Friday, March 25, 2011

The departed

The news of Elizabeth Taylor's death this week was rather sad, even though she had largely slipped from our cultural consciousness.  She was THE biggest star around when I was a kid, and my parents both always raved about how she was amazingly beautiful and extremely talented.  As I've gotten older and seen more of her work (particularly her earlier motion pictures) I tend to agree.


And somewhere along the line that led me to think of others from movies, music and books who are now deceased.  Just last night my wife and I watched "The Dark Knight," the second in what's presumed to be a trilogy of reality-oriented Batman films crafted by the talented director Christopher Nolan.  The film features an Academy Award winning performance by the late Heath Ledger as Batman's archvillain the Joker, and his portrayal of a psychopathic criminal is stunning at the same time as it's so chilling.  Ledger died very young, of course, but he left behind some interesting and memorable work.


Along with that, for the past several weeks I've been thinking about Kurt Vonnegut, the legendary novelist, writer, sometime artist and humanist who left us in 2007.  I was helping my son and a friend install some drywall in my son's nearly-renovated kitchen and the friend was cutting a hole to accommodate a ceiling light fixture.  I observed that he had cut in the general shape of an asterisk (* for those keeping score at home) and remarked that it looked quite a bit like Vonnegut's own rendering of an asshole from "Breakfast of Champions."  Brought down the house!


Then my son reminded me that I dragged him with me to see Vonnegut lecture many years ago when he visited Lexington for some sort of charity fundraising event, but upon reflection, my son says that he thought he was a pretty neat old guy.  And just a couple of days ago I saw a car with a bumper sticker with a phrase that looked familiar.  I got closer at the next traffic light and was able to read it and confirm my suspicion.  Here's what it said:


"The good Earth — we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy."


--Kurt Vonnegut


As he would have written in one of his books, "and so it goes."


I'm sure I could go on, but if you're in the mood to do so, think about the Beatles who have died, about John Wayne's greatest movies, about how the news just wasn't the same without Chet Huntley, about what a shame it was that James Dean lived long enough only to make a handful of movies, and on and on and on.







Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cutting the cord

Our son and his wife recently decided to discontinue their cable television service.

What's that, you say?  How will they survive without "SportsCenter" on ESPN, or all of those "Law and Order" reruns on TNT (something that my son got ME hooked on, but that's a story for another post), or "House Hunters" on HGTV?

Quite well, it seems.

Not only are they saving money, but since they have a toddler and another baby on the way, it's not as though they had lots of time to watch TV anyway.  And, as conscientious parents, they've made a considered choice to limit the amount of television their daughter watches during a given week.

And, from all indications, they don't miss it.

So this started me thinking about life without cable.  And the $$$$$$$ associated with having cable service!  But then I began to think about what we really would miss.....here's a brief list:

1)  Cincinnati Reds baseball games are available ONLY on Fox Sports Net Ohio, which is a cable-only channel.  Now that they broadcast over 140 games per season, all in high definition, it's a little difficult for me, a dyed-in-the-wool Reds fanatic, to NOT make arrangements to get their games.

There is a package one can purchase from MLBTV (major league baseball's centralized broadcasting repository) to see the games, and for the entire season the cost it just a little more than the price of cable in a month.  But then it would be necessary to obtain a streaming content set-top device (Roku, Apple TV or something like that) to grab the signal and translate it into something watchable on my TV.  One time expense, of course, but still an expense.

2)  ESPN.  And, no, I'm not talking about SportsCenter so much, as that "franchise" has pretty much played itself out in my mind, repeating the same news about the same few teams, schools and athletes (Yankees, Red Sox, Patriots, Cowboys, Lakers, Celtics, Duke, North Carolina, Florida, Tiger Woods) over and over and over......well, you get the idea, if you're not familiar.  But I would miss their live sports broadcasts, particularly since so many University of Kentucky football and basketball games are broadcast on various ESPN channels (the Southeastern Conference and ESPN signed a massive rights agreement a couple of years ago and now SEC sports, featuring Kentucky basketball, is a big element in ESPN's live sporting event schedule from September through March).  ESPN operates something called ESPN3.com, but, as I understand it, it's not yet possible to stream that site's content to a set-top box such as I mentioned above.  Maybe at some point ESPN will change their mind on that, but, for now, can't see those games unless you have cable, or are willing to watch on a computer via ESPN3.

3)  Cable news.  I like to have all of the news I can get (although in the evenings it's hard to find news, as the cable news channels almost all have shows on that feature a good deal of commentary), so I'd really miss that.

4)  HGTV.  I know, it's surprising, but we watch many hours of their programming per week, and not just because my wife likes it.  I like many of their shows, too, largely due to familiarity, I suppose.

5)  Food Network/Travel Channel/TLC/TNT/TBS/Bravo/FX.  I could go on, but we watch a little bit of everything from these channels and more.

At least I'm not trying to convince anyone that I'm a big PBS viewer, as I'm not.



To be fair, we probably have channels we don't watch that we could delete from our cable menu, but every once in a while, there's something there that we would miss, so we keep those channels.  And keep paying for them.

I don't know if I will ever take the step our son and his family did, but it does make one think.  We did wean ourselves from subscribing to the local daily newspaper in our hometown, largely because my wife didn't have time to read it, and I'm comfortable reading it online.  But dropping cable, that's a much bigger adjustment.  Time will tell, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Of manbags and leather envy

Ran across this term not long ago, as I was perusing Google to see what various people were using to tote their shiny new iPads around with them (and that comment is soon to be outdated, as Apple announced this morning that the iPad 2 will go on sale on March 11.  But I like the one I have, so that's all fine).  I don't believe I'd heard that term before, at least not thrown around as I saw.  And the accompanying term of "murse," which ostensibly means "man-purse" was right alongside.


