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Thursday, February 27, 2014

New Toy or The Death of Printed Books?

With My Custom Screensaver

Currently reading Soldados de Salamina by Javier Cercas

I finally broke down and picked up an eBook reader. Mine is the Barnes and Noble Nook GlowLight. With a 4 gig SIM card I can load more books than were in the Library of Alexandria. Great, collecting eBooks is just another thing for me to obsess over. It is yet to be determined if I am going to prefer reading on this gadget or if I will prefer printed books. I love books and have been a compulsive collector of printed matter throughout my entire life, ever since I robbed books from my parents' collection. At least now if I decide to move to the other side of the world I can take a lot of my books along for the ride.

The thing is, I've never been one to be nostalgic about technology. When the printing press first entered on the scene in Europe many folks thought that it would ruin literature, or what passed for literature in the days when church folks were about the only ones reading.  Books were written out by hand by religious scribes and this suited the church hierarchy just fine as they were able to have tight control over what was available. People actually complained about how the printing press would make books more accessible.

There are still people around today who mourn the loss of vinyl records. I hated vinyl and then I hated CDs. To me the only important thing was the music and I say the same about books. The words are all that matter in the world of books and reading them on my new eBook reader is working out well (as long as I have electricity). 

The same people who badmouth eBook readers probably don’t have much good to say about audio books. My consumption of audio books has been prodigious the past couple of years. I can barely stand to leave the house these days without something in my ear. In addition to increasing my already large annual reading list audio books have helped me immensely with my Spanish and French. In my long bike rides up and down the coast here in Valencia I now kill two birds with one stone (or one shot as the saying goes inn Spanish).

My biggest lament is that I will now join the ranks of people with their face planted in the screen of a gadget. I have the shittiest phone money can buy which has no internet and so have only the briefest of intersections with that device. Sic transit gloria mundi which for those of you who don't know Latin means, "Now I'm a douche bag like all those people I've been mocking for years."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nothing Better to Write #578

Here’s something a lot of you young punks don’t seem to understand about the game of life. You may laugh at me now because I’m still doing it even though it isn’t “cool” anymore but when the Macarena comes back in style and you come to me for lessons then take a wild guess at who’ll be laughing? Answer: me, all the way to the bank, suckers! 

*Once again, I realize that I'm being incredibly generous to file this under humor but it's my blog and I can do any damn thing I want!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In the Kitchen

In my opinion the kitchen is a workshop and should look like one. I hate the modern look of everything shut away and tidy. I'll take function over style every time. My apartment doesn't have the best kitchen I've ever had, not by a long shot. I think that I am making the best of a small space. Only after I had taken this picture did I notice the salami curing. I wonder how long that's been there? Answer: the longer the better.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Winter that Wasn't

I like to post stuff like this just for future reference when I want to look back and see how the weather was in the past. Yesterday morning I was watering the plants on my balcony and I forgot to shut the door. I came back home later in the afternoon and noticed the balcony door was open and the house was as cozy as the sun beat into the living room and my office. We don’t have much to complain about as far as the weather goes here in Valencia. My two brothers will be visiting next week so it looks like we’ll have excellent cycling weather.

In an unrelated matter I saw a reference to Catch 22 on The Daily Show a couple of weeks ago and felt compelled to reread that classic for the umpteenth time.

Catch 22
‘You mean there’s a catch?’

         ‘Sure there’s a catch,’ Doc Daneeka replied. ‘Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.’ 

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

‘That’s some catch, that Catch-22,’ he observed.

‘It’s the best there is,’ Doc Daneeka agreed.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Your Olympic Dream is My Nightmare

Like how during a tornado you're supposed to go down into your cellar, during these weeks every four years I avoid giving a passing glance at the TV in bars for fear of seeing ice dancing or some other abomination. Are the Winter Olympics over yet?

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith

Here are just a few moments at the beginning of the novel that made me laugh or smile in admiration at the skill of the author.

A woman is trying to contract the killing of her husband and offers a warning to the would-be assassins:
“He’s very strong,” she said.
“No, he’ll just be heavy,” Victor assured her.

