Monday, February 28, 2011

...but why do they call him "Oscar?"

Wondered that for a long time....

In the interests of full disclosure, I saw a grand total of two of this year's best picture nominees, "Inception" and "Toy Story 3," the latter with my granddaughter.

I didn't see the entire Academy Awards broadcast last night, but read about the award winners whose presentations I missed and saw just about the last two hours of the ceremony.  Just have a few observations....

Every few years, the producers say they're taking the telecast in a "new direction" and that means one thing--attracting younger viewers.  This year that was attempted by hiring actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host the proceedings.  Franco was about as he often is in public settings that I've seen....detached cool, as though he's looking for the door while grinning incessantly.  He's not problematic in that way, just a little off, if you know what I mean.  Hathaway was her usual luminous presence, and acted much like a normal person who's thrust into that position would act....excited and sometimes actually in awe of some of the presenters who have enjoyed long and prosperous careers.

In the earlier part of the telecast Melissa Leo and Christian Bale both won for their supporting performances in "The Fighter," so I missed Leo's F-bomb (which was bleeped successfully) and Bale's near-breakdown when thanking his wife and daughter.  And unfortunately I also missed Aaron Sorkin's acceptance for adapted screenplay for "The Social Network" (didn't I hear that it was going to sweep the major awards when it came out?  Hmm....) and David Seidler, a former stutterer who wrote and won for the original screenplay for "The King's Speech," about King George VI's struggle to overcome his own speech impediment.  Really sorry to have missed Sorkin, since I'm a huge fan of his TV work.

The major awards held no real surprises, as all of the favorites won.  And if you're like me, you wonder why the Oscar voters all gravitate toward English period pieces like "The King's Speech" when there's a good one out....past examples of this include "Howard's End," "The Remains of the Day," and "Shakespeare in Love."  At the end, when it came time to award Best Picture, Steven Spielberg (who often presents that award, having won in that category only once) mentioned several past winners but also mentioned a number of great movies that were nominated but didn't win (like "Citizen Kane," which most people assume won the year it was nominated).  So "The King's Speech" won that award, as well.  Safe bet for the Oscar voters, who were not ready to award a movie about gay women ("The Kids are All Right"), mental tresspassing ("Inception," my personal favorite), a remake of an old Western ("True Grit"), or most of all, a movie about Facebook ("The Social Network".

In the end, the motion picture industry is pretty traditional in who it recognizes for these prestigious awards, while turning out mostly crap that is aimed at 14-year-old boys.  Interesting paradox, eh?

Last time I really cared what won which awards was the year the third installment of "The Lord of the Rings" was up for something like eleven awards, and won them all.

So, next year, don't be surprised if the producers of this telecast try something different in hopes of getting you to watch (again)....

Friday, February 18, 2011

Travel travails, again

Back from a trip to Richmond, Virginia, where the weather was wonderfully unseasonably warm but windy.  While there I spent some time with my team member visiting clients and also interviewed a couple of candidates for a new position our company is looking to fill.  But neither of those is the subject of my entry, of course, in keeping with my company's policy of no mentions in personal blogs.

So, I wish to outline some of the odd things I encountered while staying in a Marriott in downtown Richmond.

My rep recommended this hotel because there are numerous restaurants and such nearby, it's a short cab ride from the airport (I needed to get myself there when I arrived Tuesday night, but she was nice enough to take me to the airport for my outbound flight yesterday--more on that below), and, I found online, they had an indoor pool.

The last item is huge with me for a couple of reasons:  I don't have access to a pool at home and like to swim as a diversion from my normal treadmill sessions here at the ranch, and it allows me to pack much lighter than if I took clothes and shoes for exercise (if you wore a size 13 EEE shoe you'd want to save that space, too).  So when I travel overnight an indoor pool (so that weather isn't a factor) is a big plus, if not an absolute must.

I flew into Richmond from Cincinnati, having decided to try a direct flight instead of my normal route, which is Lexington to Atlanta, frantic connection, then Atlanta to, well, wherever.  Cincinnati's airport is actually in northern Kentucky (and if you're not from this part of the country, I'll bet you didn't know that) and is only an hour away by car, so it's an easy drive.  There was a time I would NEVER have voluntarily done this, but over the ten years or so that I've traveled by air for business, the passenger load in the Cincinnati (more correctly the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport) airport has steadily decreased.  First, Comair, the regional carrier that is still headquartered there, used to be such a major force for 50-seat regional jets all over the eastern US has drastically reduced its flight schedule, and following its acquisition of Northwest Airlines, Delta Airlines downgraded Cincinnati to a secondary hub, meaning that three formerly bustling concourses are now down to one moderately busy one.  So parking is no longer a huge issue, it's easy to navigate, the security lines are pretty reasonable, and, best of all, I can fly directly from there to a good many places that would require a connection if I originate from Lexington.  That's a pretty decent development for me.

