enthusiastic base, they’re going to have to get used to people pushing back against Apple the same way that they push back against anyone else.

It actually puts me in the rare position of agreeing with Apple. Early adopters do pay a premium and that should be expected. That Apple makes this premium so steep may be a little aggravating, but the solution is that people need to just wait six months or a year or a couple years. That happens to be what I do all the time!

In this case, though, they’re not just complaining about the price drops and the early-adopter premium. The complaints now center on cell phone contracts and how it’s the new customers that get the cool price breaks. I have no proof beyond my biases, but I suspect that the complainants are not the people that are new to Apple’s business model but people who know it full well, accept it, but then get on their high horse when it seems like it’s coming from someone other than the hallowed Bay Area gizmo giant. On a sidenote, I suppose I should lay off Appleheads a little bit. I’m seeing more of people aiming their barrels at Apple in addition to AT&T and this is a positive development.

Whatever the case, iPhone users are not asking to be treated like everyone else. They’re asking to be treated special. When you sign a two year contract, the words on that paper actually mean something. They mean that in return for the price break that you get on the phone, you agree to be their customer for a two year period. This is the case whether you buy a Motorola dumbphone or an eggheaded iPhone. Once you’ve done this, you have punched your ticket. Their failure to give you anything above and beyond that is not taking you for granted. That is the agreement that both sides signed on to. You’re not giving them your business anymore. They’ve bought it.

Now, when it comes to most cell phone users, you can simply leave after the contract has expired. You may have to buy a new phone, but that’s not as big of a deal because you can get a price break on the new phone. The iPhone is a little bit different because you can’t get an iPhone on any US network except the AT&T one. That’s a decision you made when you sold your soul to Apple because Apple contracted your soul out to AT&T. There are three people to blame here and AT&T is only one of them. So to the extent that iPhone users are being treated differently, it’s because AT&T is merely getting compensation for the rights that Apple sold to them.

But generally, the contract system affects all of us and Apple users have no right to be exempt from it. Anyone that is under a contract with a provider is not in a position to demand generosity on the part of AT&T. As a non-iPhone AT&T customer, I don’t expect AT&T to give me a price break on a phone without getting something in return. Since I’m not under contract (more on that in a minute), I could get a new phone (at a discount) for a new contract. They get something and I get something. What the iPhone people are asking for is to get something without giving anything that they are not already contractually obliged to give.

Now, there are two caveats to this.

First, the article itself is not entirely clear on what AT&Ts policy is towards people like me. It says on one hand that the special, special low rate is only available to “new subscribers” but then on the other it talks about what would happen if you wanted to upgrade “before your contract is up”. I am mostly addressing the case of the latter. If AT&T’s position is that existing subscribers that are not under a contract should not receive the full discount, well, that’s pretty aggravating. Periodicals do that sort of thing all the time, but it’s a bigger problem here because it’s less problematic to stop service then re-start service a month later (which is what Mom used to do with magazines). I know that there are ways that you can keep your phone numbers, though, so maybe it’s less big of a deal. Regardless, it’s an uncool business practice if that’s what they’re doing analogous to an old apartment complex I lived in which raised the rent on existing tenants but kept it the same for move-ins because they figured that they could take advantage of the hassle of moving. However, that does not appear to be what the iPhone users are complaining about. They’re still under contract.

The second caveat is that unlike some carriers, AT&T is different in that they are not as flexible about extending a contract when you’re in the middle of a previous one. With some other carriers, if you’re a year in to a two-year contract, you can get a two year extension along with a phone discount (thus leaving you with three years on the contract). AT&T, to my knowledge, does not let you do that. That doesn’t strike me as fundamentally unfair, though. If they have a flat-rate for cancellations, they have a lot to lose by letting people dig in deep with multiyear contracts that they have no intention of living up to. This is particularly true for iPhone users, many of whom have every intention to leave. And notably, the discount they’re asking for is actually greater than the cost of cancellation. In any event, they’re not even asking for preemptive contract extensions. They’re asking for something for nothing.

