Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Strategery" is Funny

January 25th, 2009
Sunday Night, 6:20 PM

Yesterday I laughed. I laughed about 100 times. I laughed those hearty laughs that last in your soul for about 3 days. See, I am not really a laugh out loud type of guy. I am more a LQTM (laughing quietly to myself) fellow. Don't get me wrong, if the mood strikes, I will be hunched down, rolling on the floor like the next guy. But, that mood does not strike me very often.

I would say that there are about 6 people & things that take me from the LQTM guy to a LMAOer (Laughing my ass off). These people & things would consist of 1) Chris Rock, who I think is a genius; Chris Rock, HBO Special, me, equals an hour and a half of non-stop laughing. 2) The late, great George Carlin, who had that cringe factor (ala Larry David), as well as he was one of the smartest comedic minds of his or any generation. 3) My cousin Martin Ferry from Ireland who with that mumbled delivery, his quick wit & the lubricant of 10 beers (for both of us), always knocks me to the floor. I have literally been under the table while listening to some of his stories, searching for air down there.

The next is not a specific person, but a comedic form/genre. 4) I love prank phone calls. While I was in College, circa early 90s, the Jerky Boys revolutionized the art form and while I had Sirius, prior to them taking the guts of the thing, pre-merger with XM, Howard Stern, and his disciples, Richard & Sal truly helped that art form to evolve to the next level. There is nothing like driving down the road in your car, being driven to tears of laughter, and seeing the person in the car next to you doing the same thing. You connect, do the head nod of acknowledgment and go back into your car bubble, laughing your ass off.

Two comedy worlds collided for me last night in New York as I watched a low-brow virtuoso 5) Will Ferrell and his one-man play You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush on Broadway. W.'s Bushisms would be the 6th and final side-splitters on my list. Don't get me wrong, there could always be more and the list could always expand. For a brief moment in time Chappelle had me in stitches. Whenever I watch Eddie Murphy's Best of SNL special I lose my lunch (okay I ran out of laughing cliches). Needless to say, this is a fairly consistent list and it always includes 6.

That is what made last night's pairing such a treat. Ever since Ferrell tried on the squint and southern draw of our 43rd President, he went from funny to being on my Mt. Rushmore of Funny mantel. His 7 year run on Saturday Night Live gave us, Cowbell, Goulet, James Lipton, "lover", Neil Diamond and my personal favorite, "Get off of the shed!". If you want to see true comedic lighting in a bottle, check out his audition tape on Ferrell's Best of SNL. The beauty of the audition is that Ferrell is tanking for the first five minutes of the performance. I mean it's the bloody Titanic on stage and he knows it. Then he pulls out this "Get off the shed!" skit, which basically has him playing a mild-mannered father at a cook-out who goes ballistic in about 20 seconds while trying to get control of his children. With that display, he saves the proverbial day. For him it was perfect timing, a grand slam and it paved the way for him to become part of the comedy lexicon. For us, we received the gift of laughter from him for over the past ten years. Check out the audition on the NBC sponsored if you can.

From SNL Ferrell went on to create some of the decade's most memorable comedic characters on film. From "Frank the Tank" in Old School to Ron Burgundy in Anchorman to Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights to Step Brothers to his biting Chazz Reinhold in Wedding Crashers ("Ma, the meatloaf"), Ferrell has been one of the most quoted actors of his generation. His performance of Buddy in Elf has become a holiday family staple. As the gullible, lovable, man-out-of-his-element Buddy, Ferrell is underrated, he is in fine Tom Hanks-esque form and he is a joy to watch in each and every scene.

So when I read in the New York Times last November that Ferrell would be coming to Broadway for the first time in January to reprise and say goodbye to one of his favorite characters, his George W., I just knew I had to pay my respects, to two of my 6 and our 43rd.

The show last night was held at the modest Cort Theater on 48th Street. The bitter sub freezing temperatures would not keep the rowdy crowd of 1,200 people in check or at bay. 30 minutes prior to the doors opening, there was a line out the door. The crowd was upbeat, energetic and by all accounts, ready to be entertained. The energy in the waiting room was filled with nervous laughter and D level actors. I think every extra or snarky neighbor from this or that sitcom was there. I was standing in line next to like the 8th guy in the credits from the show Spin City. His name is Alexander Chaplin. I just looked it up and he really was the 8th guy in the credits, according to IMDB, good guess. (By the way I am really good at that game; the "where do I know that guy from?" game. I get that stuff in about 3.2 seconds. I think it stems from being a visual learner or something.)