A mass grave has been discovered beneath the courthouse in Moscow:
Gleb asked, “What if the grave runs under the entire court?”
“That’s always the problem, isn’t it? Once you start digging, when to stop?”

Arkady is talking with a grumpy, old chess master:
Platonov scratched his chin. “You’re in the prosecutor’s office, aren’t you? Well, intelligence isn’t everything.”
“Thank God,” Arkady said.

Considering his boss in the prosecutor's office:
He didn’t believe Zurin would stab him in the back, although the prosecutor might show someone else where the knife drawer was.

Arkady held up his ID for all to see and announced, “Filming in the Metro is prohibited. Also this gathering is delaying the scheduled cleaning and maintenance of the Metro, putting the public safety at risk. It’s now over. Go home.”
Zelensky said, “I don’t see any cleaning women or maintenance men.”
“A schedule is a schedule.”
(Arkady is as Soviet as the best of them at times)

Martin Cruz Smith’s description of a speed chess tournament (called a blitz) is absolutely the finest writing about the game that I have ever come across. Movies try to make chess exciting by having players hurl pieces around the board and slam the clock after moves but this chapter in the book is positively thrilling. It is truly a masterpiece of writing.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Ultimate Tipping Guide to the Universe

To tip or to slink cowardly away without leaving a red cent, that is the question. Or is that two questions? Isn’t that two questions? What was Shakespeare thinking? And was Shakespeare a lousy tipper as many literary historians now agree or did he throw money around like a mobster on his last night before going away to prison? Tipping is basically a way for you, the costumer, to make up for the pathetic salary of the person serving you (in many US states this is less than the minimum wage) because obviously you can afford it more than a guy who owns a chain of 15 restaurants. How much do you tip your bartender even if there isn’t a snowflake’s chance in hell she’ll go home with you? Tipping is a thorny and confusing issue so let’s get down to it.

In Europe they’ve decided that business owners can afford to pay their own employees so tipping is pretty much a thing of the past. When I first stopped tipping in Spain I thought that people were being unfriendly to me because of my cheapness. Boy, was I ever relieved to learn that the reason waiters and bartenders hate me is because of my long list of annoying personal habits and it has nothing to do with the fact that I don’t tip. In the USA it’s best not to buck the system so tipping is essential. But how much and to whom?

The first rule of tipping is that when in doubt, leave a huge tip. A good tip makes up for bad behavior. Uncivil deeds seem to follow me around like a Cub Scout troop. Take your pick: you can either be known as a great tipper or the guy who drove over the valet parker. If you aren’t in the habit of committing disgraceful acts when you leave home you may need our standardized guide to tipping.

Food Service
     Barista – My morning cup of coffee is without a doubt the best part of my day so leaving a great tip is worth it and not very expensive.
     Bartenders - $1 a drink or 15% on the total.  A small price to pay to America’s true heroes.
     Waiter Staff – 15% - 20% and if you have small children in your party leave enough to pay for a power-spraying of the entire restaurant.
    Delivery Person – Hook them up with at least a couple bucks. They either arrived on a moped or in some ridiculous vehicle with a huge sign on the roof.

Hotel Staff
How much do you tip the concierge in the $500 a night boutique hotel you’re staying at in Monte Carlo? What the hell is a concierge? Why would anyone ask a broke-ass writer like me questions like that? I’m more of a sleep-on-the-train-station-bench kind of guy.
    Bellman/Porter - $1 to $2 per bag, $5 minimum.
    Maid - $2-5 a day, more if you left a dead body in the room.

Other Services
     Barber/Hairstylist – In your case whoever was responsible for that carnage on your head is lucky not to do a little jail time, but generally 15-20% is about right. I tip big because I have beautiful hair.
     Cab Driver - 10% or $2-$5 minimum. Tip more, of course, if vomit is involved.

Magazine Essay Writers
Can you really put a price tag on the joy you receive from reading a finely-written magazine article? The answer is “yes” and that price is $25.  As soon as I write a finely-written article I’ll tell you how to send the tip.