I Have Seen The Future….And It’s Really Expensive

and I hope it works a lot better than the past did.

I enjoy technology – but when it comes to cell/smart phones…I am a total Luddite.  I use my cell phone so little that about a year and a half ago I switched to a pre-paid plan and saved a bundle by not having a monthly bill for minutes I didn’t use.

I guess this lack of phone-worship stems from the fact that when I was part of the smart crowd and out doing interesting things worth talking about cell phones didn’t exist.  So I never got in the habit of updating my status constantly while at the grocery store, or driving to work, or just having a drink.  And now that I’m old, I don’t care what anybody else’s status is.  I can wait to talk to them when they get back from the grocery store.

I had to go throw some new minutes on the old phone yesterday.  I think my total cell phone tab for 2011 so far is like 60 bucks.  While I was at the Verizon minute-store I looked around at the Wall of Wonder Phones they had there.  It wasn’t that busy, so I actually got a chance to chat with the sales rep about what was there.

I looked at the Ipad, the Xoom, and wondered why people were so excited about something named the Droid Bionic.  The name alone gives you pause, like we can”t wait to turn into the Borg.

When I converted all this technology back into something I understand – dollars – I could see just what a bonanza these things were for the data carriers.  Because if you do the math:

1.  I am stuck with my expensive DSL service for my computers at home.  Face it, it’s not like we can go back to dial up, and computers HAVE to be connected for updates and any other task other than printing a letter.  As the phone company has a monopoly – it’s not like I can choose from several high-speed ISP’s in the area – I”m screwed in excess of 100 bucks a month there.

2.  The wireless network and these devices are not an able substitute for a “real” computer with a high speed connection.  Data use is capped.  Stream a few Youtube videos and you’ve used up your bandwidth for the month.

3.  Ipso facto, you have to spring for them both if you really want to utilize the technology.  Which means in excess of 200 bucks a month just to connect up to the “world”.  I remember when that was a car payment!

The only solution, for me, is to wait until the computers I have at home are so totally outdated that they are museum-worthy.  Then junk them, disconnect the DSL, and jump into whatever wireless platform exists at the time.  One that has a phone, camera, Internet access and barber shop.  And only pay ONE access fee – or if possible, pay as you go on that too!

Because for all the expense and my Luddite attitude, I have to admit – those Ipads are pretty slick!!!!


Grim and Betty

As I mentioned in this post, I had a chance to spend some time in the old hometown recently.  It also happens to be the hometown of Grim Natwick, one of the most influential artists you’ve never heard of.

Natwick created “Betty Boop”, who, judging by the number of collectibles and knick-knacks I see adorned with her wide-eyed image, still generates considerable cash flow for somebody. (Not Natwick, by the way – he created the character but the rights are owned by Fleischer Studios).

Grim Natwick’s career spanned the entire history of the Golden Age of Animation.  From the crude animation of the 20’s and Krazy Kat, to creating Betty Boop on through Mickey Mouse and Disney’s Silly Symphonies.  He was lead animator on the first full-length animated film, Disney’s Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.

Always kind of a self-effacing guy, Grim said he “did a little work” on Fantasia and Pinocchio.  A roster of his assistants read like a Who’s Who of animation.  And Grim lived a good long time, too – a full 100 years.  Long enough to see his work become part of our cultural history.

But sadly, he didn’t live long enough to see any recognition from the folks he grew up with.  A historical marker with his accomplishments wasn’t added until about a year ago.  I went to school with some of his shirt-tail relations, but other than myself and these folks nobody knew of him.  All the while Grim was still around, and still creating.

It wasn’t until the recent interest in collecting animation cels and memorabilia that Betty Boop and her creator were unearthed for a new generation.  And as I mentioned in my previous post, my hometown had seen some tough times in recent years.  So a grant was chased down for a “matching fund” for a cultural event to drive tourism and recover some of the economic “Boop-Oop-A-Doop” lost when the local paper mill drastically downsized.

So the “Grim Natwick Film Festival” was born.  Long overdue recognition for a native son that became a pillar in a uniquely American art form.