As we were let into the Cort, the sound system was playing a Country Music Greatest Hits of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Glen Campbell leads to Eddie Rabbit, which leads to Charlie Daniels, which leads to someone I don't know, it must have been Alabama, when in Nashville doubt always go with Alabama. Bottom line, it was a damn good mix and now I have been humming "Rhinestone Cowboys" for the past 20 plus hours. This leads me to believe that I need to find a good Country Music Essentials mix on iTunes which I can download tonight. Couple this urge with the fact that I was blown away by Garth Brooks on the HBO Inauguration Special this past weekend and I am completely stress out that I am starting to like country music. Is nothing sacred? Can I fight the impulse and keep my musical dignity? As George W. would say, "I regress".

The mix went silent, the lights went dark and George W., I mean Ferrell, came out to a standing ovation. This guy had the room in the palm of his hand and he knew it. It was like the State of the Union address Bush gave in 2002; he could say anything he wanted and the room would be his for the taking. Axis of Evil, sure, you got it, pick anyone you want. Yellowcake, let them eat it, you know they will. "Stategery", now we are talking, now we are laughing. The crowd laughed at every line for the first ten minutes. By the time that George W. was praying to the "Swiss blond-haired, white, pale skinned Jesus" much like Ricky Bobby did in Talladega Nights, we all knew this would be something special. The crowd settled in for the next hour and a half and Ferrell was in top comedic form.

I am not going to give anything away to my loyal readers. Was the show solid? Yes it was. I would say about 70% of the material was new or semi-fresh. Sure there were some relatively used lines about "The Tiger Woods Guys" who is the new President, or about Cheney or Jeb or about how he was going to let it all out now that the 20th has come and gone, but there were also some new skits about the Bush family stuck in a mining shaft in Crawford, Texas or about an afternoon George W. spent with Bigfoot, or about how one can have a heart attack in ones butt hole that had everyone LOLing. If you are open to laughing about the past 8 years, instead of crying, either way depending on your politics, and like butt hole jokes, then this is the show for you.

You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush will be playing for the next 8 weeks at the Cort. If you miss it or live outside of the NYC area, it has just been announced that the show will play on HBO some time in March for all to see. One thing to make sure is that in the beginning of the final act, raise your hand early. Ferrell gives out nicknames as George W. does to his nearest and dearest friends (i.e. Brownie). My favorite nicknames from last nights show were "Flapjacks" & "Euthanizer". Neither of those were mine. Damn you again W. Below I have posted the shows trailer from Ferrell's influential "Funny or Die" site for all of you to get a little taste of what's in store. Enjoy.

In a strange but true New York fashion, 2008 Republican candidate Mike Huckabee walked by my wife and I outside of the Cort while we were leaving the show. Huckabee was in route to the taping of his Fox News show which in turn is right up the road. He was cordial, friendly to strangers, kissing babies, shaking hands and shaking his head as he walked by. How ironic, as we leave this faux show about a real President, one of George W.'s potential successors walked under the marque and into the night headed for the place where fair and balanced news is made into bible. Only in New York I said to myself.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

His Words, Not Mine

January 24th, 2009
Saturday Morning, 11:58 AM

For my faithful readers (all 5 of you) and for ones that are finding IMNALY for the first time, I wanted to share this beautiful short film that I just watched on vimeo. Today I will be going to NYC to laugh (more on that tomorrow), and after watching this, I think I will have to take the subway or train. Pictures are worth.....

A Thousand Words from Ted Chung on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes We Will

January 20th, 2009
Tuesday Morning, 1:00 AM

I knew who I was going to cast my 2008 Presidential vote for way back in January of 2007, about two full years before this exact moment. See, I was on vacation with my Uncle, whom I have written about extensively on this blog (I wonder what Sigismund Schlomo Freud would have to say about that), visiting my family and cousins in Ireland, getting a much needed mental break. When I travel overseas, which I do about twice a year thanks to my wife's family retiring to Italy, I like to get away from the computers and TVs and I like to "shut it down". Generally I take a handful of books with me and catch up on some much needed reading. The only constant from the wired world was my iPod and my music.

