Macintosh Classic Screen

The Macintosh Classic. photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dokas/6124902568/

I lived in my Mom’s converted garage in high school. I distinctly remember banging away on a Macintosh at my huge oak desk. The tiny screen seemed to hold so many possibilities, even before the Internet hit the scene.

I loved exploring all of the menu options, and always feeling like their was this inner world that I could never completely access. The knowledge that I did not understand all of the programs gave me a sense of comfort, almost like staring out into the ocean or lying on a hill top and watching the clouds float by.

I am overwhelmed by the impact Steve Jobs had on the world. I feel a mixture of gratitude, amazement and sadness, yet I am struck by the death of a man who seemed to relentlessly pursue a vision. How could a person with such passion, conviction and determination be wiped away by a few cancer cells?

Present Day:  I can’t quite remember why I didn’t complete this post last year. However, I feel compelled to post the snippet I did complete and to add a few fragmented thoughts.

I still feel awash in an endless world of options when I use my iMac and MacBook Pro, but I don’t yet own an iPad and have never owned an iPhone.

I wish Apple would make less profit by manufacturing their products in the United States but if they don’t I probably won’t stop using their products.

It is always sad when people die too young (is their any age that is old enough to die?), but I can’t imagine what else Jobs could have contributed to society. He took bold steps, made a fortune, and became an icon.

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My Couch Surfing Experience

September 30, 2011

in Traveling

The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome. Completely breathtaking.

Rooting around online in order to plan out my wife’s and my trip to Spain (Madrid, Barcelona & Granada) and Italy (Rome) this past May I bumbled upon the website Couchsurfing.org. After a cursory glance, I determined there were actual human beings the world around who were willing to put up perfect strangers in their homes, in exchange for a bit of conversation, and perhaps a meal or two. Thanking my lucky Internet find, and doing quick calculations in my head of exactly how much money we could save if we did not have to pay for a hotel or hostel (more on that later), I dove into the new Couch Surfing (CS) world.

First off, you must understand that the CS service is completely free, or at least that is what the website tells you until they lay the guilt on thick about “contributing” to the community by “Getting Verified.” Apparently free means $24, but only if you want to be like the rest of the CS kids who are for the most part diligent verified world travelers with nothing to hide. I started using the service without getting verified, but I have nothing to hide, so I suppose that makes me a bit odd. Miraculously I was still able to send out couch requests and eventually locate some potential leads.

The number one strategy I recommend employing when host hunting is to send out a ridiculous amount of requests. I sent a total of 39 requests and only two people offered to host us, but one of these lovelies actually flaked on us one week before our departure. Was spending countless hours (I did lose track) searching for and sending couch requests worth it? No, not really.

Here is where I left off when I started this post about three to four months ago. Let’s just say that my passion for this topic has waned, so allow me to finish off this potentially very long story in a rather abrupt manner.

My wife and I stayed with a lovely gay Italian couple in Rome. They stayed up until almost midnight every night, needed us out of the house by 9am, smoked (we knew this) and only had a pull out sofa bed in the living room (we signed up for this too, well…I signed us up for this). Extremely nice people, full of life and love, but this married couple needed their own room, and more than nine hours to sleep, wake up, shower and stumble out into the Roman mayhem.

Verdict: Couch surfing is for either young or single people and CouchSurfing.org probably works best if you pay the $24, send out tons of requests and have lots of patience.

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Reach for the rock.

I tried to take flight last week on the basketball court, but once I realized the distance between my feet and the court were a mere few inches I crumbled like a BP rep in front of Congress. Miserable ending? I dare say not! My attempt at increased vertical movement enabled my dormant powers of deception to awaken and my game is all the better for it.

Whenever a rebound descends directly into my hands I grab it with violence and smack my second and swiftly converging hand on to the ball. I feel it not only impresses other players (and myself) but may lay down some intimidation points for future use.

My shot has seen a marked improvement, to the point that I am becoming known as one of the guys to not leave open, at least after a few made shots. I find myself unconsciously shooting regardless of the distance, and so far my percentage is consistent enough to maintain this wacky strategy. My first few games tend to be my strongest and then my mind gets in the way. The less I think and the more jump shots I take, the better.