Don’t misinterpret me entirely. I hate the contract system that they’re complaining about. In fact, I spent extra money to avoid it. The last time I needed a cell phone, I went on eBay and paid a hundred or two more than I otherwise might have specifically so that I would not have a contract and so that I could take the phone and use it on T-Mobile (or any other GSM carrier) if I wanted. iPhone users are quite free to do the same. Of course, if they do, they will have to pay more than the price they are complaining about. In other words, despite everything above, AT&T is subsidizing iPhone upgrades.

AT&T and other carriers often sell these things at a loss in return for assured business. Think the iPhone is too expensive? Apple is the one that sets the price. Don’t like the way that prices start sky-high and fall just after you bought one? That’s Apple’s, not AT&T’s, business model. By subsidizing upgrades, AT&T is actually doing more than they could be. And for all the complaints about it (including my own), there is something to be said for the subsidized/contract model, it can be good for the consumer who doesn’t want to have to drop a few hundred dollars on a phone from one paycheck and it can be good for the companies because they can more comfortably rely on that income. Win-win. I wish it were not so prevalent, but it is not without its upside. But the deal is what it is. Those words in that contract actually mean something.

Category: Market

Scott Payne sings the praises of How I Met Your Mother, which really is a great show. His emphasis on Barney reminds me of something that I’ve been meaning to write about for at least a couple of years now. In many of the truly great sitcoms, their greatness is defined far less by the main characters than the supporting casts. This is one of the reasons that shows that tend to revolve around someone that is already a star so frequently fail. Particularly when the show is given to someone that has historically played secondary characters (or a single one) and they’re trying to give them a shot at “prime time”.

In some ways, I think that it’s best to reserve your best talent for secondary roles. The main reason for this is that supporting roles are generally allowed to be far more interesting. The main characters of the show are people that we are supposed to relate to, but the supporting characters are people that we know but are laughing at. Main characters have some personality quirks, but secondary characters – by virtue of the fact that they are not the protagonist that we are supposed to somewhat identify with – can be extreme variations of various archetypes.

The best example of this that I am aware of is a show called Davis Rules. It was given the enviable position of premiering after the Superbowl. A lot of money was pumped into making everyone aware of its existence. But it failed despite being given two chances (once on ABC and once on CBS) and is largely forgotten now. The main reason for this is that it relied on the star power of Randy Quaid… but it boxed Quaid in as the role of the protagonist. He was the single father of three, responsible, and all that wasn’t the persona that Quaid adopted and perfected in nearly every role that made him well-known.

On the other side, though, you have the examples of Just Shoot Me. The first was a fantastic show that didn’t find its audience and the second a so-so show that managed to hang in there longer than most would have guessed. Phil Hartmann was the draw to NewsRadio and, because he was a side character, they were able to take advantage of his comedic talent while giving the protagonist role to the more low-key Dave Foley. In the case of Just Shoot Me, the draw was David Spade. Spade’s character was not really secondary, but he was more a part of the ensemble than the protagonist (who was Laura San Giacomo). In fact, the storyboard was written without his character and he was put in there at the last minute.

A David Spade show never would have made it seven seasons. A Phil Hartmann show would not have lasted to the point of his death, much less an additional year. Shows built around a strong name certain can succeed, but they depend on large part on a good supporting cast or another lightning rod for humor, such as David Hyde Pierce as a more extreme variant of Kelsey Grammar’s protagonist in Frasier. But as often as not – even in ensemble casts – the real talent lies in characters that take a bigger role but nonetheless stand off to the side while we’re mostly rooting for someone else. Steve Carrell was the only name actor on The Office, but the role of protagonist was given to the somewhat less interesting but far more likable Jim Halpert character.

And so it goes with Neil Patrick Harris. Harris was, of course, the star of his own sitcom when he was a kid, but attempts to use him as a draw were unsuccessful. He seemed like the sort of guy to be able to carry his own show, and he probably could have if given the right part, but instead ended up playing second-fiddle to a relative no-name on How I Met Your Mother. But with Josh Radnor taking the role of the relatable protagonist, Harris was freed to become a hilarious degenerate.