During that delightful trip, which was filled with great family, friends, pints, laughs and soul searching, I read then Senator Barack Obama's second book, "The Audacity of Hope". Someone gave it to me as a Christmas gift a month before and I was looking forward to the read. I watched Obama give speeches that fall and I saw him perform his day job in the Senate on CSPAN. I was drawn to his wit, his mind and the words he chose during those discussion of ideas. Prior to the fall of 2006, I watched the Junior Senator give a motivating speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. I was moved by his request for not a "Red or Blue" but for a United America. Good stuff I thought. Finally someone was saying this out loud.

I stood up for him a month before my trip to Ireland while I was at a Christmas party in a "swing-state". I watched in awe as people and friends questioned his religious beliefs, his family background and the color of his skin. I was shocked at what I heard that night and knew that if I was going to vote for Barack Obama, I would need to support this man, his cause and my beliefs. I would also need to study this person like I studied Jefferson and Lincoln and Nixon in my Political Science classes. I would need to debate his politics, his philosophies and truly see if they matched with my thinking. Most importantly I realized that I would need to be prepared to defend this man and his principles against worse then what some uninformed voters at a Christmas party had to throw at me.

I found his book to be an enjoyable read. I learned about his family, that he had two daughters (like myself), that he was raised by his Mother and his Grandparents (my Grandfather lived with me for the first 11 years of my life), that he was a self-made man (like myself, no nepotism to feast off of) and he had exceptional education credentials (he has me beat there). I read about how he strives to work an issue from both sides of the political perspective and how he would seek out his adversaries advice. Obama came across as young (not really he is 47), energetic, with fresh new ideas, driven and damn was he a solid writer. Don't get me wrong, "The Audacity of Hope" wasn't "Ulysses", but at least it wasn't written with the acknowledgment of a ghost writer.

What surprised me the most about Obama on that trip wasn't his book, it was the fact that my European family knew about him and they knew more about him then my "swing-state" comrades from the Christmas party. Maybe it was because while I was over there a report came out in the Irish press that Obama's family tree and its roots reached back to the great Emerald Isle. His last name wasn't Kennedy mind you, but in the papers they rewrote his last name as O'Bama. Have to love that Irish wit.

My Irish family was impressed by what they saw from him to date. They also told me on that trip that they needed America back. They needed us to restore what was once great about our land, its people, our way of life and what it stood for. They wanted to "believe" in America again. The wanted to believe in the America of Clinton (Irish blood), Reagan (Irish blood) and JFK (more Irish blood then the other two combined). Most of all they wanted the America of FDR and Teddy and Lincoln and Washington. They wanted "change", even before we as Americans came to terms with what that would mean. That book, my knowledge of the man to that point and the endorsement of my Irish family, gave me the confidence I needed to go home and get involved in what I believed in. When I got home I made my first donation to the Obama campaign and started to talk to my family and friends about what I knew about the man.

I started on my Uncle first on the trip and then worked my Sister right out of the gates when I landed. See, I grew up in a family that talked politics openly. My Father and Mother would get my Sister and I involved in the discourse and educate us on due process. I didn't realize this was out of the norm until I got into a heated discussion with a then girlfriend's father over the Iran-Contra affair. Not a good move. Don't spout off without being informed. Lesson learned, time to move on and its new girlfriend time.

I turned the corner on family and friends around the same time Obama started to turn his own corner in the campaign. It was after he won Iowa and lost New Hampshire, the "Yes We Can" speech. Even after that crushing loss we (my Sister and I) were able to persuade my Mother to get behind her children and our cause. That was a big one. I mean she was right in the wheelhouse for both Hillary and McCain as far as demographics go. But to her credit, Mom saw something in her children that she had not seen for 40 plus years. She saw a desire and commitment to a candidate like she had for JFK 48 years before. She knew that this election was not about a political brand name, she saw that this was for my children, her grandchildren, their future and the idea of America. She was my case-study of one and with that win; I had the wind at my back. At least that is what I started to "believe".