It’s too bad that Grim never got his due from his creations, fame-wise or financially.  It’s also too bad his hometown never chose to recognize him until they saw a way to turn a buck for themselves by latching onto his memory.

But I think Grim would be OK with it.  At a photo taken at his 100th birthday party, just about every great living animator of the 20th century is there.  I’ve never seen his name mentioned without the speaker commenting on Grim’s modesty and huge contribution to his art form.  And even though he spent his working life far, far away from his roots, Grim is laid to rest in the old hometown that never left his heart.



The Sinclair Lewis novel Babbit, like his other works, is one of those that should be re-written and updated every generation or so.  The book’s main theme holds up, especially in today’s climate, but the cultural background has changed in a way that makes it easy to dismiss as an anachronism.

Lewis was from just up the road in Sauk Centre, MN.  I’ve always thought his themes were vindicated by the way the locals are said to have treated him after his books became popular.  Since the fictional town of Gopher Prairie was a thinly veiled stand-in for Sauk Centre, Lewis’ themes of small-town small mindedness didn’t sit well with the local gentry.  He was considered persona non grata by some of the townspeople he had grown up with.

When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature – the first American to do so – suddenly there was a change of heart.  Now he was the local boy made good!  Success covers a multitude of sins, I guess.

George Babbitt and his foibles still echo in our society, right down to his work in real estate “a brisk selling of badly built houses”.  His other work, Elmer Gantry , has certainly seen a parallel in many a TV evangelist.   Americans are still a society of “go getters” and “boosters” who are eager for something to believe in that will make them thinner, richer, and more socially prominent.  Life’s more profound questions?  Well, they don’t matter so much.

The scarier part of Lewis’ vision is in It Can’t Happen Here.  Talk about a story “ripped from the headlines”!   Even though those headlines took place 70 years after the book!

I find it interesting that the theme of It Can’t Happen Here has continued on in plays and various adaptations, but is only widely palatable to us when the villains are re-cast as flesh-eating aliens from space in the science fiction drama V. 

Sometimes the truth is too close to us to see.

Interlude With Reality

Just realized I hadn’t posted anything here in a few days – time does fly when you’re away from an LCD screen!   Had a first round of pseudo-summer enjoyable weather here and have been spending time renewing my acquaintance with fresh air, lakes, and a relatively novel experience of using my legs to propel myself across the face of the earth, as opposed to just using them to scoot an office chair around behind a desk.

Made me realize how much of a rut we can get into.  There’s a tendency to keep hammering at the same things without stopping to consider why you are doing them.  Even if you pick up the same tools again, you at least get a refreshed perspective.

Kind of like the “filter bubble” that I’ve read about lately with regard to Google and social media.  Since your preferences are tracked, pretty soon you are only exposed to results that are pretty similar to what you’ve investigated before.  Seems that’s a waste of a lot of perfectly good Internet!

It’s better to be exposed to it all…..the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Because that’s the way things are in reality.  Or should be.  One of the other scary things I’ve noticed when out and about is how many people devote a good deal of their attention to some sort of electronic device in an almost constant manner.  It’s a pity when people don’t pay attention to the trees, flowers and birds of the air we’ve been blessed with and choose to live in a simulated world of their own imagining.

Like an explorer, you really can’t see what’s ahead unless you climb to the high ground and look out at the far vistas.  The view is pretty limited when your head is stuck up your own butt.

Green Shoots from Barren Soil

I spent some time in my old hometown last week, which is always an interesting experience.  It is pretty much your standard Midwestern small town, who went through some tough times in the last 20 years or so.  The new highway bypassed it.  The stores closed.  The paper mill which is the economic lifeblood of the place downsized.  Too common a story in similar towns across the nation.

A small town, with the requisite number of small-minded citizens, so like most who become aware of a larger existence, I left.  But I’ll always have ties to the place, since it’s where I was born and spent the first 18 years of my existence.

