Sunday, December 12, 2010

Steve Kaplan's Comedy Intensive: An Hommage

STEVE KAPLAN: Photo used without permission; but it's a nice shot, so he should be OK with it.

Last week I flew to Los Angeles to attend Steve Kaplan's Comedy Intensive, a writing course all about comedy.

I live in Baltimore. Why would I fly to L.A. for a course offered in closer locations like New York and Chicago? Because I wanted the whole experience: Hollywood Boulevard, film studios, television studios, unbearable traffic, people prettier than me, and 65-degree temperatures when they're calling for snow back on the East Coast.

It was SO worth it! The trip was fantastic! And the course was beyond my expectations. I highly recommend this experience for anyone who is interested in writing film comedies, sit-coms, or just comic scenes. Yes, I called it an "experience". Not in the sense of today's IT software lingo or a Disney attraction, but it's more than a traditional lecture.

It was interactive, fantastic discussion, and what I needed more than anything: tons of examples of good comedy, and bad, through TV and film clips, script samples and writing exercises.

Steve is entertaining, approachable, engaging and, of course, funny. He's spent decades analyzing comedy, and his students are the beneficiaries of his wisdom. He's worked with everyone. Check out his bio here. It reads like a name-dropper found at every party, except this list is real.

There were about 50 people in my class: all friendly and none trying to be the funniest in the room. There were writers, directors, stand-ups, actors and producers - many hyphenates of at least two.

I didn't take this class to be funnier. I'm not going to get any funnier, just like I'm not going to get any taller. But my writing can be cleaner, and I can deliver better dialogue and scenes, and ultimately, better comedy.

Steve provides lots of analysis and insight, and you leave with a real understanding plus some tools to help you with your own writing.

I could offer all kinds of stories of my short week in LA, but this is my favorite. My girlfriend Barbara and I are good traveling companions. What I'm not good at are directions. I was born without an interior gyroscope or compass. To alleviate this, I brought my GPS ('cause I refuse to pay extra when renting a car).

We were on our way to see our friend George at his sister's restaurant, Mako, in Beverly Hills. He gave us the address. We punched it into the GPS and were on our way. Until the GPS died. My charger was broken. I was driving. Every time Barb tried to restart the GPS it just said "Low Battery" and shut itself off. I had punched the address into my Droid smart phone, but Barb wasn't familiar with it. And it was set to lock every 30 seconds to save power. I won't transcribe the actual dialogue here because I'm anything but cool under pressure. But it did inspire this hommage to Seinfeld, with me and Barb played by George and Elaine.




OK. We're on route 66. What's next?

Just keep going. I'll tell you when the next turn is coming up.

No. Tell me now so we won't miss it.

You can't handle that much information, George. We won't miss it.

Just tell me so we're both looking. What's the next turn?


Uh-oh? What uh-oh?

The GPS died.

Died? How could it die? It's brand new!

I don't know how it died. You said you paid forty dollars for it. You tell me.

It had a warranty! What's the next turn?

I don't know. La something.

La something? EVERYTHING here is La something. I asked you to tell me the next turn. See what happens?

How did I know your stupid GPS would die? Calm down, George.

Calm down? Calm down?

Calm down. Just pull into the next gas station.

And do what?

Ask for directions.

Ask for directions. Why does everyone always say "Stop at the gas station"? The only skills required to work at a gas station are to pump gas.

They have maps.

Maps. For $15.95. No thanks.

OK, ask for directions.

Have you ever seen an ad for a gas station attendant? It says you have to work a register and pump gas. It doesn't say pioneering skills are required.

You're hopeless. Pull over.

And do what?

Let me drive.

We didn't put you on the thing at the rental car place.

I won't tell anyone.

How will you find the restaurant?

I'll stop at the next gas station.


OK, my script skills need some work. So don't let this example deter you from taking the class! And don't let it be a reflection of Barb. I'm the panicky, neurotic one. She's the calm, logical thinker. And she tells me the next turn well before it comes up.

And as far as the class went, we laughed our asses off for two days. I've been in 50-minute lectures that felt too long after five minutes. I wanted Steve's class to continue for another week. I wanted to continue to brainstorm new log lines, critique scripts, and collaborate with such engaging and creative minds all in one room.

I met a really cool guy named Rob who moved up from Connecticut seven weeks ago and was heading back to get the rest of his things. My friend Jeanne quit her day job to write full time. And after my short five-day trip, I really get it now when someone says, "If you want to work in television, you need to be here." I'm still high on the vibe I felt while there, and I started planning my own relocation before we left.

In all honesty, this trip was also a feeler for L.A. to see how much I might hate it. It was the opposite. I loved it! I visited with family. I met some fellow Script Chat compadres, and I regretted not hooking up with so many other Twitter friends in the area. My next trip will last longer.

I started reading a new book on the flight home, given to me by my friend Steve Kubiak, called Billion-Dollar Kiss and written by Jeffrey Stepakoff. It's all about Jeffrey's journey in television, as well as the evolution of television writing, and I couldn't put it down. I read half of it by the time we landed at BWI. I knew before we got home L.A. is really where I want to be.

I also fell in love with Amoeba Music - records and CDs as far as the eye could see, in a two-story shrine to my youth.

For those who can't afford to travel or pay for the course fee, don't despair. Steve's book is forthcoming (once he finds the right publisher), as well as a blog site.

And for those interested in television writing like I am, don't forget the fellowships offered by various studios each year. The next one up is the Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship. The submission period for your application and spec script of a half-hour comedic television show on prime time network or cable (no, it does not need to be kid-friendly) runs January 2 through February 28, 2011.

In the meantime, click here for Steve Kaplan's web site. And click here for the full course outline.

Highly recommended. Can't wait for the book! Back to writing!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

I'm With Stupid and I'm Alone

Let's face it. You can't have a horror movie without stupid people. Common sense tells one not to enter the household when the door jamb has been obviously crowbarred. If flicking the light switch has no effect and you're not in a thunderstorm, turn around and walk away. And do not go in the basement if you can see your own steaming breath, or if the kitchen has just hurled all of the cabinet contents straight at your head. Stupid sense says: grab a flashlight and investigate. Pajama bottoms and a ripped wifebeater will offer all the protection you need.

When your car breaks down, common sense says: call AAA and wait for a professional. Stupid sense says flip open the hood and check the belts and hoses. You will be able to diagnose and fix the problem yourself with a tire pressure gauge and some hand sanitizer. Besides, flares are for wussies. I'm pretty sure this type of thinking is why observation areas for a hospital's Operating Room are hermetically sealed and are not on the same floor. No one wants you rooting around an open chest cavity because you've watched three seasons of House on Blu-Ray.

Today, I've joined the ranks of stupid is as stupid does. It started out fairly harmless. I went outside to remove a vine that had taken over a large pine tree in the front yard. I grabbed a shovel and an empty trash can (tomorrow they pick up yard waste for recycling). But I forgot the gardening gloves, and didn't feel like going back inside. I was on a schedule. Not a real schedule; the kind you make up in your head when you get up in the morning.

The plant reminded me of milkweed, something I remembered as a kid, except this was 12-feet tall. And it had berries. But I proceeded on, cut it up with a shovel and my bare hands, and put it out for tomorrow's recycling. It's pictured above.