From there I started to volunteer for the campaign (which I had never done before), registering voters for that before mentioned swing-state, knocking on doors to both Dem and Repub voters making sure they were registered in New Jersey, having grown men curse at me for my choice of candidate, having a woman cry to me about how she could not pay her medical bills, going to house meetings to talk to other supports, brainstorm how to turn a traditionally red county into a blue one and to remind like minded voters to vote on November 4th. This was not like watching a football game and Monday Morning Quarterbacking after a loss. This was real life. If I wanted to complain, win or lose, I was not going to sit on the sidelines again. I became part of the process. I was involved. This time I could not complain if my team didn't win. I tried and in perfect sports cliche fashion, I left it all out on the field. Funny thing is, many, MANY, people felt the same way that I did and did something/anything about it.

The score came in, my team won, the Monday Morning QBs called it a landslide. A lot happened along the way that I didn't mention, we all watched it, we saw all the plays from "That One", to Tina Fey, to "...the fundamentals of the economy are strong", to Letterman being pissed, to Rev. Wright, to Billary to "Mission Accomplished" to Trig to "The Bailout" to canceling the campaign to boring debates to rousing speeches to gracious concessions to $150,000 shopping sprees. It was all there, we watched, read and lived it for over a year (some of us for two).

But what now?

Well, if the past 2 months has been any indication, we should be in for a different type of Administration then we have become accustomed too. For the past two months our President-Elect has been acting rather Presidential. And that is a good thing. On paper he has been putting together a solid staff, much like his predecessor had 8 years before, he has been working both side of the political spectrum, like our fortieth President, Ronald Reagan did and he has been wooing the media and International press, much like our thirty-fifth President Kennedy and his wife were known to do.

But today we need more then talk and rousing speech and photo ops. As our most recent President Bush found out first hand, it is the unexpected that challenges a people and a country. Attacks on our homeland by natural or unnatural causes challenge us to the core. Attacks on our ways and means and goods and services and banking systems can leave an impact on ones legacy and it can cripple a country's collective plans for retiring into the sunset. To each man, woman and child, we have a ton of work to do and we can only do this together, because we are all in this together. We need action by the people and leadership from both sides of the political paradigm to make this work and for us to rebound. Obama can not do this alone. If McCain won he would not be able to do this alone. Red and Blue have to become the United for this to happen.

As JFK said to students at American University the summer before he was assassinated in a speech about peace, which could be applied to the divisiveness in our own country today:

So, let us not be blind to our differences--but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.

Think about that for a second. Let it sink in. Safe for diversity (check, we know the significance of today and how our American Civil War truly ends today with the swearing in of a half white, half black man), we all cherish our children's future (check, we know that with every dollar the TARP burns down that it will be our children feeling the burden of our financial sins), we are all mortal (check, time is limited, it is short, we have to act now because no one knows what tomorrow brings).

I was reading this morning that the President-Elect has an 83% approval rating before he even steps into office. Only really one place to go from there and that is down. Ask President Bush who is walking out with a 22% approval rating or lack there of, about how hard this job is. Does he care about this country? Of course he does. But how much do we care about unity in this county? What is our approval rating as a collective people? What do we stand for when the times are difficult and our funds are lower then they have been in decades and when unemployment or most importantly unemployment and forced part-time employment is over 10% and at a 20 year high? Is it the job of one person to take care of 300 million? No. We all have personal responsibility. We all have skin in this game of life. We all have a voice.

I suspect we will hear a great deal about personal responsibility today and rightfully so. I suspect we will hear for a call in service both home and aboard and in our community and in the battlefields of the Middle-East. I suspect that about 83% of us will be swept up in the significance of and or the moment. I suspect that Wednesday will come and day 99 will begin for the President and his approval rating will go down to 81% and maybe even slip to 80% by the weekend. I also suspect and have hope that something magical will happen today. I want to feel something today and I think I will. Will you?

I keep reflecting back to the night of November 4th when I saw people dancing in the streets, in New York and LA and in Chicago and in London and Paris and Sydney and Africa and I bet in Donegal, Ireland where my family lives. Think about that, there were people dancing in the streets when a President won an election. I am still amazed by that, I never saw that before. People were dancing for their children's future, dancing to believe in America again, they were dancing for the barriers that were brought down that day, dancing for diversity, dancing for hope and dreams and all dancing on this small planet, breathing that same air. And again today the world and a country, which is pretty mortal right now, will be watching. And you know what, I can't wait for what happens next, because we will show the world, like we have in the past, that when the chips are down and when the going gets tough, America can and Yes We Will, rise again.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stop and Read the Pamphlets