That is why I was surprised at the sense of pride I felt as I looked at the place through older eyes and realized it was turning around.  It took about 20 years to shake off the hard times, but it’s finally happening.  New stores and businesses are going up along the new highway.  The hospital added a wing.  The paper mill now has the largest paper machine -in the world!

We each have our own destinies.  Some of us were meant to graze in distant pastures, some of us to stick it out on the rocky soil of home.  I’m glad – and proud – of my classmates, friends and neighbors who stuck it out and are finally seeing some rewards for their efforts.  For a long time, there wasn’t a lot to cheer about or even make it worth visiting.

It’s not my town anymore, but it’ll always be my hometown.  I guess the lesson here is that sometimes the heritage we preserve for our own reasons ends up helping others reconnect with their heritage as well.

Blogal Warming

Back when I more voraciously perused the blogosphere, I stumbled upon some of the more popular “minimalism” blogs.  At first, the core idea appealed to me – and still does.  I just went back and revisited some of the blogs that I could remember, and see they are still going full speed.

Closely aligned with this concept is the “lifestyle” business.  I’m not currently up to speed on the hipper aspects of it, but from what I can divine this movement consists of pumping re-warmed self-help B.S. into the atmosphere at a rate that will enable you to live out of a backpack and travel to Thailand like the cool kids do.  Or anywhere else that allows you to subsist on $4 a day.  Call me greedy, but my idea of a “lifestyle” business is one that, I don’t know, allows you to have a First World lifestyle.  I’ll take Paris and clean sheets over a hostel in Bangkok and a dirt floor.   Guess I’m spiritually corrupted that way.

And now I see I’ve missed the “World Domination Summit” in (where else) Portland.  In doing a little investigating, I see that something like this could be a great first step toward those champagne wishes and caviar dreams.  I see that roughly 500 people are signed up, at $300 bucks a pop, from what I can tell.  Since the Summit itself largely seems to consist of various bloggers pitching their schtick to each other,  I’m assuming there aren’t any paid performers.  It appears to be a self entertaining crowd.

From the Portland Art Museum website, I’m estimating you can rent out banquet/conference rooms at the rate of $2000 bucks for a 4-hour period, or 4 grand a day.  I’m going to assume this will take about 3 rooms, but let’s be generous and say you booked 4 rooms solid for the weekend.

$150,000 large – (4 rooms X $4,000/day) = Tidy sum after overhead of $134,000.   Assuming some other miscellaneous overhead, I still see clearing in excess of $100K  for a meeting of people who are probably going to be Twittering each other instead of talking face to face.  I don’t see much else lined up for entertainment that isn’t the pay-as-you go variety.

Not bad for a weekend’s work!

Don’t get me wrong, this is just good old entrepreneurship at it’s finest.  It shows the power of marketing in it’s ability to sell us, well, marketing.


Spam and Sadness

Happened to check my “spam” comments queue the other day, and got a bit of a surprise.   In addition to the regular spam I’ve seen there before, usually of the pharmaceutical sales variety, there was an insulting comment.  It didn’t bother me, as it didn’t seem specific to my post.  Since the same comment showed up 3 days in a row from different email addresses it wasn’t hard to figure out it was just generic crap.

Did make me think though……like things usually do.  You wonder just who the actual humans are at the other end of the “Send” button.  Just judging from the grammar and terminology used, I’d have to say it is a native English-speaker, and probably one who is a little older at that.  So much for the frustrated-13-year-old theory.  To take the time and whatever skills are needed to mine email accounts, etc. just to send out generic insulting comments to people they don’t know is the part that makes  you think.

What causes or generates this type of activity?  Is it a general feeling of being powerless?  What thrill is there to it?  Just striking out at a universe that doesn’t even seem to know you exist?   We’ve always had vandals and randomly destructive people, but with the advent of the internet it seems we’re starting to mass-produce them.

You see this type of anonymous anger all over the Net – it doesn’t really even raise an eyebrow anymore.  But to think that there is a real human on the other end spawning this stuff as the best use of their time is the part that makes me feel kind of sad for our technology.