Monday, November 27, 2006

Shhhh! Podcast in progress

The educational podcast I produced is up and running. I received this nice little email from the teacher:

Okay, the day I introduced it, I played “the test” in my classroom, as I was explaining. I could tell the kids wanted to laugh, but they are too cool to do so, so I observed them just looking at each other, like I was totally off my rocker.

With an explaination that I wouldn’t do it again, we listened to Christy’s “Gray or Grey” in class. I explained that I wouldn’t talk with them about the subject matter, but I would answer technical questions.

I’ve been receiving their Lesson 1: Gray or Grey homework photos and they, for the most part, are so cool!!! I think they are enjoying the work. Today I gave them the permission to “do” the next assignment: Impressionism. It’s all so new to them that I don’t have a full impression of what they are thinking, but I will keep you posted.

Rich blessings my friend,


And, because I want to share, here is Week 2: Impressionism.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Another Customer Complaint

I recently bought a Dell laptop.

I recently got an email, apparently from Dell, saying that if I take this survey about my laptop, I might win another laptop.

This sounded fishy to me, or, more specifically, phishy.

So I filled out a customer form to Dell, copying and pasting the email into their form with a quick note, "Is this spam? Is this a phishing scam?"

And this was the response:

I would have been glad to assist you in this query, however, let me please inform you that we , at Customer Care only deals with post-sales and logistics issues.

Therefore, I would request you to please contact our Customer care department at
the toll free number 1-800-624-9897 between 7AM to 11 PM CST Monday through
Saturday for this particular issue as they would only be able to verify the
requested information.


I would think that, on a corporate level, that any company would love to have internet con artists not sullying their good corporate names and logos. Paypal, eBay, and Cingular all have email addresses for you to FWD emails to if you think they're suspect. Why isn't this an industry standard? And why can't the Dell support guy simply click the hyperlink in the email to see what happens? I'm totally afraid to, but why can't someone behind a Dell corporate firewall do so? And why can't someone in customer support just look at current marketing promotions and see if this is a legitimate one or not?

These are some of the problems with being a large corporation with a strong brand presence. I just don't understand why Dell isn't prepared for this.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Argument Against YouTube

What does a producer do, excactly?

I produced an educational podcast for a friend. Actually, I did very little, but I like the idea of having the word "Producer" on my resume and no one involved in the project has objected, so it is sticking. Maybe if I do even less next time, I can bill myself as an "Executive Producer."

Anyway, the first episode launched today.

You can listen to it here:

Or subscribe to the podcast here:

There will be 10 Episodes, one a week, for the next 10 school weeks.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Customer Complaint and Corporate Joy

As some of the more business-minded ones of you out there may know, Bank of America just bought out/merged with MBNA.

My wife and I have been MBNA customers for some time, and have been really pleased with their service, even when they jacked around their agreement terms that one time.

Here’s that story. When we first signed on with MBNA for a credit card, the rule was this: if you pay the bill in full before the end of the bill cycle, they don’t charge any interest. So we set up all of our bills to hit before the end of the bill cycle. After several months of this they changed the policy so that they charge interest unless the bill is paid in full by the BILL DUE DATE, which is about a WEEK EARLIER than the end of bill cycle. So one month – WHAM – our bill is chock full of interest charges where there were never any before. We called to complain, were connected WITHOUT ANY WAIT TIME to an intelligent, courteous, living person who WAIVED OUR INTEREST FEES until we could readjust our bill paying schedule to accommodate this new timeline. The call from dial to departure, took all of five minutes. We were blown away. This was one of those positive experiences that made us evangelical for the company.
End Digression

So it was with disappointment and sadness when I saw that they were bought out by Bank of America. This is how I found out: I tried to log into my credit card account to view my balance and got redirected to a new website.

This new website not only told me I couldn’t view my balance until I agreed to new terms of service, but it made me click through TWO PAGES OF ADVERTISEMENTS before getting to the service agreement.

Because I distrust banks that rely on advertising revenue, I actually sat down and read the service level agreement. Which is hard to do because it was written by lawyers and if you read material like this too much, you start thinking like a lawyer. And, frankly, I don’t want to start oozing piles of ick.

The text of the service level agreement is quite impenetrable, but I highlighted all the areas where the words “fee” and “charge” were used. And then I called my trusty ol’ MBNA phone rep to explain the exciting new fees and charges to me.

First thing I noticed was a 15 minute hold time. This was something I NEVER experienced before with MBNA. The first thing my wife said was, “We miss the old MBNA.”

The rep said, “Oh, we’re still the same company.”