January 18th, 2009
Sunday Morning, 11:15

I don't believe in "Miracles". To me the word miracle is a widely overused word in our culture today. You hear it thrown around in all walks of life and at least once a week. In sports it is used obsessively as B student sportswriters try to make an event more dramatic then it truly was. "The Miracle on Ice", "That Miracle Season", "The Miracle at the Meadowland"; these terms all try to make the game bigger then sport and the writer is trying to persuade the reader into believing that some act of divinity helped to predict the outcome. I don't prescribe to that way of thinking. Don't get me wrong, it makes for a great read and a dramatic movie, but I don't buy it. It's sports, one team has to win, one team has to lose and no matter how you play it, in "sudden death" some people win and some people lose. It's the same in life. To me a miracle"happens" when preparation, opportunity and skill meet right at a perfect time. Dramatize it all you like, but its that simple.

See, I have never watched someone walk on water (outside of the movies), I have never heard some burning bush talk (movies again) and I have never seen a human fly (movies); I believe in reality. As the Prophet John Lennon once sang: "I don't believe in magic, I don't believe in bible, I don't believe in tarot, I don't believe in mantra, I don't believe in kings, I don't believe in Elvis, I don't believe in Zimmerman, I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me, Yoko and me, And that's reality." That about sums it up for me. Black and white, cut and dry, without the Hollywood ending, I don't really believe.

But something happened this week that makes one wonder. Something happened that made me think that 2009 (like I have been writing) will be a really incredible year. Something happened that never really happened before. Something happened that made me smile. One of those big grins that stays with you over days and leaves an imprint on your soul and spirit; it becomes permanent, it makes you want to breathe, exhale and push forward. See, this past Thursday, preparation, opportunity and skill met right at the perfect time.

I was in my home office working on Thursday afternoon and a friend called to see if I had the TV on. I didn't, so instead I logged on to the Web and searched for news about a plane that landed in the frigid waters of the Hudson River between my old home of New York and Hoboken, New Jersey. A world that feels a million miles away from my new home in Bucks County, PA. A world that will always be the sparkle in my eye; my world where opportunity developed my skill and it taught me about preparation.

At first, I thought the worst, I guess I always do. It is a defense mechanism that I have created which makes me prepare for the worst first and then work in reverse so I can get to the best plausible solution. I am always wrapping these scenarios in my head, preparing for the "what ifs". At first, I thought about that day in September when time stopped, I thought about what the timing of such an event would have on our country and our President-Elect and our way of life. At first I thought, oh no, I just did that trip the day before, flying into Newark from Chicago, looking at the Manhattan Skyline in wonderment as I always do, thinking about the past generations that built such an amazing temple to the modern world. At first, I let time stop.

And then, like something out of the movies, on-line I saw people standing on the wings of an airplane on the Hudson River. Do you know how improbable that is to imagine, let alone write? Then I saw the goodness of people as ferries from Hoboken and New York came to the rescue of 155 survivors on a flight headed from New York to North Carolina. I stared at hope right there on my laptop.

At that time, I exhaled, smiled and time started to move again. Think about it, we all watched something incredibly special on that day. We saw a meeting between preparation, opportunity and skill, in real-time, this time with a happy ending (great work Capt. Sully Sullenberger). I could hear the John Williams score playing in the background of my mind as the people were carried from the wings to the boats and made it "home" safe and sound.

As I wrote in my last post, I am amazed by the power of these social networking sites like Facebook. On Thursday, that site took this survivor story to a whole another level. In Facebook, as many of you know, if someone joins your personal social network, then they become your "friend". As we all know, we have various levels of friends in our walks of life. Some are best friends, some are old friends, some are people that if you spent more time with you know you would be better friends; there are friends that live down the road, across the country or around the world. Friend is one of those words in English that has various interpretations, but at its core, it means someone that you like and respect enough to tell others that "I know this person, he/she is cool and I will vouch for them."

Well one of my Facebook friends was on US Airways Flight 1549. The flight that landed in the Hudson. The flight on which EVERYONE survived. I watched the rescue of the survivors on my laptop and now I was writing in real-time with other friends as we discussed the improbability of what transpired. (Want to put the probability into perspective? According to the guys at the the Freakonomics site: "... Peter Thompson’s research found that there had been more than 150 million commercial flights since 1970 without a single water landing." That makes the odds 150 million to 1. Incredible.) A mere 15 hours after the events of Thursday afternoon, I was "chatting" via Facebook with one of the survivors of Flight 1549 on Friday morning. Amazing.