Stupid. I have no idea what this plant is. I could have looked for some gardening gloves, or looked up the plant online on my smartphone, but I was already in the front yard and that might have taken 120 seconds of my precious time.

Now, after searching the web for an hour, I have no idea what this plant is. Here's hoping it's not poisonous. Wait? I hear something in the basement, and the dogs are getting ancy. Better go check it out.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Well Now I've Done It...

I put myself out there on the Baltimore Sun's Mobbies Awards. A contest for local bloggers and tweeters, it's a really great way to gain exposure, invite new readers and connect with some local people. I've asked family and friends to vote for this blog and for my personal Twitter account (@GCGeek), but I'm honestly not concerned about winning.

I can't even say "Just being nominated is an honor," because I nominated myself. Let's say I honored myself.

What's crazy is I've also signed up for NaNoWriMo (writing a novel in 30 days along with people across the globe - read my recent post on this fabulous event). I started yesterday, and it will take most of my attention when I'm not working the day job, which is not slowing down anytime soon.

But I should really give my blog some much needed attention, especially if folks are going to pop by and check it out. If you're a new reader, thank you for stopping in! If you're one of my regular readers, then you're a true friend and you deserve the same courtesy of some fresh content here.

All I can say is I'll do my best this month! This blog is listed under humor, which adds the extra pressure of "be funny!", which is always my goal, but everyone knows you can't force it. If you don't prefer my sense of humor or writing style, no hard feelings. I'm not in this for an ego trip. I like to write, and laugh, and think, and share, and hopefully make you laugh. And think. And share.

Hey, here's to a fun month of writing!


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity-I Was There! Sort of...

Yesterday I attended Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity, and Stephen Colbert's March to Keep Fear Alive. For those unaware, it was an invite to show solidarity among anyone who chooses to participate in downplaying the extremism fed to us by today's media. We're not at Civil War. We're simply desperate for objective information.

It was an afternoon of fun, interesting sights and civility in our nation's capital.

I'd like to tell you who I saw and what I heard, but I didn't arrive in DC until 10:30 AM. Knowing the Metro would be packed, most buses sold out and traffic truly insane, we chose to go by Amtrak. I live near BWI, and training in to Union Station was a breeze. Then we walked with lots of other folks to the Rally.

I'm pretty sure we actually did see Brendan Hines, who plays Eli Loker on Lie to Me, back at the BWI train station, but I didn't want to bug him. He's from Baltimore, so it's not out of the realm of possibilities. Yay! Celebrity sighting, and not just on a jumbo-tron.

I also saw a friend from work at the Rally, but she disappeared in the swarm before I could catch up to her.

I earned my first Foursquare badges, too. Not exactly a hippie moment, but the nerd in me was rejoicing.

The weather was fantastic. The atmosphere was true positivity. People smiling, displays of courtesy and lots of laughing - everyone was there to see the signs.

I was amused by a woman shouting "exact change only" at a food concession stand. Really? The lines were really, really long. I'd think after selling 200 hot dogs in 20 minutes, they'd have "change" again.

But never really planning this trip other than over a conversation Thursday night - "Hey, I was thinking about going to the Rally", and arriving so late, we couldn't get anywhere near, or even within earshot of, the stage. We got onto the lawn for a moment, but the density of people per square inch was tighter than [insert inappropriate sexual referene here] and just way too high for a 47-year-old who becomes a claustrophobe in crowds. At my age, personal space isn't just a right, it's a necessity. I was also carrying a small backpack for my camera, camcorder, cell phone, Kindle (WTF?) sweatshirt, mints - no, it's still not called a purse or a murse - that quickly became a hook for the swarms moving through, and I was spun faster than the "news". That was inside the gates. Outside the gates, where there were also lots of people but some breathing room, I was able to shoot some video, which may give you some perspective of the sheer numbers constantly pouring in. I'm not sure where they all ended up because this bitch was packed. But everyone seemed friendly and congenial.

This wasn't like a concert for me. I didn't need to see the stage, or be in any particular spot. I went because I wanted to be part of "it", whatever "it" was going to be. I love The Daily Show, and I like to believe most Americans are middle-of-the-road thinkers, who respect valid points from different perspectives, who support smart spending and helping neighbors when they need it, and appreciate a civil dialogue, even if it gets a little heated. I also assume they do not appreciate being force-fed hype, sensationalism or pure bullshit by spin-meisters from any side. And, there are a lot more than two sides.

I was hoping to hear the actual speeches, songs and stand-up routines, but I'm sure there's a DVD coming, and I'll be the first to buy it.

I'm glad I went. The dreamer in me hoped I would bump into Jon and the producers of The Daily Show, impress them with my wit and be invited to an after-party, and ultimately offered a writing gig. And a hot dog. But I didn't even bring a sign, let alone my résumé.

And yesterday wasn't about me. It was about us.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sounds So Crazy It Just Might Work: Writing a Novel in 30 Days at NaNoWriMo

I have a lot of friends on Twitter. Many of them are writers. And some of those writers have tricked me into joining them for the National Novel Writing Month in November, sponsored by a fabulous web site for writers: NaNoWriMo.

OK, I wasn't really tricked. I was encouraged. And that's the point of this exercise. You can buddy up with other writers, receive pep talks from professionals, and daily encouragement from everyone in it with you. Write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) or greater novel in the month of November.

I encourage you to peruse the site and get inspired like I have.

I am not a novelist. I do not expect this to be a brilliant piece of art. More like a piece of crap. But I am a writer. I blog and have freelanced for several sites now. I published my first interview a few weeks ago and am lining up more. I've also learned newswriting (for radio and television), screenplay writing for film, and my true love: television writing (I'm writing two sit com specs).

Why a novel? Why not?! This is what sold me, straight from the site:

If you don't do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a "one day" event. As in "One day, I'd like to write a novel." Here's the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel.

There's lots great info in the full FAQ.

Independent book stores and libraries are opening their doors for NaNoWriMo. There are people in your local area gearing up for this incredible event. And there are lots of folks online. You probably know some right now.

So I declare I'm writing my first novel starting next week. When I quit smoking, I didn't announce it until I had started. Then I stuck to it. I announced it because I knew in the end, I would be proud and much better off for kicking the habit. I don't feel writing is an addiction, but a calling. And I will be much better off once I've been through the process of knocking out 175 pages of fiction. It may not end up on my Kindle, but I'm sure pieces of it will end up in a script.

I really look forward to the camaraderie and the commiseration. If you're a writer, or have just wanted to be one, I hope you join us! And if you want a writing buddy, look me up! I'm GCGeek on NaNo (just like Twitter).

Good luck!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

An Interview with Kevin Brown - 30 Rock’s Dot Com

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America
You may know him as Dot Com. Or Uptown Kevin Brown. Or Big Kev. They’re all gentlemen. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Brown this week about his life, acting, stand-up comedy, 30 Rock, Tina Fey and some other exciting projects. And Tina Fey.

Kevin is a stand-up comic, actor and writer, who appears each week on NBC's 30 Rock as the character Dot Com, an entourage member of Tracy Jordan's (played by Tracy Morgan).

