Thursday, February 21, 2008

One list, ten books - your help required...

Okay, so even though I really enjoy reading and fancy myself a writer, I don't talk about books much. I think it's probably because I don't read much of what's hip or current. That's mostly because I read based on suggestion from friends and, for some reason, my friends don't recommend many books to me. I haven't a clue why that is, possibly because I don't talk about books much. It's a vicious cycle...

Anyways, I'm going to post about books here. But before I do, I need you to help me out.

First, I know there are a lot more readers of my blog than there are commentators (I stalk all of you with a page counter). Help me out here and leave some comments, okay? Here's what I'm looking for - suggest one book for me to read. You don't even have to write a review of it... just put in a title.

Thanks. I heart you. And you. And you... most of the time.

1. A book that changed your life: Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden
I won't say it was the story of how the authorities hunted down Pablo Escobar impacted me enough to change the way I see the world. After all, how much can one drug lord affect a kid thousands of miles away who doesn't speak Spanish or do blow (during the week)? However, the way Bowden wrote the book carried a deep impact for me; it was completely true and extensively researched, journalism at its finest, yet it was also written as if it were a page-turning novel. Sure, Bowden wasn't the first to write the "non-fiction novel," but it was the first one I read. Definitely worthwhile...

2. A book you read more than once: Lots and lots...
Many times, I'll revisit an old book. It's sort of like catching up with a friend you haven't seen in a while, forgotten what they looked like, but did remember that you always enjoyed the time you spent together. I do try to re-readZorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis every couple years, though, as a nice reminder to stop burying my nose in books and try living life for a change. Ironic, isn't it?

3. A book you would take to a desert island: Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook
Dumb category... why would you take your favorite novel? Well, unless it tells you how to spot poisonous mushrooms...

4. A book that made you laugh: Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About by Mil Millington
I stumbled upon the pre-cursor to the book, the author's fantastic website, and immediately lost all productivity at work for a full two weeks. It was awesome. He's since written three other novels, none of which I've read, but I liked the first one quite a bit. Get the British version if you can (or I'll loan you mine).

5. A book that made you cry: The Incredible Journey by Sheila Every Burnford
I don't cry easily and I've never teared up while reading a book. But I did tear up at the move version of this one. I was ten.

6. A book you wished you had written: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I resisted the urge to answer, "Anything!" here.
C'mon, though, who wouldn't want to create the perfect protagonist to speak to hundreds of thousands depressed teenagers, earn lots of cash doing it and canonizing yourself among the greatest names in literary history before retiring to a mysterious life of solitude? I know I would.

7. A book you wish had not been written: How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson's ghost writer
Really? That was necessary?

8. Two books that you are at present reading: Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk and Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
I don't really read multiple books at a time-I have too much of a one-track mind. But I've been in the middle of both of these for a couple months now and have no motivation to finish. They're both great, so far, but I've also read about six or seven other books in the meantime without re-cracking their spines. I'll get around to it sometime or other.

9. A book you are going to read: Macbeth by William Shakespeare
It's not really a book, but whatever. I love Shakespeare and I've read over half of the 37 plays (it's 37, right?), most of those multiple times. Yet I've never read Macbeth, which is probably akin to never having seen Star Wars, ate a hot dog or worn pants.

10. A book you read and never figured out: Ulysses by James Joyce
I am NOT alone on this. In fact, I'd bet that Joyce snapped out of an absinthe-induced trance as he finished typing it, read what he wrote and went, "Wha-uhh?!" Then, he just shrugged and sent it off to his publisher since he was already over deadline. Thanks, Jim. Thanks a lot.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

An open letter to the futon industry...

Dear furniture maker,

I'm a cost-conscious consumer looking to furnish his apartment with a new couch.

Now, being a young professional who doesn't have a ton of money, probably will move again in the next 18 months or so, doesn't have an unlimited amount of space and enjoys hosting out-of-state-guests, I do have some specifications as to what I'm looking for.