Note: I started playing basketball about two months ago at my gym. My skills are minimal but through hardwork and practice I feel I can make huge improvements (don’t ever take me too seriously). In my mid-thirties and with no basketball foundation I will attempt to become a decent player and not be the pale dude that no one passes to.

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wooden-bridge

[I have designated this and others like it, "Mighty River Writings" because I will be writing without stopping and publishing whatever spews out. You have been warned.]

While listening to This American Life (TAR) I realized that I had never donated any money to the program. I was in the middle of a story about a bridge in China that is frequented by people who are trying to committ suicide. I did not feel like committing suicide while listening to this program and feeling guilty about not donating but I did find it humorous, not the story but the coincidence, which in fact was not much of a cioncidence, but felt like one to me. I have yet to finish the TAR episode but I am wondering how it ends. Not wonderful for many Chinese people but perhaps ok for me. I was reminded of bridges I have seen in my life and how scary they can be, especially the ones over water. Who knows when I will drive over a bridge again, or walk across one.

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A yellow school bus.

An interesting experiment is being done in Tucson, Arizona with a high school bus. The bus is equipped with a wireless Internet connection and the students are able to complete homework and generally be more productive. The article, Wi-Fi Turns Rowdy Bus Into Rolling Study Hall, seems to indicate that the experiment has so far been a success.

Morning routines have been like this since the fall, when school officials mounted a mobile Internet router to bus No. 92’s sheet-metal frame, enabling students to surf the Web. The students call it the Internet Bus, and what began as a high-tech experiment has had an old-fashioned — and unexpected — result. Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.

Shouldn’t these kids be doing homework the night before at home, not in the morning? If the kids are doing homework/assignments on their way home, that seems a positive use of time, considering they would just be texting, talking etc. Another thought; is insane productivity a good thing for kids? Isn’t it okay that they goof off on the bus and are not very productive?

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Crazy halfpipe trick.

Snowboard halfpipe tricks done by professionals are so much fun to watch, I thought I’d share these informative videos with you from the New York Times website. While I used to be a good street skateboarder in my teen years, I only wish I could do half the tricks these guys are doing on snow. I went snowboarding in 2008 in Utah, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Being on a snowboard actually felt very much like a skateboard, except for having my feet attached to the board. Are you going to watch any of the events in the 2010 Vancouver Games?

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Considering that I am an early adopter of most technologies the fact that I have yet to try let alone embrace e-books is a bit strange. The thought of holding a thin piece of metal and plastic, and staring at a screen during my reading time has never appealed to me. Being plunked down in front of my computer part of the day for work probably plays a part in my dislike for the e-book idea. Therefore it is of little consequence to me that publishers are looking to bump up the cost of downloadable e-books. However, the difference between an actual book and megabytes on a screen seems drastic. A book affords a feeling of comfort, something tangible to underline, highlight or scribble in. With an e-book there is just text on a screen and once you have finished reading the “book”, it disappears.

In an article today in the New York Times they discussed the upcoming increases in e-book costs. There might be a blowback or even a revolt from some readers:

When digital editions have cost more, or have been delayed until after the release of hardcover versions, these raucous readers have organized impromptu boycotts and gone to the Web sites of Amazon and Barnes & Noble to leave one-star ratings and negative comments for those books and their authors.

Would you pay $14.99 for an e-book? I can’t imagine spending that much on a file that would sit on my iPad or Kindle instead of my shelf.

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Haitian woman walking among earthquake rubble.

Haitian woman – Photo Source

Have you read the excellent article from last weeks New Yorker by Jon Lee Anderson? Entitled Neighbors’ Keeper, it’s a piece about Anderson’s experience on the ground in Haiti and his unexpected meeting of the Haitian woman Nadia François. In brief, she was bumped into twice while Anderson was driving around in Port-au-Prince and he came to find out that her and a few others were searching for food and supplies for several hundred other people:

She said that her name was Nadia François and she was from Delmas 75—a neighborhood five miles back up into the hills. She had come down, she said, in representation of some three hundred people there who were in need of help. She handed us a paper with a handwritten message that attested to her mission, signed and stamped by a Protestant pastor. Nadia had led her group down to the airport after hearing that the U.S. military was handing out food.