Kevin is a funny man. Even the outgoing message on his cell phone cracked me up. If you'd like to hear it yourself, dial...really? I may not be a journalist, but I'm also not an ideot. ;-)

Here's a web clip of Grizz and Dot Com's Best Friend:


MIKE: So what do you prefer to be called? Kevin? Kev? Dot Com? DC? Uptown Kevin Brown? Your honor?

KEVIN: My friends call me all of those. I've been doing stand-up for 13 years. I started out as Big Kev. After promoting that name for two years, I finally decided to jump on the domain name and found out someone already beat me to it. They had it tied to a joke web site. So wasn’t available. I ran into Tracy Morgan in the comedy circuit – back then he called me Big Kev or  Dot Com. When he saw me again years later, this time shooting 30 Rock, he introduced me to Tina Fey: “This is my man, Dot Com”. When I saw my first script [as a speaking character], it had me as "Dot Com".

MIKE: I noticed last night’s 30 Rock episode was called “Let’s Stay Together”, which is also an Al Green song. And you opened for the reverend about a month ago. Coincidence?

KEVIN: Absolutely a coincidence. I hadn’t heard his name in years until I read the episode. Then three days later, I got a text asking if I would open for him at B.B. King's.

MIKE: Wow. That sounds like more than a coincidence to me. Did you have to tailor your material opening for the reverend?

KEVIN: Well, I did my research about him. I knew he had his first big album in the '70s, but I didn't know he’s a reverend. And nobody told me to do a clean show; just a 25-minute set. He did want a clean show and I kept it clean. It was the most mature crowd I've performed for, and I've opened for Patti LaBelle. But they loved me.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't believe in coincidences anymore, including this opportunity to interview Kevin. Good Karma comes to good people.]

MIKE: What can you tell us about the upcoming live episode on 30 Rock?

KEVIN: A lot of people from 30 Rock are from SNL. I think it will be like that. I've done lots of stand-up and theater, but not live TV. This will also have a live audience. There's a lot going on. Actors need to remember their dialogue and cues.

MIKE: Are you nervous?

KEVIN: No. (He says it definitively, but I can hear him smiling.) I'm never more nervous than before stand-up. You go out there and it's different every time.

I appreciate that NBC has noticed my skills and has given me an opportunity to do this. But I've also done one-man shows in theater, where I'm onstage for two hours. I perform 25 stand-ups in a week. I've had leads in independent film. My acting muscle is really strong. 30 Rock doesn’t know everything I’m capable of, but this industry is about preparation. If Alec Baldwin misses his flight, I’ll be ready to step in for him.

[Wavy lines, wavy lines, wavy lines...cue dream sequence]

Liz approaches Dot Com. There's a new nameplate on Jack's desk: Walter "Dot Com" O'Shaughnessy. She looks at the nameplate.

(in classic Donaghy whisper-speak)
I agreed to change my last name to something Irish if this day ever came.


You're sure every package of Quayle Skin Regimen,
made from the stem cells of young Republicans, is unmarked, 
and there's no record of my purchases...or my actual birth date.
Dot Com hands Jack a clipboard and a pen. Jack signs without reading it.

I guarantee it.

Dot Com breaks the fourth wall with an exaggerated wink to the camera.


Lemon, gather the writers. I've got some big changes in mind for TGS.

Liz starts to exit.
Wait! I think this show is almost perfect. We're missing something. Get me...

(totally puzzled, a single chord of DRAMATIC ORGAN MUSIC, then even more confused)
Right away, Mister...O'Shaughnessy.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, I turned it into my dream sequence. Writer's prerogative. The Live Show episode airs on NBC this Thursday 10/14 at 8:30 PM Eastern, and three hours later on the West Coast - I might download the West Coast version from iTunes to compare. Back to the interview.]

MIKE: You live in New York but the show is shot in L.A.

KEVIN: No, we shoot in New York.

MIKE: Allow me to wipe the egg off my face. Please continue.

KEVIN: Our studios are in Long Island City – Silver Cup. The live episode will actually be shot at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan. It could be interesting if we get great feedback of filming live in front of a live audience.

MIKE: You got the 30 Rock gig representing yourself. Is that still the case, or do you now have someone to say "Mr. Brown appreciates the people of Schenectady, but his schedule does not allow him to appear at the opening of the Super Star Car Wash…in roller skates."?

KEVIN: I have representation now, yes. My brother is my manager. My agent is About Artists. Before 30 Rock, there was freelance representation. In New York, you can freelance and be represented for work with different agencies. In L.A. it's more contract-based. You freelance until you get work. 30 Rock was negotiated by me in the hallway on a handshake.

MIKE: My friend is 6'4" and has been a doorman/bouncer for years, but doesn't actually fight. Were you a gentle giant in your younger days, or a hell-raiser?

KEVIN: I was a gentle giant. I can fight. I have a black belt in judo and karate. I did security in my late teens. I was a beast, but I used my powers on the side of good. I used them to help and protect. I never liked to fight...I knew I could really hurt people so I never liked to fight.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I too have a black belt. It's reversible. At this point I started to share how I didn't like to fight because I was afraid of being hurt, and then wondered why I was answering my own questions, boring Kevin, and got back to the interview.]

MIKE: What can you tell me about working with the writers on the show? Do you work with them, or do you just get a script and see what's up?

KEVIN: I get my scripts and see what’s up. But they're around the set and they pay attention. Whatever we’re talking about could be in the script. Back in 2006, I was into Sudoku. Everyone was into Sudoku. I carried them everywhere. And I was teaching them to play. The next thing I know, Tina had it as a line.

From Season One, the "Blind Date" episode:

Robot, kick him in the knees. Bears have weak knees. He should vibrate, 'cause the robot's full of radiation. Yeah, that's it.

Frank, how many bears did I say you could have?


And how many do you see here?

Um, four?

Save a little money for the rest of us, Frank. You can't spend
a bunch of money on bear suits that are only gonna be seen for like 25 seconds.

Liz, nobody's gonna believe that a killer robot can get his ass kicked by one bear.
It doesn’t make any sense.

You’re trying to bring logic to the robot bear sketch? You can't have four bears!

Well, how many can I keep?


Sorry, guys. Sam, why don't you stay?

Who did my Sudoku puzzle? I have been looking forward to this puzzle all morning.

Hey Liz, could you come up to my office when you have a free moment?

I never have a free moment, Jack -- never, ever.

Really punch him, like karate.

MIKE: What do you like to do when you're not acting, promoting or cracking wise at a club? If you actually have free time.

KEVIN: I have a sixteen year-old daughter. Her name is Vania. My daughter is my heart – she’s my everything. She’s into her friends and high school now, but spending time with her and getting to know her grow into a young lady is what I love most.

[AUTHOR'S BONDING MOMENT: Kevin, my daughter Megan is 20 now, lives with her mom, and I cherish the exact same things.]

MIKE: I understand Grizz recently had a kidney transplant, and is a spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation. How is he doing?

Kevin Brown and Grizz Chapman

KEVIN: He’s doing great. He’s doing amazingly well. Before the transplant, he used to have dialysis three times a week. After the transplant he had it once, and that was the last time. He's also lost 150 pounds or so. He is really doing great.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm a big fan of Grizz Chapman's too, and this was welcome news.]