Honestly, do we need to invent new terms so that a few smartasses among us can speak pejoratively of others?  


But, I digress from my original question.  I've always liked briefcases, attache cases, computer cases, etc.  From the time I was a kid and got hold of one of my father's old brief bags (he was a salesman and always referred to that as his "grip"),  I've been fascinated by the whole thing.  Carried a briefcase (not a backpack) while in college, until I simply carried my books and a notebook to class.  Couldn't wait to use a briefcase or folio or planner binder or something when I began my "professional" career (and that's always up for debate, as far as how professional I am or anyone is).  And as needs and what I'm carrying around change, so do the containers that interest me.


For instance:  I was pretty quick to jump onto the laptop computer bandwagon, and generally had at least a couple of cases during the life of each computer.  My last two that I've owned have seen only one dedicated case each, but I bought better cases for those (an IBM ThinkPad, pre-Lenovo, and my current model, my beloved Macbook Pro 15.4, on which I'm writing this entry).  But other cases have come and gone along the way, too.


At one time I had a bag that had served as the prototype for the J. Peterman Company's "Counterfeit Mailbag," which I bought from the Peterman retail store that once operated in my home location.  Loved that bag, but eventually gave it to my son.  That was about ten years ago, and he's still carrying it.  When I see it I look at it kind of wistfully, as something that got away.  But I'm glad it's still in the family and not in the possession of someone who purchased it from me via Craigslist or a garage sale.


When I began in my current industry, which required more out of town travel than any profession in which I'd previously worked, my wife encouraged me to invest in a good leather briefcase.  She offered that if I bought a good one, I'd always have it, which was and is true.  And so I bought a traditional briefbag that can be opened and accessed while sitting on the floor, which is a great advantage during meetings.  Used that bag as my primary case from 1997 through about 2000, then again when I worked for a different company that assigned me a teeny-tiny laptop computer that fit very easily into a side pocket.


But that's my point.  Carrying a computer changes a lot of things.


And getting a BlackBerry (which would be the same for any smartphone these days, I suppose) changed the dynamic again, as having that BlackBerry often puts aside the primary reason to carry the computer on a trip:  E-mail.  So I don't often carry a lot on trips now, unless I'm expecting a lot of E-mails that have attachments that won't wait for me to return from wherever I've gone.


My current traveling light bag is pretty cool....it's a messenger bag with a matching legal pad holder made of baseball glove leather by the sporting goods manufacturer Rawlings.  Great bag, great pad holder, used to have a wallet made of the same stuff but it got wet once too often on the golf course and had to be replaced.  This whole Rawlings thing started with my wife and me gifting our son a Rawlings planner to celebrate a new job.  And the hell of it is that Rawlings apparently got out of the business case and luggage business, so you can't find any of that particular stuff anymore.   And that's the problem.  Even traveling light means I need just a LITTLE more room for my stuff, or else I'm compelled to make decisions about what to take along and what to leave at home.  But what I'd like to have is a bag that would allow me to bring it all, if I wanted, or some combination short of everything.


Which brings me to Saddleback Leather.


In conjunction with my comments about manbags and murses, and my casual search for a bag to hold my iPad, my Bose headphones and a few other things I like to have with me while I travel (for business or otherwise), I ran across a link to Saddleback Leather.  This company makes some of the most amazing looking business cases, messenger bags, satchels, backpacks and other leather accessories that I've ever seen.  Heavy boot leather that is riveted and double-stitched with marine thread (which sounds strong, even though I know nothing about it).  Their stated warranty is for 100 years, and they make items that will cause your grandchildren to fight amongst themselves for possession when you're long gone.


So, as I wrote, this name kept popping up in forums and other places throughout Internetland so I went to the site to check 'em out.  


Wow.


Mind you, I'd never seen ANY of their products in person, and I was already trying to figure out how to justify the price of a $600 Saddleback Leather briefcase that would hold EVERYTHING and do it in style.  As if that weren't bad enough, I saw one (and only one, thank God) in person in the airport in Richmond, VA.  The carrier was a pretty normal looking guy with a dark suit, but that bag.  Oh, my.  He chose the dark coffee leather, and the way he slung it about indicated that it was pretty full.  But he delved into it for several different things while he was on the phone (apparently his flight had been delayed, causing him to juggle his plans a bit), and each time he quickly and easily produced whatever he was looking for.  Impressive.


Pretty bad, I know, but that's just how it is.  I don't smoke, don't drink much, don't really have a lot of vices, so I suppose this particular predilection isn't all that bad.  Even thought of buying one of Saddleback's satchels, as their medium model will accommodate the iPad and a good bit of other gear in a very cool looking bag.  Price is less, you know, so that might be easier to rationalize.


Saddleback's founder has a saying posted on their site that addresses the relatively high price of their goods....

"Buy the best, cry once" - Pasquale


Kinda appropriate.  So I continue perusing and reviewing things online, trying to figure out if my former beloved briefbag will hold my Macbook and all of my other stuff (it won't, at least not in a way that I'm comfortable with the level of protection) and trying to tell myself that what I have will suffice, when I know damned well that it won't.

So if you happen to see a Saddleback for sale at a really good price and in really good condition, send that info my way.  Makes those rationalizations just a little easier!

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