I think it’s often the case that the bigger names want to be the protagonist in order not to cede the limelight to someone else. I remember being surprised that Harris was willing to take a secondary role, but it turned out to be the best thing he could have done. It’s impossible to know what will happen with Josh Radnor’s career, but the adult Neil Patrick Harris has been immortalized and as a result has become of the few child stars that went on to be a success in adulthood instead of just Doogie Howser grown up.

Category: Theater

Very well done. The song has been stuck in my head for a couple weeks now. I think I like the Cobra side of the video a little bit better, particularly Zartan. My only complaint is Destro’s costume. Then again, he’s sharing the screen with the super-hot Baroness, so it doesn’t distract me too much.

Hope to see the movie next week. May watch some episodes of the cartoon this weekend if I can tear myself away from Cowboy Bebop.

Category: Theater

In The World According To William, whenever possible people will know how much they are paying for something when they decide to buy, rent, or gain a service. Companies will not rely of costumer error for their profit margins.

Fuel tanks and rental cars are a tricky business. If a person refills his tank, everybody is (theoretically) happy. If a customer does not refill his tank, that can be a real pain for the rental agency because they not only have to refill the tank but also (theoretically) have to pay someone to go refill it. Of course, they’re not going to take that hit. So customers that forget to fill up are charged exorbitant per-gallon rates. Or, if they’re so inclined, they are spared the inconvenience of filling up by agreeing to purchase a full tank at a reduced price. And I guess we learn to accept this as the way things are. Then they throw out a curveball and I suddenly find myself in the role of Angry Consumer. A role I am generally not accustomed to.

Budget Rent-a-Car has a policy (which apparently has been done elsewhere, though I’ve never seen it) where if you drive less than 75 miles, you have to provide a receipt that you refilled the gas tank or you face a $16 surcharge. The reason for this, presumably, is because sometimes a gas tank will read as full even if a person has driven 60 miles. Thus, unless they’re provided with a receipt they just have to send a guy to the gas station and refill it and that costs them (all things considered) $16. Or something like that.

For some reason, this is sort of a last straw for me. I guess the reason is that it feels like people like me are being targeted. People that are pretty conscientious about refilling gas tanks but not always about collecting receipts. It’s sort of like how a big reason behind the whole “mail-in rebate” are because people like me forget to mail in the dang thing so that’s free money for them. I’m not saying that they don’t have the right to do business that way or that such things should be illegal, but… no… any time I have the choice of whether or not to do business with a company that does this sort of thing, I will choose not to.

If someone drives 25 miles and gas gauge still reads as being full, are they really going to refill it? Seriously? I am supremely skeptical. Or are they going to pocket the $16 and let the next guy take care of it? There’s no accountability here. Nobody is looking. The next guy is not going to notice that his gauge went down just a little faster than it should have. First, he’s driving a car that is not his own. Second, if he raises that suspicion, the agency can and will say “Well, there’s no accounting for gas gauges, you know.”

The entire notion that they have to refill it is in fact questionable. I’ve rented cars before that were 3/4 full and in at least one case that was 1/4 full. All I had to do was return it more than 1/4 full. I ended up leaving it probably 3/8 full. I did their work for them… but was not reimbursed for my trouble. Heck, if it costs them that much, they should just offer customers with half-full tanks a rebate if they full the tank to the top. If gas costs $2.50 a gallon, give me $2.75 and I’ll fill it right up. Heck, just give me my money back and we’ll be square as far as I’m concerned. I’d take my chances on losing a receipt for that and would probably prefer it to the opaque manner now in which “full” is determined.

Or if there is this absolute necessity that the tank be full at all times, don’t charge $5 a gallon but charge an upfront fee plus market rates for gasoline. A sign saying “Hey, if we have to refill your tank it will cost you $10 plus the cost of gasoline. That way, people would realize that they’re looking at least at $10 plus whatever the cost of the fill-up is. They won’t have to read the fine print to find out how much they’re going to be dinged. It’s a large enough number that they won’t put the rental agency through the inconvenience of having to fill up nearly as often. Of course, if they did that then they wouldn’t have the poor schmo that forgets to fill up a half-empty tank that they get to bilk for twice the market price.