MIKE: No disrespect, sir, but Tina Fey is my idol. What’s it like working with my favorite comic-genius writer? And if she’s horrible, lie to me.

Tina Fey
KEVIN: I am very intimidated by Tina Fey. Don't get me wrong. Tina has a supportive, giving way about her. Her résumé intimidates me. She is the head writer of 30 Rock. She was the head writer of SNL. It makes me shut up and go blank around her. She is very supportive of me. She’s a superhero and I love being able to hold on to her cape. I just shut up and listen.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm nodding my head the entire time. I totally get this. I share more, thinking we're buds talking over coffee instead of me as an interviewer. I think I'm a funny guy, and the ultimate is for me to get those who I find funny to laugh. I even blogged about my idea of ultimate validation: Tina Fey Comedy Litmus Test. But I was digressing again. He made me feel that comfortable. I appreciate that, Kevin.]

KEVIN: I've never stopped the stand-up. I started taking acting classes when I started stand-up. I think every stand-up should take acting classes. Stand-ups have an advantage over actors. We are developing our own sit-com the moment we start as stand-ups. We write our sit-coms the moment we hit that stage. When it's our time, we will already have funny scenarios, characters, jokes.

MIKE: Last question. What else is going on for you?

KEVIN: Honestly, once we start shooting, 30 Rock owns me. Myself, Tracy [Morgan] and Judah [Friedlander] do stand-up between shooting. We're on 30 Rock's schedule until the end of season, around February or March.

But I do have two independent projects I'm working on. Two books – a book about my life and journey as an actor up to now, through five seasons of 30 Rock. And another about healthier living for bigger men.

I recently lost 60 pounds, and still counting. Nutrisystem® is now sponsoring me. I didn't realize how big I was until seeing the before and after pictures. But there have been some funny things that have happened while losing the weight, and I'm putting that in the book.

When you’re big, people glorify your size. They call you big man, like Big Kev. After college and as you get older, you become less active – that big is less healthy. On the outside you can carry it, but on the inside we're killing ourselves. We big guys have to be healthy – ex-athletes get to 300 or 400 pounds and the body can’t carry that weight.

And there are so many internal problems, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I want to bring awareness.


I now have even more respect for Kevin. A lot of comics are deep thinkers, not just joke writers, and Kevin is no exception. I think it's great that he's bringing a message of health awareness straight from his own experiences, and those of his friend Grizz.

Another bonding moment for me. As a former cigarette smoker, I've tried to encourage those who still smoke by discouraging their nicotine addiction with a very direct piece I wrote that addresses all of the excuses smokers make. SMOKE-FREE WORLD.

Kevin was my first interview, and it was a delight. A very special thanks to Rose Reeder for setting this up!
Dot Com (Kevin Brown), Tracy (Tracy Morgan), Liz (Tina Fey), and Jack (Alec Baldwin) ponder the merits of diversity -- and talking dogs. Credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC

You can follow Kevin and others from 30 Rock on Twitter here:


I won’t kid you. Now having had the chance to speak with Kevin at length, and having experienced one degree of separation from Tina Fey, I probably won’t sleep for a month.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Free Lancing

I'm a writer of many kinds, one being freelance. Because I'm relatively new, I'm a "free"-lance writer, meaning I do a lot of it gratis. But I really do it because I love to write. And I'm honored to be asked.

Free-lancing always offers exposure, traffic back to my blog, practice and the opportunity to address a topic I may not otherwise have considered. It also builds my portfolio. I love my blog and complete editorial control, but being asked to write for someone else is validation. True validation comes from within, but acknowledgment from others is fuel to a writer's soul. It's a reminder that we're not just doing this for ourselves.

Everyone has a story on how they became a writer. Here's mine.

When I was younger, I excelled at math and science but struggled with English, grammar, comprehension and writing. A lot of that was due to the way I read: I must speak every word out loud in my head (yes, I often mouth the words) - I cannot speed-read and never met the time limits for comprehension tests. Standardized tests, and career placement programs, reinforced this. I'm logical and analytical and was always encouraged to pursue math. I felt creative, though horrible at reading and writing, and math came easier.

But a funny thing happened: life. I was laid off from a research job in 1992 and ended up self-employed, taking any assignments I could get. A college buddy of mine, Scott Weber, asked me to copy-edit magazine articles for his recently acquired Maryland Magazine. Me? I'd never done anything of the sort. But times were tough and I had a rare moment of courage and figured I'd wing it. Independent writers submitted material in many different styles, often not in electronic form. So I also had to transcribe. I borrowed a Chicago Manual of Style from my friend and office-mate Jessie Newburn and quickly learned grammar, style and editing. And I was exposed to lots of examples of writing, good and poor. I took the works of others and made them consistent, at least in technical style, while leaving their original voice. I also copy-edited a medical journal for Scott's company. That was interesting. And I transcribed tapes for speech pathologists. I didn't get the writing bug then, but the seed was definitely planted.

I've always played music, written some songs, pursued a brief career in radio, but ended up in analysis: technical requirements, methodology, calculations. I've been doing it since 1996. It is my comfort zone, I'm a subject matter expert, and I still enjoy it. But I learned and mastered the skill of technical writing - taking complex information and making it digestible for multiple audiences. Little did I know I was in training for my next career.

I've always wanted to get into comedy but have a horrible memory, so I've stayed away from stand-up. In 2006, I started this blog where some of the first pieces were old stand-up bits. My friend Jessie was already blogging and helped get me started, introducing me to other bloggers, tools and techniques. And she has offered me invaluable advice and loving support all along the way.

Blogging introduced me to a non-competitive community of writers that support each other. I've learned so much from so many, and continue to meet more each day. Twitter has also opened up a new world for me - so many friends, writers, authors, comedians. It's also a great forum for joke writing.

I was welcomed into the ScriptChat community - a wonderful band of brothers and sisters that are involved in scripwriting, TV and film. There are honestly too many to name here but my two biggest supporters and confidantes are Jeanne V. Bowerman and Jamie Livingston.

With this blog, I've also been lucky to meet some very special people who have asked me to freelance.

First, it was Matt Titus and Tamsen Fadal. I was home with the flu when I saw Matt on one of the morning programs talking about his new show on Lifetime called Matched in Manhattan. He was talking about mantiques (embarrassing, outdated technology) and I thought it was hilarious. I wrote a quick blog post that day called Top 10 Mantiques. Then I worried about permissions and copyrights. I found Matt's web site and sent a link of the blog, basically letting him know it's out there and I was crediting him. A week later I got an email, asking me to call Matt. He and his wife Tamsen were interested in working with me!

They've authored two books on relationships (Why Hasn't He Called? and Why Hasn't He Proposed?) and host a website, called Ask Matt & Tamsen. They asked me to submit humor posts on relationships from the male perspective. They're in Manhattan, I'm in Baltimore, but we found a way to work it all out via email, phone and web. When I first started, I was actually renting out my friend's basement going through a divorce. Was I qualified to offer relationship advice? In a humbled state like that, with some perspective, yes. And I think it made me a better partner in my current relationship, with my warmest supporter and sounding board, Barb. I've done at least 15 articles to date. And I've loved it!

