Thursday, May 31, 2007

COLUMN: Blog Stats

It's been my long-standing cynical belief that nearly everyone on the planet -- barring, of course, me -- is a total nutbag. Finally I have proof.

If you may have noticed in the dealy at the bottom of each week's column (I believe the proper journalistic term is "dealymajig,") I maintain an online blog in association with the column. It's nothing fancy, just a repository archive for my writing, plus a handy outlet if anything amusing happens during the week.

Well, when I first started the blog up, I hooked it up to a stat tracker program. The tracker lets me know how many visitors I receive in a given time frame, what columns get the most reads, etc., etc. Mostly I forget it's even there and only remember to check it a couple of times a year. Well, the other night I was goofing around with it and realized that it also records some other pretty interesting stuff.

No, it doesn't give me anything useful like your credit card or social security numbers, so sadly I still can't steal your identities and start life anew on some tropical island with a staff of woman-servants. But it does show some unexpected details, such as what country you're from, what kind of computer you're using, your web browser of choice, etc., etc. Oh, and one other VERY interesting thing: keyword searches.

Let's say you're doing a Web search using a popular search engine like Yahoo or Google. If you search for a particular phrase that somehow pulls up MY blog as a result, my tracker lets me know what you searched for -- and what I found is proof positive that humanity is a very scary beast. Let me show you:

These are actual keyword phrases that folks have searched for online over the past 12 months, leading them to my blog:

"MY KID IS HYPERTENSE" - When you type this exact phrase into Google, as 117 people this year have, my blog is the #1 link. Why? No clue. I must've used the words "my," "kid," and "hypertense" in close promixity to one another in a column sometime in the past 3 years. Just for the record, I don't know what to do if your kid is hypertense.

"CHUBBY TONGUE" - Again, no clue why this phrase would pull up my blog. But even less clue why anyone would be searching for this in the first place.

"OFFENSIVE JANITORS" - What? There's no

"CHIPS AHOY USING RUBBER IN THEIR COOKIES" - Funny, but mildly frightening, as I'm a solid fan of Chips Ahoy. Am I ingesting rubber? Do we need to get our news dept. on top of this?

"DARRELL WALTRIP THREE LEGGED DOG" - Boogity boogity boogity!

"FAKE PEE PANTS" - Is this a real product? Is there a marketing guy out there somewhere going, "C'mon, it's hysterical, you can fake all your friends into thinking that you have bladder control issues! That's AWESOME. Why is no one buying a pair?"


"BAD STUFF ABOUT JAPAN" - Because, let's face it, all we hear about Japan is Hondas and Playstations and Jackie Chan. At least one person out there's concerned about the seedy underbelly of "bad stuff" occurring in the Land of the Rising Sun.

"KATIE HOLMES NUDE" - Hey, if I had THAT, I'd have better things to do than write this column.

"KIDNEY STONES THAT LOOK LIKE PINK CANDY" - If I emitted kidney stones that looked like pink candy, my first stop would NOT be the internet. It would be the emergency room.

"NAKED GRANDMAS" - Great. About a year ago, I wrote a column about one of the most embarassing moments of my life: accidentally walking into the sight of my 100-year-old grandmother in mid-wardrobe change. As a result, I appear to now be disappointing scores of perverts. Oh, and speaking of perverts:

"SEXUAL ORIENTATION OF QC WEATHERMEN" - You know, I watch a lotta TV. I've seen my fair share of weather forecasts. And not ONCE have I stopped and wondered what any of those folk do after dark. I only wonder if I'm gonna need a coat the next day. Maybe I'm missing out.

Which leaves my favorite:

"IS MITCHUM DEODORANT MORE STICKY NOW" - Can't you just picture the guy who searched for this? Getting out of the shower, rolling on his trusty Mitchum when suddenly the painful reality sets in - "What the...," he says, incensed, "Is it me, or is this deodorant more sticky than I recall? I MUST RESEARCH THIS TROUBLING THEORY IMMEDIATELY!" Folks, if you've got time to investigate the stickiness of your preferred brand of deodorant online, you officially have less of a life than I do -- and that's sayin' something.

I'm starting to realize that I could become an internet sensation and the king of the cyberworld if I just start peppering my columns with popular search words. Of course, that would be pandering and I'm above that. So instead, I'll leave you with this humble nugget of wisdom:

Hot free nude Britney Justin. Truth Kennedy assassination aliens ghosts Star Trek. Free mp3 Harry Potter ending. Playstation X-Box pwned Warcraft Halo 3 cheats. Even more naked grandmas.