See me and this survivor are not "great friends". We know each other from work and have mutual friends that we are both better friends with. We all know the routine. Every time we have been out together, we have laughed and I have always walked away from our time together thinking this was a "cool" guy. We have actually gotten to know about each other more via Facebook and we have had some witty retorts over the past couple of months enforcing his "cool guy" status. But when I read about what this survivor did on the plane and heard other survivors name dropping him for the good deeds he did that day, this survivor went from "cool guy" to "uber cool" guy status.

And when I read the NY Times yesterday morning and saw that the first two paragraphs dedicated to his actions on that Thursday afternoon, this survivor when from "uber cool guy" to having Dave Grohl sing in my head every time I think of him now, "...There goes my hero, Watch him as he goes, There goes my hero, He's ordinary."

The beauty of this survivors heroic action supports my "miracle" definition. See he was sitting in the exit row and he had the responsibility of taking action if something drastic should happened. Most of us have sat in this row before. Most of us have been asked the questions "if we want to assume the responsibility", and to make sure we "read the pamphlet" about what one should do in case of an emergency. Well guess what, here is the person that actually did that! As the flight was descending, he pulled out the pamphlet, read it and applied the logic behind why the damn thing was even there in the first place, supporting the those 150 million and 1 odds as well. According to eyewitness reports, the said survivor opened the exit hatch, helped woman and children off the plane and most importantly, did it calmly. Someone cue up Mr. Grohl again.

As you have read from my post in December, most of my 2008 was shrouded around death; life ending, hopelessness, the inevitable. But on January 16th, I spoke to the antithesis of hopelessness, I chatted with someone who "cheated" the darkness, I read the word of a vibrant being that you just knew was going to have a phenomenal 2009. In hindsight, I think that is what I wrote to him. "You are going to have a great 2009." That and "hug your kids and hug your wife" and to read all the positive "comments" that friends and family wrote on your Facebook page. He responded back saying that he was going to do just that and he said "thanks for adding some humor during a crazy time."

While reading those simple words, I exhaled, smiled and 2009 started to move again; from out of the darkness of the end of 2008 to the hope and the improbable dreams of "The Miracles on the Hudson" and "That Miracles Season" & potential "Miracle in Glendale" (GO EAGLES!). Who knows, maybe I am wrong and all I need to do is read the next pamphlet someone hands to me and tells me to read, maybe the signs are all around and I just have not been looking.

Thanks Josh (man on the cell phone in the picture above) for making me want to read the pamphlets again...

NY Times
After Splash, Nerves, Heroics and Comedy
Published: January 16, 2009

Some passengers screamed, others tucked their heads between their knees, and several prayed over and over, “Lord, forgive me for my sins.” But a man named Josh who was sitting in the exit row did exactly what everyone is supposed to but few ever do: He pulled out the safety card and read the instructions on how to open the exit door.

US Airways Flight 1549 smacked the Hudson River the way a speedboat lands after jumping over a wake — with a thud that rattled teeth and nerves and stunned the cabin silent. It was as if everyone was waiting for someone else to shout in pain, and no one did.

Then Josh stood up. “Someone tried to pull the door in,” another passenger recalled, “and he said, ‘No, you’ve got to throw it out.’ He twisted it and threw it out.’ ”

Thus began some of the most harrowing minutes of what Gov. David A. Paterson described as the Miracle on the Hudson.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sometime Around Midnight

January 11th, 2009
Sunday Morning, 10:51

It's been over a week since my last post, sorry for that, I needed to let 2009 sink into my bones, work its way through and become reality.

I rang in New Year 09 in Barcelona, Spain, with family and new friends, at a hip little restaurant called Taxidermista (translation: The Taxidermist, I guess I needed to freeze 08, stuff it and put it on the shelf or wall). Sometime around midnight, with the bang of a gong from the restaurant owner, that arbitrary date, January 1st, washed over me and began a new chapter in my life. I subscribe to the Gregorian calendar and its random dates, (do I really have a choice?), but this time I let the lunar cycle take hold and I absorbed its significant meaning. I had a very challenging 2008. It was the type of year which makes one think about the choices they have made, their mortality and it made me think long and hard about what I want to do with the rest of my perceived time here.