A few years ago I also met Dave & Ilana Bittner through Jessie - man, do I owe her a lot! Two wonderful people who started HoCoMoJo (Howard County Mobile Journalism) and asked me to produce some podcasts using my unique (depending on your perspective) sense of humor (depending on your sense). I've done nine so far.

And recently, I followed back Deepak Gupta, a marketer on Twitter. After a few friendly exchanges, he asked me to guest blog a post for his Marketing By Deepak web site. Why not?! It posted last night:  Prevent the Twitter Unfollow: Tips from a Twitter User

My friend and fellow improv artist Nicholas Cowling recently started a new blog one-line headline, where he's asked me to contribute. And I certainly plan to!

I've also met some very cool authors on Twitter like Sezin Kohler (author of American Monster) and Matt Debenham (author of The Book of Right and Wrong). Actually, there are a lot of people I could mention - many can be found in my Awesome Tweeps blog.

Why do I share all of this? Because I love talking about myself. :-) Because it's helped me create a voice, and network with people I wouldn't have met if I didn't just start writing. I'm almost 47 years old, and I can attest it is never too late to start. It doesn't matter what a standardized test, naysayers, or the negative voices in your own head tell you. If it's what you love, give it a shot. Practice, practice, practice. Write, write, write. These statements become clichés for a reason.

And I no longer believe these are just coincidences. I'm always where I'm supposed to be, and will get to where I should be when it's my time. That doesn't mean I'm waiting, either ;-).

So may I recommend free-lancing to you for all the reasons I've stated above? The money will come when it comes.

In the meantime, I've set up a new Freelance page on the blog here with links to all my guest posts/podcasts that are active (and I can still find).

A huge thank you to Jessie, Matt, Tamsen, Dave, Ilana, Deepak and Nicholas for believing in me and honoring me with a request for my writing. And to Sezin and Matt for considering me a peer. And to Jeanne and Jamie for helping me get to where I truly belong. And to Barb for everything.

I can't wait until I post the blog about a sold script and the TV shows I'm writing for. It. Will. Happen.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thanks NBC: Cheated not Tweeted

Now I know how Conan feels. Minus the 30 million, a new show on TBS and a third-row seat at the Emmys. But let me take you back in time before I discuss last night's half-assedy of execution by NBC of Tweet the Presenters.

In 1987, an open casting call aired on MTV for The New Monkees, a new sit-com based on the old sit-com of a fake-real band (Mike, Micky, Peter and Davey). I was 23 years old, a singer/keyboardist/guitar player, and hungry. I took a train to New York, and a cab to the audition. I was pumped!

Here's what I didn't know: 5,000 people would already be there. It was a national casting call. Why was I surprised? I stood in line for over five hours. There were signs posted along the way that basically said, if you stand in line, you convey rights of your likeness, image, silhouette, voice and soul in perpetuity to the Empire (Viacom I think). MTV itself was filming at different times. Mark Goodman interviewed someone about three people in front of me. By that point had he interviewed me, it wouldn't have been pretty. I was convinced it was all a conspiracy, just a marketing stunt, there was no serious audition, I was an idiot, and we were all there for episode one. For free.

By the time I got to the audition room, they were running us in a few at a time. There was a piano, I had my guitar and none of that was needed. No one was playing. I sat a table for 17 seconds. A dude asked me two questions and I was sent on my way. No chance to perform; no chance to audition. Done. I was disappointed, but also aware actors did this shit every day. Who was I to complain? At least I took a shot, and by "a shot" I mean pay for train tickets, cab, and stand in line for five or six hours, not get interviewed by Mark Goodman and not audition. I was young. I got over it.

I was half right. It turns out two of the band members were already cast - actors do get invites for real auditions, as they should - and according to web accounts, two others made it through the open call. Good for them. So there were some real auditions at some point. The show didn't do very well. No, I don't take total pleasure in that.

Flash forward almost 20 years. G4TV announces an open audition to join Kevin Pereira as his cohost on Attack of the Show. Much better opportunity! I've been following this show since it started as the Screen Savers on ZDTV (Ziff Davis Television), then Tech TV, and then Comcast's G4 before morphing into AOTS.

I was a communications major, I've done radio, I'm a tech guy, I'm comfortable in front of a camera, I've had years of IT/PC experience, love comics, am a gamer, and I'm funny. I. Can. Do. This! They were auditioning in different cities. I followed them all week on G4. They even had a two-page script for prepping and I was ready!!

I'm on the East Coast so it was back to New York again, this time in record-breaking heat. The line wasn't as long as 1987's, but in heat like that it didn't matter. People in line were very nice (and I was hoping CPR certified) and we all made the best of it. There was only one serial-killer looking guy - we got him whatever he wanted and never made eye contact. G4 itself was filming at different times--Hey, wait a minute...

My favorite part? The auditions were upstairs, the elevator was broken, and there was no air conditioning in the building. I thought I might actually pass out in the hallway. When we finally got to the door, they were taking 12 at a time. I'm not kidding. Some folks were nice enough to tell us about their auditions during the day - when they were still auditioning one at a time. By the time we got there I guess the casting company was hotter than we were - so they asked one group question to all 12 of us and wanted a simultaneous response while they videotaped. A cacophony of nonsense. Motherfucker! They got me again.

I did see myself on G4 later that week in a quick pan. That Olivia Munn eventually got the gig. Nobody in line looked like Olivia. And she surely didn't have to stand in the heat with us hopefuls. Of course she rocked the part. Her career is taking off and she's now a correspondent on the Daily Show. I'm sincerely very happy for her. If the Daily Show started auditioning writers, I'd stand wherever they told me for as many days as it would take.

But I'm reminiscing. What I really want to talk about are last night's Emmys. The Glee intro was phenom. Jimmy was a great host. And NBC had been hyping up Tweet the Emmys all week. This is an excerpt from the dedicated page on their web site:

"For the first time in Emmy history, you can be a part of the live broadcast via Twitter. Sign into your Twitter account in the box below and then click on one of the Emmy presenters. Tweet something about them and Jimmy may use your tweet as part of his introduction for those presenters during the show! ...Jimmy & our staff will be reading and choosing tweets up to and during the live 2010 Emmy Awards which start at 8E/5Pon Sunday August 29th on NBC."

Forget about visions of being in front of the camera. I've been writing for years, and my dream job is to write for television. It's no secret, it will happen and I'm patient. And there's no such thing as too much practice. But this week's Tweet the Emmys really had me excited. I am a realist. Even if my tweets were good enough, there would be thousands rolling in. And it's such a timing thing. They need to be seen and read, and the way Twitter works, that's always a crap shoot.

Tweets are limited to 140 characters, and for this assignment I really only had 100 characters to work with, after having to include the presenter's full name and a 13-character #imontheemmys hashtag that allows the NBC staffers (OK the one intern who has the same hopes and dreams I do) to see them and sift for gold.

I think by the end of the evening, Jimmy stopped three times to read two tweets. That's a grand total of six tweets and they were awful. NBC hasn't broken any law (they did say "might") but they did break some trust - duping your viewers like that is pretty lame. I'm not claiming my tweets were the best, but I was hoping for just one to make it, or least hear some really funny ones submitted by others.