Yes, words to live by.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


A couple of weeks ago, I found myself at a casual business luncheon with some associates of the newspaper. We decided to go to a nearby Mexican restaurant that whips up a mean meal. When our food arrived, though, I couldn't help but notice how my dining companions eagerly grabbed the salsa and liberally doused their entrees.

Now, normally I play it safe when it comes to spicy foods, but hey, I just watched 3 people turn their meals into salsa soup, so it must not be too hot, right? I leaned in and dipped a chip in a healthy amount of salsa, put it in my mouth, and realized my error in roughly 2.4 seconds. This salsa wasn't just a little hot; it was a LOT hot.

In an attempt to escape my already-sealed fate, I decided it would be best to skip the whole "chewing" nonsense and swallow the chip and the rapidly-burning salsa as quickly as possible. This, of course, resulted in me giving myself a nacho tonsillectomy and a sore throat that lasted the better part of the week. Yay.

I do NOT understand the appeal of overly spicy foods. I mean, there are a few common-sense guidelines that I like to live by, and one of them is simply: "Food should not be painful." Yet I have masochistic friends who think that setting one's tongue on fire makes for a superb night out. Friends who buy hot sauce so nightmarish that merely one drop can turn a vat of chili into a gastro-intestinal abomination. Friends who are, clearly, idiots.

I'm not saying that I don't enjoy flavor to my meals. Flavor is nifty. But there's a difference between something being flavorful and something being downright death-hot. Take that salsa for instance. It didn't taste particularly salsa-y. It didn't taste like much of anything. It just tasted like BURNING.

Look, nature didn't make peppers hot for a taste sensation; they're hot in SELF-DEFENSE. That way, when Peter Cottontail goes hopping down the bunny trail in search of something to nibble on, he skips the jalopenos. Otherwise, Little Bunny Foo Foo learns an important life lesson in what to and to NOT gnaw on. That way, the peppers survive and make little baby peppers until one day we are ruled by a supreme race of habaneros. So, to that end, I suppose we should be grateful for those of us stupid enough to enjoy sticking the things in our mouths.

Perhaps some people are simply born lacking the taste buds required to go, "Hey, mouth on fire = bad." Me? I'll take the safe route, thanks.

In the decade that I've worked for our papers, the building across the street from our main office has seen many incarnations: antique shop, coffee shop, etc. But the weirdest was its short stint as a Mongolian barbecue joint. Now, I'm thinking "mmmmm, barbecue," right? Throw another pig on the spit and sign me up, I loves me a good barbecue.

And when some of the bigwigs here at the paper decided to go check it out, I invited myself right along. Back then, I was the new guy who nobody knew, and any opportunity to get a little face time with some of our more distinguished co-workers couldn't be a bad thing. This would be my time to shine, to schmooze it up, to make myself known, to climb the corporate ladder. Little did I know my plan would be stymied by the Mongols.

Wikipedia informs that the Mongols ruled over the largest continguous land empire in history, conquering and covering some 12 million square miles. They accomplished this task by obviously inviting their enemies over for some barbecue. Now, I can't say for certain what the primary ingredients in a Mongolian barbecue are, but if I had to guess, I would say: battery acid.

Within seconds of my first bite, I was red-faced, sweating, and drinking my body weight in water. My stomach, meanwhile, was expressing its displeasure via a series of well-timed grooooooooinks. So there I am -- all red, sweaty, and groinking -- trying my best to make impressive small talk while my lips melted off my face. My coworkers, meanwhile, just keep shoveling the stuff in their mouths happily.

"Hoo, this has a bit of a kick to it," one of them said. A BIT OF A KICK? I thought, trying desperately to fend off full-on systemic failure. I ate half of the bowl-o'-terror, excused myself, ran back to my office, drank our vending machine out of milk, and spent the rest of the day taking care of business (and I sadly don't mean working.) A good impression is exactly what I DIDN'T make that day.

But I don't care. I walked out of there with my mouth on fire but my sanity intact. Spicy food's for the birds. Well, no, I bet a bird would DIE if it had eaten that barbecue.

Maybe I'm just destined to be one of those old guys you see at the buffet restaurants every day -- you know, the places with no fewer than 200 exceptionally bland varities of food, all of which strangely taste like chicken? I'm not a fan of bland food, either, but with that I can at least guarantee the safety and well-being of the fragile ecosystem known as my lower intestine.