This post isn't going to give any answers to that last statement, this post is simply here to get you up to speed on my current wave of thinking. I will be writing about that last paragraph through out the course of the year I suspect. Most importantly, I believe for the first time in years, I have made concrete choices, have chosen a path and I am prepared for all that follows. 2009 is about taking control, understanding there will be landmines and pratfalls, but knowing, that if I focus, I can preserver. (At least that is what I am telling myself today....)

Today, today is about the future and tools that will help me get there. I was inspired by some end of the year articles I recently read. I wanted to write about the tools on the web that I use everyday, the applications and the gadgets that help to make my life easier. I thought about this more profoundly once I landed back home from my trip to Barcelona. I didn't have my laptop with me for that trip, the hotel had a tech cafe and if I wanted to stay connected or make a post, I could. I was on a fraction of the time I normally would be, not constantly wired. What impressed me the most once I returned home, was that in about the span of 30 minutes, I was up to speed on everything I missed for five days. I mean everything; where the TARP stands, how the market is still red, what movies are worth seeing that came out while I was away, what friends did for New Years, how friends felt, what tech gadgets I didn't receive for Christmas that I should add to the list, what were the top 25 songs of the year, how my Eagles were preparing for the first round of the playoffs, what was funny and what was not and what I missed during the New Years Rocking Eve. That was a powerful revelation.

So I will share with you today the tools, sites and gadgets I use every day that keep me in the loop and prepared. The list expands almost daily. Some tools come off and some come on the list. During the time of recession and depression talk, its great to see and read about the impact the true innovators are having everyday. America is rebranding and rethinking and will be forced to get smarter, smaller, faster. The Europeans I met in Spain still want us to innovate and invigorate and they want us to share our culture (just not force it in their faces).

Hunker down for 09, save more then you spend, look for the tools that will help you become more efficient, for life, work & play.

Here are B's top gadgets/sites for 09:

Gadgets (nothing earth shattering here):

1. iPod - This has to be my favorite gadget of the decade, and outside of the automobile, the most important to me. I remember a conversation I had with my brother-in-law early in the decade when he told me how great the product was (we bounce these type of things off of each other all the time) and said I didn't like the sounds quality of Mp3s and that I would stick with CDs. This might be the most idiotic comment I have made in my entire life. This tool goes with me everywhere, mainly for music and TV shows, always on the road for travel and at the gym for work outs and in the car for blasting the soundtrack of MY life. I have about 4,000 tracks on it to date and each time I turn it on, it's a joy and a new experience. There have been business trips I have taken where I forgot the iPod back home and I can tell you that the trip was not as satisfying as one I had the week before with it. The iPod just keeps on giving and the Apple Engineers just keep on adding. The new Genius feature is a blast, factor in the Nike Sport option and the evolution continues.

2. GPS - My GPS is embedded into my car; I call her Fraulin since I have a German car. Fraulin is around the 6th most important woman in my life. If you are driving everyday without a GPS run out and get one now. I have not been lost in 5 years. Do you have any idea how efficient that is? When I am trying to get somewhere I just ask someone for the address (or look it up on the web) and Fraulin gets me there faster then anyone ever would. She gets me there via major roads and highways, she tells me how long it will take and she does it with colorful pictures. You can tell a non-GPS user in a second. It generally happens when I ask for the address and they start to give me directions or start to spout out landmarks or those damn route numbers that I never pay attention to. I cut them off politely, and tell them I just need the address. 9 times out of 10 they continue with landmarks and I say every time, "I have a GPS, those things don't matter to me anymore..." And did I say I am always on-time.

3. Laptops - I have two laptops now. A Dell Latitude D430 which weighs like 2 lbs. I call this my Microsoft computer and a Thinkpad x61 which weighs a a couple lbs. more and this is for work. Both are great to travel with and get they both get the job done. Side note: There really is no reason to have a PC anymore, unless you are doing computer graphics and work for Pixar or something. They take up too much space, they are out of date the second you buy them, and they are not portable in a portable world. Buy a pimped out laptop, a My Passport, some good speakers and enjoy the ride. The interesting thing about my new laptop from work is that since I work for an Open Source company (Red Hat), it has "freeware" or Open Source programs on it. Not one Microsoft app or paid proprietary software runs on this laptop. At first, I thought this would be an issue, since I have used Outlook and MS Office since the first days that I have used a PC, but you would be surprised how much quality "freeware" is out there and how much it has not impacted my working ability. Its made it easier. Most of you use FireFox for your browser and or ThunderBird or Gmail for mail now or use free apps on your iPhone or download free MP3s. Think about it, you have been doing it since Napster, give it a try. Gates can't be happy.