I need something cheap, but well-made (since I can't afford to go buy something to replace a broken couch in six months). It needs to be portable, or as close to it as possible. You see, I live on the second floor and have a habit of living in places that aren't on the ground floor, which makes moving heavy objects a pain in the butt, back, knees and, strangely, my 4th vertebrae. My living room is big, but the stairwell is not, so a ten-foot couch is out of the question as is anything over-stuffed or La-Z. Last, I do enjoy passing out on my furniture, clutching empty stemware or a tumbler and/or hosting guests, so I want something to sleep on.

After much extensive research (I napped on a lot of the products at your store, even going as far as to live on one particularly inviting chaise lounger for three days), I've decided that what I need is a futon.

My question for you, Mr. or Ms. Furniture Maker is as follows: Why are futons as expensive as a traditional sofa? Shouldn't the do-it-yourself installation, lesser quality of cushions and overall impression of poverty and/or cheap bastardness that they convey lower the price? I simply do not see any reason why I should purchase a futon when it costs $500, especially when I can have someone deliver me a real piece of furniture for the same amount.

I really want a futon. I genuinely do. I need something that folds flat, but as my last experience in lifting a full-size sofa resulted in a month of traction and nine more of intense physical therapy, those are out of the question.

But I don't want to pay more than $300, which unfortunately leaves me in the position of having to find something used on Craigslist (which probably is infested with lice and has a variety of colorful stains) or putting together something that comes in a box, looks like a Boy Scout-made pine fence and has a mattress the same thickness as my down comforter and is about as comfortable as a medieval torture device.

C'mon, Manufacturer person! Give us starving artist and young professionals and students and cheapskates a break here. Don't push your futon prices out of our reach. Fold them in half.

It won't be hard. In fact, it will be a soft and cushy process, especially for you who already must be comfortable in your over-sized, leather office chair. Cut costs in manufacturing... I don't care how, as long as I have a nice, micro-fiber cushion to prop my feet upon. Ship out production to Thailand, the kids in the factories there work for pennies and their tiny fingers make sure the stitching is hardly noticeable. Or, perhaps you could provide us with the solution for the burgeoning illegal immigrant crisis. Hire all those former day-laborers and put them into the futon manufacturing business. Heck, you can keep the "Made in the USA" sticker for the box and pay them in mattresses.

If this sounds cold, then it's because I don't turn the thermostat past 55 to save money. If this truth is too hard for you, it's because I typed this on my floor. If you're not comfortable with my solutions, then it's because I'm not comfortable in a futon-less living room.

Free the futon and lower prices! Just because oil's over $100 a barrel now doesn't mean futons have to be $100 a foot. Just do it... it's for the greater good of bottoms everywhere.


Mike the Couchless

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Another LOTD...

Maybe I should make this a Link of the Week, instead of a Link of the Day? Whatever... here's the next edition of the ever-popular LOTD.

Check out YouCastr-the Web's first interactive sports networking and live-cast site.

Sick of having to listen to Joe Buck destroy Super Bowl calls? Think you and your dog can form a better announcing duo than anything Tim McCarver's been associated with? Want to be the second coming of a pre-geriatric John Madden? Then sign up with YouCastr and broadcast your live game calls for your family, friends and entire Internet community.

This post on TechCrunch sums it up:

With the entry of Yahoo into the live video category and Ustream acquisition rumors, there’s a lot of interest in the live format. YouCastr’s focus on sports strikes me as a good way to inject a sense of purpose and consistency missing from some lifecasting sites. When you go on, you don’t always know what you’re going to get, but YouCastr will always give you something sports related.

Plus, one of the four guys that started it up is an old roommate of mine. Check it out!

Here's the link one more time.

Coming home to the Granite State...

My apartment in Cambridge is bare. Well, my half of it is, anyway. There are boxes and boxes of books, knick-knacks, art work, souvenirs and the collected detritus of my past 24 years of life. When you see that your whole world can fit comfortably into a small, 12-dollar-a-month storage unit. you can't help but feel a little depressed.