RIP Charlie Pace

Godspeed, little Hobbit. We barely knew thee...
Thoughts on the season finale, anyone?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

COLUMN: Country

As a self-proclaimed elitist music nerd, there are a few simple rules to follow to remain cool:

1) Whenever possible, listen to bands that people around you have never heard of.

Ride, The Boo Radleys, Of Montreal, Belle & Sebastian... know 'em? No? Good. They're my 4 favorite bands. Another of my faves has NO name; they simply go by "!!!", which is super cool (until you're looking for them in a record store and you have NO idea how the clerk alphabetized them.) These bands don't get played on the radio. Why? Because you're cooler than radio.

2) If you can find it in a mall, don't buy it.

You're also cooler than chain stores. That's where your mom shops. Your elitist tastes deserve indie record stores. You go to Co-op. You hop online and visit &, the bibles of musical cool. The harder it is to find a release, the better it probably is. Don't stop until you find a band SO obscure that they only release albums on player piano reels during odd-numbered autumnal equinoxes. I guarantee they will rock.

3) Above all, don't ever -- EVER -- listen to country music.

Country music is the least hip, least cool music ever made, and you will be mocked by your elitist music nerd friends for liking it.* (*with the exception of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, & 70's era Glen Campbell. Those are all super cool. Probably because they're dead. Well, except Glen Campbell - but anybody with the guts to release "Rhinestone Cowboy" is inherently way cool.)

But I did it. I just broke Cardinal Music Rule #3. And I lived.

I volunteered to review the Brad Paisley gig at the Mark last week.

Why? Call it an experiment in open-mindedness. Call it a test of courage and willpower. Call it an unhealthy and borderline illegal obsession with opening act Taylor Swift, the current lolita goddess of country.

The point is: I went. Worse yet, if you read my glowing review in the paper the next day, I actually had a great time. I think I might even like a couple of Brad Paisley's songs now. I'm scared.

I DID, however, learn some interesting things about the previously unconquered world of country music that I didn't have space to squeeze into the review. Among them:

* It was a novel experience to be at a gig you could UNDERSTAND. At most rock shows, the sound is so jacked you're lucky to make out the obligatory "thankyougoodnight" at the end of the show, let alone ascertain any lyrics. My sincere kudos to the sound engineers, who made the vocals bright and the music powerful.

* Country music fans are really, really nice. I'm used to going to shows where people bump into you, where you're packed in like sardines, where no-one acknowledges one another in the crowd. Right off the bat, this was different. First off, I was totally worried that my new camera would get confiscated. Little did I know cameras are totally cool at country shows. I've been to hip-hop shows where the security frisk-down was more detailed than your average doctor visit. Friday night was pat-pat, come-on-in. Easy peasy. Bump into someone? THEY APOLOGIZE. After the show, I went onto Brad Paisley's website and looked at fans already trading pics, stories, and making meet-up plans for future gigs. The sense of community almost creeped me out.

* Country music STARS are also really, really nice. I'm used to shows where the crowd isn't even acknowledged by the band, or worse yet, gets berated by the band. I was at a show by the British band Suede once where the guitar player told us to "shut the (expletive) up" before he played a note. If Brad Paisley had tried that, he would've been lynched. Instead, the acts at the Mark that night thanked us profusely, looked embarassed when we cheered, kissed babies, threw guitar picks, and generally seemed grateful at the folks who spent money to come down. The opening acts made themselves available to sign autographs for anybody who wanted them. That's a whole lotta name signing. And that was ONE gig on a massive world tour. Frankly, I'd be worried about carpal tunnel come my 20,000th autograph.

* At the same time, though, there's an evil corporate streak to it all. I mean, there must have been at least 25 different t-shirts to buy. And hats, bracelets, photos, autographed CD's, you name it. I'm used to bands selling A t-shirt in order to make gas money to the next gig. Like I said, I went to Brad's website after the show, and when I saw people commenting about the Moline gig, I tried to post a reply. Sadly I had neither $19.99 nor a major credit card handy. They might be nice folk, but they sure know how to turn a buck.

All in all, it was a good night out. It was nice to be at a show where people (be it the crowd OR the band) weren't trying to perpetually out-weird one another. I'm not saying I'm a convert to country music or anything (though I admit, I listened to my fair share of WLLR over the weekend just to make sure,) but it was FAR from a bad time. I'm all for artsy music and challenging lyrics and what-not, but the simplicity and earnestness of country music just lets you switch your brain off for a while and relax and be entertained, and heck, that's what I want out of my Friday nights sometimes.