“Then why did I have a 15 minute hold time when I’ve never had that before?”

“Ummm… how can I help you today?”

Then the rep didn’t know the details about the fees, and would put us on hold while she found out. Whoops! Wouldn’t you know it, the phone got just a wee little disconnected.

So… eventually we got the official word which was this – If you download your credit card data in a Quicken file while you have Quicken running in the background, they charge you $20 a month. But if you download the Quicken file and DON'T have Quicken running in the background, banking with Quicken is free.

Which made us… happy is not the right word… neither is satisfied… um… NOT AS ANGRY AS WE COULD HAVE BEEN.

Except – get this – you CAN’T DOWNLOAD QUICKEN DATA FROM THE WEBSITE UNLESS YOU AGREE TO PAY THE $20 A MONTH SERVICE FEE. Which means the person on the phone lied to us, or was lied to and just passed that lie along.

This is bad because our household lives and breathes Quicken. We pay for the software and the upgrades, and somehow, that doesn't seem like enough money out of our pockets. Banks and credit card companies see this need to CHARGE CUSTOMERS EXTRA for using Quicken, when, in my opinion, they should be FINANCIALLY INSENTING people to use Quicken instead.

Seriously. Quicken SAVES time and money. So why do financial institutions feel this neet to make it suddenly WASTE time and money? It baffles me.

Oh, and they put the credit card on a new billing cycle so this month the window to pay our credit card bill without getting charged interest went from 28 days to 14 days. Thank you, Bank of America. Thank you for spreading misery all over the world. Your evil overlords are pleased with your work.

And I write all this because while getting more than angry about what a lousy customer/corporation relaitonship I was forced into, I was forwarded a nice little video of the Bank of America executives celebrating the merger. Good to see my issues are being dealt with in such a serious manner.

Normally supporting struggling musicians makes me happy. Not this time.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Because no one else on the entire internet will post this in their blogs...

Here is the latest Spider-Man 3 trailer.

Yes, I love the Spider-Man movies.

Another Commecial Idea

Advertisers! Feel free to use this idea for your 30-second commercial spot!

Overhead shot of someone sleeping in bed.

Are you one of the millions of Americans who suffer from automatic arm syndrome?

An alarm clock goes off. Without waking up, the person in the bed shoots out his/her arm, whacking the clock and stopping the noise.

Well, now there is a cure.

Insert product. Insert product pitch. Insert narrator reading ad copy.

Shot of person sleeping in bed with the camera at eye level. Behind them the alarm clock clearly reads “9:48.”

You need [product name]… Because your boss doesn’t think automatic arm syndrome is a good excuse.

The person in bed opens his/her eyes wide in a full-on panic.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

And so it begins...

As you may remember, I've been on Trigger Street for a few months, reviewing screenplays and yadda yadda. Out of my eight work-in-progress screenplays, I finally finished one and posted it.

Behold the wonder of Comicon Pimps.

The whole idea is that I want Christopher Guest and his crew to make a movie about comic book fans, and it doesn't look like he will do this any time soon. So I wrote a wish-fulfillment screenplay for his acting group. (For fun, see if you can figure out the actors I had in mind for the parts. Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara should be easy to spot.)

I am also fascinated with the common insult to comic book / fantasy / sci-fi fans - you just need to get laid and all your obsessions / problems will go away. This insult is patently untrue.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I have participated in all-night Dungeons and Dragons games where the wife / girlfriend of the host made it pretty clear that if the host would just kick out all of his loser D&D friends, she will be more than willing to... ah... be... um... intimate.

And EVERY TIME that happens, the host is always, "Honey, PLEASE. I'm trying to PLAY A GAME here."

A lot of humor from the script comes from the fact that given the choice to have a moment of physical pleasure and owning a Limited Edition Star Trek Collector's Plate, certain people will always go with the plate.

Love fades, but those plates will last forever, man.

Websites I Like: Overheard in New York

Me: The people at that table are breaking up.
Friend: I know.
Me: You're listening in too?
Friend: Oh yeah. I do it all the time.
Me: So do I. I like to think it makes me a better writer. You know, listening to vocal patterns... conversation topics... insights.
Friend: I'm just nosy.

Overheard in New York is a website for people like us.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Adrienne Shelly, 1966 - 2006

I just read on Green Cine Daily that writer/director/actress Adrienne Shelley passed away.

Everyone is unique and special, and during times like these, the struggle is to find unique and special words for this person. The frustration is, of course, that the only words that come to mind are well-worn and trite.

I'm in shock. We are truly at a loss. She was a wonderful person.