I'm moving out of the city this weekend, packing up my junk and heading north to a small town in the Seacoast area of New Hampshire. Eight years after I left my tiny home state for college, I'm returning for the foreseeable future. Since then, I've lived in three of the world's greatest cities (London, New York and Boston) as well as a reasonably decent college town in upstate New York (Ithaca).

I think, at one point, I swore I'd never, ever move back to New Hampshire. Now that my stuff is all packed away, it's sort of hit me that I'm a city boy no more.

There are a bunch of reasons behind the move. I've never had a place of my own, so I figure as my quarter-century birthday approaches, it's about high time.

Of course, being a freelance (penniless) writer doesn't really lend itself to spacious one-bedrooms in urban areas, unless you count the handicapped-sized port-o-johns they set up at high rise construction sites. My economic needs forced me to look outside of Boston for a place to live.

Also, since I really do intend to make this whole writing thing work out, I needed a place free of distractions. Well, I got it. The town I'm moving to has a thriving downtown of one cafe, one convenience store, one pub, one dirty Chinese place and one crazy townie that wears a one-piece Carhart suit and an orange vest everywhere he goes. Whereas, the town I'm moving out of is widely considered to be the cultural hub on Boston, is home to two world-class universities, contains plenty of shopping, hundreds of restaurants, dozens of bars, a half-dozen T stops and one really gorgeous area to run.

I'm also moving for love. My girlfriend has been driving her Jeep Wrangler (in all its eight-miles-per-gallon glory) to Boston on a weekly basis for two years now. She has gotten lost on the Mass Pike (which is actually about 20 miles west of the city), she's been stuck in hours of traffic before, during and after Sox games, she's been involved in a highway car crash, she's had to reverse direction on Storrow Drive hundreds of times, she's learned how to parallel park and she's fallen asleep at the wheel going in both directions. She hates that drive more than I hate Yankee fans named "Sal."

Has she ever complained about it? Well, no, not too much (Only when I forgot to reminder her about that night's Sox game, which causes the 75 minute drive to escalate into the 150 minute range. That only happened a half dozen times or so. Last season.). Did she ever ask me to move? No. Unless you count the way her eyes flashed with the clear, though subtle message that I would be receiving a prostate examination with a 9-iron and a hacksaw if I signed another lease.

But I wouldn't do that to her. Nope, it's time for Mike to pack up and head to New Hampshire.

I have a lot of good things going for me. I have a tremendous apartment (I'll write more on that later) that's a 1-bedroom, practically brand new and I'm getting for only slightly more than what I paid in groceries and cable each month in Boston. I'm near New Hampshire's cultural center of Portsmouth (which, actually, does have culture that doesn't involve Nascar, bass fishing, ice fishing or the ever-popular lit-dynamite-in-a-barrel fishing). And I'm just over an hour from Boston, making the commute down there pretty smooth, since I'll have to be there about three days a week or so until May.

Life's looking up.

Yes, it's sad to be leaving Boston. I've had a great two-year run. Though moving can bring on some brief twinges of nostalgia, it's also an exciting time. It's a new chapter in my life and I'm looking forward to what I've got in store. It'll give me plenty of material for this old blog thing, too, so I'll keep you updated. Wish me luck...

PLUS I get to redecorate! Which I'm totally pumped about. More on that later, too...

It would be remiss to end this without giving a huge thank you to my incredible girlfriend who, singlehandedly, packed my entire apartment yesterday while I sat and typed up a story that was on deadline. How did I ever get to be so lucky?

Guys out there, that is love. She did that for me just because I needed the help and she cared enough about me to pitch in.

Either that, or she took the opportunity to throw out my Mr. Rogers sweater (this is probably the closest thing to it, just add argyle and subtract the beard) that I like so much and she despises. I'll find out when I unpack...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mike's link of the day...

For all you shoppers out there (where my girls at?!), I bring you the Link of the Day for February 13th, 2008.

