Cam Card app

camcard_iconTypically, I’m the last to know.

I am not a techie, not even close. More like tech-neutral. I own a Mac and an iPhone (but never the latest version). I can navigate apps and iTunes and the occasional software update with relative ease. I suppose the best example to describe my interfaceability is my relationship with DVR. For starters, I didn’t know we had it until we had to return a defective receiver to Dish Network. I’ll admit to feeling a twinge of geeked-out thrill when I realized we would soon be able to record TV shows or football games or just whatever, then watch them at my leisure…sans commercials! But alas, the receiver arrived and I installed and have yet to even crack the manual to figure out how to DVR actually works.

I suppose that lands me somewhere south of tech-curious.

The truth is, when I do finally sit down in front of the TV for any length of time, I actually LIKE the commercial breaks. As a Tennessee Titans fan, oftentimes the commercials are the most entertaining part of my TV experience. Plus, I feel guilty if I don’t get up and move around. (Yes, I’ve seen Wall-E!)

All of which brings me to this iPhone app (and others I may “review” from time to time). I have been shocked to learn that I utilize a helpful app that most of my colleagues have yet to discover In fact, they kind of marvel when they see it (which, of course, fills my insides with heaps of unearned pride…as if I designed the app myself instead of having downloaded it for free).

It’s called CamCard.

And when someone hands me a business card, all I have to do is open the app, tap on the “Take Photo” icon, and aim. Once I position the phone correctly, the app will snap a photo for me (don’t even have to click the fake shutter). And voila…the app reads and deciphers the business card and drops it into my iPhone contacts for me. And it does a much more thorough job than I normally do, accurately capturing the company name, address, job title, even the fax numbers!

It’s not perfect, of course. Sometimes the script on the card makes a line or two of data read like gobbledygook. So occasionally I have to go in and clean something up. Still…it’s way more accurate and speedy than if I had to start from scratch.

As of this writing, there is a free version (what I use) and a more professional $6.99 version (which is actually on sale for $2.99 for a limited time).

Idiots (scarlet-naped genus)

redneck_horseshoes

Note: This is neither of the rednecks in question.

I know it’s rude to call people names. But the truth hurts. And sometimes you need to call them like you see them.

I’ve done a fair amount of traveling the last few months. And typically what I find is that people are pretty much people, whether you’re at a truck stop in Missouri or some trendy restaurant in Atlanta. However, if you happened to be at O’Charley’s in West Knoxville on a recent Wednesday evening, you too could have overheard the ridiculous conversation at the table next to mine.

It appeared to be a double date. Each of the four appeared to be around 30 years old, give or take a few either way. Old enough to have outgrown the words spilling out of their respective pie

holes. (Wednesday night is free pie night at O’Charley’s)

The conversation ping-ponged between two related topics:

1) Each member taking turns bragging about the various drinking establishments they’d been thrown out of, and…

2) One of the guys repeating that he was in the mood to have a fist fight. Instead of discouraging their table-mate, the other three argued about where they could go to accomplish this feat.

Not that it matters much, but this all happened in the nicest part of a pretty nice city.

Far be it from me to judge how others spend their time, talents, resources, or energy. But I don’t have to stretch the limits of my imagination very hard to picture this same foursome as the kind of folk who toss spent cigarette butts out car windows or decide to drive themselves home after a few too many.

If it looks, acts, smells, talks, drives, (and fights) like an idiot…

I’ll be honest, I was really sort of hoping the two guys would square off there in the restaurant and beat each other senseless. Getting arrested would surely sober them up before their eventual drive home.

Plus, they’d all have another place to brag about getting kicked out of.

EC Technology iPhone case

EC-Technology-Handmade-Book-Style-Case-for-iPhone-5-picture-6 I don’t like wallets. And I tend to cram too many things into my money clip. So when I saw a friend’s iPhone case that doubled as a money clip, I was instantly enamored.

My search brought me to Amazon and EC Technology.

A few tidbits worthy of note:

-It shipped very quickly. No expediting and it still arrived in two days.
-The packaging reflects amazing attention to detail. (I still have the box it came in on my desk because it just looks so cool.)