Aside from the generosity and incredible sacrifice shown by François, this story illustrated to me that a person with a checkered past (François was previously incarcerated in the U.S.) should not be dismissed or considered a hopeless case. I wonder how many more privileged people would be providing for their entire community in such a situation?

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Giant gnarled pencil for writing your own profits.

Recently I procured a writing job that has really sent my wheels spinning.  The job consists of rewriting online articles so that the article owners can reprint them without incurring any duplicate content penalties from Google and other search engines.  These “articles” are mostly very short, 250 to 600 on average, and cover a wide variety of topics such as dating tips, double chins, dehumidifiers etc.  There are quite a few article directories that publish short articles on a daily basis covering just about anything imaginable.  Below are some of these sites:

Ezinearticles.com
Goarticles.com
Articlesbase.com

This article rewriter gig has proven very laid back because I can write as little or as much as I want (solid work for insomniac writers).  However, some of the articles are so poorly written and offer such little value that I have felt I am contributing to the dumbing down of society.  However, I realize these articles are mostly serving an entirely different purpose than attempting to offer quality information.  This reason is a definite sticking point but as a writer you could contribute well-written and more informative articles that could potentially create a more appreciative audience.

While some of the articles are not in depth and very poorly written (Myself and others can only do so much in rewriting them) they serve the purpose of establishing authority and backlinks for these people’s online endeavors.  The company I write for pays me per sentence and the resulting product is a short article that over time will bring Internet traffic to the article owner’s site(s) and therefore create ongoing sales and a long-term residual income for them.  Meanwhile I receive a one-time payment for my work.  My question is, who is the smart or at least more informed one in this scenario?  I suppose it depends on who you are, what you want and how much you know.  For immediate profit the other rewriters and myself are sitting pretty but in three or six months when the article owner is making many or at least a few individual sales that greatly exceed my single one-time payment then who is making the better or more valuable long-term investment of time?  This is not to say that you can’t do rewriting and write your own articles if immediate money is a priority, which it of course is for so many including myself.  Of course if a writer knows little or absolutely nothing about Internet marketing then chances are this opportunity will never be had.  However, I wonder if writers knew they could put their writing skills to use creating articles that would point visitors towards a site that sells a quality product if they would some writers pursue this possibility?

Why don’t writers, create several websites selling some sort of commissionable product (there are literally thousands of products to offer through Clickbank.com or LinkShare.com) and then write a gaggle of these short articles and build their own side or eventual main income?  Does this mean we should not continue writing stories, novels, poems etc. or that somehow we are no longer pure writers?  If the product(s) you are selling is something you believe in and have some personal experience with why not write enlightening articles about it and make an ongoing profit off of it?

There is of course quite a bit more to being able to sell products online but being able to write well is in my opinion a huge part of the puzzle.  I constantly hear that it is so difficult to make money as a writer so why not expand our horizons? As a creative writing, MFA or potential MFA graduate does something like this appeal to you?  Let me know in the comment section, I am curious to see the responses.

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5 Short stories you must read.

As an English major (ahem creative writing major to be more precise) I read quite a few short stories.  Some strummed my emotional chords, more than a few wrinkled my brow but there were a handful that flat out wrenched my entire reality right out from underneath me and spit me out onto the floor.  I was such a naïf before my exposure to the following five stories, but I am all the better for having read them.  I feel compelled to share the titles, author and a brief commentary for those who enjoy memorable stories.  I will not spoil the stories for you by divulging any pertinent information, but instead hope to entice you enough to read them.

I was impressed by the sheer variety of prose and the ability of humans to compile such different and moving stories.  If you think there is nothing left to write about, or no new angles to peer at the world from, then I suggest trying these stories on for size.  I can wholeheartedly say; I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Story #1: Isabelle

Author: George Saunders
published in 1996 in Civilwarland In Bad Decline

Coming in at only six and a half pages this powerful story by George Saunders took me for a ride.  Prior to returning to school I had never heard of Saunders.  As of this moment he is one of my favorite authors. Of course I have only read his first collection of short stories but that is all it took to throw him up on my growing list of treasured authors.