My first experience watching her work was in the Hal Hartley film, Trust. The first shot of the film is an extreme close-up of her face. She is petulent and bratty, spending the first scene treating her parents with contempt and anger. Through the course of the film, she grows and eventually becomes a force of giving instead a force of taking. (Plus, she proved beyonda a shadow of a doubt that you can be more attractive in a long dress and glasses than you can be in flashy tops that expose your mid drift.)

I had the pleasure of meeting her once at the USA Film Festival when she screened her film, I'll Take You There. And, like what happens every time I meet an attractive woman, I totally froze up. I think all I ever said to her was, "Buh buh buh... sign please?" She was gracious and kind to me when she didn't have to.

And that's how I'll always remember her... gracious and kind. She was a force of giving, and I will truly miss what she gave to us.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Podcasts I Like: My Favorite Podcast

There are podcasts I can’t wait to listen to. Buzz Out Loud is a podcast I start listening to about 5 seconds after I download it. Same goes for Filmspotting.

But I will say this about all of them – they’re temporal. Sure these podcasts occasionally have moments that merit revisiting (how I wish for an eventual Best of Massacre Theater CD), but none of them leave me wanting to hear the entire podcast again.

This brings me to Audition. Audition is the official podcast of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Not only is every podcast a real treat, they all can be heard over and over with little or no diminishing returns.

Here’s why – they’re not dumbed-down. These are academics or writers writing to academics, and they love talking about the high-minded and esoteric. So sometimes it takes a few listens to really understand what is being said. And once an understanding is obtained, either a counter-argument forms or a challenge is presented to your life. Either way, you are transformed on a very fundamental level by the information presented.

The most recent podcast is a perfect example of this – it covers discussions of W.H. Auden, Flannery O’Connor, and C. S. Lewis. I have a cursory reading relationship with all of these authors, but this program made me want to return to them, devour and savor each of their collected works, and then relisten to the podcast. It makes me want to write my thoughts down and send them to the interviewees, and add my own thoughts to the discussion.

In short, it makes me want to be a better person.

It reminds me of what I love about higher education - the passion for ideas and the insight that comes with intellectual discourse. If only there was a way to have experience that without experiencing the soul-sucking bureaucracy known as the Registrar’s office.

Oh wait, there is a way for this to happen. It is called listening to this podcast.

Podcasts I Like: Professional Podcasts

Part of the entire appeal of podcasting is that it is relatively cheap to become a home audio producer. Plus there is the whole community aspect to it – you don’t know who your next-door neighbors are, but there are about 30 or so podcasters who regularly check in with you.

This is all nice, but a quick glance at the iTunes Top Ten Podcasts shows you that professionally produced podcasts dominate the market. Some of them are existing radio shows being distributed on the internet, and some of them are from existing media empires branching out into the world of podcasting. Either way, they set the standard for what podcasts should aspire to.

So I decided to list out all of my favorite podcasts created by major media outlet. I’m putting This American Life and all of the news podcasts (even the fake news podcast from The Onion) I listen to are in a little penalty box. Seriously, they do not need me to blog about them to get more listeners.

1. Slate / Slate Explainer – I never read Slate Magazine before they started doing podcasts. (And, to be honest, the main reason I first subscribed to the podcast was because Slate has a column about neat podcasts to listen to.) Every day, the podcast presents either an article reading or discussion about a news item. And on Fridays, they have a political gabfest.

2. On the Media – My second favorite NPR program (next to This American Life). It is a media program about the media. Sounds like a potential for a navel-gazing mess, doesn’t it? But it is not, it is one of the most insightful programs about what it is like to live a mediated existence.

3. Left, Right, and Center – Every Friday, I get a one-two punch of this political talk show and the Slate Political Gabfest. Does it make me smarter? No. Does it make me understand politics more? Not really. Does it make me keenly aware how most pundits are more personality then principle? You betcha. You can also make a drinking game out of how many times there are screaming talking heads on a show that claims to be an antidote to screaming talking heads.

4. Creative Screenwriting – If you’ve ever aspired to be a screenwriter, this is the podcast to listen to. Basically, it is a one-on-one conversation with a screenwriter about a completed film. One of my favorite ones is the interview with Zac Penn discussing the script to X3: The Last Stand. Basically, he says that screenwriters on big-budget action films wind up being the logic police more than anything else. The director thinks it would be cool if such-and-such character fought such-and-such character so it is the screenwriter’s job to provide the motivation in a way that makes sense. Truly fascinating.

5. Fanboy Radio – It is so easy to love comics when you are listening to people who love comics.