Sites: As you see on the left column of my blog, I have posted my favorite everyday reads and blogs. These are sites I check multiple times a day either from my laptop or blackberry (sorry no iPhone yet. I support my customer Verizon and will wait for the product to get on their network, they helped pay for my house, it's the least I can do) and these are sites I can not life without in no particular order....

1. - Jeffrey Wells is the writer and mastermind behind this utterly enjoyable daily read. Jeff is what one would call a Hollywood insider; he has been writing about the industry for over 30 years, he has worked for all of the major MSM pubs and he has been writing an online column for the past 10 years (that's like 70 years in tech years). Jeff brings an East Coast sensibility to the madness of Hollywood (he grew up in and around the areas of Westfield, NJ), he rants in a stream-of-consciousness manner like myself, writes about his likes, dislikes, loves, lost loves, his children, politics (really coming out of his shell this year with the election), takes some killer photos, and speaks in a man-against-the-machine voice that makes you want to root for him. When he gets behind a film (i.e. Che this year or Zodiac or Once last year) you want to join forces with him, run out, see it and tell your world of friends just how amazing the experience was. In my mind, Jeff belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of Internet Bloggers.

2. - Andrew Sullivan has one of the best political minds on the planet IMHO. He is a Brit who came to the the States via a Fellowship to Harvard. Like Wells, he has been part of the MSM for the better part of the past 25 years. He started blogging early in the game, around the year 2000. He is a Conservative who backed the Iraq war and our right to protect ourselves. He was one of the first Conservative writers to call out the Bush Administration on the torture techniques used during the war and he was one of the first Conservatives this past year to support President-elect Barack Obama (way back in the early Spring.) He updates his blog at least 20 times a day, offering a view from both sides of the discussion. For someone born outside of this country, I am amazed at how much he loves this country and how much he wants us to strive towards being the best we can be. Catch him on TV if you can (Hardball, Real-Time, CNN). I would hate to go toe to toe with him. Fierce and wise, he always wins the argument. Plus, the British accent helps....

3. - Facebook is a drug. I can not think of an another analogy for this thing. For the past 3 months, I have been going to this site at least 30 times a day. Right next to my gmail account (thanks Google for making email easier and more flexible), Facebook is one of my first stops when I port up my laptop or log into my phone (love the Facebook app for my Blackberry). Facebook has become a verb in our culture, officially replacing Tivoed. I go there each day to see what friends are up to, to get a sense of their mood, look for something witty they might have said, get well wishes from family members, connect with a long lost friend from High School or College, express my moods or feelings for the day, share pictures in real-time, talk trash and just be. If you are not on this thing, you should consider it and make it happen. Once you get the hang of it, you will be hooked and you will thank me you did.

4. - The Hype Machine is the present and future of the music business. As one blogger wrote this past week, it is what MSM's Rolling Stone was for the music business in the 1960s/70s. You will get no arguments here to that claim. The model is a smart and simple one (like all successful blogs). One day Hype Machine creator Anthony Volodkin wanted to create a site that would compile all of his favorite music blogs into one portal. A "one-stop shopping" of postings from thousands of MP3 blogs around the world, if you will. Since 2005, The Hype Machine has been the pulse of what's new and hot in the blogger rock/rap community. How does it work? It's easy. Didn't I just say that? Go to the main site, type in the song or artist which you would like to search for in the search blog field, and wait for Volodkin's magic to happen. Within seconds you will see search results from around the world. From there you can read the blog on which that song appears, play the song (download if you like) and find a series of songs from that respective blog and artist. This past week THM unveiled the Music Blog Zeitgeist for 2008, it's like an end of the year Billboard list for the 21st century, dynamic, not static. The top artist on the Zeitgeist list was MGMT. You don't know who MGMT is? You probably will read about them then via Billboards or Rolling Stone in 2009...

That's all I have for this Sunday Morning. I will be sharing more sites and gadgets over the year (my birthday is in February and I would love to get my hands on the Kindle, hint, hint....) with you all. Happy reading and go Eagles.