41L9LcJ3IrL._SY300_-It holds my license, credit cards, and cash neatly into compartments
-Everything on the iPhone still works (doesn’t block the camera, can still adjust the volume, speakers and input jacks are all in the clear).
-Oh, and it has that delicious leathery smell.

That’s it.

Customer service is so rare these days that it’s nice to be able to point to some people who do it right.41iwphKdq8L._SY300_

What They Don’t Know

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courtesy of Aubrey Snyder

All of my kids are creative. Three of the four are creative in traditional ways people think about things…art, music, drama, dance, etc. (The other one is a stud football player, which obviously requires plenty of creativity!).

I could brag on their many accomplishments, but you’d likely click away from here, thinking: “Great more cyber home movies.” So you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that they come up with some truly amazing stuff…well beyond their years.

But here’s the point: they don’t know any better.

And because they don’t think it’s odd or unique or weird that they write novels, storyboard movies, spend countless hours attending to minute details of a single drawing (right), choreographing musicals, or writing elaborate soundtrack music…they don’t have to fall prey to expectations.

(Also see Luke’s first foray into claymation HERE)

They’re not worried if what they create is “good enough.” Or if it will ever “get published.” Or if they’ll ever “make it.” They simply create. And it’s a beautiful thing to behold. It’s the personification of childlike wonder.

And it’s something I think most creative adults should aspire to. I know I do.

For The Love Of The Game

“I’m too old for this.”58417156_df282af5f1 - Version 2

That is my primary thought on Sunday nights as I run up and down the brilliant hardwood of a local middle school. It’s a pure thought, earnest and true.

(A few secondary thoughts include: “Four more points and we can stop for water,” “Miss it, miss it, miss it…” and “I am so going to die our here.”)

The fact is, I have retired from pickup basketball twice already because of repeated ankle injuries. And someday soon the ability to walk normally and with minimal pain will again trump my desire to steal passes, knock down three-pointers, and/or congratulate other sweaty, middle-aged men for winning a game that no one will remember five minutes after the final basket.

My last foray less than a week ago netted me a lumpy cut under my left eye, a severe leg cramp, a re-injury of my oft-re-injured left ankle, and losing the series 3 games to 2.

Still, every week I strap on the ankle braces and lace up the high-tops, drive 30 minutes with my oldest son, perform a few half-hearted stretches, and run around like a teenager maniacally bent on coercing the orange sphere up and over the iron rim, then back down through its nylon skirt.

I literally suffer for this privilege. It makes no logical sense. But my buddies and me all show up and do it anyway.

And it’s a lot like writing or painting or other solitary art forms. Writing takes time and energy and resources. Eventually it takes a toll. I’ll spend hours crafting a piece of flash fiction only to have it either a) sit in obscurity on my hard drive, b) have it rejected by some overworked multitasking “editor” in another part of the country (happened twice this week!), or c) have it “published” somewhere…which basically means it will sit in obscurity somewhere other than my hard drive.

No NBA scouts will show up one Sunday and offer me a contract. Likewise, most everything I write will earn me a single red cent or even a handful of attaboys. But I’ll keep showing up as long as my mind and body will allow.

It must be the love of the game. Or maybe it’s insanity. Or maybe there’s very little difference between the two?

The F-Word

The dreaded F-word. Yes, that one. That overused, multi-functioning swear word that garners R-ratings from the Motion Picture Association.3194950746_957fa0a962

A couple of housekeeping things here at the outset.

1- I’m not going to type the actual word in this post

2- This will not be a prudish rant based on morality. I don’t particularly like that word, never say it out loud, and if I’ve ever typed it on behalf of some character of mine, chances are I have eventually edited it out.

That said, I have recently been offended by the F-word. More specifically, its overuse in books and movies.

Case in point, I recently finished a deliciously good novel by Peter Heller called The Dog Stars. It’s a literary take on a post-apocalyptic America, similar to McCarthy’s The Road. The prose is Hemingway-esque, sparse, to the point, beautifully rendered. However, the F-word appears every couple of pages or so, typically in bunches. And it’s starting to annoy me.