(Side note: I'm not doing an LOTD every day, only when I feel like it. So you'd better enjoy it when it comes around, okay?)

My sister was watching Fox News yet again the other night. I think she does it sadistically, because I grunt out little squeaks of pain every time she flips the channel over to it. But they actually had a story that was somewhat interesting and useful. Of course, in typical fashion, they buried it in their D block that night, but whatever.

Sick of clicking through dozens of websites to find the cheapest price for your next online purchase? Just check out, oh ye of the instant gratification ilk, the next time you want to make a 2 a.m. impulse buy.

For example, I just bought a new digital voice recorder, because I'm nerdy like that. I was poking Best Buy's site and found one I liked. It was about $85. I then spent a half an hour Googling, trying to find it at other online retailers, before purchasing it from Amazon for $65. However, had I just plugged it in to PriceGrabber, they would've shown me this in about 30 seconds and I wouldn't have wasted my time hunting. And the price would have been virtually same.

C'est la vie.

No, PriceGrabber didn't pay me (but I would be open to it). I'm just spreading the word for you, trying to keep an eye out for your wallet. That's your LOTD.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More questions, some answers...

Okay, we've done this before... I've answered another one of those random questions that Blogger generates for user profiles. Click here to see mine.

The questions are sometimes too random to actually answer, so I skipped over these doozies:
When you had your shoes taken off for the first time, how surprised were you to see your toes?
"Sponges" and "tongues" are commonly misspelled words. Is that because they are both thirsty?

You get to take three rides on the big roller coaster, what will keep your dad from taking a bite out of your candy apple?

Instead, I chose to answer this one:
Q: Why does the color blue always mean raspberry?
A: It doesn't. It's a marketing ploy.

The only things that we regularly eat that is naturally blue are blueberries. I would only assume that some marketing honcho tasted their "blueberry" flavor, spit it out and said, "Well, we've got blue Popsicles, but they don't taste like any kind of real, so let's call it Blue-Razz and people can just suck it. Now call me my private jet and fly me back to my McMansion!"

So, that's what we've done ever since. We've sucked Blue-Razzberry Popsicles long and hard without questioning.

Well, now is the time to question!

What the heck DO they taste like?

Why is it necessary to add the Zs? Because they always do, it's never spelled with an S.

And why can't we just tell that honcho to shove it after he told us to suck it? Stick it to the man, that's what I always say!

I'll just be making my own Popsicles from now on, thank you very much.

Of course, Blogger only allows you to use 400 characters in your response, which cramps my style like letting the record skip in the middle of my mad flows, so what you'll find in my profile is a shorter answer to this cuter question:

If you hesitate hitting the snooze button in the morning, does that make you lazy?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Your diet is making you fat, or didn't you know?

I hate refined sugar. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the worst things you can put into your body. Before you start arguing, put down that Snickers and read William Dufty's book, The Sugar Blues - it's just over 20 years old, but the facts haven't changed.

Anyways, it's virtually impossible to cut sugar out of my diet, especially with a Cheesecake Factory right down the street, but I do try to get rid of it as much as possible.

One of the main things I try to do to cut out sugar is to drink diet soda. I love the stuff and, while I'm lately particularly attached to Diet Pepsi, I can drink pretty much anything. It took a while for my taste buds to adjust to the Splenda or Aspartame or whatever carcinogen the beverage peeps put into their mixes that week. I haven't had a sugared soda in years.

I used to be pretty addicted, actually. At one point, about five years ago, I drank a six-pack a day of Diet Coke. We all know too much of anything is a bad thing - my skin broke out in awful acne, my hands shook all the time and would fall asleep each night to sweet sounds of grinding teeth.

Well, check out this story from ABC News and the accompanying video. Turns out diet soda can, in addition to give you zits, also make you fat. Drinking anything sweet, whether it's diet or not, can trigger your brain into starting your metabolism into "burn sugar into energy" mode. This would be a good thing, except that if your brain does this and there's no actual sugar to burn, it gets confused and starts to shut down that reaction. So, when you actually have sugar to eat, it doesn't get burned up.