And that, ultimately, is what this is all about. Hiding costs. Yes, Budget puts up a nice little sign letting you know that you will be charged if you lose your receipt. But a lot of people are going to forget that and when they do… free money for Budget! Or they will lose track of mileage and… free money for Budget! Some schmo forgets to refill his gas tank, they leave it for the next person and if they’re like me they will overdo it a bit because it’s impossible to get right and they’ve collected free money from the schmo! It’s enough to recall the wisdom of Charlie Belcher.

Some people like this business model. My friend Rick and I used to go back and forth on Best Buy’s old mail-in rebate model. From his perspective, provided that you sent the rebate in, you got your money. What’s unfair about that? From my perspective, they’re making money off people paying $100 for a VCR they thought they were only going to pay $80. Or how Blockbuster’s profit margin depended primarily on people forgetting to return videos on time so a video that they expected to pay $3 for instead became $15. When the business model relies on customers screwing themselves over, I find that rather aggravating even in those cases where I come out ahead on the deal.

I don’t like doing business with sneaks.

Category: Market

I decided earlier this year that I am getting my parents wireless Internet for Christmas. Rather, I am giving them a wireless router and a laptop with which to use it. The laptop is a cheap one that I bought off eBay. I plan to be very clear about that when I give it to them. It’s a “starter laptop” to see if they end up using the wireless. If they do, then Dad can go out and buy a better one. Meanwhile, they’ll have a functional one.

It’s a risky gift because it’s not something that my parents have asked for and it’s not cheap by Truman gift-giving standards. Further, it’s one of those gifts that in order to really be worthwhile may require them spending as much (or more) money than I did. Now, the main reason I am getting the laptop is to sidestep the latter part. I don’t want to give them a wireless router and say “Okay, now go out and spend $500 to see this work!” But I can’t afford to spend $500 on the chance that they will like it. So instead I spent $200 on something that should suffice. Impossible to tell for sure because Mom’s computers have a tendency to slow down to a creeping halt for reasons I have not been able to put my finger on.

Anyway, so Clancy and I both brought our laptops to Shell Beach. The condos come with Internet and it’s good to stay connected. Dad commented, as I unfolded the laptop for the first time, about how he doesn’t like laptops. He doesn’t like the eraserhead or trackpad. He would all-around prefer to be at a desk. Of course, as he says this I get that sinking feeling that I am going to have to go back to the drawing board for Christmas. I hope beyond hope that as he uses my laptop over the week that he will at least get to see some of the convenience of a laptop and WiFi.

He did. A little too well, I’m afraid. It became extremely helpful to have Internet access on the trip to the point of nigh-indispensibility. About midweek he said that maybe he should give laptops a chance. Then, by the end of the week, he said that if Clancy and I ever decline to bring our laptops he may need to buy one just for Shell Beach.

So I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that he was just thinking aloud. Because he and I share in common a trait. Once we decide we’re going to do something, we do it immediately. He’s not likely to put off buying the thing until next summer. If he wants one for next summer, he’ll buy it next month. Sort of like how I bought his Christmas gift in March. So I’ll have to see if there’s anything I can do to talk him out of buying a laptop.

Of course, if he does end up getting a laptop, that must means that I will have another one hanging around the house. It’s a long story, but we have quite a few now. There is the one that Clancy had before we got married. It’s functional, if not useful. There’s the one I had at the time which broke down about a year ago. Each were replaced by laptops that we’re using now. Then when I bought Dad’s, I happened to win two bids at the same time and got two more laptops. Then, by shuffling some parts around, I got the laptop that died a year ago working again.

So between the two of us we have five laptops. Not counting Dad’s. It wouldn’t kill me to have a sixth. Clancy might, though.

Category: Home, Server Room