Other than articles, conjunctions, names, and a few other proper nouns, NOTHING bugs me more in prose than repeated words. The more stark or uncommon the word, the greater impact it has when used…once. Repeating such words dilutes them of their power. And no words are exempt, not even the ostensibly hip and cool swear word du jour.

You see this in movies all the time. The F-word is still THE word that ostensibly carries the most punch, even with its fifty-seven different meanings. But after we hear it three or four times, we start to tune it out. The punch loses its power. It just becomes an irritation. Once it’s out there, there’s no mystery or nuance left. The only way to milk the language for more intensity is to just say the same nasty word louder. And as much as I hate to sound like my grandmother, it comes off as an abject lack of creativity and makes the characters saying it all the time sound a bit daft.

Some will argue that, “That’s just how people talk today.”

First, I would agree that, indeed they do. Then I would argue that transcribing actual language from actual everyday people is one of the worst things a write can do. If you need proof, simply take your laptop to your local Starbucks and type actual conversations, word-for-painstaking-word. Leave all the pauses and um’s and repeated words. Then put that in a story and see how well it works. That is exactly how people talk. And it has no place in literature. The trick with dialog and/or internal monologue is to make it sound natural while delivering the words in interesting and artistic ways. It’s sleight-of-hand. And it’s one of the hardest things for most writers to do well.

Again, this is not a call for syrupy sweet language in books and movies. If you insist on deploying the F-word, have your grandmother say it. Or the choir director. Or an eight year old. Or the family pet. But only have them say it once.

And like every other word or phrase in your story, it had better serve the story in some meaningful way. If it doesn’t characterize or move the story forward, it doesn’t belong, regardless of its profane impact.

Analogman

princeoftoneI’m going to tell a simple story about one of my all-time favorite companies. It’s called Analogman and they make really super cool pedals (aka, stomp boxes) for guitar players. Their reputation for quality is pristine. And they’ve earned it. But my story has to do with something that has sorely gone lacking in our culture…customer service.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I was experiencing some technical difficulties with a digital controller for my analog delay pedal. Since I had a gig coming up, I went ahead and emailed customer service at Analogman and braced myself for a typical “3 to 5 business day” response, then started figuring out how I was going to work around my problem.

To my surprise and delight, I received and after hours email from Analog Mike—aka, the owner of the company. We ended up exchanging five emails between about 6:30 and 11:00 pm. Problem solved.

When I awoke the next morning, there was another email in my Inbox just checking to make sure everything was still cool.

This was not a one-time thing where I just happened to catch Analogmike while he was feeling both bored and generous. Stories like this abound in the cyberhaunts of other gear heads.

I’ve bought another pedal or two, as well as a handful of t-shirts. I tell anyone who cares that they should buy from Analogman. I’m telling you that right now. The prices are fair. The quality and service are exceptional. And the analog goodness that emanates from his magic little stomp boxes is sheer bliss.

Thanks, Mike.

Weekend Update

Music-wise, it was a slow week. I did a little reading and a lot of listening this week. Here is some of what I discovered…

Incendiary by Chris Cleave (novel, audio) – The back cover calls it “emotionally raw” and “alive with grief, compassion, and startling humor.” Not only that, the entire novel is a personal letter to Osama Bin Laden. This one is bold, haunting, and written extremely well.

Moonlight Mile by Dennis LeHane (novel, audio) – This guy can definitely craft a story. And most of the dialog is pitch perfect. However, some of the exchanges with bad guys come off sounding like tired movie dialog. The overall plot did test my capacity to suspend reality. But it was entertaining enough.

A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins (novel) – The story feels a bit disjointed, but I’m only a third of the way in. The writing, however, is downright enviable in places. And the patches of dialog between man and machine are really starting to grow on me.