Here are my entries in the order I sent them since Thursday. You may have to look some of these people up (I did) for reference.

Jim Parsons: #imontheemmys will only present if Sofia Vergara accompanies him to his HS 15-year reunion. Ah. It's in the presental agreement

Stephen Colbert: #imontheemmys On Com Central he excels at exposing truthiness. His next assignment: infiltrate FoxNews & expose doucheyness

Tina Fey: #imontheemmys Sofia Vergara is hot, but meeting Tina Fey? I'd stare at my shoes, mumbling incoherently in awe of my comedy hero.

Matthew Morrison: #imontheemmys It doesn't matter what you say for this presenter, Jimmy, as long as it's with Auto-Tune.

Eva Longoria-Parker: #imontheemmys Hey @NBC. With full presenter names and a 13-character hashtag, that doesn't leave much room for the intr

Sofia Vergara: #imontheemmys I like my coffee like I like my women, just like our next presenter: hot and Colombian. ...or is that my weed?

Jon Hamm: #imontheemmys How is it your lovely, talented partner @JenniferWestfel only has 39 followers on twitter? Can't you hook a girl up?

Jeff Probst: #imontheemmys 2 yearly tropical vacations & demanding they strike "Get set" from his catchphrase "Survivors ready...go!" = Diva

Stephen Colbert: #imontheemmys Stephen Colbert is here! ...Expecting to walk out & then present the award to himself. That's so Glenn Beck.

Tina Fey: #imontheemmys Writer/producer/actor-no time in her crazy schedule to host Discovery Channel's latest: Parasailin' with Sarah Palin

LL Cool J: Boris Kodjoe: #imontheemmys Having an ab-fab flex-off between LL & Boris is not The Event. But it would crush in the ratings.

Stephen Moyer: #imontheemmys As a True Blood vampire with Sookie lust, HBO rejected his own promo suggestion: "Man, I wish I could tap that"

Blair Underwood: #imontheemmys Playing an African-Cuban president is no longer considered an Event. Playing a Black hiker on Funny or Die...

And I'm sure there was some comedy gold tweeted in. But we didn't hear it last night. What did they read? For Tina Fey "Someone one tweeted, Yeah. I'd hit that." For Sophia Vergara "Sophia is beautiful. And she is beautiful. Did I mention she is beautiful?" I know mine weren't great (I think my Probst line was presenter-worthy), but they didn't even fake it.

I might have actually missed all of this if my friend Jo hadn't told me about it last Wednesday. Thank you, Jo!!!!!!! And I had a lot of fun doing it. And there's no such thing as too much practice. Plus, Dot Com and Grizz (in Tracy Morgan's entourage on 30 Rock), both tweeted support for me. That was an amazing feeling.

Did I have fun with each of these experiences? Yes! Did I really expect to make it? Well, yes. Who hopes and dreams "maybe"? My issue: We were never given the chance. MTV wasn't casting, G4 wasn't casting, and NBC wasn't even trying.

I know it was all meant to generate buzz (which each effort did), and get some bodies doing something for free (which is part of the deal). We didn't expect compensation or miracles for any of these, but we did expect more of an effort on the part of the cattle callers.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Maybe It's Not Procrastination

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. There are many things I don't get to in the time I'd prefer, but it's no longer from procrastination or avoidance. It's from all this bloody technology that's supposed to make everything easier with instant access on-demand.

I don't know about you but... I'm now trying to keep current with my text messages, email (three accounts), Twitter posts, Twitter replies, Twitter friends, Facebook posts, Facebook comments, Facebook friends, writing two blogs, responding to blog comments, new blog ideas, reading other blogs, commenting on those blogs, pimping the works of others, smelling the roses, gaming, recording my podcasts, writing freelance articles, listening to my iPod, catching up on podcast subscriptions, learning new songs (guitar & sing), writing songs, breathe, recording videos, my day job, my girlfriend (and not just date nights), my family, my friends, travel, down time, TV (I loves my TV), movies (independent and mainstream), internet articles, magazine articles, a newspaper or two, books to read (I have PILES of books and new friends that are authors, mainstream and independent - a new Kindle DX will help organize but not necessarily get them all read), YouTube videos, YouTube video subscriptions, web series, crossword puzzles, and did I mention I'm writing two TV spec scripts and a screenplay. And then there's that thing I used to do...what was it called? Oh yeah, sleep.

So, procrastination for all intents and purposes is dead. I don't put off jack. I just don't have the time to get to it all. Wait a minute. What was that? My BlackBerry? My laptop? My other laptop? My smart Phone? My landline? The doorbell? A human? When is the last time I looked up? Maybe it was the oven.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Real Estate: The Original Pyramid Scheme

Today I'm skipping the humor and going with a serious post.

I'm not in real estate, nor do I have a background in economics or finance. But as an observer and participant, I have to ask: Is real estate really a glorified pyramid scheme playing out before us in slow motion?

According to Wikipedia, "a pyramid scheme is a non-sustainable business model that involves the exchange of money primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, without any product or service being delivered."

Personally speaking, I think residential real estate is heading towards non-sustainable. A product is clearly delivered (your house) but can only have value if there is someone willing and able to purchase that property when it's time to sell.

A pyramid scheme relies on people paying money in, and then recruiting lots of other people to pay money in. The people at the top of the pyramid (the first in) make money and everyone else gets screwed. Simple math shows the pyramid will collapse quickly with the exponential growth required to sustain it. I encourage you to read the Wikipedia article for examples.

Real estate requires cash in for a down payment and closing costs, and enough income to sustain the mortgage loan, home owner's insurance and property taxes - all percentage based on the value of the property. The higher the price, the more cash down and income needed. I won't bore you with reiterating how we got into the last financial mess when it came to sustaining mortgages.

As housing prices continue to grow, are we truly pricing out new buyers in the long run? In other words, if buyers don't already own real property or have a large enough bag of cash, how will they get in? And if they can't get in, how will sellers get out? Do you see the analogy of the pyramidal dilemma?

Sure, people will inherit real property over time, but if that eventually becomes the only way in, it cannot sustain this model.

Housing prices are set based upon a number of factors: comparable sales in the vicinity, marketplace averages, and most importantly by the gut of those who make a percentage-based commission selling your home - a commission often shared between two agents (selling and buying), and unless completely independent, those agents must share their commission with their individual agencies. The incentive is to keep the prices high. Now I'm not knocking real estate agents or their services. It's a complicated process and their services are valuable and worthy of compensation. My issue is compensation based on a percentage of the selling price instead of a flat fee - a debate for another time.

Money Magazine just named Columbia/Ellicott City, MD, #2 of 10 in its recent Best Places to Live article. I live in Ellicott City and work in Columbia and am pleased we made this list. But the article mentioned "homes are affordable -- by Northeast standards, anyway." That's what prompted this blog. I contend homes are not "affordable" by any standard.

If you chose to stay with me, here are some details:

In 1999, the median annual household income in Maryland was $52,850 ($74,150 in Howard County). In 2009 it was $70,050 ($100,100 in Howard County).

In 1999, the median home price in Maryland was $131,913 ($174,900 in Howard County). In 2009 it was $256,217 ($340,000 in Howard County).