Monday, May 07, 2007

COLUMN: Photography

"You can be anything you want to be, if you put your mind to it!" That over-used adage was a frequent flyer at the Brown household when I was growing up. And that sagely nugget of wisdom, alongside heaps of encouragement from the World's Greatest Parents, is probably the main reason why I can be a sales rep AND a columnist AND a club DJ at the same time. I DID put my mind to it, and I DID become whatever I wanted to be. What a great life lesson.

And that, kids, concludes the "Reading is Fundamental" portion of this week's column. Now hand the newspaper back to mom and dad and go wash up, alrighty?

Okay, parents. Have the kids stopped reading? Good, because now we can talk. We all know the "be-anything-you-want" bit is a giant load of hooey, right? Otherwise, I'd be Mr. Katie Holmes right about now and getting paid millions to sit and watch TV all day. The REAL phrase should be something like this:

"You can be anything you want to be* (*except for a bunch of stuff that you're bound to be totally inept at.)"

The truth has revealed itself harshly over the years. It started in middle school. It was band sign-up, and I wanted to play the trumpet. My mommy told me I can be whatever I want to be, and I want to be the guy who plays the horn so fierce that my cheeks poof out like Louie Armstrong. "Sorry," Mr. Band Nazi said, "your cheeks aren't poofy enough and your lips aren't shaped right to play a trumpet. Here, go bang on this drum instead."

And so it began. Can't be an astronaut 'coz I get sick on a Tilt-a-Whirl. Can't be a beekeeper 'coz I'm allergic. Can't be a supermodel coz... well, coz I'm SO painfully sexy that it would be unfair and cruel to all other aspiring male models. And now there's another one I can cross off the list:

I've always wanted to be a great photographer. Not gonna happen.

I have a friend who has the world's greatest eye behind a lens. Seriously. She can go on vacation and point-and-click a roll where EVERY shot could be an album cover. I, meanwhile, am the only photographer I know of capable of making the Rocky Mountains look UGLY.

My folks wanted to foster my early love for photography, so I was the first kid on our block to have my very own camera. I've still got some of those old pictures, too -- they're in an album I like to call "Gallery of the Headless." There I was, capturing on film every person who shaped my upbringing, and, without fail, chopping off their heads. It's a cavalcade of torsos. Actually, there's ONE picture in which I managed to fit in frame both the subject AND her head - it's one I like to call "7 Year Old Shane Surprises Mom on the Toilet."

Almost 30 years later, I'm still inept at taking pics. So what's a photo idiot like me to do? Take a class? Buy a book? Naw. If I stink at photography, it must be the CAMERA'S fault, right? That's why I blew my tax return on a fancy new digital SLR. Well, not a FANCY one, because I didn't realize how much cameras cost these days. Another photographer buddy of mine recommended a model, which sounded great -- until I went to the store and saw the $2200 price tag.

$2200? For a CAMERA? Are you KIDDING me? If I'm spending $2200 on a camera, I expect that camera to, at the very least, see through the clothing of attractive women. No X-ray powers? I'll take the basic model, then, thanks.

And with my new camera, soon all of you would be basking in the wonder of my artsy-ness. Too bad, then, that it then spent the entire week raining. Ergo, the debut of my wonderful new camera was spent taking exactly 187 pictures of my housecats, whose retinas may never be the same again.

Still, though, it's a start. When the rain cleared, my friend Jason and I took the camera out on a day-long test drive in the country. I took a LOT of pictures -- towns, rivers, flowers, nature, whatever -- and some of 'em are actually kinda good. I was almost getting confident about my photo-taking ability until Jason fixed that for me:

"Dude, why do you hold the camera so dorky?"

What? I can't even HOLD the camera right? Instead of looking through the viewfinder straight on, apparantly I turn my head to the left. To me it makes sense -- my nose doesn't get scrunched up against the back of the camera, and it affords my eye a perfect fit on the viewfinder. And, apparantly, looks super dorky.

But you know what? I don't care. I may not be Ansel Adams, but I still have fun trying. So I'm not giving up. Maybe I still CAN be whatever I want to be if I put my mind to it. Maybe I WILL go buy a book on photography and learn how to compose a decent pic. Keep your eyes on my blog - if I start taking masterful photos, I'll post them. Until then, SAY CHEESE.

COLUMN: Breaking News

Long ago when I had a dream of someday having my own weekly niche in the newspaper, I never expected that I would use said niche to compare the Cable News Network to Bobcat Goldthwait. But hey, weirder things have happened, I suppose.