So, back to my story.  I arrived in downtown Richmond on Tuesday night around 9:00 PM.  One desk clerk was trying to wait on about ten of us who walked in at once (including a group of three people, two men and a woman, who appeared to be checking in together), so there was a sustained wait.  I continued to chat with a nice woman with whom I shared my shuttle there, a doctor from Michigan who was in town for a conference, to pass the time, and eventually we were all checked in.

I arrived in my room and the first thing I noticed was that it was a handicap-equipped room.  Now, I know that it's important that hotels have a certain number of these, but I'm not handicapped and since I have a Gold Marriott Rewards membership, I was more than a little unhappy about this.  But I was also tired and didn't want to wage a protracted battle to get a different room, so I decided to live with it.

Next morning my wakeup call came as planned, and I shaved and then headed downstairs to the pool.  I never wear my glasses to or from the pool (probably should, but I function well enough without them not to accidentally walk into the women's restroom, anyway) but when I got to the pool I began noticing the depth markings on the side of the pool.  Unbelievably, the pool was ONE AND A HALF FEET DEEP in the shallow end, and deepened to a maximum of just under FOUR FEET.  This means that swimming in it would require either a very small person or the willingness to drag one's knuckles on the bottom with nearly every stroke.  No, thank you.

So I elected to get into the hot tub to soothe my back, which has been giving me problems since sleeping in another hotel bed last week in Mississippi (poor me, I know).  On the way there I noticed a lot of standing water and had already seen about a dozen wet towels dropped here and there.  The spa felt pretty good, so after a few minutes there I thought, what the hell, let's give the pool a try.  When I did I stepped into water that was so cold it literally made me shriek!  No, on second thought, let's NOT try the pool.

As I was leaving for the day I took the manager on duty aside and explained my disappointment with the handicap room, the shallow and cold pool and the general mess that the pool area was.  She apologized profusely, and I simply told her that I knew they could not address problems of which they were not aware.

In a wonderful gesture of customer service (and I'm very big on those myself), when I returned later in the day, there was a tray on the desk in my room.  On it were two bottles of water (which are not generally free in a Marriott), a box of truffles, and a bottle of wine, all accompanied by a note from the general manager, apologizing again for my frustrations.  Now, that's how you do it.

Flash forward to yesterday morning.  I'm sitting in the room reading on my iPad, and my right foot is kind of wandering aimlessly around the bed (in the handicap room the armchair was on the TV side of the room to accommodate a wheelchair, I assume, so I slid the chair over next to the bed) and I felt something firm that didn't feel like the bedcovers.  I reached down and to my surprise there was what I would judge to be a nearly new woman's shoe!  Black patent leather, VERY high heel, probably really uncomfortable, but darned if I know why women so often wear uncomfortable shoes anyway.  Then I got curious, and, sure enough, there was the other one also under the bed.  My guess is a previous occupant of the room kicked off her shoes upon entry and they slid somehow under the bed.  Anyway, I put the shoes on the nightstand, washed my hands and when I checked out reported this to the front desk.  They were rather surprised but appreciated me mentioning this.  All in all, a pretty weird hotel stay.  And while they were nice, I didn't get what I expected from this hotel, so I probably won't go back anytime soon.

And, of course, even though I had a direct flight from Richmond to Cincinnati yesterday, the flight was delayed.  Not because of weather, which has been the culprit behind nearly every delay so far in 2011, but a mechanical problem.  Thankfully it was eventually fixed and our flight left, albeit late.

Suppose it wouldn't be a business trip without some kind of hiccup....but, come on.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I don't know....

....but here's what I think about a few things.

First, during a recently completed business trip I happened to see Bill Maher's "Real Time" show on HBO.  I don't usually plug anyone's programs here, but because I'm too cheap to have HBO at home I don't see this all that often.  If you remember, Bill used to do essentially the same show for Comedy Central and then ABC, and called it "Politically Incorrect."  It was and still is largely a panel discussion with him as the moderator, and the panel might be folks from the news media, politics, sports, entertainment, or other fields.  What struck me this time was that he played a clip from 2005 in which he correctly predicted the bursting of the housing bubble, which in turn led to bank failures and the near-collapse of Wall Street and our economic system.  It was good, and I just discovered that previously aired episodes are available as podcasts on iTunes!  Go get a couple and you'll see that it's time well spent...and you'll laugh while you're thinking, which is a good thing.

Damn, but I'm so sick of winter!  Kentucky had more snow yesterday and last night, and I apparently returned home just ahead of it.  Woke up this morning to reports on TV of a current temperature of SIX degrees.  I mean, really, this isn't International Falls, Minnesota, is it?

Let me get this straight....the NFL runs the Super Bowl, but in addition to the NFL, some bright soul who represents one of the victims of "SeatGate" at last Sunday's game has also decided to sue the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones, is that correct?  Can you say "settlement?"