So, in Maryland, median annual household income rose about 35% in the last 10 years while median home prices rose 94%. Just let that sink in for a minute.

[FYI, I'm grabbing home prices from the Maryland Association of Realtors here and Maryland Median Income from the Maryland Department of Planning here. I used the PDF called "Median Income in Current Dollars for Single Years 1989 to 2009."]

I don't know about you, but my paycheck has not been growing "in this economy." Granted, home prices are not increasing like they were but these housing booms with price wars and massive price jumps are not easy to recover from. There's no such thing as a "reset". People aren't going to renegotiate or return money.

A buyer today who wants a $340,000 home in the #2 Best Place to Live according to Money Magazine will need $6,800 for a 2% down payment for an FHA-type loan or $68,000 for a 20% down payment for a conventional-type loan. Property taxes will run around $5,000/year and homeowner's Insurance close to $1,000. And then he/she will need a bunch more cash for the miscellaneous closing costs that are tacked on by everyone who can make a buck, I mean offer a professional service.

Using an example of a 5% APR 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for that $340,000 home, Principal and Interest (P&I) will run about $1,790/month for the FHA loan (remember only 2% was put down), or $1,460/month for the conventional. Even with home prices flattening, if loan rates jump, say to 8%, you'd be at a P&I of $2,445 and $1,995 respectively.

"Affordable" is a relative term. When mortgage interest rates go back up, this pyramid will grow in mass.

I guess my point is that real estate is a dangerous, if not shaky, model that our economy, both personal and national, is heavily reliant upon. It's based on personal price setting (we always deserve every penny coming to us - it's an investment) and speculation. And affordability and sustainability is based on personal income that does not keep up with housing prices and is largely out of our personal control. This adds up, to me at least, to ultimate financial disaster. Many people suffered in the last housing fiasco; many, many more will suffer if a true housing collapse occurs in the future.

If ultimately people can't afford to buy in to this scheme, the demand goes down. The people holding the property can only sell to each other. That can only work for so long. And as homeowners die off, they'll bequeath property to family who will have few to sell it to.

So what do we do about it? Excellent question. I need to give this more thought.

Perhaps we sell while we can in typical pyramid fashion and take care of ourselves. But we'd need buyers and where would we go? Maybe we telecommute from more affordable areas. I like to believe we aren't all in it for ourselves.

Perhaps home ownership no longer becomes the primary financial goal or symbol of status for Americans. I don't care if you rent or own, why should anyone else?

Perhaps Corporate America starts sharing more of the profits with its employees instead of the shareholders and executives so personal income can match living expenses. Or subsidize employee housing. Yeah, I don't see that happening any time soon. But if the work force can't afford to live within commuting distance, eventually Corporate America will have to do something.

I'd also like to see the unnecessary complications taken out of real estate. Prime example: title insurance and searches. When you buy a house, you spend money on having the title searched to ensure no one else has legal claim to the house. OK, I get it. When you refinance your own home, you must pay for this all over again. Really? I need to pay to ensure I haven't unknowingly deeded my house to someone else in a drunken act of desperation on I don't think so. Closing costs are typically outrageous and one more unnecessary hurdle to gaining home ownership.

So when pricing your home for sale, remember it's not just a return on your investment or passing along costs to the next guy. It's setting the bar long-term for your kids, grandkids, great grandkids and your fellow humans. Think about that.

Oh, I passed my house along in the divorce and kept the 401K. So I'm counting on the goodness of people to correct this course so the future isn't so scary for me, and my kids, grandkids, great grandkids and fellow humans. What do you think?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Random Acts of Acknowledgment

A driving force in my life is to be heard. I had a brief stint on radio. I've performed on "stage" with my guitar. And like David with his slingshot, I've stood up at meetings and spoken my mind rationally, intelligently, and with respect, often to those who don't return it and for those who choose to be silent.

I blog. I post. I tweet. I'm now writing for television - not because anyone is paying me to, but that will come. :-)

And none of that has anything to do with today's topic.

I'm not talking about random acts of kindness, of which I am a huge fan. Those are acts that require no "listener", no recognition.

I'm talking about the not-so-random, purposeful act of recognizing a stranger. Not being silent. Acknowledging that you see and recognize another person, who equally has needs, emotions, stress, heartache, joy, purpose.

Recently I traveled solo to a software conference. No one else from my company was attending, and my girlfriend couldn't join me. At the conference itself, getting eye contact from others was very difficult, just to smile, nod or say "hello." I know people think IT folks are the introvert sort, but trust me, there are extroverts in all industries. Though discouraged, I made a point of doing so, and it felt good. For those who were too shy or too rude, I had to let that go.

Coming home on the plane, an elderly couple sat next to me yet oddly refused to acknowledge me. I said "hello" but received nothing. Perhaps I was quiet, or they didn't hear me. I was seated at the window; the woman between me and her traveling partner. She elbowed my rib cage or my shoulder at least six times. I understand it's tight seating, but she never acknowledged her actions. I gave up the left armrest as I do for anyone "stuck" in the middle seat. And I accommodated however I could: leaning into the window, pulling my shoulders in, etc. I didn't glare, sigh heavily or demand apologies, but a simple gesture from this woman -- a smile, a shrug -- would have acknowledged me.

So here's what I take from it: I choose to acknowledge others, and will consciously do so more and as much as humanly possible so I don't make anyone feel so alone. I will let them know I see them. They are human. They are equals.

New Page: Daily Amusement

I've added a new page to my blog called Daily Amusement. You can see it now in the above Blog Bar.

I may not have a funny blog post each day (each week, each month), but I can easily drop in an amusing joke, tweet, image, video or story each day. So come back daily and see for yourself!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Awesome Tweeps: Follow Friday

I've updated my blog design! I still need to clean up the header graphic but it's coming along.

And I've just posted a new PAGE: Awesome Tweeps: Follow Friday!

Click the page link above, or this handy hyperlink: Awesome Tweeps: Follow Friday

It's a work in progress, but it's over 60 fabulous people I follow on Twitter.

And a new REAL post coming soon!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

3D Reader Reviewed!

I'm so excited! Matt Debenham's latest, The Book of Right and Wrong, has just arrived. But without an electronic device, how am I to enjoy it?

Thursday 3:43 PM
USPS Delivery Person arrives. In my mail, this appears:

Can you feel the excitement? Actually, I'm guessing at the time of arrival. I was still at work.  Luckily no one pilfered my mailbox, claiming the package was left in a Starbucks or something.

Thursday 5:45 PM
I arrive home. I check my mail and am elated with the delivery, but wisely decide to leave the box in a pile of other unopened mail in my foyer because I'm struck that I should share this unveiling with the world.

Saturday 6:30 AM
OK. Elated might have been a slight exaggeration. I wake up out of habit induced by a Mon-Fri 9a-5p work schedule and realize it's Saturday. I  go back to sleep. The unveiling will just have to wait.

Sunday 6:30 AM
I believe we've covered this.

Sunday 1:30 PM
I start writing this blog because I feel the world is ready. Or perhaps, I just feel like it.

Sunday 1:35 PM
I don't care if it's cute or too reminiscent of a Nike swoosh, I like the Amazon smiley on the shipping box. It pleases me.