Words like compact, halting, humorous and brutal jump to mind when thinking about the Isabelle story.  There is such a tremendous amount of information jammed into a few pages that it was hard to follow at times and worth a few more reads.  The prose are halting in that they jump around because of the amount of verbal real estate necessary to cover but yet the story does not feel disconnected or nonsensical.  Names like “Boneless”, “Balled-Up Gumby” and “Split Lip” are some of the not just humorous but outright brutal descriptions contained within this unique story.  From my understanding Saunders wrote Isabelle in one sitting.

Story #2: Hang The Moon

Author: Jim Lewis
Published in Tin House (only available in book format) magazine Summer 2001

Not only is this a stellar short story but as far as I know the author Jim Lewis has not published another story, at least not under that name.  Sometimes a story pulls me in and builds this narrative and atmosphere that is so believable everything else around me drops away and leaves me alone in this new world.  Hang The Moon elicits a strong sense of youthful longing and the fly by the seat of your pants type of living that the young do so well.  Reading this story while enrolled in college was like taking a direct trip to my youth and young love, the type of experiences that are fleeting but worthy of filling buckets of memory.

There are so many wonderful lines such as “every day was huge, every dollar a kiss on the mouth”, “How mighty is the tenderest thing” and “back when the world was green.”  If you want to take a ride back in history and to your youth give this one a shot.

Story #3: Black Tickets

Author: Jayne Anne Phillips
Published in Black Tickets

“Jamaica Delila, how I want you; your smell a clean yeast, a high white yogurt of the soul.”  So begins the dense, intense and mind bending story Black Tickets by Jayne Anne Phillips.  When I first read this story I was amazed that not only could someone write with such intensity but that the type of style was accepted and the story critically acclaimed.  The entire story is written from inside the mind of one man sitting in jail and the story bounces around and changes tenses to the point of it being difficult to follow.  The language is thick with hip terms of the 60’s and 70’s and flows like a crystal clear stream slicing through a mossy forest.

There is not a lot of hope and humor to be found in this story yet it shines with life, a life outside of the mainstream, carved out of creaky wood that others discarded.  Phillips brings these characters to life and creates a reality that many don’t want to know about but with the force of her prose readers will be forever changed.

“I love you the way I love nightmare, secrets coming up like smoke through a grid; the way I love mirrors shattered but still whole, reflecting the foolish image in a hundred lit-up fragments.  No one else could take me; pay my way with what your skin knows.”
- Black Tickets

Story #4: The Mysteries of Ubiquitin

Author: Andrea Barrett
Published in Servants of the Map

The intersection of the past and present and how memories become tangible parts of our lives are a few of the themes of this believable and emotionally stirring story.  I don’t always have to believe a story could happen, after all I am writing about fiction, but when a story like this splashes across the page with such forceful emotion I am taken aback.  A tragedy sits at the core of the story and the main characters Peter and Rose revolve around this tragedy, avoiding each other and then bumping into one another throughout their lives.  There is tenderness to the narrative but also a screeching discomfort between the two main characters that plays out as they become closer.

I love how Rose is simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by Peter, she can’t seem to get enough of him until she peeks out from behind her memories and witnesses the reality of who he is.  This is a story about tremendous loss and not only how people deal with it but also what types of things bring back vivid memories and feelings of what was lost.

Story #5: Proper Library

Author: Carolyn Ferrell
Published in Don’t Erase Me

Lorrie the main character immediately struck me because his life paralleled many aspects of the childhood of author James Baldwin.  Both lived in a home with many siblings and family members, had immense responsibilities for caring for younger children, and of course both were black, poor and gay.  Don’t fret about me spilling the beans in regards to Lorrie’s sexual preference, it quickly becomes evident he is not interested in girls.

Lorrie lives a complicated life that is striking in not only its chaos but its seemingly impenetrable barriers of exit.  There is a dead end towering in front of him if he does not take certain steps to bypass it.  The possibly tragic aspect of Lorrie’s character is that he knows what he needs to do to change the course of his life but his strength wavers as he traverses the many emotional potholes that confront him.

Final Words

The only further piece of advice I can give you in regards to the aforementioned short stories is to go and read them.  Do not weigh your options or see what Amazon recommends, simply dive into the minds and worlds of these many varied characters.  I hope you enjoy them.

“I didn’t understand the different flavors of the pie.”
- Carolyn Ferrell, Proper Library

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