A few years back, a friend and I went to see Bobcat perform live at a local comedy club. It was a REALLY funny gig, but it got awkward at the end. As the show was concluding, it became painfully evident that Goldthwait had used up most of his planned material. However, the wait staff hadn't finished closing out tabs and seeing people off. This left Goldthwait in the unenviable position of having to kill time until the wait staff sorted out everyone's bills. While he did a decent job ad-libbing a few extra minutes, it was QUITE obvious to those of us in the crowd that the material Goldthwait was offering was filler at best.

This past week, I was on vacation. Well, no -- vacation implies that I was somewhere fun doing something fun. I simply was being paid to NOT be at work. Rather than use my vacation time to tour some exotic land, I chose to stay at home, recharge the batteries, and watch a remarkably unhealthy amount of TV.

Little did I know that I picked a doozy of a week to sit glued in front of the TV. What I thought would end up being a week's worth of television comedy at its finest turned into a week-long telethon of tragedy. Between the horrors at Virginia Tech, the senseless workplace shooting at NASA, and the sad loss of a Navy Blue Angel, I spent a LOT of my vacation staring at CNN with my head shaking.

But as much as I appreciate the instant coverage that the TV news channels provide, I realized this week just why I love newspapers as much as I do: newspapers give you news -- on paper. In one glance, you can read all there is to know about a major news event. No hubbub, no spectacle, just the facts as we know them prior to that issue's deadline.

I'm a here-and-now kinda guy. I realize that today's society lives as mere rest stops on the information superhighway. I respect and admire the fact that, like what happened numerous times last week, someone can call me and go, "Dude, are you watching this? Turn on the TV right now," and within seconds, I'm up to pace. But that right there is also the problem of cable news: It DOES take mere seconds to get up to speed on a breaking news story... yet the networks give these stories hours and hours of coverage, some of which is crucial and informative, but most is just pure filler.

When the tragedy at Virginia Tech occurred last week, all the major networks broke in immediately with all-day coverage. CNN quickly procured a video filmed on a cell phone by a VT student. The video showed the exterior of Norris Hall. Inside of that building, unspeakable horror was being played out, yet outside all you saw was a building, the awful sound of gunfire, and then audio of someone yelling.

In other words, the video served little purpose as to coverage of the event. It wasn't news; it was shock-and-awful. I stopped counting after CNN replayed that video 45 times that afternoon. Not only replayed it, but interviewed the student who shot the video three times. Each interview, they asked the student what the yelling at the end of the tape was. Was it students? The gunman? No, it was a police officer yelling at the amateur documentarian to get away from the building.

When the Blue Angel pilot was sadly killed at the air show this past weekend, once again the networks rolled into wall-to-wall Breaking News mode. Problem was, other than waiting for the Navy press conference, there really wasn't much to talk about.

Yet we were subject to hours of the news networks riffing about the Blue Angels, the Carolina coastline, airplanes in general, etc., etc. At one point, CNN contacted one of their reporters embedded in the Middle East and woke her up in the middle of the night to put her on air. Why? Because years prior, this reporter had flown with the Blue Angels in a fluff piece. Her much-needed international insight? "Those planes travel fast." Meanwhile, on the crawl at the bottom of the screen, it's mentioned in passing that a charter plane crashed in the Florida Keys killing 3. Why does THAT tragedy merit only a crawl?

The cable networks aren't dumb - they know that breaking news equals viewers. It doesn't matter if it's O.J.'s car chase, Anna Nicole's kid, or one of the greatest tragedies to ever strike our nation -- the news networks will be there, looping film footage, over-analyzing, talking to witnesses who witnessed nothing, and covering stories when the stories themselves haven't been written yet.

At some point, the cable channels need to know when Breaking News becomes Broken News. If you want to survive in the business of information, you need to inform -- NOT mindlessly riff and kill time like a comedian struggling to get offstage.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Brad Paisley pics

So for those of you who actually READ our papers, you might have noticed that lil' ol' me got to review the Brad Paisley show at the Mark on Friday night... Well, or as I like to call it, the Taylor Swift show at the Mark on Friday night that Brad Paisley also happened to be at ;)

I'm kidding. They were all good. And, coming from indie rock ME talking about a country gig, that's sayin' something.

Anyways, it was a good chance to test out the new camera some more. Here's some pics from the gig:

Here's the awesome stage set-up:

Taylor Swift:

Kellie Pickler:

Brad Paisley:

And yes, one chubby and exceptionally dorky columnist/dirty-old-man in one of the most awkward moments of his life:

And, yes, I bet that's the only time Taylor Swift has been photographed next to someone in a Belle & Sebastian t-shirt.