Sunday 1:36 PM
Dammit! Where are my scissors? Can we please leave them in one place?

Sunday 1:42 PM
OK. I'm back. The great unveiling. Here it is! A portable device to read content on pages that actually reach out and touch you in 3-D!

Sunday 1:43 PM
Paper cut suffered from the corrugated cardboard edges of the shipping box, as I clumsily grab the contents with no regard for personal safety. Where are the GD band-aids?

Sunday 1:47 PM
Newly bandaged, I soldier on. I carefully remove the contents of the box. For comparison purposes, I place it next to my company-provided Blackberry. Wow, could you imagine trying to read books on that? Now I need to carefully remove the plastic wrapped around my book. Just need the-- seriously? Where are the freaking scissors?!

Sunday 1:48 PM
Oh. My apologies. I've still got 'em. I remove the plastic wrapping to reveal more plastic wrapping.

[Moment of seriousness. Dear Amazon: cool it with the extra wrapping. If you ship millions (or hundreds) of books each year, you could help reduce excess waste -- isn't any waste excess?]

Sunday 1:50 PM
I remove the final layer of plastic. Now I think it important to show you the width of this old school reading device, because that's what all the other tech blogs do. It's actually smaller than my Pentel EnerGel 0.7mm ball Metal Tip gel pen, an awesome, old-school writing device in its own right. Don't just take my word for it. See number three in Yvette's 5 Things You Need To Try.

Sunday 1:56 PM
But, Mike. How much does this antiquated device weigh? I find a simple kitchen scale. By comparison, the Barnes & Noble Nook weighs 12.1 oz (343g), the Amazon Kindle 2: 10.2 oz (289g), the Apple iPad: 1.5 pounds (24 oz., 680g). This book: less than 8 oz (under 200g).

Sunday 1:58 PM
Show us the damn thing already. The reveal! Although no instructions were included with this device,  the same skills required to read a set of instructions are required to read this book. Open it beginning with page one, and read top down, left to right. Although it does have a feature for viewing two pages simultaneously, I prefer to read just one at a time.

Sunday 2:00 PM
The outdoor test! I hear the iPad blows outdoors because of the glare. How did the book do? Swimmingly. [I've always wanted to use that word in a blog. Finally the opportunity surfaces. ;-) ]

How much did Steve Jobs make off of the purchase?
Nothing, but I think he'll be OK.

How do I carry this portable device? Certainly there must be required accessories?
It requires no special carrying case. Just drop it in your purse, laptop bag, messenger bag, or shoulder backpack you've been rocking since high school and don't realize everyone's laughing at the fact you still carry one in your 40s (I don't care - I love mine!).

What's the charge/standby time?
Believe it or not, this device requires no charging. It has a virtually indefinite standby time, other than the natural breakdown of organic materials (I don't know, 200 years?).

I like to consider myself green. How do I properly dispose of this device after I'm done reading it?
You can store it on a shelf for repeated readings. You can pass it along to a friend. You can share it with your local library (INSIDER TIP: Other devices just like The Book of Right and Wrong are available for lending at local libraries for FREE!). It's made of 100% recyclable materials, so you can always recycle it, too.

What's the book about?
Excuse me? We don't talk about content on tech blogs, we talk about devices. But I'm sure it's quite good. The title rocks! Better than "iPad".

Who the hell is Matt Debenham?
Matt is an "author". It means he created the content found in this device. He's also my twitter friend (@debenham) and I felt why choose any old book for this tech post when I can do someone who is very kind a solid.

That's a snazzy pic on the back of the book. Is it you?

No. Even though devices like iPods can be personalized, the picture on the back of the book is usually the author, as it is in this case. To date, it's the only known public picture of the author (see @debenham on Twitter).

What about eyestrain?
I've heard for some people, electronic devices can cause eyestrain or contribute to headaches over time. Though often that may be a side effect of the content itself, the printed-on-paper pages are quite easy to read and cause very little eyestrain.

OK, it can't be all good. What are the cons?
Unless it's a compendium of several books, it can only hold the content of one book at a time. Luckily, that's the way I prefer to read.

How do you read it at night?
It does require assistance. I recommend by incandescent light, or by candle. Though, honestly, reading at night is like a sleep aid to me. I get through about three pages before I'm sawing logs.

How do you post comments after reading?
I prefer in the margins. Or by email to the publisher. Or by driving all night to the author's house, thinking at the time and after several beers that it was a good idea, and because we connected when I read it, it would instantly transpire into a friendship. I don't recommend that approach. It doesn't work with celebrities either. [Note to anyone who appreciates their privacy: tweeting or posting your location on Facebook, especially exact coordinates with a date/time stamp and a handy pop-up Google map, may not be the brightest move.]

Why don't you write a book?
Excellent question! Perhaps I should.

Any closing words?
iPad SchmiPad. Just had to be said. [Doesn't mean I don't still want one. Badly.]

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why Shorties Got Game

Living in a society where someone who is considered tall -- an artificial, subjective measurement -- can be offered unmerited authority or respect, it's good to remember the qualities of people who aren't awarded the same consideration simply due to the genetic wheel of fortune. That's right. I'm a shorty.

Height is out of everyone's control. As a shorter man, I do not consider myself vertically challenged. I simply am where I am: a bumpit over 5' 5". In relation to other men, I am not the shortest but I am certainly not considered tall.

In the perspective of women, I am taller than the average woman but well below the prerequisite in the list of artificial standards, a list followed by 75% of women, that also includes income requirements and maximum weight. Income is often replaced by potential income, and weight can fluctuate, though usually in one direction. Either of those parameters can even be a project for those who like to "fix" people. Height simply is.

But I've had successful relationships with taller women who threw that list out and aren't bothered by height. And I'm in one now. :-D

Short men don't all have Napoleonic complexes, or feel a need to adjust height artificially with wedges, black magic or carnival tricks ("I make these stilts look good!"). And here's the most important thing to remember: in bed, it just doesn't matter. There are many other compatibilities to be considered before you hit the sack.

When considering a partner, I advise you to base your criteria on character, personality, kindness and chemistry.

Here are some other pluses you may not have considered for the shorties:

Shorter folks fit in nearly any bed and don't demand so much slumbering real estate. A queen for two is palatial.

We enjoy a lower center of gravity. Yep, that means outstanding balance. You want a gymnast? You need a shorty. A battle between Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal? Please. No contest. Sheriff Pusser wouldn't be hard to kill for the Drunken Master.

Do you like to slow dance, even it's only at a wedding every four years, after he's had enough liquor to get on the floor but not too much where you have to carry him? There's no neck strain or tingly arms from all the blood running to your navel like there is after draping your arms over Yao Ming.

We don't have to duck for trees, stop signs, ceiling fans...

We don't knock down the elderly or step over children as we rush to grab an exit row or aisle seat on a Southwest flight. We can sit anywhere - we just like to dangle our feet in the exit row because we know how much it pisses off the procrastinating stretchy people.

And the funniest person (living) on this planet: Tina Fey (5' 4½"). Yes, just like a pre-teen quoting her age, we do cherish the fraction!

So give it up for the shorties. We do got a reason to live. [Author's note: Yes, I finally forgave Randy Newman for that ditty when he busted out the Monk theme.]