What does undigested sugar turn into when it's in your body? Fat, of course. Good times!

Looks like I'll be sticking with my latest obsession - sparkling water. I've been drinking the stuff non-stop for months. It's fun... the bubbly sensation is great, water rehydrates and helps loosen muscles and relieves headaches, plus, you can add a slice of lime and pretend you're drinking at work. Or, heck, every now and then, go for the real thing and slip in some gin and no one's the wiser. At least there's no sugar in there, right?

Whoever thought drinking through the day would actually be healthy?

You know you love my logic.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's Super Tuesday, have you stuffed your local ballot box?

"Super Tuesday." Doesn't that just have a ring to it? It gets you going, right? I mean, how can you not just spring out of bed when the alarm goes off, full of joie de vivre and feeling super on Super Tuesday?

I move that we have more of these happy-adjective days... Like a three-day weekend could be called "Bonus Monday" (beats "Columbus Day, right?") or we could periodically have "Cuh-razy Thursday," where everyone gets to be their boss for a day. Tell me you would not get pumped up for that... I'm pumped now and this idea is still all in my head. But, my friends, WE can make it happen. Because WE are Americans and WE have the right to chose what we want to term our days of the week.

Okay, so I am a little hopped up on Patriotism right now, possibly from the fumes of the Sharpies in those tiny voting booths, but mostly from the fact that I voted in the primary today. In spite of everything that's wrong with our political system (for example: this, this or this), when you sit down and really think about it, it's pretty cool that we get to have a say in who makes the rules every couple years. We are the rule makers for those rule makers and, if we don't like it, we will layeth the smacketh down on them with our ballots.

Since I live in Massachusetts, I voted today, which was exciting. Actually, this race is making me wish I hadn't given up standard cable, since it's shaping up to be incredibly close (yet again) and I actually want to watch Wolf Blitzer's giant head and rugged beard in front of giant red-and-blue tote boards for hours tonight. Oh well, I'll read about it in the paper tomorrow.

I did find that, after I got back from the polls and exercising my right to choose, I couldn't stop. I had to keep declaring my choices. I put on a new pair of pants. I pulled two versions of lunch out of the fridge and then decided which one I wanted to eat. I chose to work on my thesis instead of writing an article.

But those decisions seemed small and inconsequential in light of voting for a new President, so I had to come up with something bigger to satisfying my urge to vote. I had a fever for more hanging chads, baby.

So, I started voting off musical acts from my iPod island. iGuapo, as I call him, is a big boy - 60 gigs of music and video playing magic - but he was pretty close to being full, so I needed to clean him up. You should have seen me in my voting frenzy, scrolling through iTunes, highlighting and deleting tracks with almost reckless abandon. With so many candidates gotten rid of as irrelevant, you would've thought it was the Green Party convention (bah-zing!).

So long Antony and the Johnsons! Goodbye CoCo Rosie! Peace out, Static-X. Stone Temple Pilots, don't let the door hit you on the way out...

Whew, that felt good. Now iGuapo isn't so bloated.

But while organizing my music collection was fun, I knew I had to take an even bigger stand and align myself, for all time, with one side of the biggest battle of our age.

Yes, I am talking about the historic Facebook vs. MySpace showdown.

I've written about this before, but the day had come to put my money where my mouth was. I had researched the parties, spent a lot of quality time with the candidates, read news stories, argued with friends and caucused until I was spent. It was time to take up the American mantle and stand up for my beliefs.

I want you all to know that I went into the polls of the world wide web and made my choice.... MySpace, you are dead to me. Facebook forever!

C'mon now... who's with me!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Lint: it's not for everyone...

I am a believer that no coincidence should be ignored, because they are not often, in fact, coincidental. When you look closer at seemingly random, related happenings, you will often discover a deep truth - either entirely personal or one that could change the entire world.