I was kind of amused and kind of disturbed earlier in the week when it was announced that NASA had completed their review and analysis of Toyota's data concerning their sudden-acceleration issues and found that there were no electrical or software-related causes for that problem.  The end result is that it was most likely floor mats that bunched up with the accelerator pedals in some cars.  I'm sorry, but that's been an inherent risk since the first time I put mats in a car (before all cars seemed to come with them) and I would inadvertently shove the mat forward every time I got into the vehicle.  See above, I suppose.

Did you see where Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol both attempted to trademark their names?  Not very presidential, in my view, but I think Sarah's having too much fun snarking at those who are in office to become one herself.  Besides, she wouldn't want to take that much of a pay cut.  My long-held opinion is that if she does decide to run for President that it will be as a third-party candidate, so that she can bypass the entire primary election system.  But that's just me.

Finally, I saw that Aaron Rodgers, the Super Bowl MVP quarterback of the newly crowned champion Green Bay Packers, was the lucky person to say "I'm going to Disney World" at the conclusion of the game.  Do you think that, if the outcome had been different, Disney would have chosen Big Ben to go?  Hmmm.....

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Somewhat Super

Super Bowl Sunday has come and gone for another year....I don't know about you, but for once the game itself overshadowed the commercials and the halftime show. Let's remember, I'm 50, so the Black Eyed Peas are not going to be my cup of tea. So I wasn't all that disappointed in the halftime show they and others put on at the big game.

The National Anthem wasn't all that bad, despite Christina Aguilera's flub on the lyrics, but I thought Lea Michele did "America the Beautiful" better!

But the real drama each year is the commercials. I suppose now we know that the American auto industry is on its way baxk, as there were multiple Chevy and Chrysler commercials (when did rapper Eminem start doing commericals? He was in TWO!). Bud Light ran several that were amusing, but I thought the best were some for Doritos and Pepsi Max. If you're among the eleven people who didn't watch, they can probably be found online.

Oh, and the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I'm on a business trip and saw a lot of proud Packer fans sporting their team colors yesterday in the airports. Good fans.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just in CASE....

Remember a while back my breathless post about getting an iPad?  Well, it's been about two months, and I still love this device very much (more now that my company has plans to allow company e-mail to be accessible on personally owned mobile devices) and have been having a blast discovering stuff it will do.

But with any technology there are what I would term "side effects," and this is no different.  By my count I have now purchased five different cases for the iPad, and am returning the fourth.  I suppose because it's a tablet that many of the iterations of protective cases are designed to allow the iPad owner to use the device while it's in each respective case.  Some have been quite attractive (one was an aged leather job with contrast stitching), while most have been serious black in color and varying qualities of silicone, faux leather or vinyl.  But there's been something kind of "off" with most of them, in my opinion.

The iPad, if you're unfamiliar, is essentially a glass surface mounted on an aluminum case.  It's almost ten inches by seven inches, and pretty thin for an electronic device.  The first three cases covered the screen but didn't pad the device.  The next one is padding only, a sleeve from which the device must be removed in order to be used.  And the last one was from a company called Otterbox, known for their heavy-duty, industrial grade mobile phone cases.  My wife kind of started me thinking about that brand, having seen one on an iPhone (which our daughter and son-in-law both own and which my wife would eventually like to own herself) and being impressed by its design.  Just looking at the thing, you would think that whatever is inside is indestructible while this case is around it.

So I ordered an Otterbox Defender from my favorite online retailer, and it came last Saturday.  It took me a good while to maneuver the device into the case, as it comes in five pieces and there are three layers to it once assembled.  And, wow, is it protective!  Unfortunately, though, it's also heavier than the iPad itself, and one sore wrist (from holding it for a sustained period) later, I decided to return it, rather than risk a cumulative trauma injury!  Great item, and if you have an iPad and plan to use it in a rugged environment, it would be just the thing to protect your investment.  But I work in a home based office, and the toughest thing I do with my iPad is carry it onto an airplane, so rugged isn't quite as much of a requisite for me.

When I bought the iPad I also bought the Apple-brand case, which is kind of like a portfolio.  It was OK, but no padding.  And I also opted for a heavy-duty transparent screen protector, so as to avoid scratches and other injury to my new device.  That was installed by the retailer where I purchased it, so it's still on there doing its job.

And, oh, my, what a wide assortment of other things you can buy for the iPad, as is so often the case with any new technology!  My first accessory piece was a cable to allow me to connect the device to my speaker unit, which I already used with my iPod.  That wasn't easy to find, but I located the item and it works great.  Later I bought the Apple-branded dock, which also serves as an easel to set the device on a desktop.  And there are countless stands, keyboard units, pens to use if you don't like touching the device (that's half the fun, to me!), carrying cases (not quite the same as a case you wrap around the iPad, of course), and a myriad of other things.

I'm trying to restrain myself, but it's not easy.  The iPad is everything it's advertised to be, a lot easier to carry than a laptop, with far superior battery life, and ever so much more fun.  What's not to like?

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