Etgar Keret (stories) – I would trade two of my favorite guitars for this guy’s imagination

October Baby (DVD) – It may not be fair, but I have to view these kinds of movies through two separate lenses. If I judge it on its own merits as a film, I’d have to give it an average score. The filmmakers did a lot of things right but the cast was unbalanced, there a few indulgent scenes, and they tried too hard to make sure we got the point. We did not need the scene with the priest telling our hero she needed to forgive everybody. It would have been much more effective (and less cheesy) to have her figure this out on her own, then act. And the obligatory turn-around-at-the-last-moment-and-run-back-for-another-weepy-hug scene was downright cringeworthy. However, as far as Christian films go, this is one of the best I’ve seen. The writing, cinematography, and storytelling was WAY better than anything else I’ve seen in the genre. And Rachel Hendrix was outstanding.

Here’s The Thing (podcast) – Andrew McCarthy – This one caught me by surprise. I’m neither fan nor foe of the former brat pack actor. But I was captivated for his 35-minute interview where he tells of his journey from punk kid to renowned travel writer and family man. Yet another excellent interview.

This American Life (podcast) – Overall, TAL is my favorite podcast ever. This week’s entry wasn’t so hot. But maybe that was my fault. The episode was all about the recent election and I think I’m just tired of hearing about it.

Decompose (blog) – I followed a rather heated discussion that ended up pitting progressive Christians against their more conservative brethren. And although it was no one’s fault in particular, the whole thing makes me sad. Like most online debates, the majority seek first to be understood, to make their point, or to lob some snarky grenade into the other team’s camp. Healthy discourse occurs when everyone makes a genuine effort to understand the other guy first, then offer a thoughtful reply. Too much assuming, stereotyping, and too much of a premium on winning the argument. And for the record, the comments I left in the thread were probably no mover helpful than the ones I’m critiquing here.

 

Weekend Update

Occasionally, I plan to list a few books, movies, records, articles, blogs, overheard conversations, or just whatever else may have popped into my head over the course of a week or so.

These may include (but will not be limited to) actual reviews, recommendations, weird musings, and/or the occasional dumb joke.

So here goes:

Defending Jacob by William Landay (Audiobook)
I would call this a literary thriller. If you take the best story elements from Grisham, Martini, et al, then apply generous amounts of elegant technique, this is what you get. The comparisons to To Kill A Mockingbird may be a bit lofty. But I get why they’re made. Two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Blue Like Jazz – (DVD)
I really liked this movie a lot. I do wish I’d been able to see it before I’d heard ANY opinions about it though. Even better, I wish I had seen it without the knowledge that Don Miller wrote it and Steve Taylor directed it. I don’t know that I would have enjoyed it any more or any less, but I’m certain a little more ignorance on my part would have helped keep my mind in neutral during the film.

Standup Comedian by Demetri Martin
The ONLY thing working against this album is my own rampant expectations! In a word, Martin is brilliant (and not just brilliantly funny, he’s like a bona fide genius). His comedy is from the Steven Wright lineage. Martin delivers heady one-liners that might “take a second,” rather than full blown jokes with traditional setups and punch lines.

I did finish Coal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead and liked it well enough. It’s a dense read and takes a little long to get to the heart of things. Not sure who else I would recommend this book too. It’s historical fiction (Civil War), rather bleak, sometimes depressing, other times horrific.

I started, then stopped Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. He’s so good, and I like his stuff so much, that I wanted to make sure the book had my full attention. Although I liked what I read, I kept finding myself confused (I’m pretty certain it’s me, not Chabon). So I’m shelving it until I have time to reader in longer bursts.

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings – I’m about halfway through and am really enjoying it. I will admit that I like the premise and the writing more than the characters and/or the way the story has developed thus far. But as far as contemporary-literary-fiction-with-a-humorous-bent, I think it’s going to be a darn good one.

1922 by Stephen King (audio, novella) – This was a bit of a downer for me. King is obviously an amazing writer. I began championing his literary cause when I was in high school. The man certainly knows his way around a paragraph. But my tastes have changed over time. The story and the writing were fine. But the gore and the haunting and all the silly rats just got a bit tedious for me.

The blog of the week for me would have to go to Mike Duran’s DeCompose. He’s a really smart, really talented, and really nice guy. He likes to ask hard questions and stir the pot to make people think. And that’s a good thing.