I have come across two such coincidences in the last couple of weeks and, while I have yet to determine if the truth is personal or universal, I've decided to share it anyway: girls do not get belly button lint.

Now, to you ladies who read my blog, you're probably thinking, "Duh! And, in case you hadn't noticed, we also don't have testicles, Mike." It's not necessarily to you to whom I'm communicating this truth, though.

Rather, it's to the men, who have needed at least the time allotted by reading the above paragraph to come to grips with this. Yes, my fellow menfolk, it's true, we are the only ones who get belly button lint.

For us dudes, the morning de-linting of the belly button (for me, it's a quick rub-and-pinch movement with my right forefinger and thumb, while my left-hand's counterparts hold open the navel) before we step into the shower has become ritual, just like dropping a deuce first thing or scratching our boxers as a wake-up routine. I just do it, look at the accumulation in case anything of value slipped in there, throw the worthless bits away, step in the shower and commence soaping up my sinewy, bulging, taut muscles.

But for the members of the more beautiful sex? Not so. They don't do that, their morning routine misses that step. We're missing a rib, they're missing the lint - I guess it evens out after all.

The two coincidences that led me to this astonishing revelation were two separate mentions of lint in my daily life, within a two-week span. That's a highly unusual lint-to-normal-conversation ratio, I think. I mean, lint just doesn't come up much and neither do belly-buttons. Although, when they do, you do tend to hear cross-references from one to the other.

The first intrusion that lint made upon my normal life, was the discovery of one Mr. Graham Barker. Barker is a fellow blogger, which makes him odd and outcast enough, but that's not what's interesting about him. No, rather, he makes the uncontested claim to have the world's largest collection of belly button lint. Every day, during his morning cleaning of the navel, instead of throwing away what he reaps, he saves in in jars. He's been doing this for 23 years. And, surprisingly, he's still single! Amazing!

(If you want to see a picture of his collection, check it out here. It's... um... unique...)

Weird though his collection is, I didn't think too much of it. Most times, stuff I read on the 'net holds my attention for a few minutes - long enough to read it and pass it on if it's worthwhile - and then I forget about it. Since this didn't resonate too much, I promptly filed it in my mind's forgotten folder.

But it came back to me not a week later. I was talking on the phone to my girlfriend and I was getting dressed (or undressed or in some state of dressing) when I noticed that some lint had accumulated in my belly button. So, I cleared it out and tossed it into the trash, telling her what I was doing as I did so, since I like to be a open and honest boyfriend, one that always provides hours of stimulating and enlightening conversation. You know, just like I am here.

She was revolted, claiming that my story was the most disgusting thing she'd ever heard. Which, it wasn't, since I topped it by promptly telling her the Graham Barker story and she puked into her mouth, just a little bit.

She went on to claim that she "never gets belly button lint, nor has she ever."

I was amazed and confounded. Surely it couldn't be true! I mean, I have to clean a little bit out practically every day and that Barker guy has gallons of the stuff. I pressed her for more information, but she stuck to her story in convincing fashion.

My mind was blown.

I queried other females in the general vicinity (sister, friends and 78-year-old, non-English speaking landlord), all of whom corroborated Sonja's story - girls don't get lint. Well, I think that's what they all said. Maria, my landlord, may have said, "The pigeons are pooping on the sidewalk and I shot fireworks at them with my butt" in Portuguese, but I couldn't understand her. Her hand gestures seemed to either indicate she never had any lint in her belly button or that one of her kidneys was for sale, so I went with the lint tale that everyone else told.

Amazing. Shocking. Newsworthy.

Girls don't get belly button lint.

Again, I'm not sure what this revelation means, but I can only imagine that this knowledge cannot be for my own personal edification. After all, what's the use of lint?

Editor's note: check out Barker's blog, which includes the results of a relatively scientific study about lint accumulation. One of the major factors in gathering belly fluff appears to be quantity of body hair. So, once Mike gets his next Brazilian, you won't have to read about lint here anymore.